April 23, 2014
Protein that Shrinks Depressed Brains Identified
(New Scientist) – Could preventing the brain shrinkage associated with depression be as simple as blocking a protein? Post-mortem analysis of brain tissue has shown that the dendrites that relay messages between neurons are more shrivelled in people with severe depression than in people without the condition. This atrophy could be behind some of the symptoms of depression, such as the inability to feel pleasure. As a result, drugs that help repair the neuronal connections, like ketamine, are under investigation.
Ebola Outbreak: Death Toll Rises to Over 140 in Liberia, Guinea
(CNN) – A total of 142 deaths have been reported from the Ebola outbreak in Guinea and Liberia, the World Health Organization said. The virus is still limited to the two nations, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, despite rumors of it spreading to other countries. Nineteen suspected cases reported in Sierra Leone tested negative for the virus, it said.
Almost Blind Michigan Man ‘Seeing Something New Every Day’ Thanks to New Retina Procedure
(Associated Press) – A degenerative eye disease slowly robbed Roger Pontz of his vision. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a teenager, Pontz has been almost completely blind for years. Now, thanks to a high-tech procedure that involved the surgical implantation of a “bionic eye,” he’s regained enough of his eyesight to catch small glimpses of his wife, grandson and cat.
FDA Discourages Use of Tissue-Shredding Tool
(Nature) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has suggested that surgeons refrain from using tissue-grinding tools to remove uteruses or uterine growths because they increase the risk of spreading undetected cancer. It has also instructed manufacturers to review the labelling of the devices, known as morcellators, and is considering requiring a ‘black box’ warning, the strongest warning it can mandate.
HIV Turns 30 Today
(ABC News) – It’s been 30 years since scientists announced the cause of AIDS: a shifty retrovirus that would come to be known as HIV. More than 1,750 Americans had already died from the rare infections and cancers caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, health officials said at the time, and another 2,300 people were living with AIDS.
Fighting Words Are Rarer among British Doctors
(New York Times) – People working in health care there have been discussing military imagery for a decade, said Elena Semino, head of linguistics at the university. “There’s a lot of awareness that battle metaphors can be very harmful to patients,” she told me. “Professionals are conscious of the problems, and they’re advised not to use them.” Instead, British public health leaders and medical practitioners are more apt to talk about the end of life as a “journey” instead of a war, with “pathways” and “steps” instead of fights and weapons.
Senate Passes End-of-Life Planning Bill
(Yale Daily News) – The Connecticut Senate passed a bill on Thursday that, with House approval, would create a system for terminally ill people to declare their wishes for end-of-life care. The Medical Orders for Life-sustaining Treatment (MOLST) bill, which passed the Senate with a unanimous vote, would create a two year pilot program in two different locations in the state for people with terminal illnesses to discuss with healthcare providers how much treatment they want, from limited care to life-support treatment.
Reprogrammed Cells Kept Bug-Free by SIRT1
(Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News) – Regenerative medicine—the promise of rejuvenating or replacing damaged or diseased tissues—will most likely rely on the use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are obtained when adult cells are essentially thrown into evolutionary reverse. This abrupt change can be hard on cells, which may suffer chromosomal abnormalities and DNA damage. And so the bright vistas of regenerative medicine are shadowed by a stubborn cloud—the uncertainty thatstem cells that are derived from adult cells are really safe.
Let’s Get a Medical Tourism Certificate! Is It Worth the Paper It’s Printed On?
(IMTJ) – A new industry is developing around the business of medical tourism. It’s the certification business. You need an impressive sounding name, a web site, a decent laser printer (and a good relationship with a certificate framing service!). There’s a plethora of “get rich quick” certifications which are appearing around medical tourism. They are quick and easy to obtain.
New Patenting Guidelines Are Needed for Biotechnology
(Phys.org) – Biotechnology scientists must be aware of the broad patent landscape and push for new patent and licensing guidelines, according to a new paper from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Published in the current issue of the journal Regenerative Medicine, the paper is based on the June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP) v. Myriad Genetics that naturally occurring genes are unpatentable. The court case and rulings garnered discussion in the public about patenting biological materials.
More than One-Quarter of Morning-after Pills in Peru Don’t Work
(Washington Post) – A study has found that more than a quarter of emergency contraception pills sold in Peru do not work. Some of the pills were defective while others were just plain fake. Women rely on emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex, or when other birth control methods fail, such as when a condom breaks during sex.
Non-Enzyme Nanotechnology Sensor to Detect Blood Sugar
(Nanowerk News) – Researchers at University of Tehran produced a very highly sensitive sensor to measure the amount of blood sugar (“Highly Stable and Selective Non-Enzymatic Glucose Biosensor Using Carbon Nanotubes Decorated by Fe3O4 Nanoparticles”). The newly-invented sensor has applications in foodstuff and medical industries to measure the concentration of glucose in samples.
April 22, 2014
New Painkiller Rekindles Addiction Concerns
(New York Times) – The abuse of prescription painkillers has reached epidemic proportions in America. Nearly half of the nation’s 38,329 drug overdose deaths in 2010 involved painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These narcotics now kill more adults than heroin and cocaine combined, sending 420,000 Americans to emergency rooms each year. So many state health officials and advocacy groups were incredulous when the Food and Drug Administration approved just such a drug — against the advice of its own expert advisory committee.
Stem Cells Show Bizarre Absorption Property ‘Not Seen before in Cells’
(Medical News Today) – Scientists at the University of Cambridge in the UK have discovered that the nuclei of stem cells have the unusual ability to become thicker when stretched and thinner when compressed. The counterintuitive property – termed auxeticity – is already known to materials scientists, who see its application ranging from super-absorbent sponges and bulletproof vests to soundproofing.
(New York Times) – As the Brain Initiative announced by President Obama a year ago continues to set priorities and gear up for what researchers hope will be a decade-long program to understand how the brain works, two projects independent of that effort reached milestones in their brain mapping work. Both projects, one public and one private, are examples of the widespread effort in neuroscience to create databases and maps of brain structure and function that can serve as a foundation for research.
A Loot at the Lives of American Nurses
(Washington Post) – Photographer and filmmaker Carolyn Jones created “The American Nurse” after publishing a coffee-table book on the subject two years ago, and the film builds on the same mix of powerful images with words of men and women whose lives are devoted to healing.
Pain Relievers Are Valuable, but Even Over-the-Counter Versions Can Be Hazardous
(Washington Post) – Almost 80 percent of adults say that they take some kind of pain medication at least once a week. But determining which pain drug we actually need, and how to use it, has become increasingly fraught. The news on prescription pain pills is even more worrisome. As prescriptions for powerful painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone (Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin and related generics) have shot up in recent years, there has been an increase in visits to emergency rooms and deaths from the illicit use of those drugs, known as opioids. Three-quarters of prescription drug overdoses (for which the death rate has more than tripled since 1990) are now attributed to painkillers.
Saudi Officials See Spike in MERS Coronavirus Cases
(CNN) – Saudi health officials are stepping up efforts to fight the Middle East respiratory symptom coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, after a recent spike in cases. Saudi Arabia confirmed more than 50 cases of the virus in the past week, at least seven of which were fatal. The Saudi Health Ministry says 13 new cases were reported Monday alone, bringing the total to 257. It is not clear why there was a sudden increase, said Dr. Abdullah Al-Asiri, assistant undersecretary at the Saudi Ministry of Health and a member of the Scientific Committee of Infectious Diseases.
Kids Get Codeine in ER Despite Drawbacks: Some Get No Pain Relief or Face Complication Risk
(Associated Press) – Despite recommended limits on codeine use in children, the potent painkiller is prescribed for children in at least half a million emergency room visits each year, a study suggests. Use of the drug in that setting is hardly rampant – just 3 percent of kids’ ER visits resulted in a codeine prescription in 2010, the 10-year study found. But with more than 25 million ER visits by children each year, the authors say far too many kids are getting the drug when better options are available.
House Calls Are Making a Comebak
(New York Times) – A relic from the medical past — the house call — is returning to favor as part of some hospitals’ palliative care programs, which are sending teams of physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains and other workers to patients’ homes after they are discharged. The goal is twofold: to provide better treatment and to cut costs.
Made in the USA: Childless Chinese Turn to American Surrogates
(NPR) – Chinese couples who are unable to have children are turning to a surprising place for help these days: America. By hiring American surrogates, Chinese couples get around a ban on surrogacy in China, as well as the country’s birth limits. It also guarantees their children something many wealthy Chinese want these days: a U.S. passport.