The first thing that came to mind was nanotechnology, then the dog that had been treated of paralysis and then the passing of Venus (this doesn't really count as a breakthrough though as it's more of a natural occurrence). Others that flashed across my thoughts included the growing of sperm cells from skin cells and the ongoing debates on open access journalism.
As my first thought was on nanotechnology, that was my answer. However, on hindsight I would say stem cells or gene therapy. Now if you are of scientific background and you read this post, I believe your answer would be tailored to your field of interest and the advancement in that area, If you are not a scientist however, I am curious to hear from you on what you consider to be a key scientific advancement today.
Why did nanotechnology come to mind? Well, I recently graduated from my MSc (Pharmaceutical Science with management studies) and you know the scenario where as you prepare for exams there is always the inevitable question predicted to be on the paper and so you study the subject inside out? Such was the case with one of my modules (development, manufacturing and regulation of medicines) and the lecture on drug delivery systems was a favorite tipped for the exam paper. The focus on this topic was the use of nano particles as potential drug carrier. This has been and still is at the heart of many pharmaceutics today as nano particles are envisaged to be less toxic, present lesser side effects and can easily adsorb and carry other compounds. Like all new discoveries however, there are potential hazards. Having read, re-read and written about this recent development for months, no surprise then that it influenced my answer.
Gene therapy is another favorite of mine. Here, genes are used as the tool for the treatment or prevention of disease by either inserting, replacing, deleting or causing a mutation in the original gene. Gene therapy is the most immature of the three and leaves much scope for development.
Nanotechnology, Stem cell therapy and Gene therapy have made my top three list of what I perceive to be today's scientific breakthrough. Whichever discovery wows you, the quest for a better tomorrow in the fight against disease and treatment of unrelenting conditions continues as scientist persevere in the discovery process. The down side to crude developments is the side effects which come to light over time and the reason why it takes about 10 years on average from the discovery of a new entity to putting drugs on the shelf.
I am curious to hear from you on what you consider to be a key scientific advancement today.