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#BTOTY 2014: Science Magazine Honors Discoveries

Every year, Science magazine names its winner of the Breakthrough of the Year (#BTOTY) Award, as well as asking readers to vote for the People's Choice winner. Learn about the top five contenders in the People's Choice runoff vote below:

5th place: An easy cure for hepatitis C

Hepatitis can refer to a number of different illnesses that attack the liver through bacteria or viruses. While vaccines for hepatitis A and B have been available for several decades now, a vaccine or cure for hepatitis C had been elusive. Earlier trials were hampered by hepatitis C's ability to mutate quickly to withstand eradication, the treatment being ineffective on patients with a certain strain of hepatitis C, and the unpleasant side effects of the drugs that discouraged people from taking them. A new treatment for hepatitis C, developed this year, is a big step in the right direction with fewer side effects and a short 12-week drug regimen. Unfortunately, the drugs cost over $80,000 for a full course for just one patient, leaving this life-saving treatment inaccessible to many people. (Learn more at We Now Have the Cure for Hepatitis C, but Can We Afford It?)

4th place: Cells that might cure diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an illness in which the body destroys vital insulin-creating beta cells in the pancreas. It affects nearly three million people in the United States, and its cause is still unknown. But this year, researchers announced a possible new treatment for type 1 diabetes: they were able to transform human embryonic stem cells into new beta cells that produce insulin. Theoretically, these cells would be able to stop type 1 diabetes in its tracks, simply by being transplanted into a patient where they would replace the destroyed beta cells. While the mechanism for delivering the stem cells is still being tested, clinical trials with diabetic mice have been promising. (Lean more at From stem cells to billions of human insulin-producing cells.)

3rd place: Landing on a comet

Launched by the European Space Agency in 2004, the Rosetta space probe and its Philae lander reached their destination of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenkoon on November 12 of this year. This was the first time humans have ever landed a spacecraft on a comet. Calculating the physics of landing a moving object on another moving object in outer space is extremely difficult and relies on a number of different factors, so whether or not the mission would succeed was unknown until the very last minute. Philae landed successfully, an achievement celebrated by the scientific community and space enthusiasts around the world. (Learn more at Rosetta.)

2nd place: Young blood fixes old

New trials using lab mice have found that injecting older individuals with the blood of younger individuals can help repair damage due to aging. While experiments similar to these have been conducted for decades, researchers this year were able to identify a specific protein in the young blood believed to be responsible for these effects. Protein GDF11 has been found in several studies in mice to rejuvenate damaged hearts, brains, and muscles. New studies testing this therapy in human subjects with Alzheimer's disease are currently in development and show promise. (Learn more at Young Blood Renews Old Mice.)

1st place: Giving life a new genetic alphabet

Those familiar with DNA, the genetic instruction book found in living creatures, will know that it is comprised of two base pairs—A/T and G/C—that in different configurations code for amino acids that make up proteins. This year, microbiologists were able to create a new pair of letters, X and Y, in synthesized bacteria in the lab. While the new base pair currently doesn't code for amino acids, meaning that it is functionally useless, this expanded genetic alphabet could help researchers better understand the nature of DNA. The fact that scientists have been able to create new "words" in the language of DNA, even if they don't do anything yet, is an incredible advancement in the field of synthetic biology. (Learn more at Designer Microbes Expand Life's Genetic Alphabet.)