If there's any lesson to learn from biomedicine from the past year, it's to expect the unexpected. Who would have thought a year ago that the patents on the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, held by Myriad Genetics, would be overturned by a US federal court? Or that a federal judge would temporarily upend President Barack Obama's executive order allowing funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells?

Likewise, 2010 saw a shake-up for the genetic testing industry after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Government Accountability Office voiced concerns about the direct-to-consumer spit kits. Meanwhile, some individuals claiming to cure patients with stem cell treatments also drew the ire of regulatory agencies. In August, the FDA tried to crack down on Colorado-based Regenerative Sciences, while in the UK, Robert Trossel lost his doctor's license after treating multiple sclerosis sufferers with stem cell injections.

Susan Reverby, a women's studies professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, also discovered evidence of immoral medical practice when she stumbled across documents revealing that the US government had sponsored clinical trials in Guatemala in which people were deliberately exposed to syphilis during the 1940s. Other heartbreaking news came in February when Amy Bishop, a neurobiologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville allegedly killed three faculty members and injured three others.

But there was hopeful research news, too. China's National Natural Science Foundation made a surprise announcement in January that it had launched a medical branch similar to the US National Institutes of Health. And cancer researchers rejoiced in April when Seattle-based Dendreon received the regulatory go-ahead for the world's first cancer vaccine.

In the following pages of our end-of-year special, we take a tour of the past twelve months and review the breakthroughs and busts of 2010.