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Which are the top medical breakthroughs of the past 65 years?

by Lisa Flam /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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Just how much has the field of medicine changed since 1950?

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As Prevention magazine celebrates its 65th birthday next month, TODAY turned to its experts to find out what they consider to be the top three medical breakthroughs since the publication was launched.

Dr. Florence Comite, an endocrinologist and Prevention contributor, stopped by the show on Tuesday to discuss major advances since the magazine’s first issue in June 1950. That issue, which cost just 25 cents, focused on polio.

There have been so many important advances since 1950 that it was tough to narrow the list.

Prevention explains its top three choices:

The Golden Age of Antibiotics

 Antibiotics that are commonly prescribed now were discovered after 1950. Shutterstock

About half of the antibiotics used today were discovered from 1950 to 1960, leading to a dramatic worldwide drop in illnesses and deaths caused by bacterial infections.

“It was major,” Comite said on TODAY. “It keeps us living longer lives.”

Before that decade of discovery, she noted, women died from infections contracted during childbirth.

“Since then, we live longer lives and women aren’t dying like that due to infection and young people with infection don’t die, so, it’s a big breakthrough,” she said.

Commonly used antibiotics these days, azithromycin and ampicillin, were discovered after 1950. Quinolones, a broad-spectrum family of drugs that treat pneumonia and other infections, were discovered in 1962, while Cefalexin, used to combat ear and skin infections, were discovered in 1967.

Reproductive Technologies

In vitro fertilization and other techniques changed the way people create their families. Advances include in utero biopsies, fetal surgery and the birth of the first “test tube baby” in 1978.

“IVF is the big one that everyone knows about,” Comite said, and an estimated 5 million babies have been born worldwide from this and other technologies.

But it’s not just IVF, she noted. Women without ovaries can receive donor eggs and have a child. “What could be a greater gift than that,” she said.

Or, for men whose sperm is hardwired with colon cancer, she added, “now you can pluck individual ones out and have a baby that’s not going to grow up to have colon cancer.”

Personalized medicine

This emerging field, which got a mention by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address, considers the uniqueness of each person, and is closely connected to genetics and the sequencing of the genome.

“Precision medicine, which is the new term for personalized medicine, will change the way we practice medicine 180 degrees,” said Comite, a precision medicine specialist.

“Now, we wait for someone to come to us as a doctor and we do a standard battery of tests, but it’s not so simple,” she added. “There’s a lot underneath the surface that’s lurking and we need to figure out what that is.”

Lisa A. Flam, a regular contributor to, is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.

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