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Friday, January 4, 2008

Canadian-led study named top medical breakthrough of 2007

In a seemingly unlikely turn of events, a Manitoba-based physician's work has been crowned the top medical breakthrough in the entire world in 2007.

Research led by Dr Stephen Moses, who teaches microbiology and internal medicine at the University of Manitoba, received the distinction last month from Time magazine.

The study singled out for the honour found circumcision reduced the incidence of HIV in Kenya. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which provided funding, is boasting today of its superb foresight.

NRM spoke to Dr Moses a year ago about his research and its critics. "I think that it would be in order for the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) to revisit the issue of routine male circumcision, not just in the light of the findings of reduced risk for HIV infection, but in relation to other health benefits which have come to light in recent years," he said at the time.

You can read a short profile of Dr Moses on the International Centre for Infectious Diseases website, and check out more of Dr Moses's research here. (Or you can read about Moses, the man who led the Jews out of Egypt in another kind of breakthrough altogether, here, if you prefer. Moses was himself presumably circumcised, as Jewish custom dictates. Coincidence? Probably.)


Is Time's list accurate? I have my doubts. Is a controversial, diarrhea-inducing OTC diet drug like orlistat (Alli) really more important in the long run than advances in stem cell research or improved lung cancer testing?

That kind of question echoes one of the central problems of medical research and medical reporting: how to balance the time and money allotted to research with an immediate payoff against research that, although it probably doesn't make much of a difference right away, may lay the groundwork for true breakthroughs later on. (It's another matter entirely to consider the frequent use of the term 'breakthrough' in the pages of daily newspapers these days to describe relatively minor bits and pieces of research.)

Photo: International Centre for Infectious Diseases

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