Posts about Health Care

Unexpected Risks Found In Editing Genes To Prevent Inherited Disorders

Mitochondrial replacement seeks to remove genes known to cause genetic defects from embryos in order to allow for a baby to avoid inheriting the defect.

Mitochondrial Replacement Techniques: Ethical, Social, and Policy Considerations from the USA National Academy of Sciences

Accordingly, the committee recommends that any initial MRT clinical investigations focus on minimizing the future child’s exposure to risk while ascertaining the safety and efficacy of the techniques. The recommended restrictions and conditions for initial clinical investigations include

  • limiting clinical investigations to women who are otherwise at risk of transmitting a serious mtDNA disease, where the mutation’s pathogenicity is undisputed, and the clinical presentation of the disease is predicted to be severe, as characterized by early mortality or substantial impairment of basic function; and
  • transferring only male embryos for gestation to avoid introducing heritable genetic modification during initial clinical investigations.

Following successful initial investigations of MRT in males, the committee recommends that FDA could consider extending MRT research to include the transfer of female embryos if clear evidence of safety and efficacy from male cohorts, using identical MRT procedures, were available, regardless of how long it took to collect this evidence; preclinical research in animals had shown evidence of intergenerational safety and efficacy; and FDA’s decisions were consistent with the outcomes of public and scientific deliberations to establish a shared framework concerning the acceptability of and moral limits on heritable genetic modification.

The research in this area is interesting and our ability to help achieve healthy lives continues to grow. The path to a bright future though is not without risk. It requires careful action to pursue breakthrough improvements while minimizing the risks we take to achieve better lives for us all.

Unexpected Risks Found In Editing Genes To Prevent Inherited Disorders

Earlier this month, a study published in Nature by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, head of the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, suggested that in roughly 15 percent of cases, the mitochondrial replacement could fail and allow fatal defects to return, or even increase a child’s vulnerability to new ailments.

The findings confirmed the suspicions of many researchers, and the conclusions drawn by Mitalipov and his team were unequivocal: The potential for conflicts between transplanted and original mitochondrial genomes is real, and more sophisticated matching of donor and recipient eggs — pairing mothers whose mitochondria share genetic similarities, for example — is needed to avoid potential tragedies.

“This study shows the potential as well as the risks of gene therapy in the germline,” Mitalipov says. This is especially true of mitochondria, because its genomes are so different than the genomes in the nucleus of cells. Slight variations between mitochondrial genomes, he adds, “turn out to matter a great deal.”

Related: Gene Duplication and EvolutionThe Challenge of Protecting Us from Evolving Bacterial ThreatsOne Species’ Genome Discovered Inside Another’s (2007)Looking Inside Living Cells

US Fish and Wildlife Service Plans to Use Drones to Drop Vaccine Treats to Save Ferrets

Despite significant recovery successes, the black-footed ferret remains one of the most endangered animals in the world.

Black-footed ferret

Black-footed ferret, photo by J. Michael Lockhart, USFWS.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has developed a plan to use (UAS) to deliver prairie dog sylvatic plague vaccination.

The primary purpose in this proposal is to develop the equipment, protocols and experience in use of UAS (drones) to deliver oral sylvatic plague vaccine (SPV). It is anticipated that this approach, when fully developed, will offer the most efficient, effective, cost-conscious and environmentally friendly method to apply SPV annually over large areas of prairie dog colonies in support of black-footed ferret recovery.

Plague is a primary obstacle to black-footed ferret recovery. After more than 20 years of intensive reintroduction efforts across 27 reintroduction sites ranging from Mexico to Canada, approximately 300 ferrets were known to exist in the wild at the end of 2015. Ferrets are constantly threatened by plague outbreaks that affect both ferrets, and their primary prey and habitat provider, prairie dogs.

To date, SPV has been applied by hand with people walking pre-defined transects and uniformly dropping single SPV baits every 9-10 meters to achieve a deposition rate of 50 SPV doses per acre. Depending on vegetation and terrain, a single person walking can treat 3-6 acres per hour. All terrain vehicles (ATVs) have been considered but have various problems.

The bait treats are M&Ms smeared in vaccine-laden peanut butter.

Preliminary discussions with people experienced with UAS suggest an aerial vehicle travelling at a modest 9 meters per second could drop a single SPV bait once per second that would result in treating one acre every 50 seconds. If the equipment and expertise can be developed as proposed here, a single UAS operator could treat more than 60 acres per hour.

If the equipment can be developed to deposit 3 SPV doses simultaneously every second, as they envision is possible, some 200 acres per hour could be treated by a single operator. The idea is that the drone would fire the treats in 3 different directions to increase the spread of treats.

The areas to be treated are located in South Phillips County, Montana.

Related: Using Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Roadless Areas (2014)The sub-$1,000 unpiloted aerial vehicles UAV Project (2007)Autonomous Flying Vehicles (2006)Cat Allergy Vaccine Created (2011)AlienFly RC Mosquito Helicopter (2007)

Healthy Living Greatly Reduces Likelihood of Dying from Cancer

Lifestyle choices can greatly reduce the incidence and death rates from cancer. 4 factors can reduce the incidence of cancer by up to 40% and death rate by 50%: don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol in excess, maintain a BMI between 18.5 and 27.5, and exercising at a moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes or at a vigorous intensity for at least 75 minutes every week.

Preventable Incidence and Mortality of Carcinoma Associated With Lifestyle Factors Among White Adults in the United States

A substantial cancer burden may be prevented through lifestyle modification. Primary prevention should remain a priority for cancer control.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, with 1.6 million new cancer cases and 0.6 million cancer deaths projected to occur in 2016.1 The cancer mortality rate, age-standardized to the 2000 US standard population, decreased from 199 to 163 per 100 000 between 1969 and 2013.2 However, this decline (17.9%) has been modest compared with the dramatic decrease in heart disease mortality (67.5%) during the same period, highlighting the need for further efforts in cancer prevention and treatment.

The study reviewed previous studies and the makeup of the previous studies and available statistics. As they state in the paper: “Because our cohorts’ participants were predominantly whites, to avoid any influence of different racial distributions on the comparison with the general population, we only included whites in the analysis.” They also excluded about 10% of cancers that are believed to have strong environmental factors.

Table Showing a Comparison of Lifestyle Factors in the Low- and High-Risk Groups

In the 2 cohort studies of US white individuals, we found that overall, 20% to 40% of carcinoma cases and about half of carcinoma deaths can be potentially prevented through lifestyle modification. Not surprisingly, these figures increased to 40% to 70% when assessed with regard to the broader US population of whites, which has a much worse lifestyle pattern than our cohorts.

Notably, approximately 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths could be avoided if Americans adopted the lifestyle of the low-risk group, mainly by quitting smoking. For other cancers, from 10% to 70% of deaths could be prevented. These results provide strong support for the importance of environmental factors in cancer risk and reinforce the enormous potential of primary prevention for cancer control.

Related: A Healthy Lifestyle is More About Health Care than the Sickness Management That We Call Health Care IsBetter Health Through: Exercise, Not Smoking, Low Weight, Healthy Diet and Low Alcohol Intake (2013)Exercise Is Really Really Good for YouPhysical Activity for Adults: Inactivity Leads to 5.3 Million Early Deaths a Year (2012)

USA Health Care Crisis: Opioid Abuse

In 2014 about 34,000 deaths in the USA died in car crashes and about the same number of deaths resulted from gun violence, but more than 47,000 people died from drug overdoses.

Opioid abuse has greatly increased these deaths in the last decade. Chronic pain is a real problem we need to manage. But the current practices are leading to troubling results as are our methods for dealing with drug abuse (including illegal drugs such as heroin). Abusing prescription drugs such as addictive opioids and illegal drugs such as heroin are both leading to an increasing number of deaths in the last decade.

Worldwide somewhere between 26 and 34 million people are abusing opioids. More than 2 million of them are Americans abusing prescription opioids.

Heroin is an example of a non-prescription opioid.

Admissions for the treatment of abuses of prescription opioids constituted about 1% of [USA emergency room] admissions in 1997, and they made up 5% of admissions a decade later.

Related: President Obama Proposes $1.1 Billion in New Funding to Address the Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin Use Epidemic200,000 People Die Every Year in Europe from Adverse Drug Effects – How Can We Improve?The War on Drugs has been a Huge Failure with Massive Unintended Consequences (we need to use health care strategies to manage the problem not war strategies)Over-reliance on Prescription Drugs to Aid Children’s Sleep? (2007)

Google Cardboard 3d Viewer Helped Surgeons Save Baby’s Life

$20 cardboard toy saves baby’s life

Doctors at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami used the device to map out an operation they say they couldn’t have envisioned otherwise.

“It was mind-blowing,” says Cassidy Lexcen, the baby’s mother. “To see this little cardboard box and a phone, and to think this is what saved our daughter’s life.”

Google Cardboard is a virtual reality and augmented reality platform developed by Google for use with a head mount for smart phone. Just get a simple cardboard holder you wear like goggles and an app for Android or iOS and you can view cool 3d virtual realities.

Related: Night Vision Contact LensesiPhone Addition as Alternative to Expensive Ophthalmology EquipmentVery Cool Wearable Computing Gadget from MITCool Mechanical Simulation System

How Humans Evolved Allergies

Ancient antibody molecule offers clues to how humans evolved allergies

The chicken molecule, an antibody called IgY, looks remarkably similar to the human antibody IgE. IgE is known to be involved in allergic reactions and humans also have a counterpart antibody called IgG that helps to destroy invading viruses and bacteria. Scientists know that both IgE and IgG were present in mammals around 160 million years ago because the corresponding genes are found in the recently published platypus genome. However, in chickens there is no equivalent to IgG and so IgY performs both functions.

Lead researcher, Dr. Rosy Calvert said: “Although these antibodies all started from a common ancestor, for some reason humans have ended up with two rather specialised antibodies, whereas chickens only have one that has a much more general function.

Professor Brian Sutton, head of the laboratory where the work was done said: “It might be that there was a nasty bug or parasite around at the time that meant that humans needed a really dramatic immune response and so there was pressure to evolve a tight binding antibody like IgE. The problem is that now we’ve ended up with an antibody that can tend to be a little over enthusiastic and causes us problems with apparently innocuous substances like pollen and peanuts, which can cause life-threatening allergic conditions.”

Related: Parasitic Worms Reduce Hay Fever SymptomsUnderstanding the Evolution of Human Beings by CountryHypoallergenic Cats

Walking Without Shoes

You Walk Wrong

Last year, researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, published a study titled “Shod Versus Unshod: The Emergence of Forefoot Pathology in Modern Humans?” in the podiatry journal The Foot. The study examined 180 modern humans from three different population groups (Sotho, Zulu, and European), comparing their feet to one another’s, as well as to the feet of 2,000-year-old skeletons. The researchers concluded that, prior to the invention of shoes, people had healthier feet. Among the modern subjects, the Zulu population, which often goes barefoot, had the healthiest feet while the Europeans – i.e., the habitual shoe-wearers – had the unhealthiest

My new Vivo Barefoots aren’t perfect – they’re more or less useless in rain or snow, and they make me look like I’m off to dance in The Nutcracker. But when I don’t wear them now, I kind of miss them. Not because they’re supposedly making my feet healthier, but because they truly make walking more fun. It’s like driving a stick shift after years at the wheel of an automatic – you suddenly feel in control of an intricate machine, rather than coasting on cruise control. Now I better understand what Walt Whitman meant when he wrote (and I hate to quote another Transcendentalist, but they were serious walking enthusiasts): “The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections.”

Related: Ministry of Silly WalksTreadmill Desks

Study challenges notion of ‘pandemic’ flu

Study challenges notion of ‘pandemic’ flu

Peter Doshi, a graduate student in the History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society Program at MIT, based his study on an analysis of more than a century of influenza mortality data. He found that the peak monthly death rates in the 1957-1958 and 1968-1969 pandemic seasons were no higher than–and were sometimes exceeded by–those for severe nonpandemic seasons.

Doshi says the pandemic-equals-extreme-mortality concept appears to be a generalization of a single data point: the 1918 season, a period in which “doctors lacked intensive care units, respirators, antiviral agents and antibiotics.” He argues that “had no other aspect of modern medicine but antibiotics been available in 1918, there seems good reason to believe that the severity of this pandemic would have been far reduced.”

As may be expected given improvements in living conditions, nutrition and other public health measures, influenza death rates substantially declined across the 20th century. Doshi calculates an 18-fold decrease in influenza deaths between the 1940s and 1990s, a trend that began far before the introduction of widespread vaccination.

Related: Why the Flu Likes WinterReducing the Impact of a Flu PandemicDrug-resistant Flu Virus – Avian Flu

Eating Breakfast Keeps Teenagers Leaner

Breakfast ‘keeps teenagers lean’

In a five year study of more than 2,000 youngsters, those who skipped breakfast weighed on average 5lbs (2.3kg) more than those who ate first thing. This was despite the fact that the breakfast-eaters consumed more calories in the course of the day. But the study in Pediatrics found they were likely to be much more active.

The University of Minnesota research adds weight to a growing body of evidence that those who eat breakfast – whether young or old – are leaner than those who do not.

“The real problem is the profusion of messages about obesity. We need to make clear that eating regular meals is vital – and that a proper breakfast is very important. “If you eat well first thing, you’ll feel brighter, you’ll have more get up and go – and that will mean you’ll expend more energy.”

Teenagers are not the only ones who may benefit from sitting down to a proper breakfast. In a study of nearly 7,000 middle-aged people in Norfolk, a team from Cambridge University found that those who ate the most in the morning put on the least amount of weight.

Related: Breakfast Eating and Weight Change in a 5-Year Prospective Analysis of Adolescents: Project EAT (Eating Among Teens)$500 Million to Reduce Childhood Obesity in USAEat food. Not too much. Mostly plantsFood Health Policy Blog

Self-assembling Nanofibers Heal Spinal Cords in Mice

Self-assembling Nanofibers Heal Spinal Cords by Prachi Patel-Predd

An engineered material that can be injected into damaged spinal cords could help prevent scars and encourage damaged nerve fibers to grow. The liquid material, developed by Northwestern University materials science professor Samuel Stupp, contains molecules that self-assemble into nanofibers, which act as a scaffold on which nerve fibers grow.

Stupp and his colleagues described in a recent paper in the Journal of Neuroscience that treatment with the material restores function to the hind legs of paralyzed mice.

The new work is the first test for the material to heal spinal cord injuries in animals. And Kessler says that it worked better than the researchers expected. The researchers stimulated a spinal cord injury in mice and injected the material 24 hours later. They found that the material reduced the size of scars and stimulated the growth of the nerve fibers through the scars. It promoted the growth of both types of nerve fibers that make up the spinal cord: motor fibers that carry signals from the brain to the limbs, and sensory fibers that carry sense signals to the brain. What is more, the material encouraged the nerve stem cells to mature into cells that create myelin–an insulating layer around nerve fibers that helps them to conduct signals more effectively.

Related: Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsMicro-robots to ’swim’ Through VeinsNanowired at Berkeley

Clay Versus MRSA Superbug

“Healing clays” hold promise in fight against MRSA superbug infections and disease

Scientists from Arizona State University report that minerals from clay promise could provide inexpensive, highly-effective antimicrobials to fight methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections that are moving out of health care settings and into the community.

Unlike conventional antibiotics routinely administered by injection or pills, the so-called “healing clays” could be applied as rub-on creams or ointments to keep MRSA infections from spreading

In their latest study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, Williams, Haydel and their colleagues collected more than 20 different clay samples from around the world to investigate their antibacterial activities… The researchers identified at least two clays from the United States that kill or significantly reduce the growth of these bacteria

Also listen to a podcast with the researchers, Lynda Williams and Shelly Haydel, that provides much more detail. The Science Studio podcasts from Arizona State University provides great science podcasts.

Related: Soil Could Shed Light on Antibiotic ResistanceEntirely New Antibiotic DevelopedScience Webcast DirectoryNSF Awards $50 Million for Collaborative Plant Biology Project (University of Arizona)

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