More MS news articles for December 2000

Top Five Medical Breakthroughs

The year 2000 saw amazing and sometimes controversial developments in medicine. ABCNEWS medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson picks his top five breakthroughs of the year and explains how they impact patients.

Thursday December 28 01:13 PM EST

The year 2000 saw amazing and sometimes controversial developments in medicine, including a rough blueprint of the human genome, government approval of an abortion pill and progress in cloning mammals.

Today, ABCNEWS Medical Editor Dr. Timothy Johnson reviewed the year's progress and said an Alzheimer's vaccine, a treatment for early multiple sclerosis and an easier way of performing CPR are among five of the most promising breakthroughs in 2000 that could have impact on patient care. Johnson selected his top five from the Harvard Health Letter's annual top 10 medical breakthroughs.

"This year, I looked at their list and picked five that I think are particularly significant in terms of changing medical practice as we speak," Johnson explained on Good Morning America today.

Johnson's top choices to watch for more advances are:

ACE Inhibitors

Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are drugs that have been widely used for years to treat heart failure and high blood pressure. This year, researchers discovered they also benefit people who are at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes, significantly reducing those risks.

Johnson said this discovery is just the first of many in which drugs that have been used to treat one condition for a long time turn out to be beneficial for others. "I think we're going to see an increased use of these particular drugs now in treating all kinds of people," Johnson said. "My own instinct is that ACE inhibitors are going to turn out to be the aspirin of this decade."

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Just as some drugs turn out to have multiple benefits, other treatments turn out to be less effective than they were considered originally. Hormone replacement therapy for post-menopausal women is one of those, Johnson said.

"We found this year it's not quite as valuable, didn't work quite as well as we believed," Johnson said. A number of studies this year showed that these drugs - a combination of the hormones estrogen and progesterone - increased risk for breast cancer and weren't as effective in helping prevent heart disease as doctors had hoped.

"Whereas five years ago, we were saying most post-menopausal women could benefit from hormone replacement therapy, we're being much more cautious based on the studies that have come out this year," Johnson explained. "It's certainly going to be helpful to some women, particularly those with a strong family history of heart disease, but for others, we've got to be more cautious.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or CPR

Johnson said he believes CPR soon will become streamlined, enabling more people to perform the life-saving procedure.

For many years people have been reluctant to perform CPR, Johnson explained. First, he said, people don't like the idea of doing mouth-to-mouth on a total stranger Second, doing mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions at the same time can be difficult.

But this year, a study found that those people who got both chest and mouth CPR and those that got just chest compressions, did equally well. Johnson predicts the American Red Cross may change their official recommendations on how to perform CPR, simplifying the process.

"I think we can say to people now, based on what we're learning, is you can do CPR with just the chest compressions because there's enough oxygen in the blood at the time of a heart attack to last a while," Johnson said. "I hope that will encourage more people to learn to do it and actually do it if the opportunity presents itself."

Alzheimer's Vaccine.

Despite the deceptive name, the Alzheimer's vaccine is a treatment, not a preventive measure like other vaccines. Still, Johnson said, there was a lot of excitement in the medical community this year about a study done in mice that showed giving them an engineered form of antibodies reduced the amount of amyloid in their brains. Amyloid is a protein found in the brains of Alzheimer's victims believed to have some role in the dementia they suffer.

The vaccine, which is currently being tested on humans, may reduce the significance of Alzheimer's or slow its progression, Johnson said. He predicts it will be available within a year or two, adding, "Initially, it's going to be tried as a treatment?but it may down the road be used as a true vaccine for actual prevention."

Early Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

The fifth breakthrough has to do with the early treatment of multiple sclerosis, the most common form of the disease. The newer treatments of MS use a form of interferon, and doctors this year found if it was given very early on, it reduced disease progression.

Finally, Johnson touched on one breakthrough that many might consider the most significant of the year, the human genome project. Calling the deciphering of the human genome "great," the doctor explained he omitted it from his top five list because it has not yet translated into significant treatments.

"We're going to have to be patient. We can't expect miracles this year or next year," Johnson said. "Over the long run this will turn out to be, maybe, the most significant discovery of the century. We have to figure out what to do with the knowledge we've just discovered."