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New Breakthroughs, Treatments Highlight Year In Medicine

Posted December 27, 2001

— Every year, there are major medical advances and breakthroughs in treatments. But this year, our attention was brought to new and previously unthinkable things.

Bioterrorism is, by far, the biggest health story of the year. Before Sept. 11, we did not worry too much about it. Then came those anthrax-laced letters.

Five people died from inhalation anthrax and more than a dozen other people have been exposed. The anthrax scare taught everyone a lot about bioterrorism. It also raised concern over another possible form of attack -- smallpox. Experts say smallpox would be far more deadly than anthrax.

"Because in my mind, if this was released anywhere in the world, it would be severely difficult to contain," said UNC infectious disease expert Dr. David Weber.

The government is now stockpiling doses of smallpox vaccine.

The

stem cell controversy

also got people talking. As the government wrangled over stem cell funding, people wrestled with the ethical debate over using embryos to cure diseases like Parkinson's.

In November, two biotech companies announced they cloned human embryos, adding more fuel to the controversy that is sure to follow into 2002.

Duke scientists seem to be on the right track to finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes. They transplanted insulin-producing cells from a pig pancreas into a diabetic baboon. To date, that baboon has been making its own insulin for over a year.

"I think it is going to be a tremendous change in the lifestyle of patients who have diabetes," said researcher Dr. Emanual Opara.

New techonology is helping more people hear again. In August, Mac Montogomery received the first

double cochlear implant

at UNC Hospitals. He now wears an implant on each side of his head instead of just one.

"If you have two inputs, then your brain can process both bodies of information, and you actually understand a higher percentage of those words," said UNC Head and Neck surgeon Dr. Harold Pillsbury.

WRAL's Health Team also brought you the story of

Corkey Boyette

. This year, Boyette lost more than 500 pounds. Just two years ago, he weighed 735 pounds and was going into heart failure. Now he is set to reach his weight goal of 200 pounds.

"I feel great. I've never had so much energy," he said.

Boyette plans to go skydiving in the spring to celebrate his accomplishment.

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