A laboratory technician packages cerebrospinal fluid of a confirmed meningitis case Oct. 9 in St. Paul. The package was prepared to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for further testing.(Photo: Hannah Foslien, AP)
Politics, personalities and public health threats dominated medical
news in 2012, with research advances taking a backseat. Below, a look at
some of the year's biggest medical stories.
Sorry, docs. The Supreme Court gets the prize for making the biggest
medical news of the year, with its June decision to uphold most of the
Affordable Care Act, which also got a boost from President Obama's
re-election. The law will provide health coverage for 30 million
uninsured Americans. The law allows children up to age 26 to remain on
their parents' policies.
The biggest changes are still to come.
By January 2014, millions of Americans will have to obtain insurance or
pay penalties; insurers will be banned from denying coverage based on
pre-existing conditions; states will have to decide whether to expand
Medicaid and create new insurance exchanges where people can shop for
affordable coverage; and many small businesses will have to cover
workers with the help of tax credits or pay penalties.
Infectious disease outbreaks sickened hundreds of Americans in 2012.
Contaminated steroid injections caused illness in nearly 600 people,
including 368 who developed meningitis, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. Thirty-nine people have died.
Investigators traced the outbreak to drugs supplied by the New England Compounding Center, which quickly shut down production.
The outbreak called attention to the growing trend of compounding
pharmacies that act like manufacturers, shipping thousands of doses at
once, instead of filling prescriptions individually, as they
West Nile Virus
and 243 deaths, 2012 was the second-worst year ever for West Nile
Virus, the CDC says. Texas was particularly hard hit with 1,739 of the
cases and 76of the deaths. Although much of country was parched with
drought, scientists say the mosquito population may have been larger
because fewer died during last year's relatively warm winter.
Two of the country's leading cancer charities lost their larger-than-life leaders in 2012.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure sparked an emotional backlash after it
temporarily cut funding to Planned Parenthood in January, after a
congressman launched an investigation of the group's use of federal
funds. Komen restored the group's funding after a massive public outcry,
organized partly through social media. But the damage was done.
Participation in the group's signature races dropped dramatically in
cities around the country. In August, Nancy Brinker -- the group's
founder, who named the charity in honor of her late sister -- stepped
down as CEO. Brinker said she would take on a new role as chair of the
Cyclist Lance Armstrong also resigned from
Livestrong, the charity that he founded in 1997 after surviving cancer.
Armstrong first resigned his position as chairman in October, after he
was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and was banned from the
sport for life by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. A few weeks later,
Armstrong also gave up his position on the board of directors, to spare
the foundation from the doping controversy.
reported that controversy did not hurt its fundraising, however. Many
cancer survivors pledged to continue supporting the organization, if not
Researchers explored using stem cells to
treat heart disease, and the Food and Drug Administration approved seven
new drugs for cancer.
But the most fascinating science story of the year involved picking up a cup of coffee.
In May, researchers reported a milestone in efforts to develop brain
implants that allow paralyzed patients to control robotic prostheses
with their thoughts.
Two fully paralyzed patients used their
brain signal to control a robotic arm, which allowed them to hold a ball
or grasp a cup of coffee.
The research is still in relatively
early stages. And brain implants are now contemplated for only the most
severely paralyzed, where patients are "locked-in" to their brain,
without movement or speech.