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Great Accomplishments in Physician Assistant Studies

The first decade of the 21st Century brought a number of discoveries, mistakes, and medical advances that have influenced medicine from the patient's bedside to the medicine cabinet dramatically, as if time were speeding up.

In some cases these advances changed deep-seated beliefs in medicine; in others, they opened up possibilities beyond what doctors thought was possible even just a few years ago.

More than 800 specialists as well as a distinguished panel of medical historians were consulted to put together a 10 list of medical advances that occurred in recent years, and these were our favorites:

Human Genome Discoveries Reach the Bedside

In 2000, scientists in with the International Human Genome Project released a rough draft of the human genome to the public and the world could read the complete set of human genetic information and begin to discover what our roughly 23,000 genes do for the first time ever.

Mapping the human genome had become a race of time and money in the 1990s, with two competitors at the forefront: the government-funded Human Genome Project (which completed its task in 15 years with more than $3 billion in taxpayer money), and a private company, Celera Genomics (which was financed with $100 million and took less than a decade).

Both groups announced a rough draft at a joint press conference in 2000, but in 2003, a "final" draft was released by researchers. In 2007, more updates to the genome were published by Craig Venter, PhD, chief scientist behind Celera Genomics.

"That was absolutely the hope for it, that it will begin to change things," says Venter, who was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Obama very recently for his work on the human genome.

At the moment Venter sees more medical potential than medical achievements in genomic research, but when those advances do come, Venter predicts it will help preventative medicine and cut our rapidly accelerating medical costs.

Combination Drug Therapy Extends HIV Survival

Since the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART, as this combination therapy approach is called, HIV/AIDS has evolved into a chronic disease with survival stretching into decades.

Moreover, this "cocktail" approach to treatment where drugs are combined in different ways or different sequences has become a model for treating other diseases, including lung cancer and heart disease.

"In 1996, a 20-year-old person in the U.S. with AIDS was expected to live about three to five years. Now, they can live 69 years," said John Bartlett, MD, previous president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. "Next challenge is the cure," said Bartlett.

In more than a decade since the emergence of HAART, researchers have constantly refined the regimens to improve results, and evidence is now emerging that some combinations may be more effecting patients with more extensive disease.

Thomas Coates, MD, of the University of California Los Angeles, points out that the HIV death rates are still dropping due to continual HIV research: "The drop in death rates from HIV in the developed world (is) due to improved medications," Coates says.

In Africa, where the HIV/AIDS crisis hits hardest today, Coates said doctors are slowly making progress-and in some cases real gains, which is the case with the use of antiretroviral drugs, blocking mother-to-infant HIV transmission.

“…Vertical transmission rates have plummeted from over 1,000 at the peak to fewer than 100 per year (in the US)," says Coates. "Botswana is leading the way not with a 3% vertical transmission rate. It was the first and still is the most effective prevention strategy we have."

Minimally Invasive and Robotic Techniques Revolutionize Surgery

Ten years ago a patient would typically be left with a 10-inch scar when a doctor removed a kidney. However, in late 2007, the surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic began removing kidneys through a single incision in the patient's navel.

And in recent years, a Cleveland Clinic surgeon removed a diseased kidney from a woman using a technique called natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery (NOTES). In the case of the woman, the kidney was removed through her vagina using an approach originally developed for hysterectomy.

And when it comes to hearts: tiny metal hands carefully manipulating sutures deep inside the heart seems like a scenario pulled from "Star Trek," but the reality is that robotic surgery is occurring daily in a growing number of centers across the country.

The greatest benefit of tiny openings into the body rather than large incisions made by traditional surgery, will certainly make for a shorter and less painful recovery time.

Medical historian Sandra Moss, MD, believes this, especially after watching a sibling undergo a minimally-invasive surgery: "My younger sister and I had the same operation 20 years apart. I was hors de combat (out of commission) for one month and loopy from pain meds for two weeks—she was back at work in a few days on no pain medications," says Moss.

Doctors have also used robotic surgery to improve the accuracy of procedures, particularly in cancer cases.

"Robotic surgery increased the ability of cancer surgeons to get clean margins as well due to the magnification of the structures," says Douglas Bacon, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Physician Assistants are being given ever-increasingly complicated roles to fulfill. The field is also more competitive as time goes on. Looking to get onto a physician assistant studies program? We can help!

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