BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: medicine

Parents Take Warning: Antibiotics Can Be Harmful to Infants

Antibiotics are the marvel of modern medicine. They have brought about incredible medical advances, treating bacterial diseases and helping to prolong lifespans in modern times. But a new study conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute has shined a light on the potential negative effects antibiotics can have on an infant’s health.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/herebedragons/2573487530

The study, conducted in partnership with a team of Finnish researchers, took monthly fecal samples from 39 children from birth until they were 36 months old and analyzed the sample using standard, RNA sequencing procedure to identify different microbes. During the study, 20 of the children had taken antibiotics for respiratory or ear infections ranging from 9 to 15 treatments over the course of the study. From this data, the researchers could analyze the diversity of the gut microbiome of these participants with respect to their antibiotic usage.

The researchers had chosen to analyze the effect antibiotics have on the gut microbiome in young children because of the pivotal role antibiotics appear to play in human health during early development. Low diversity in the early years of life of this collection of bacteria residing in the intestines has been linked to allergies and autoimmune diseases.

The results of this study show a decrease in the diversity of the microbial gut populations in infants who took antibiotics. This was even more pronounced when the infants were marked with a specific signature low in a bacteria known as Bacteriodes (this decrease in Bacteriodes has been speculated to be linked to Caesarean section births in the past but the researchers found this rationale to be inconclusive as well as another rationale that prolonged breastfeeding led to a stronger gut microbiome with higher levels of Bifidobacteria).

When the infants had taken antibiotics, a single strain of bacteria tended to rule their gut with only a few species surviving. On the whole, the gut microbiomes of these participants were less stable and had higher levels of antibiotic resistant genes.

Don’t get me wrong: antibiotics are an incredible innovation that has saved millions of lives. But, be careful in thinking they are a cure all. They’re side-effects might be more harmful than you think, especially in children.

How does this research change your perception of antibiotics?

 

Is There a Limit to How Old Humans Will Get?

In the 1900s, the life expectancy for humans in the United States was approximately 50 years. Since then, the age to which humans can live has only grown. In 1997, a woman by the name of Jeanne Calment died at the age of 122- an astounding increase from the life expectancy less than a hundred years ago. A new study written about in the New York Times explains that Dr. Vijg, an expert on aging at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, feels that we have now reached our “ceiling. From now on, this is it: Humans will never get older than 115.” Dr. Vijg and his graduate students published their pessimistic study in the journal Nature, presenting the evidence for their claim.

For their study, Dr. Vijg and his colleagues looked at how many people of varying ages were alive in a given year. Then they compared the figures from year to year, in order to calculate how fast the population grew at each age. For a while, it looked as though the fastest-growing group was constantly becoming older; “By the 1990s, the fastest growing group of Frenchwomen was the 102-year-olds. If that trend had continued, the fastest-growing group today might well be the 110-year-olds.” (NY Times Article). Instead, the increases slowed and eventually stopped, leading Dr. Vijg and his colleagues to conclude that humans have finally hit an upper limit to their longevity. Further research into the International Database of Longevity seemed to validate their findings; No one, except in rare cases like Ms. Calment, had lived beyond the age of 115. It appears as though human beings have hit the ceiling of longevity.

There was a varied mix of responses to the study. Some, like Leonard P. Guarente, a biology professor at MIT, praised it, saying “it confirms an intuition he has developed over decades of research on aging.” Others, like James W. Vaupel, the director of the Max-Planck Odense Center on the Biodemography of Aging, called the new study a travesty and said, “It is disheartening how many times the same mistake can be made in science and published in respectable journals.”

This study is by no means conclusive. It is simply one more piece of research in the ongoing debate over whether human beings will continue to live longer, and will continue to be debated by many experts in the field.

However, one must wonder whether living longer should be the goal. After all, as Dr. Vijg pointed out, “aging is the accumulation of damage to DNA and other molecules. Our bodies can slow the process by repairing some of this damage. But in the end, it’s too much to fix. At some point, everything goes wrong, and you collapse.” While morbid, he makes a valid observation: Humans can only go so long until necessary bodily functions begin to break down. Rather than worrying about whether we will live to an extraordinary age such as Ms. Calment, I concur with Dr. Vijg; the focus should be on living the most amount of healthy years and taking care of our bodies. While it may seem like a great idea to live to the age of 125, what good would that do if you aren’t able to continue with the activities you enjoy because your body is breaking down?

 

Other Relevant Articles:

In Depth Explanation of Longevity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longevity

A brief summary of Dr. Vijg’s findings (a bit shorter than the NY Times article): http://www.newser.com/story/232121/human-lifespan-has-likely-maxed-out.html

An interesting article about an entrepreneur’s quest to make people live even longer: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/11/-sp-live-forever-extend-life-calico-google-longevity

 

CRISPR/Cas9 Provides Promising Treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

There are nine kinds of muscular dystrophy and of these, Duchenne MD is the most common severe form of childhood MD. It affects about 1 in 5000 newborn males, only in very rare cases has it affected females. DMD is a genetic disorder that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. Patients usually die by age 30 to 40.

DMD is caused by the absence of a protein, dystrophin, that helps keep muscle cells intact. In 1986 it was discovered that there was a gene on the X chromosome that, when mutated, lead to DMD. Later, researchers discovered that the protein associated with this gene was dystrophin. From this information, we can tell that this disorder is sex-linked, which explains why women are mainly carriers.

No one has found an absolute cure for this genetic disorder until now. Even in recent years, people have discovered treatments that will make patients’ lives more bearable, but never reverse the disorder. As a result of these advances, mostly in cardiac and respiratory care, patients are able to live past teen year and as long as in to their fifties, though this is rare. Although there are still drugs being tested like Vamorolone (a “dissociative steroid,” is an anti-inflammatory compound), more treatments on the molecular level are now being considered. However, thanks to recent discoveries and research with the new genetic technology, CRISPR/ Cas9, scientists may have found a treatment for DMD.

This new approach to gene correction by genome editing has shown promise in studies recently. This particular correction can be achieved in a couple ways: one is by skipping exon 51 of the DMD gene using eterplirsen (a morpholino-based oligonucleotide). Studies over four years show prolonged movement abilities, and a change in the rate of decline compared to controls. The newest approach to gene correction using CRISPR/Cas9, which the article I’m writing about focuses on, was performed in this study as next described: the CRISPR/Cas9 system targets the point mutation in exon 23 of the mdx mouse that creates a premature stop codon and serves as a representative model of DMD. Multiple studies in three separate laboratories have provided a path and laid the groundwork for clinical translation addressing many of the critical questions that have been raised regarding this system. The labs also discovered by further demonstrations, that this is a feasible treatment for humans. Functional recovery was demonstrated in the mice, including grip strength, and improved force generation- all of which are very important and hopeful discoveries. It is estimated from these studies that this new method will pass clinical trials and go on to benefit as many as 80% of DMD sufferers. Even greater success rates are expected if this is performed in young and newborn DMD patients.

What a Smelly Solution to a Smelly Predicament!!!!

The newest developments in scientific and medical research have been focused around a rather smelly purpose.

Fecal transplants are all the rage… and yes, it is what is sounds like. A fecal transplant occurs when the feces of a healthy donor are surgically transplanted into the colon of an individual who has various imbalances in the bacterial assortment of their gut. The feces with a healthy bacteria levels pass through the colon of the sick individual, replacing their “bad bacteria” with “good bacteria”, restoring the bacterial balances back to the way they should be.

Poop

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Poop.jpeg

You may ask yourself, why can’t you just take some antibiotics to kill the dominating bacteria and even things out?

Well the problem is just that. Bacterial imbalances are usually caused by antibiotic use that kill one type of bacteria and not another, so taking more antibiotics on top of that would just add to the problem.

The transplant of fecal matter is an icky procedure but has shown to cure many more ailments other than JUST bacterial imbalances. Fecal transplants have showed to help various metabolic diseases, neuropsychiatric disorders, autoimmune diseases, allergic disorders, and even tumors.

E coli Ag Res Mag

E. Coli. – one of the most common bacterias in not only your colon, but also your whole body, is a key player in the Fecal Microbiota Transplantation

One specific study of Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) in metabolic syndromes, mixed microbiota from the feces of a lean donor with a sample of unhealthy, self-collected feces. After the mixed feces were then reinserted into the gut, the resultant excrement of the patient displayed increased insulin sensitivity and increased number of healthy butyrate-producing intestinal bacteria. In a sense, the resultant doo doo showed signs of improved health for the patient. Another report of FMT displayed favorable outcomes in abating the effects of:

  • Parkinson’s disease – a progressive disorder of the nervous system that negatively affects movement
  • Multiple Sclerosis – an autoimmune nervous system disease in which the human immune system attacks the central nervous system
  • Myoclonus Dystonia – a nervous and musculoskeletal disorder that results in involuntary and spontaneous muscle twitching and jerking
  • Chronic fatigue Syndrome – a cerebral disorder in which the brain excretes neurotransmitters that transmit the information to feel tired and fatigued. Can be extremely dangerous when mixed with everyday activities such as cooking and driving.
  • Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura – a vascular disorder that results in excessive bleeding, internal hemorrhaging, and bruising from low levels of blood platelets.

While many think that poop is simply waste that ought to be disposed of immediately, the beneficial effects that Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) have spread all over the body. From regulating the bacterial levels in the colon, to helping alleviate the symptoms of various autoimmune, vascular, muscular, nervous, and skeletal diseases.

Who would’ve thought that putting poop BACK into the colon would be a healthy thing to do!?!?!

Original Article: http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/22/fmt-film/

Funny, yet extremely informative, animation and additional article: http://www.openbiome.org/about-fmt/

 

Asthma From The Gut

Asthma is a a disease without a cure. Unfortunately, it is spreading rapidly throughout the world.  With asthma, a person’s lungs do not function normally, and the lungs are a key part of the immune system.Asthma is related to a hyperactive immune system, a system that is gut-centric. Since it can not be cured, the best we can currently do is try to identify it’s causes. This can be very challenging and scientists do not know much about the bacteria inside of us. Being gut-centric implies a direct relationship between the gut microbiome and the immune system.

Asthma Inhaler

Image courtesy of NIAID on Flickr

Recently, a team of scientists proved this direct relationship. Their study discovered that the abundance of FLVR bacterium in a baby’s gut can affect their likelihood of being diagnosed with asthma. The study showed how Canadian children with low levels of FLVR in their feces when they were three months old proved much more likely to get asthma. By the time they reach age one most kids have the same levels of FLVR, this shows how key the timing is. The study then provided mice with extra FLVR, and tried to induce asthma. But, instead of getting inflamed lungs, the mice continued to breathe normally. This displays a potential solution. Scientists now believe that in those first three months of life, FLVR is necessary to properly train the immune system.

I chose to do this study because asthma is a disease that rapidly affects more and more people. The study, discovering a new cause of asthma holds promise. This suggests a possible future cure for asthma. If scientists can use antibiotics to perhaps enhance the levels of FLVR in the early days of children’s lives, perhaps asthma can be cured. This study of the different types of bacteria in the immune system is especially interesting due to our unit on the structure of different types of cells. Learning about the greater, medical application of this particular type of bacteria is especially fascinating. Please feel free to comment below with any thoughts or questions you have regarding this topic.

The original article can be found here. 

Cells Kill Cells—New Cancer Treatment Promotes Immune System response to Tumors

According to a recent article, oncological research has been a recent area of vast development. Cancer is a widespread form of disease that affects different areas uniquely and operates very subjectively. On a basic level, cancer is the uncontrolled growth and division of a cell.  This often yields a malignant tumor which can metastasize to other areas of the body.  When a tumor metastasizes and spreads beyond the primary site to other organs of the body, the cancer is considered to be Stage IV.  This is the most aggressive stage of cancer development and is often the most difficult to treat.  The new treatment revealed by Cornell University Engineers seeks to inhibit a tumor’s ability to metastasize.

https://flic.kr/p/xuSZkh

Killer T Cells attacking a cancerous cell

https://flic.kr/p/xuSZkh 

 

The paper explained the new approach in “annihilating” the tumors before they progress to a metastatic stage.  The key to this is not actually killing the cell, rather, inducing apoptosis of the cancerous cell.  Without the jargon, it means that the new treatment will not explicitly kill the cell, instead it will cause the cell to kill itself. The engineers accomplished this in model organism trials using mice.  The procedure involves injecting specialized liposomes in the lymph nodes, which commonly play a key role in metastasis.  The lymph nodes are parts of the lymphatic system where lymphocytes are formed. Lymphocytes are known as “killer cells” because they are a form of leukocytes (white blood cells).  The injection contains liposomes (membranous sacs of water) with a special “Tumor necrosis factor Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand” protein.  These will attach to the lymphocytes and target the cancerous cells, and effectively eliminate the tumor before it metastasizes.

The paper also references previous work by the engineering group where they created a similar approach for eliminating bloodstream metastases in January 2014.  This coupled with a lymphatic treatment can greatly reduce the rate of metastasis in patients with aggressive malignant tumors.  Recent developments in oncological treatments have suggested promising developments in the way of cancer treatments–and cures.

Img. Source

Original Article

Attention all penicillin-allergy victims, you might not actually be penicillin-allergic!

USMC-100209-M-1998T-001

Photo of antibiotics (licensing information here)

I am someone who is allergic to penicillin, amoxicillin, and a bunch of other “cillins”. So, when being prescribed with antibiotics, penicillin is always ruled out as an option for treatment. However, new findings at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) show that people, like me, who were told after a single allergic reaction to penicillin that they were penicillin-allergic, may not be penicillin-allergic after all!

At the Annual Scientific Meeting at the ACAAI, a study was presented where 15 students who were supposedly penicillin-allergic tested negative for a penicillin allergy and were in fact treated with intravenous penicillin medication multiple times. Dr. David Khan and Dr. Roland Solensky, both allergists, are both majorly involved in this research. They each stated that people who are found allergic to a medication such as penicillin are then prescribed with more expensive and dangerous medications to take the place of the medication they are allergic to. In fact, almost 10% of Americans are labeled penicillin-allergic and have no choice but to use more complex medications, when they might not even be allergic to a simpler medication, such as penicillin, in the first place!

To attempt to resolve this problem, Dr. Solensky is going to present “Drug allergy: options beyond avoidance” at the next Annual Meeting at the ACAAI. This presentation is designed to discuss different treatment options for patients suffering from allergies to certain medications, as well as patients who were told they are allergic to medications that they are in fact not allergic to. Dr. Khan encourages everyone who is penicillin-allergic to get tested and see if penicillin is a medication they should actually avoid or if the allergic reaction they once had to penicillin was a fluke. This study can help people avoid medications that are overly expensive or that can be dangerous, and just in general help people find more appropriate medications. I sure know that I’m interested to see if I’m actually penicillin-allergic, or if that allergic reaction I had in second grade was a one time thing!

Main article:

http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2015/11/05/consider_penicillin_even_if_you_have_had_a_prior_reaction.html

The Ebola Epidemic: When Will it End?

Ebola Virus

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has captivated international audiences the last few weeks.  Ebola Virus Disease is an often fatal disease which is systemic meaning it attacks all organs and tissue in the body. It can be spread through any human to human contact, making this disease highly contagious. The countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been heavily affected by this disease. On tuesday September 23th the Center for Disease Control (CDC) based in Atlanta Georgia released new projections on the Ebola epidemic in Africa based on computer modeling.  The CDC released a best-case scenario being that if proper measures are taken the disease could be eradicated by January 2nd and a worse-case scenario that if disease is left unmonitored and continues as is, there will be approximately 1.4 million cases by January 2nd.   Doctor Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Ebola epidemic, has stated that since the data was received in August conditions have improved slightly due to increased aid to the affected regions. Another report was released by the World Health Organization (WHO) which stated more conservative figures but also acknowledged that there could possibly be more due to unreported cases. The WHO report brings about the idea that the epidemic may not end and the Ebola virus will perpetuate in West Africa. It is obvious to health officials, such as Dr. Jack Chow, that even in a medium case scenario the amount of hospital beds and aid are rapidly being surpassed by the number of cases. The CDC does acknowledge this impending lack of bed and isolation unit crisis. One solution to this problem is to educate citizens on home care and send home care packages to support this movement.  Although some are dubious, Frieden states that home care had been effective in the smallpox crisis in the 1960s in Africa.  In addition to homecare, Doctor D. A. Henderson explains that funds and food play a huge roll in the containment and elimination of disease because when you give victims money and food there is no need for them to beg or go out to the market for food where they might encounter other human contact. How should this epidemic be handled? Is homecare an effective solution? Where should money be allocated, homecare or hospital expansion?

 

Link to Article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/health/ebola-cases-could-reach-14-million-in-4-months-cdc-estimates.html?ref=health&_r=1

 

To Know or Not to Know: Cancer Risk Gene Testing

Breast Cancer Cells

Genetic mutation testing has been a hotly debated and controversial topic since its initial prevalence in 1990.  Originally genetic testing was used to test females who have cancer in their family history for the BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations.  Early detection of these mutations allowed for precautionary measure sure to be exercised prior to cancer even being diagnosed. The hereditary breast cancer risk testing was done mainly by Myraid Genetics but just last year the Supreme Court invalidated Myraid’s patents on the testing of the BRCA genes.  This ruling opened up many windows for the competition of Myraid in the field of genetic testing.  Many other companies and Myraid itself began not only offering BRCA testing but also more elaborate multi gene testing for the same price (apron $4000) as it would have been to test just the two BRCA genes.  This “bargain” influenced many patients to have more genes (up to 25) tested for mutations despite the fact that they may not have a family history to tendency towards certain cancers.  This multiplex testing has raised many eyebrows in the medical field because patients and doctors are getting information that sometimes they are unsure as to what they should do.  Doctor Kenneth Offit of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center stated when referring to multiple gene mutation testing, “because they could be tested,not necessarily because they should be…individuals are getting results we’re not fully educated to council them on. ” However Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is working on setting up a database for more knowledge on genetic testing.  This online forum, the Prospective Registry of Multiplex Testing (PROMPT) will allow for more research to be done and for patients to learn more.   Often genetic mutations are found and doctors are unsure how to react to the information due to lack of knowledge in that specific field of mutation leading to a specific type of cancer with out any family history.   Professor Mary-Claire King of the University of Washington voiced her opinion that, “We need to report back only what is devastating and clearly devastating.”  Meaning she felt that patients and physicians should only receive specific information as opposed to a full list of all the genetic mutations that tested position or inconclusive.  When do we know when to much information become frivolous? When it come to human health, the more we know the better the outcomes.  How will doctors be able to sift through extraneous data to find what truly are indications for higher risk of cancer?  Is this “extra” testing and information skewing the data and prognosis of many patients?

 

Main Article Used:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/23/health/finding-risks-not-answers-in-gene-tests.html?ref=health&_r=0

 

Cuts, Scrapes, and Hair Loss a Thing of the Past!

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Can adults repair their tissues as easily as children can? A study currently conducted at Boston Children’s hospital is attempting to find the answer to this question. Researchers have found that by activating a gene called Lin28a, they were able to “regrow hair and repair cartilage, bone, skin and other soft tissues in a mouse model.”  The scientists found that Lin28a works by enhancing metabolism in mitochondria—which, as we learned in class, are the “powerhouses” of the cells. This in turn helps generate the energy needed to stimulate and grow new tissues.
This discovery is a very exciting one for the field of medicine. The study’s senior investigator George Daley said, “[Previous] efforts to improve wound healing and tissue repair have mostly failed, but altering metabolism provides a new strategy which we hope will prove successful.” Scientists were even able to bypass Lin28a and directly activate the mitochondrial metabolism with a small compound and still enhance healing. Researcher Shyh-Chang says of this, “Since Lin28 itself is difficult to introduce into cells, the fact that we were able to activate mitochondrial metabolism pharmacologically gives us hope.” Since it is difficult for scientist to actually introduce Lin28a into a cell, it might be easier to simply synthetically create a substitute and introduce that. Either way, I think this is a very promising discovery! What other uses can you think of for this discovery?

 

Source:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131107123144.htm

New technique will identify maternal and paternal contributions to specific DNA

 

Photo by: gobucks2 Link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ohiostate/4851592434/

Intro:A recent Ludwig Cancer Research study, conducted at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, was published in Nature Biotechnology. It concerns a new technique, called HaploSeq, that can determine (1) whether a specific gene sequence is maternal or paternal (2) how to better match organ donors (3) how to better understand human migration patterns. This will aid studies concerning how genes contribute to diseases and will be revolutionary in its contributions to modern medicine.

Old Technique: Current gene sequencing is considered quick and cheap: it takes one week and costs $5,000. But, except for sex chromosomes, everyone has two copies of each chromosome, one from the dad and one from the mom. These techniques cannot distinguish between the two, so the source of a gene cannot be determined.

New Technique:

Disease: It distinguishes which genetic variants occur together, concluding that they came from one parent due to their juxtaposition. People at risk for cancer usually have many DNA mutations. This technique can permit scientists to determine if mutations are on same or different chromosomes, assessing level of the risk. Risk is reduced if two mutations are on one chromosome, for the other chromosome can make up for the mutated one.

Organ Donors: A variety of genes contribute to compatibility, but there is variability among them. This technique can determine if DNA differences can create a good match. Researchers believe that in the future, a DNA database can be created to better pair donor and recipients.

Human Migration Patterns: This technique will facilitate the analysis of human migration patterns and ancestry. People can simply compare their DNA to that of others to find any common ancestors. This will allow scientists to compare individuals and their relationships to others on a microscopic level. This contributes to the HapMap project, an international project to access worldwide human genetic variation in order to combat diseases.

Significance: Bing Ren, a scientist conducting this study, said: “In the not too distant future, everyone’s genome will be sequenced. That will become the standard of care.” DNA sequencing is the next step in revolutionary medical techniques, making this study a revelation.

 

The Black Mamba an Ally?

As the fangs pierce the skin, passing through the epidermis and into the dermis, you  may notice a feeble prick. Then, you will experience a numbness, similar to the one you get with pins and needles, and it will begin spread throughout your appendages. Within minutes your central nervous system will begin to shut down, leaving you without any hope of survival.  Within a half hour, your body will be overcome by convulsions, paralysis, and eventually you will meet your end by suffocation.

The Black Mamba, due to an assortment of different elements, including its aggressive behavior and its lethal venom, is possibly the deadliest species of snake on the planet. Untreated bites have a mortality rate of 100%. That, to me, is pretty convincing evidence.Recently, scientists have discovered “pain-relieving” compounds, known as peptides, within the venomous cocktail of the Black Mamba. The researchwas led by Sylvie Diochot, of the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology at Nice University. She and her team, purified the peptides from the snake’s venom and profiled the compounds’ structure. These peptides are called mambalgins. The researchers were able to test the mambalgins on different strains of mice. The team of researchers concluded that the mambalgins work by blocking, or inhibiting, the ASICs, a set of neurological ion channels associated with pain signaling, in either the central or peripheral neurons. They also discovered that the mambalgins are not toxic, and can have the same, strong effect as morphine. Even better, mambalgins cause a significantly less amount of tolerance than morphine, and generate no risk of respiratory distress and other side effects that are prevalent with “pain-relieving” drugs.The discovery of these mambalgins may prove to be an enormous medical breakthrough. Due to the venom of perhaps the world’s most deadly snake, the insufferable pain of many human beings may be be abolished indefinitely.

 

 

Wait, you don’t hear that ringing, too?

Defined as “the perception of sound in one or both ears or in the head when no external sound is present” by the American Tinnitus Foundation, tinnitus affects 50 million people in the US and forty percent of veterans.  It can be caused by everything physical trauma or long-term exposure to loud noises (i.e. combat veterans or teenagers with iPods) to hormonal imbalance or aspirin use. Currently, there are many treatments available, although the success rate of these treatments varies. The main reason for this is that the best way of treating tinnitus would involve delivering medication to the inner ear, the site of the problem. Currently, doctors have no way of putting medication in the inner ear, but this could change  in a few years thanks to the the beginning of a new project by the US Department of Defense, who has commissioned Draper Laboratory to work out a

concept for a small delivery device inserted near the membrane-covered window—no more than three millimeters in diameter—separating the middle ear from inner ear. Once at the membrane the device … would release a drug into the cochlea… The plan is to embed wireless communications into the capsule so that a patient or doctor can control the dosage. After the capsule finishes delivering its supply of drugs, it would dissolve. 

 

Courtesy of: http://www.lesliewong.us/blog/2009/01/23/sony-mdr-v6-and-sennheiser-cx300-headphones/
These may be setting up my generation for a tinnitus epidemic many years from now.

 

The project is only in its beginning stages, so it will be years before patients can actually reap any benefits from this technology. However, I take comfort in knowing that should I develop tinnitus, I could possibly have access to better treatment than is available today. This is especially relevant to my generation; everywhere you look, there are teenagers blasting their iPods, unknowingly (or not caring) causing permanent damage. Despite the warnings received from adult, many teens will not listen, and will continue to cause damage with loud noise. Should this treatment be developed, the tinnitus that will be inevitable developed by a large portion of my generation will treated, and possibly cured.

This project also holds a personal significance for me.  As someone who wants to eventually enter the armed forces, I am relieved to know that such a common issue among veterans is coming a step closer to being eradicated. Despite the technology used today to prevent noise damage,  I know of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are experiencing tinnitus, and even hearing loss. I’m glad that research is being conducted on a condition that, while it may not sound terribly crippling, can actually have a huge effect on one’s quality of life.

So, readers, do any of you have or know someone with tinnitus  If so, how did you or the person you know develop it? And, if you have it, would you consider one day utilizing this kind of treatment?

Post, discuss, talk with your friends. Discussion breeds awareness, which is key to arriving at a cure. 

 

 

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=tinnitus-treatment

CHIPping away at Disease

Photo Credit: ngineerit flickr

Many people suffer from chronic illnesses that require daily, even hourly, injections of medication. These injections can be frustrating, annoying, and dangerous. However, after 15 years of work, MIT professors Robert Langer and Michael Cima finally created a microchip that can be implanted once and can distribute dosages of medicine for extended periods of time. The device delivers the same dosages as the injections. In fact, Cima and Langer found that the chip delivered the dosages at a more consistent and accurate rate than the injections.

The chip would be a major help to people who need injections of medicine because it wouldn’t give them any reason, such as pain, to skip their dose. The chip can be implanted in about 30 minutes and in a trial study there were no side effects. They implanted seven women from 65 years of age to 70 years of age who suffer from osteoporosis. The chip diligently delivered their medicine for four months. This new technology can be expanded to deliver several medications for longer periods of time. It could save millions of people from daily pain.

Healing power of the mind

Credit: taod

The brain can be a powerful, and mysterious tool.  It is capable of so  much more than we are even aware of.  A recent study has shown  that people have the ability to hallucinate colors just by the power of  suggestion. This may seem like something very minor but this  research has the potential to create significant change in the medical  field.

In this recent study, a group of scientists asked a group of eighteen  people to look at a pattern of grey shapes and try to visualize the  pattern in color. Eleven of these people were highly susceptible  to hypnosis and the other seven were not. This was a very important  part of the experiment because all of the people who were determined  to be susceptible to hypnosis were able to visualize the color whit no  problem even while not being hypnotized. The scientists decided to  test the patients to see if they were actually able to see the color or if  they made themselves believe that they saw it. The scientists conducted the same tests while the participants were in an MRI machine. The MRI showed that the parts of the participants brain that are linked to color lit up when they were told to imagine the color pattern.

These results were part of an earlier test that was conducted in 2000.  In this first test a group of people under hypnosis were asked to imagine a series of grey squares to be in color. The scientists used PET scans to look at the participants brains and saw that the color regions were lit up.  This means that those subjects were able to hallucinate seeing the color and make themselves believe that it was actually there.

Scientists were excited by this discovery because they believe that this may lead to advances in being able to treat a large range of conditions.  Scientists believe that hypnosis can be sued to treat things that range from phobias to pain.  The brain can be the ultimate healer.  If you believe yourself to be better or no longer scared the brain can allow that to happen. Suggestion can be the most powerful medicine.

Tylenol, the Magical Fix-It-All…Till It Kills You

Photo taken by Josh Lowensohn

We all do it. Headache? Tylenol. Arm hurts? Tylenol. Cramps? Tylenol. Headache hurts too much to bare? Hmm, I think I’ll take three pills instead of the recommended two pills. Um, last I checked, these “recommended” dosages should be enough to alleviate whatever pain or discomfort we’re feeling, and I’m pretty sure if it hurts that badly, you should go see a doctor–just a little piece of advice.  It seems to me that “popin’ pills” is just what we all do these days. Well..I’d stop. Especially id you want to live, but if you want to slowly begin killing yourself…

In an article written by Amanda Chan for the Huffington Post, it is revealed that “a new study suggests that acetaminophen can add up over several days and lead to an overdose.”  Oops. How many times have you done that? I know I have…a few too many times.

So what’s so bad about this gradual overdose? According to the study published by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, staggered overdose patterns are associated with adverse outcomes following acetaminophen overdose. Patients with this overdoes have a higher risk of developing multiorgan failure including brain or liver problems, as well as needing kidney dialysis. A study done by at the University of Pennsylvania, it was found that Acetaminophen was the most commonly reported toxic ingestion in the United States in 2005.

In a recent interview with BBC News, Dr. Kenneth Simpson, a member of the team in the Scottish Liver Transplantation Unit at the University of Edinburgh said “They haven’t taken the sort of single-moment, one-off massive overdoses taken by people who try to commit suicide, but over time the damage builds up, and the effect can be fatal.”

The National Institutes of Health reaffirm the data that overdosing on acetaminophen is one of the most common causes of poisoning around the world. In an effort to reduce the risk of unintentionally overdosing, the manufacturers of Tylenol have reduced the recommended dosage.

Basically, next you contemplate taking one too many Tylenols, think of it as an actual drug, which it is…you could potentially be killing yourself. Just a thought.

Doing Nothing is Still Doing Something

If you’re like me, you hate taking medication: it’s at times completely unnecessary, and who wants the hassle of having to remember actually take the meds?  Well, I have good news for us “lazy” ones: at times when we’re sick doing nothing is actually the best medication!

Have you ever noticed that whenever we have a problem, we tend to think that it can be fixed with some type of medication? Headache? Tylenol or Advil.  Tummy hurts?  A lovely dose of the horrendously pink Pepto should do.  Sore throat? Oh it must be the early symptoms of strep throat–here’s some antibiotics.  Let’s just forget about all medications that exist today–it’d be like how cavemen lived.  They had no medications, no drugs, simply their bodies which kept them alive and healthy for most of the time.  We need to give our bodies more credit–after all, they are made to maintain homeostasis.

According to an article written my Dr. Danielle Ofri, a professor of medicine at NYU, sometimes not taking any medication to alleviate a “medical condition” is actually the best medication for our bodies.  Doctors have the tendency to prescribe medication when they find that something is “wrong” with a patient, and patients likewise want something done when something is “wrong.”  Like everything else in the world, every action a doctor makes has a reaction.  Most frequently, this reaction that occurs from the physician prescribing an additional medication is a reaction within the body of the patient.  Often, especially in elders, there are multiple doctors to one patient, as a result, prescribe multiple prescriptions which sometimes causes detrimental affects to the health of the patient because the medications react with each other and create further problems for the patient, which leads to the prescribing of even more medications.

So, rather than acting immediately, let’s just stop and think for a moment…is it perhaps better to just chill and see what happens? Uh, yeah.  There are some doctors (the super smart ones) who practice this “doing nothing,” and believe “If the patient is doing fine right now, why rock the boat?”  This method is called clinical inertia, which is generally looked down upon, but why?  Dr. Ofri wrote “doctors who tend toward inertia might actually benefit their patients by protecting them from overzealous medical intervention.”  In an article from the American Medical Association, which focused on diabetes, cholesterol and hypertension, it was found that in these three diseases, it is perceived that “lower” is better, but it was found that lower levels in sugar or pressure are associated with higher death rates.

So…what’s the lesson?  Of course not all patients are the same, but when it comes to “fixing” a “problem,” your doctor should understand that there is room to stop and think for a second.  We’re all like balances, and little illnesses act as stones put on one side of the scale creating a bit of an imbalance, and rather than balancing the scale out with medication, we should sometimes allow our bodies to do their thing and balance it out themselves.

Photo taken by Gianluca Neri

 

 

The Danger and Abundance of Counterfeit Medications

When a person makes the decision to buy medicine online, he needs to be aware of whether or not the website is Legitimate. With a large quantity of Americans buying their drugs on the internet, “estimated worldwide sales of counterfeit medicines topped $75 billion last year, up 90 percent since 2005.”  These illegal pharmacies not only take away income that would go to genuine pharmacies, but the ones that sell fake drugs (which are plenty of them), can also be putting you in real danger.

Toxins or any kinds of substances could be inside these drugs. They are not being made by people with careers in medicine, they are being made by criminals. Most of these drugs do not even contain the medicine they are labeled for, and, needless to say, the conditions these counterfeit drugs are produced in are unsanitary.  John Clark, Vice President and Chief security officer of Pfizer drug company said, “counterfeit Pfizer drugs – many from disgusting conditions like the primitive courtyard in Lima – have made their way to pharmacies and hospitals in at least 46 different countries, including England, Canada, and the United States.”

Pfitzer, an extremely large drug company with the highest income in the world, is among one of the biggest targets of drug counterfeits. In a more recently updated article, Pfizer said that Fake medicines with its name actually inscribed in the drugs have been sold in “atleast 101 countries” with numerous different types of drugs for different diseases being falsified. Similar to the pocket books sold on the streets of NYC, these drugs look good but are not real.

Even if a price looks more reasonable on the internet, it clearly may not be worth it. Make sure that the site is valid, and that it is FDA approved.Be aware if the site you order from does not require a physician’s prescription for a prescription medication, it is more than likely fake. If there is a drug you take regularly, that looks or tastes different a certain time you buy it, do not let that go unnoticed. It is important to protect yourself  from these predators and stay safe in the face of this devious danger.

The More Chocolate the Better!

Great news for chocolate lovers (of which I am one!)  Keep eating your M&Ms, chocolate chip cookies, and chocolate ice cream!  The more you eat, the healthier your heart….can that be right??!

A recent New York Times article reported that people who ate high quantities of chocolate were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.  The article reported on a review of research studies published in the British Medical Journal that looked for correlation between chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders.  Seven studies were evaluated – 5 out of the 7 found a positive correlation between high levels of chocolate consumption and decreased risk of disorders such as cardiovascular disease and strokes.  

When I posted a link to this article with great excitement a few weeks ago on Facebook, a few of my skeptical “friends” pointed out that none of the studies, as noted in the Times article, “involved randomized, controlled trials.”  A researcher quoted in the Times article was also cautious, indicating that chocolate should only be eaten in moderation.  What do you think?  How important are “randomized, controlled trials”?  Are you likely to dismiss the concerns and eat your Phish Food a pint at a time?

Currently in AP Biology we are studying organic compounds.  Knowing that saturated fats are associated with clogged arteries and poor cardiovascular health, it would be interesting to find out what kinds of fats are in chocolate.  Perhaps it is not the types of lipids, but instead particular chemicals in chocolate that contribute to heart health.    Sounds like something that should be explored by some interested AP Bio students!

Photo by Cleverocity licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike Non-Commercial Generic 2.0

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