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IN DEPTH

A Code for Autism

Is risk of the disorder inherited, or do genes get scrambled in the womb? Researchers may be closing in on some answers.

Is Genetic Privacy a Myth?

Genetic tests and genome sequencing are generating terabytes of sensitive private data. How can they be kept safe?

When the Researcher Is the Subject

Self-experimentation has a long history in medicine. Should its practice today be shunned or embraced?

Special Treatment

Team care and structural changes could vastly improve the recovery of older patients. Yet institutions that implement such approaches remain rare.

Voice of the People

When patients demand more than science can provide, high-priced, ineffective treatments can reach the market.

The Blind Can See

Stem cells, gene therapy and devices that can beam images directly into the brain offer new hope to those without sight.

Living Forever

The science of senescence has struggled to translate life-extending research from animals to people. Now the pace is quickening.

Aftermath

Saving lives after a terrorist attack takes coordinated action, and hospitals are racing to improve their plans.

Lost in the Middle

Dashed expectations in midlife may be fueling a sharp rise in suicides. Several strategies seek to save people in despair.

Build a Better Painkiller

Helping patients in pain often means prescribing opioid drugs, which can be dangerous. New research looks into alternatives.

Why Plaque Attacks

A bold theory—that the brain-tangling proteins of Alzheimer’s disease may form to fight infection—could spur new research.

Whole Again

The first U.S. penis transplant didn’t save a life, but it vastly improved one, opening a frontier for complex transplants.

Made to Measure

New gene-editing techniques let researchers create precisely the laboratory animals they need—but at what ethical cost?

Dying of Neglect

Tropical diseases thrive little noticed and unaddressed in the poorest areas of the United States.

The Telltale Strand

The genomics revolution has hit the courtroom, with the first case that relies on next-generation sequencing of DNA.

Please Share

Troves of data are gathered during clinical trials, but most of it stays locked away. Could freeing it lead to new cures?

Crossing Over

Most transgender people know their gender identity as children. So how do pediatricians help them become healthy adults?

Taking It to the Streets

Doctors have a long history as fighters for social causes. What can be done to make sure that legacy isn't lost?

The Red Highway

Red blood cells are free to ferry oxygen around the body, an enviable access that can be hijacked to deliver new therapies.

Shine a Light

Lasers used in cancer treatment can burn away tumors, and also gather precise information and unleash targeted treatments.

Down on the Pharm

A breakthrough Ebola vaccine was grown in tobacco leaves. Are genetically modified plants the future of pharmaceuticals?

Pot and the Teen Brain

A more relaxed attitude toward legal marijuana may mean more use among teens. The long-term effects may not be good.

Sirens Off

Some paramedics are focusing on keeping patients out of the emergency room, rather than taking them there.

The Accidental Innovator

Where does a medical breakthrough come from? Patients, caregivers and frontline doctors are all pitching in.

Scars That Don’t Fade

A stressful childhood can have psychological and physiological fallout in adulthood. Researchers are now narrowing in on how stress wounds the brain and the body.

Kept At Bay

A new generation of cancer treatments harness an internal ally—the power of the immune system.

Sensory Substitution

Research on synesthesia has led to devices that blur the lines between the senses, and may offer new hope for the blind.

The Politics of Pain

Physicians have had plenty of powerful painkillers but no national strategy for treatment. Could that finally change?

A Decade of Change

Proto's first 10 years saw policy reforms, genomic gains and a deluge of new data. What next?

Testing the Waters

The ocean floor is teeming with microorganisms that may hold the secret to new treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Out of Practice

Does being a physician come with an expiration date? And if it should, how can age-related competence be measured?

Screening Under Scrutiny

Early screening for disease saves lives, but research shows that some tests may do more harm than good.

Inside Out

Linda Griffith has brought a fresh perspective to the study of endometriosis, a debilitating inflammatory disease in women.

Fixing the Signal

Electrical stimulation may hold the key to treating conditions as diverse as asthma and liver disease—if only researchers can crack the code.

Troubled Passage

More Americans are dying with dementia and Alzheimer's. A Proto video series explores how hospitals, doctors and policy makers may be failing them.

Dr. Darwin

Can a refresher course in the laws of natural selection help doctors better understand human health and illness?

Long Last Moments

Dementia care has an end-of-life problem. The author explores the system’s shortfalls through her mother’s last days.

Doctors in the Machine

The next generation of medical software offers extraordinary support. But how can such tools be used to the best effect?

Betrayal Within

Researchers are narrowing in on a compelling explanation for narcolepsy: the body at war with itself.

The Robot Surgeon

A remarkable machine lets doctors operate from across the room and quickly gets patients back on their feet. But will hospitals pay the price?

From the Black Death to SARS

A brief history of quarantine in policy and popular prose.

Deconstructing Happiness

Exploring 75 years of data, researchers trace the emotional highs and lows in the lives of hundreds of men and their descendants.

Hard to Conceive

The potential to regenerate women's eggs is the latest breakthrough in reproductive research. But there are risks to perturbing nature.

From the Bottom Up

Infusing colons with donated feces has led to remarkable cures and big questions about what's safe and what's next.

After the Cure

The success of pediatric cancer therapies has a downside: adults with lingering health problems caused by their treatments.

(Out of) Office Visit

Telehealth technology takes primary and specialty care to distant patients. But will nagging issues slow its rapid growth?

Printing a New You

Using 3-D printers to create skull implants or replacement joints is exciting; running off living organs would be revolutionary.

When Disaster Strikes

The best intentions don't always add up to a fast, effective medical response. A multidisciplinary approach could help.

The Price of Personalization

Tailoring treatments, patient by patient, can achieve remarkable results. But can we afford to make every disease rare?

Our Dark Matter

Genes account for less than 2% of the human genome- and much of what determines health and disease may lie elsewhere.

When Lyme Lingers

In most cases, antibiotics do the trick. But when they don't, symptoms can be devastating. New research aims to discover why.

The Problem of Replication

It's disappointing when seemingly groundbreaking studied can't be repeated. But it's happening a lot.

No Easy Answers

The name — ductal carcinoma in situ — begs the question: how to treat a small breast lesion that has yet to spread.

A Tough Job Made Tougher

"Disabled" doctors? They don't like the term or the implication, and their careers have been anything but limited.

Comprehension Test

For patients to be effective partners in their own care requires a basic grasp of medical terms that, shockingly, many don't have.

Tangled Up in Tau

Trouble with the protein may underlie most kinds of dementia, potentially including Alzheimer's. New drugs could help.

Do We Need So Much?

Techniques of "bloodless" surgery, honed for those who refuse transfusions, could help stem what many call an overuse of blood.

In Finer Focus

Bringing never-before-seen structures into view, today's microscopy is dispelling cartoon concepts and answering unanticipated questions.

The New Nursing Home

Can an aging nation transform the places no one wants to be? Innovations show the way, but the cost could mean slow progress.

Same Genes, Different Fates

Few identical twins suffer identical maladies, leading science to probe the significance of epigenetic changes that make paths diverge.

In One Breath

The air you exhale carries a wealth of clinical data, and scientists are fashioning ever more precise methods for divining its truths.

On the Same Page

Advocates of shared decision making argue that everyone benefits when patients know more and don't just follow doctors' orders.

A New Driver in Research

Disease foundations that use a venture capital model get a stake in the breakthroughs they fund. Not everyone thinks that's a good idea.

Nuclear Medicine's Crisis

Technetium, a diagnostic workhorse, provides high definition images with minimal radiation. But it's supply could dry up tomorrow.

Organs in Miniature

Microscopic models--half living, half not--may prove more reliable than animals in explaining human disease and testing therapies.

The Need for Compassion

There's ample proof that physician empathy can benefit doctors as well as patients. Next challenge: teaching medicine's softer side.

Research Gems

Issues of privacy and consent are scarcely slowing the race to build enormous, invaluable "biobanks" of human tissue and data.

On the Trail of Drug Risks

May problems with therapies show up post-FDA approval. Could mining electronic data and online chatter head off trouble?

Age of Enlightenment

Light-activated genes, now illuminating brain circuitry in rodents and monkeys, may help solve mysteries of human disease.

Timely Reminders

Not taking medicine as directed exacts a heavy toll on disease and death. New approaches, high tech and low, could make a difference.

Probing Journals

The trend of publishing research on the Web is raising concerns about how medical advances are judged and disseminated.

Studies in Free Fall

Research in space, absent gravity's pull, is shedding light on earthbound problems, from osteoporosis to immune deficiencies.

The Merger Push

Hospitals are bulking up again, using acquisitions to try to become more efficient. But will consolidation improve care, or hurt it?

The End of the Physical?

Many doctors and patients still swear by an annual visit. But this expensive habit may not be the best way to head off disease.

Designer Drugs

"Large molecule" therapies, tailored to home in on otherwise untreatable ills, have become medicine's hottest commodity.

Cutting Cancer's Power

For tumors, it's a grow-or-die world, and a renewed focus on cell metabolism aims to deprive them of the fuel they must have.

The Fitter Fat

It's serious research disguised as diet fad: the notion that special tissue—which not everyone has—can help burn off pounds.

The Problem with Biomarkers

The best signposts--from blood pressure readings to genetic tests--can personalize diagnosis and treatment. Most don't help.

Our Innate Defense

Could natural killer cells, long thought to be blind and blunt, actually be discerning enough to help defeat HIV's protean defenses?

A Peaceful Passing

Adept at saving lives, we need to learn how to let patients go, say three physician-essayists, who consider why a "good death" is so elusive.

Gaining Strength

Out of favor for decades, testosterone replacement therapy is back--and so is the debate about a possible link to prostate cancer.

Smoking Out Malaria

Almost eradicating the disease, as happened in the 1950s, led to a disastrous resurgence. Is now the time for a smarter, final push?

The Timekeepers Within

Clock genes keep circadian rhythms in sync, coordinating cells' essential work and possibly enhancing well-timed therapies.

Care on the Street

Homeless patients suffer multiple afflictions that most doctors never see. Innovative programs are reaching and helping them.

Enter Hospitalists

Becoming ubiquitous, thes on-the-spot physicians provide immediate care and may cut hospital costs. The jury's still out on quality.

Somber Questions

Though critics call them overprescribed, ineffective and worse, the real story on antidepressants is more complicated.

A Matter of Taste

Science is unraveling the biological factors that determine food preferences. Next: making people like what's good for them.

Glia's Hidden Talents

Each discovery adds to the sense that these long-ignored cells matter—for brain development, learning, memory and more.

The Missing Piece

Rare, elusive stem cells could explain why cancer is so difficult to cure—if they even exist.

On the Clock

If residents' long shifts endanger patients, lightening the load should reduce the risk. Trouble is, there's no evidence it does.

Time to Regroup

Can doctors and hospitals collaborate to improve quality and limit costs? The accountable care organization may be their last, best chance.

The Injured Brain

It can be as resilient as it is vulnerable, recovering from the most devastating wounds. Researchers are only beginning to understand how.

More Than Hand-Holding

Palliative care—just easing pain and boosting spirits—help very ill patients live better. Now it turns out to let them live longer, too.

Organ of Change

Though routinely discarded, the placenta has a rich story to tell, full of information about fetal development and future health.

Museum Pieces

Drug availability is getting worse, with essential medicines often impossible to obtain. What will it take to fix the system?

Pipe Repair

Though not as sexy as genomics or the latest miracle drug, improved techniques and technology for fixing aortas are saving lots of lives.

Full-Body Peril

The far-flung tumors of tuberous sclerosis complex, noncancerous but hardly benighn, are shedding light on how malignancies develop.

Telltale Patterns

Scientists are uncovering thousands of metabolites, all of which provide unique evidence of bodily functions and dysfunctions.

Saving Our Skin

Melanoma, almost impossible to treat after it metastasizes, appears vulnerable to two new approaches that could someday be combined.

Questioning Statins

Statins' ability to control cholestrerol is undeniable. Less certain, after almost 25 years, is whether benefits outweigh potential harm.

A Trip to Therapy

Untouchable for decades, hallucinogenic drugs are back in the lab, with new research into how they work and what they might achieve.

Entry Fee

Zinc fingers could pull gene therapy back from the brink—but only if more researchers can get their hands on the remarkable proteins.

Multiple Complications

There’s an exceptionally long list of possible causes of multiple sclerosis, and growing evidence that almost all may play a role.

Megastore Medicine

Retail clinics brought grocery-aisle convenience to strep tests and flu shots. Now they’re aiming to manage chronic conditions.

The Teenage Brain

Adolescence is the brain’s boom time, a period of rapid development, specialization—and a heedless propensity for excess.

Dangerous Devices

It’s much easier to get a medical device approved than to bring a new drug to market. Should that change?

Our Native Flora

In today’s antimicrobial world, broad swaths of humans’ 100 trillion resident bacteria may soon disappear, with profound consequences.

The Brain at Work

What do London cabbies have in common with musicians and mathematicians?

Logical Medicine

Thousands of step-by-step decision aids stand ready to assist in diagnosis and treatment. But most physicians don’t use them.

PTSD: The War Inside

Finally recognized as real and debilitating, post-traumatic stress disorder may now be yielding ground to innovative therapies.

Is Aging a Disease?

If, as some scientists suspect, illnesses that strike late in life have a common root, similar therapies might help us avoid many of them.

Burden of Proof

A deceptively simple-seeming concept, evidence-based medicine calls for physicians to follow consensus guidelines. But whose consensus?

Why Joints Fail

What causes osteoarthritis? Not wear and tear, apparently, but bone lesions, misaligned joints and fat-cell-generated inflammation.

Symptoms in Script

Not just pop science, handwriting analysis can be a telling diagnostic tool, revealing signs of bipolar disease, Parkinson’s and other disorders.

Origami Medicine

When proteins misfold, molecular chaos ensues, leading to cystic fibrosis and other ills. New research aims to unwind the mistakes.

Hope in Sight

When the retina fails, the body’s window on the world slams shut. These futuristic treatments may pry it open again.

Still Beyond Reach

The protein endothelin shows up everywhere, so scientists hoped blocking its action could treat many diseases. It hasn’t happened—yet.

Collaborative Care

Could “medical homes,” where every patient has a physician-led support team, improve health and reduce costs? Early evidence says yes.

The Science Factory

At Singapore’s gleaming Biopolis complex, researchers get all the money and lab support they need. What they don’t get is time.

Eating Away at You

Avoid gluten, and celiac disease loses its sting. But research continues, and breakthroughs might treat other disorders too.

Between the Lines

Patients on networking sites discuss their illnesses and treatments. Can pattern-recognition software pull insights from the noise?

Special Delivery

From three-stage nanorockets to remote-controlled pills, today’s drug delivery marvels transport payloads where nothing else can go.

One Island's Treasure

The find: big orange tonsils. The payoff: genetic insight, a crucial molecule and possible treatments for heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

The Killing Fields

It’s when cancer metastasizes that it becomes deadly. New research is tracing its migratory path to find points of vulnerability.

The Future of Obesity?

A long campaign halved the percentage of U.S. smokers. Could a similar effort succeed against the nation’s obesity epidemic?

Born Again

Creating a medicine from scratch takes years and may cost $1 billion. One alternative: recycling failed compounds for new applications.

Life Altering

Synthetic biologists go far beyond genetic engineers, creating cellular computers, microbial drug factories and cancer-hunting bacteria.

Digital Gold

Using natural language processing and other advanced search tools, bioinformatics experts are mining patient files—and striking paydirt.

When the Drug Fits

Therapies that focus on tumors’ key proteins have had miraculous but often short-lived effects. New strategies could extend their usefulness.

Shock Value

Art and message merged in twentieth-century posters, raising the alarm about contagions from TB to AIDS.

Catching a Chill

Ordinarily resistant to economic ills, health care this time is suffering too. Poor and uninsured patients are most at risk.

The Transplant Trick

An experimental protocol fools the immune system into accepting a new organ without debilitating drugs. Could it become routine?

The Other Stem Cells

Once considered mere substitutes for embryonic cells, re-engineered adult cells are making breakthroughs of their own.

Yes. No. Maybe.

Hormone therapy after menopause may prevent heart attacks and caner—or cause them. New research could show who benefits.

Fertile Ground

The brain, it turns out, can heal itself, and adding stem cells could unleash that toper to treat Parkinson’s, stroke and even depression.

Practicing Small

They work without employees, fancy offices or big incomes. But back-to-basics doctors cite one elusive perk: satisfaction.

The Sociable Robot

Prototypes play well with humans, helping patients with autism and Alzheimer’s. But don’t expect an arm of such aides just yet.

The Rare Few

Of every 300 people infected with HIV, one doesn’t get AIDS. Understanding this uncanny protection might help science imitate nature.

A Mighty Worm

C. elegans, a 959-celled Nobel magnet, helped explain cell suicide and launch genomics, and could now revolutionize drug development.

Studies in Miniature

Liquids act differently in tiny spaces, enabling lab-on-a-chip technology to transform research, drug discovery and disease diagnosis.

The War on Superbugs

As medicine battles antibiotic resistance, tougher drugs breed still more deadly bacteria. New approaches could break the cycle.

Bypassing Diabetes

As a cure for the disease, bariatric surgery is poorly understood. But it’s so effective that it’s now being done on patients who aren’t even obese.

Mirror, Mirror

Is watching the same as doing? Both depend on a newly discovered neuron, which helps explain how humans connect.

Game Changers

A new kind of video contest has serious aims, from motivating cancer patients to solving the mysteries of how proteins fold.

DNA Unlaced

Like shoelaces’ tips, telomeres do damage control, preserving DNA and slowing aging. What happens if we extend their expiration date?

Filling the Gap

Break a bone and pull it apart a millimeter a day. Seems crazy, but distraction osteogenesis is saving legs, arms and faces.

Always On

Acute inflammation fights off infection, but the chronic kind, simmering inside most of the population, can be deadly.

Sick of Waiting

Emergency room jam-ups threaten patients, inflate costs and disrupt hospital operations. Small fixes might solve this big problem.

Your Genome, Yourself

There's remarkable science behind mail-order gene tests. But should buyers beware?

Trouble in Triplicate

Billing for care now costs almost a third as much as providing it. It's time to cut the paperwork.

Too Soon for Surgery

Operating in the womb sometimes has miraculous results. Yet many still question whether it should be done at all.

Prevention's New Profits

Once poised to defeat infectious disease, vaccines beat a long retreat. Now they’re back, and gaining new ground.

Dying to Live

Long the stuff of science fiction, suspended animation also has a medical history—and it could soon save trauma victims.

Halting Schizophrenia

After symptoms begin but before reality departs, aggressive treatment may forestall the disease. But is the intervention worth the risks?

What the Tongue Tastes

Salty, sweet, sour, bitter and... umami. Science could have used a cooking lesson to discover one very important amino acid.

Shoot the Messenger

Injected RNA, which can turn off genes and halt production of harmful proteins, could profoundly affect the way we treat disease.

Claire's Knee

Human joints wear out, and often replacements do too. Now innovative designs are improving longevity and function.

One Town's Treasure

Medicine’s debt to Framingham, Mass., is almost incalculable. And after 60 years, the famous study may be just getting started.

Will Animals Ever Leave the Lab?

Far from replacing animal testing, computer simulation is leading to smarter experiments—and the need for more animals.

Calming the Explosive Child

When troubled kids erupt, the traditional view calls for tougher parenting. A new approach substitutes skill building for punishment.

The New Heredity

It appears that natural selection isn’t the only way traits are passed along. Environmental influences, too, may get embedded in our DNA.

Losing Sleep

Yardsticks developed in 1968 can’t explain many disorders. New tools may reveal what really happens when one’s head hits the pillow.

Once and Future Threats

The best protection against bioterror could be an enhanced immune system. But human biology might pose a problem.

The Hardest Word

When a medical mistake is made, full disclosure and a sincere apology could be better for everyone involved.

Out of the Shadows

The cause of hepatitis C was a mystery solved only after years of groundbreaking research. But the battle continues.

Borrowing from the Best

What can hospitals learn from Toyota and other industry icons? Four paradigm-shifting strategies that improve efficiency and care.

Energy Crisis

When the powerhouses of cells—mitochondria—black out, a host of diseases ensue. The trick is to get them humming again.

Not Fade Away

As the population ages and Alzheimer’s disease proliferates, millions of minds are being lost. A spate of new drugs could stem the damage.

Are We Running Out of Doctors?

First, a predicted glut; now, an apparent shortage. Getting physician supply to match demand is hard; getting it wrong could be devastating.

More Questions Than Answers

Esophageal adenocarcinoma is increasing at a rate unmatched by any other cancer. There’s no simple explanation—just many complex clues.

Is Heart Surgery History?

Treating the heart today involves less cutting and more cutting-edge technology. But where does that leave cardiac surgeons?

The Body in Pain

Genetic variations, it turns out, explain why everyone experiences pain differently. Now medicine can push toward personalized relief.

In Pursuit of Prions

Kuru, scrapie, a fatal form of insomnia—all caused by renegade proteins. Cure one and other, more familiar diseases may follow.

At Home in Hospice

As more of us choose a different way to die, a philosophy has become an industry, raising questions about access, quality—and profits.

Should prisoners participate in medical research trials?

Issues of choice, good science and the benefit of new treatments complicate the question.

Kidneys for Sale

Transplant surgeon Amy Friedman argues: Since we can't get enough organs for free, why not pay for them?

Reversal of Misfortune

Promising yet far from proven, this approach to treating post-traumatic stress neutralizes a memory just before it comes back to haunt you.

Nature's Design

Often, biology knows best, which is why these medical innovations borrow liberally from natural properties and processes.

Care Across Cultures

As today’s caregivers face a rainbow of cultures, issues of race, religion and language can make or break a treatment plan.

The Polypill

Someday, we might all be taking it—even if we don't really need it.

Slime and the City

Biofilms are microbial metropolises: teeming, diverse and, when attached to surgical implants, nearly impossible to subdue.

The Anatomy Theater

A cadaver, an anatomist and a press of onlookers in a sixteenth century engraving inspire a twenty-first century verse.

The Quest for Quality

Pay for performance seems simple: Give doctors financial incentives to improve care. So what's taking so long?

The Addicted Brain

Addiction significantly alters the brain, drawing drug users into its irresistible chemistry. Treatment, then, can't block the high.

When Puberty Strikes

Scientists are untangling puberty’s central mystery: What combination of genes and environmental cues flip the switch?

An Epidemic of Excess

The link between obesity and diabetes is well established. But it's not the only reason for the skyrocketing incidence of the disease.

The Placebo Problem

In some trials, subjects have responded just as well to sugar pills as they have to real treatment. So how can we trust any real results?

Medicine Gets Personal

Understanding the patient's genetic makeup is leading to better, more precisely targeted treatments.

Out of Despair

Once a last resort for the severely depressed, electroconvulsive therapy has been joined by a new generation of less shocking alternatives.

25 Years of AIDS

They were hooked from the start, four pioneers whose work changed the course of a modern plague—and they're not done yet.

No More Lies

Brain-scanning breakthroughs are proving remarkably able to detect falsehoods. But is it wrong to invade a liar's skull?

Turning Off Cancer

A "new" approach, 40 years in the making, attempts to keep blood vessels from feeding tumors. It's starting to work.

Still a Scourge

After crippling millions worldwide, polio may soon be wiped out. But to the last, the virus is proving an elusive, stubborn foe.

Down the Hatch

A new path to internal organs would cause little pain and leave no scars. But will the benefits outweigh the risks?

A Killer Called Staph

If God wanted to send a plague to expose the Achilles' heel of American medicine, that plague would be MRSA.

The Digital Hospital

The Veterans Health Administration, of all places, has embraced the computer age. Will the rest of medicine (finally) follow.

Saving Faces

Disfigured patients will risk anything for a shot at being normal. Three breakthroughs may improve their odds.

You Can Hurry Science

Frustrated by the glacial pace of autism research, activist parents have taken matters into their own hands.

Survival Tech

These remarkable devices are saving soldiers, improving lives after combat—and benefiting civilians too.

That's Some Pig

Sugar-free and engineered for tolerance, hogs may one day fill a need for transplant organs.

The Scarlet Gene

With the human genome laid bare, scientists are narrowing their search for the roots of mental illness.

Why Strokes Still Kill

Terrible things happen fast in a victim's brain. Now new drugs and smart systems can extend the treatment deadline.

All Too Human

Today's patient simulators breathe, bleed, talk and die, challenging even the most experienced clinicians.

Fearing the Flu

The avian virus incubating in Asia is remarkably virulent. But nature itself may prevent a human pandemic.

Understanding Anesthesia

The waning of consciousness during surgery is a mysterious as it is routine. Finally, the curtain may be about to part.