10 Years of Health in 'WebMD Magazine'

From the first human face transplant to a bionic pancreas, see how far medicine has come.

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on April 01, 2015
3 min read

When we launched WebMD Magazine in 2005, we had no idea how many significant medical advances would make headlines in the 10 years to come.

Researchers announced groundbreaking treatments for conditions like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. They spotted key genes, transplanted a human face, and helped paralyzed people move again.

Here we highlight 10 of the past decade’s many health breakthroughs that made news and continue to change lives today.

2005 November: First human face transplant

Surgeons in France completed the first partial face transplant on a 38-year-old woman who was disfigured in a dog attack. They took the chin, lips, and nose from a deceased donor and grafted them onto the woman.

2006 June: Cancer vaccine approved

The FDA approved Gardasil, the first vaccine to protect young women against human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. Experts say the HPV vaccination, now recommended for boys too, could reduce worldwide cervical cancer deaths by as much as two-thirds.

2007 April: New type 2 diabetes genes identified

This discovery dramatically boosted scientists’ understanding of risk factors for diabetes. Since then, researchers have spotted more than 70 gene variants that raise diabetes risk by up to 30%. Most of these affect the release of insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels.

2008 October: First double-arm transplant

Doctors in Germany performed the first double-arm transplant on a farmer whose arms had been cut off in an accident. The arms came from a donor who had died hours before. After the operation, the recipient said he felt like a "whole man" again.

2009 September: New Alzheimer’s genes discovered

Researchers spotted three mutations to genes that may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. The genes protect the brain from damage and help nerve cells work properly. The finding represented a major step toward new tests and treatments. Researchers are now studying other genes that may influence Alzheimer’s risk.

2010 July: First human stem-cell trial launched

The FDA cleared the first human study of embryonic stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries. Geron, the company that did the study, abruptly halted it in 2011 to focus on cancer research. But a new company, Asterias Biotherapeutics, announced in 2014 that it would re-launch stem cell research for spinal cord repair.

2011 May: Spinal stimulation helps paralyzed man move

A medical journal first reported that a man who was paralyzed below the chest in an accident was able to stand, move his legs, and take a few steps on a treadmill when his spinal cord was electrically stimulated. The technique is called epidural spinal cord stimulation. Three years later during a follow-up study, the technique helped three other paralyzed men regain movement.

2012 December: Paralyzed woman moves prosthetic hand

A woman who was paralyzed from the neck down due to a degenerative brain and spinal disease was able to "high five" another person and feed herself chocolate. Doctors implanted two electrode-lined devices in her brain, which were connected to her robotic hand. Over time and with training, she did many tasks without the help of a computer.

2013 February: Robot lets doctors make remote visits to patients

Doctors can now meet with patients from another building -- or even another state. The remote-presence (RP) robot, RP-VITA (iRobot), brings doctors into your room remotely. The auto-drive device has a video screen on the top, through which the doctor can interact with patients and do an exam.

2014 June: First bionic pancreas developed

Scientists made a bionic pancreas that tracks blood sugar levels and automatically pumps the correct amount of insulin and glucagon into the blood. By mimicking the action of a real pancreas, the device can help people with type 1 diabetes avoid constant blood sugar monitoring and manual insulin injections.

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