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The Making of Medicine

The Biggest Stories of the Last Five Years

I’ve been covering medical discoveries at UVA for about five years now. The two stories that have hit the biggest in the media have been focused ultrasound, which I told you about here, and Jonathan Kipnis’ discovery of a previously unknown connection between the brain and immune system.

You’d think we had the body all mapped out, wouldn’t you? After all these years of dissecting and autopsying and imaging, you’d assume we’d know what was inside us, even if we don’t quite know how everything works.

Dr. Kipnis and his postdoctoral fellow, Antoine Louveau, showed us our mistake. Dr. Louveau was examining mouse brains when he spotted what looked like vessels connecting the lymphatic system and the brain. Like Bell calling to Watson, he called in Dr. Kipnis. They realized they had found something big. Here were vessels that medical textbooks insisted didn’t exist. Our understanding of how the brain interacts with the immune system was wrong. Major wow.

The discovery could have big, big implications for human health. For example, could the immune system’s failure to clean the brain properly be responsible for the plaque buildup associated with Alzheimer’s disease? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re talking potential implications for everything from multiple sclerosis to autism.

The news of the discovery went worldwide, creating a frenzy of news coverage, and months later I continue to field media inquiries about it, the latest being from a German documentary crew. But Dr. Kipnis says he’s still waiting on the CNN truck. I’m working on it. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can get this blog an exclusive interview with him about what he’s working on now and what might be coming next.

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