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JAMA Editor Discusses Medical Highlights: Artificial Heart, Human Gene Sequencing - 2001-12-29

The year 2001 saw a number of significant medical developments. Stem Cell research and the prevention of Anthrax with antibiotics and vaccines captured the attention of much of the world. But, Dr. Phil Fontanarosa, Executive Deputy Editor of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, tells VOA's Penelope Poulou about two other significant medical developments.

Poulou: Dr. Fontanarosa, what do you consider to be the most important medical developments of the year that passed?
Fontanarosa: (The year) 2001 has been remarkable in many ways but, I think the Human Genome Sequencing that occurred earlier this year, also the implanted artificial heart that occurred this summer, have captured everybody's attention and deserve special mention.
Poulou: You mentioned first the Human Genome and the research that has been done on that field.
Fontanarosa: …In Spring of this year, I think it was in March, The Human Genome Project under the direction of Dr. Francis Collins of NIH, and a private company Solara under the direction of Dr. Craig Ventner, sequenced the human genome.
Poulou: What is the human genome and what does it mean, 'sequencing the human genome?'
Fontanarosa: The human genome is the genetic structure of the organism. Every organism, from the fruit fly, from plants on up, has a certain pattern of genes, certain numbers of genes. And, in humans finding these genes and identifying the numbers of these genes and some of the sequences - the order in which they link - has been what the sequencing of the genome is all about.
Poulou: What does this mean for medicine? Why is it so important?
Fontanarosa: It helps us to better characterize genes that increase our risk for certain types of diseases, like certain cancers for instance. Genes that may have had abnormalities that predispose us to heart disease or certain neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease. As far as treatments, there have been certain genetic therapies already for certain types of blood disorders, and researchers work hard for other types of targeted genomic therapies for other conditions as well.
Poulou: Now, let's move on to the second subject: The Artificial Heart and the surgery that took place this past summer. Why is that particular artificial heart transplant so important?
Fontanarosa: In the eighties, a (medical) group I think it was in Utah implanted a heart into a patient who lived three, four months or so. The patient was not independent. The heart was attached to tubes and machines. The event of this summer I think it was in July - in Louisville, the artificial heart that was used was totally implanted. So, it was contained within the patient, and it gives the patient the opportunity to be up and to walk around and to resume activities to a certain degree as well. This patient, I think, survived about five months. Also, in Louisville with the same team, another patient had surgery this past September for the completely implanted artificial heart and he is doing well.
Poulou: So, what are your predictions based on all the (medical) developments that took place in (the year) 2001?
Fontanarosa: I think with the continuing support of research by federal funding, the continued participation in research by patients, and dedication to research by investigators, we are bound to continue with advances in medicine.
Poulou: Dr. Fontanarosa, thank you very much.
Fontanarosa: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

Part of VOA's Year End Series for 2001