The Top 10 Medical Stories of 2008

Medical experts chime in on what they believe were the year's top news items.

ByABC News
December 22, 2008, 3:46 PM

Dec. 23, 2008— -- This year marked a number of important medical advances and intriguing health news. To help narrow the large list, reached out to the top medical centers and doctors in a wide range of fields.

Below is's list of the Top 10 medical stories of 2008, deemed most important by doctors and found most interesting by readers.

Late in November, the results from the JUPITER trial got so much hype that it seemed scientists had found an actual magic "cholesterol pill."

Drugmaker AstraZeneca sponsored the huge 18,000-participant JUPITER trial of Crestor, its cholesterol-lowering drug (called a statin).

The trial was supposed to last five years, but the drug company cut it short after two years claiming Crestor was so effective that it was unethical to withhold the drug from those on placebo.

According to the results, Crestor reduced heart attack, stroke and hospitalization and other markers for heart troubles by 56 percent. The authors of the study concluded that the drug was so effective that it should even be given to people whose cholesterol was normal but had high C-reactive protein levels, a signs of inflammation in the body.

Not all doctors were as sold on the results. Many said exercise and diet changes were more effective than drugs, and obviously do not carry any side effects. Some questioned whether the numbers really supported such a high effectiveness.

However, the news still had many doctors excited. According to the results from a New England Journal of Medicine Web site poll, 48 percent of the 2,500 responders felt statin drugs should be used differently after the JUPITER trial.

On Dec. 10, a baby girl was born from the first-ever full ovary transplant.

The baby's mother had lost her fertility when she went into early menopause at age 15 because of another medical problem. Later in life her twin sister (the baby's aunt) donated a working ovary so that she may conceive. At age 38, she gave birth for the first time.

Dr. Sherman Silber of the Infertility Center of St. Louis and his colleagues reported the medical advance.

A handful of other children have been born from transplanted ovarian tissue, specifically the outer shell, but the technique is not always successful.

Since the baby's successful birth, doctors are anticipating using the technique to help women with fertility problems, or cancer patients who wish to protect their ovaries from chemotherapy.

Silber told Reuters that the technique of transplanting frozen ovaries may one day be used to lengthen a woman's fertility across her lifetime.

"If she's 40 or 45 when she has it transplanted back, it's still a 25- or 30-year-old ovary, so she's preserving her fertility," Silber told Reuters.

In January, early news of the anticipated ENHANCE trial surprised doctors and drugmakers looking for confirmation that the blockbuster cholesterol drug Vytorin worked.

The ENHANCE trial pitted the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin against the popular combo-drug Vytorin, which had both simvastatin and ezetimibe (Zetia).

But instead of proving the power of the combo, early data showed that Vytorin was no better at reducing the thickness of blood vessel walls than simvastatin alone.

The news hit so big, both the Food and Drug Administration and the American College of Cardiology felt compelled to respond.

"There should no be reason for patients to panic," read a Jan. 15 statement posted on the American College of Cardiology's Web site. "The overall incidence rates of cardiac events were nearly identical between both treatment groups, and both medicines were generally well tolerated."

Vytorin had proven itself to be effective at reducing the "bad" LDL cholesterol, and if it could prove to reduce the thickness of blood vessel walls it would be one more sign that the drug could cut down on the big scares -- heart attacks and strokes.