Top Docs 2011

From face transplants to computerized glasses that help blind people “see” to a groundbreaking development in the fight against Lou Gehrig’s disease, here are 14 stunning medical breakthroughs.

Mr. Roboto

Photograph by Bruce Peterson

Photograph by Bruce Peterson

Sometimes having a big mouth can be good for your health. For patients with head and neck tumors, for instance, a spacious oral cavity can be the difference between a massive procedure that cuts through the jaw and throat, opening up the face like a book, or a minimally invasive surgery done with the help of a robot. At Boston Medical Center, otolaryngologists Gregory Grillone and Scharukh Jalisi have redefined the concept of “open wide” by perfecting a technique called transoral robotic surgery (TORS), recently approved by the FDA. When a patient has a relatively large jaw, doctors can remove tumors in hard-to-reach places — behind the tonsils and tongue, say, or deep in the larynx and throat — by using a remote console to maneuver several robotic arms, each outfitted with an HD camera or surgical tool. The robotic precision allows the doctors, who performed more than 30 of the operations this year, to better clean out tumors, and it gets patients home in days rather than weeks.  — J.N.

The 10 Percent Doctrine

Doctors have long known that up to 10 percent of all heart attack patients die within a year; the problem was that they didn’t know which 10 percent were at risk. They do now, thanks to the work of Zeeshan Syed, who discovered the answer while in the joint health sciences doctoral program run by Harvard and MIT. Syed scanned the electrocardiogram readings of nearly 5,000 patients — tens of thousands of hours of recorded heartbeats — and discovered patterns, called biomarkers, that hospitals can now use to identify high-risk patients. “We can tease something out of nothing,” says Syed, who published his findings in September. You just have to look.  —  J.N.