Illustration: Eddie Guy
Researchers around the world have been toiling away in their laboratories, trying to make our lives safer, healthier, better. Read on to find out how their hard work has been paying off.
Bird Flu Vacccine: Avian flu remains a concern as cases crop up in more and more countries around the globe. If the virus develops an efficient way to spread between humans, experts worry that a deadly pandemic could ensue. (So far, nearly all cases have resulted from bird-to-human contact.) Which explains why there was a collective sigh of relief early last year when the FDA approved Sanofi Pasteur's avian flu vaccine. The protection isn't perfect—about half the subjects who received the highest dose gained resistance to the virus; the rest showed enough of a response to suggest they'll have a good chance of fighting off the bug. But the vaccine is a significant stopgap measure until more-effective treatments can be developed.
Healthier Hearts: Heart disease may be the biggest killer of Americans, but from 1980 to 2000, the number of deaths from it fell by nearly half, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last June. Much of the drop is attributed to better medical treatments, such as the use of aspirin, beta-blockers, and cholesterol-busting statins. Other big contributors have been the decline in smoking and rise in physical activity.
Help for Fibromyalgia: For decades the roughly six to ten million Americans suffering from fibromyalgia were told that their symptoms—an array of aches, pains, and muscle fatigue—were all in their head. Even after the American Medical Association officially recognized the condition in 1987, sufferers still struggled to find relief. That's changing: Last year the FDA bestowed its blessing on the first official treatment for the disease, Lyrica. In one study, the pill reduced pain by 30 percent in about half of participants taking a 450 milligram dose. Experts believe that the drug's approval should not only be good for patients but also help banish any lingering misconceptions about the condition within the medical community.
A Turning Point in the Battle of Bulge: After 25 years of annual increases in the ranks of the obese, the number of Americans entering that territory has leveled off. According to the CDC, in 2005 and 2006 (the last years for which there is data) the number of Americans who are obese held at 34 percent. Buried in the news was the fact that women's numbers haven't budged since 1999—men have been responsible for the increases since then. Yes, too many of us are overweight and obese, and continued vigilance against gain is essential. But evidence that the percentages have leveled off suggests that Americans are finally getting the message.