Archive

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

If Your Bandage is Glowing, That’s Bad…

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment
Polymer

A polymer and fluorescent dye work together to cause a bandage to glow in the presence of infection.

A team of researchers at the University of Sheffield has developed an interesting way of detecting bacteria in a wound (I know, gross).

The researchers found that a polymer attached to a fluorescent dye on bandage can detect when bacteria or other harmful organisms come into contact with the wound. The polymer changes shape when the bacteria are present, activating the dye and emitting ultraviolet light.

The technique was mainly developed with military applications in mind. Being able to easily and quickly identify infected wounds on the battlefield could help significantly reduce the severity of injuries.

“If you know you’ve got infection it’s going to change how you treat your soldiers, it’s going to change how you’re going to treat those patients in the home,” Sheffield researcher Sheila McNeil said. [UPI.com]

At the moment, the technique has only been applied to artificial tissues. However, it currently takes several days to confirm the presence of infection, so there is quite an interest in expanding the technique to human trials.

______________________________________________________________________

REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will no longer be supported after September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan

Advertisements

50th Anniversary of the Discovery of Stem Cells

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

In the early 1960s, two Canadian scientists by the names of James Till and Ernest McCulloch at the University of Toronto made the discovery of stem cells.

Stem cells, put simply, can be thought of as “blank slates”; cells which can divide differentiate in a variety of cell types. They can now be used to grow human tissues and may even one day be able to grow entire organs which can be transplanted into human subjects.

The medical implications of this discovery are incredible. To help celebrate, the Ontario Science Center has an exhibit open until October 2, 2011, depicting the wonders of stem cells.

So if you live in the Toronto area, be sure to check it out!

(Thanks to @DiscoveryCanada for bringing this to my attention)

______________________________________________________________________

REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will go dead on September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan

Vaccines (once again) Found Safe. Not That Anti-Vaxxers Care…

August 26, 2011 1 comment

The Institute of Medicine has released a comprehensive report on the safety of vaccines. They looked at a wide range of vaccine types and various adverse affects known to be associated, and thought to be associated, with vaccines.

The report looked at claims which were submitted to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which was setup in 1986 to compensate those who were injured by vaccines.

They then looked for a causal relationship between the administration of the vaccine and the adverse effect reported in the claim.

In short, the committee found that most issues with vaccines were rare and mild.

Additionally, evidence favors rejection of five vaccine-adverse event relationships, including MMR vaccine and autism and inactivated influenza vaccine and asthma episodes.

A summary of the report very aptly states:

Despite much media attention and strong opinions from many quarters, vaccines remain one of the greatest tools in the public health arsenal. Certainly, some vaccines result in adverse effects that must be acknowledged. But the latest evidence shows that few adverse effects are caused by the vaccines reviewed in this report.

Of course, this doesn’t sway the staunch anti-vax supporters. Age of Autism, a group which is hell-bent on rejecting any scientific evidence showing that vaccines do not cause autism, had this to say about the study:

The IOM report took two years to produce, mostly behind closed doors, and was paid for by the Department of Health and Human Services, the government agency which is also a defendant against the vaccine-injured in the government’s vaccine court

Their arguments are as predictable as the sun rising in the east. It is a government agency, therefore they don’t accept the research.

If people want to keep their heads buried in the sand that is one thing, but the problem is that it is children who end up suffering when people don’t accept the science behind one of the greatest medical advances in history.

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Though that doesn’t mean I can’t be disappointed.

Does TV Watching Make You Sick? Not Exactly…

June 14, 2011 Leave a comment
File:Televison Hungarian ORION 1957.jpg

Beware! It might kill you! Photo Credit: Istvan Takacs

I’m a little annoyed with some headlines hitting a few news websites today:

TV Watching Raises Risk of Health problems, dying young

Excess TV time linked to early death

TV time tied to death, diabetes risk

The stories are talking about a study getting published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association

The study is a meta-analysis of 8 studies over the past 40 years which look at the correlation between watching television and risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The study found, unsurprisingly, that increased television watching was correlated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The pooled relative risks per 2 hours of TV viewing per day were 1.20 (95% CI, 1.14-1.27) for type 2 diabetes, 1.15 (95% CI, 1.06-1.23) for fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular disease, and 1.13 (95% CI, 1.07-1.18) for all-cause mortality.

In layman’s terms, this means that for each 2 hours of television watched per day, risk of type 2 diabetes increased by about 20%, risk of developing fatal or non-fatal heart disease increased by about 15%, and risk of dying of any cause increased by about 13%.

So does watching TV make you sick? Not exactly.

I’m not doubting the results of the study, though they should be taken with the usual grain of salt that should be taken with all epidemiological studies.

They are observational studies, not controlled studies in a lab. There are many variables which can influence the results.

That being said, the results of the study are not surprising and I have every confidence that there is truth in there.

But the media takes these types of studies, gives them a sensationalized headline and doesn’t put them in the proper context.

Watching TV does not make you sick; being lazy makes you sick. What this study is really showing is that watching TV correlates to a lazy lifestyle.

There’s nothing wrong with kicking back and watching some Star Trek reruns or even *groan* Dancing with the Stars. Just make sure you go out for a jog now and then. Or play some basketball. Or just do anything that isn’t sitting around and being lazy!

I’m sure snacking is a big factor in the results of this study as well. No doubt increased time in front of the TV leads to eating more unhealthy foods.

But if you sit in front of the tube and eat baby carrots or oatmeal, then you are probably not at a huge risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

So if you watch a lot of TV, you’re not necessarily going to die young because TV doesn’t make you sick.

But if you eat a lot of junk food and don’t exercise, then you might die young. But then again, THAT’S not exactly news, is it?

Measles Outbreak Hospitalizes Four Children

March 31, 2011 1 comment

Yes, and it could have been prevented.

The outbreak happened in the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis. Since measles immunization is highly effective at preventing measles, how is it a that an outbreak like this could have occurred?

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, a recent outbreak of measles in the Twin Cities area was caused in part by former doctor and medical researcher Andrew Wakefield’s influential but fraudulent study suggesting a connection between child vaccination and autism.

So why weren’t the children vaccinated?

Several of the parents informed the Health Department they had avoided the mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) vaccine out of concerns their children would be at risk of autism.

If you read this blog at all (or any other skeptic blog, for that matter) you know this already. But once more, with feeling…

VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM

Not only has Wakefield’s original study been shown be of poor quality, it has also been alleged to be fraudulent. Many larger studies have shown absolutely no correlation between vaccines and autism.

None. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Nil.

Ok, I’m starting to get worked up. It happens when I talk about vaccines especially.

Why? Well usually when a scientist’s outlandish claims get debunked it is an “I told you so!” situation.

But when children (or anyone) get hurt or hospitalized as a result of those outlandish claims, it becomes a “Bang your head against the wall because this could have been prevented” situation.

Maybe we could call this a “Wakefield” situation; a “When Are Kids Ever going to Forgive us for letting Idiots Endanger their Lives with Debunked science” situation.

The reality is starting to set in, as Dr. William Schaffner, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University, lays out:

Hospitalizations and deaths have occurred—all preventable, had the children been immunized. In the U.S., some parents withhold vaccines; others stretch out the vaccination schedule, leaving children susceptible to disease for longer than they should.

I don’t know if the damage caused by that original Wakefield paper will ever be fully undone. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to undo as much as possible.

The Globe and Mail Fails Again

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

The Globe continues its descent from decent reporting to tabloid-like fear mongering. The culprit this time is a completely unskeptical article containing a condensed interview with Paul Connet, “a U.S. academic and public-health advocate”. He has recently penned a book called ‘The Case Against Fluoride’.

The article is available here, but I was so disappointed with the article’s lack of counter evidence or even discussion, that I feel the need to provide such commentary here. Let’s look at a few of the questions that were asked:

Before you became involved in this issue, you were skeptical that fluoride was harmful and thought critics of the practice were misguided. What changed your mind?

There were two things. The first was that fluoride interfered with hydrogen bonds, which are common in proteins and other important molecules in our bodies. That sent alarm bells ringing through my head. The second was that the level in mothers’ milk was incredibly low. When you see what nature’s take on it is, which is don’t give the baby much fluoride, then I felt this doesn’t make any sense to add it to water.

Hydrogen bonding is a form of attraction between the positive hydrogen atom and an electronegative atom. Connet is referring to a paper written in 1981 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The paper found that hydrogen bonds are quite strong in a fluoride-amide solution and that this may affect proteins. Amides also appear in proteins, and he believes that this will have some kind of biological effect. I have not found, however, any papers finding that this effect can be extended to fluoride detrimentally affecting human proteins in vivo. In fact, it is fluoride’s effect on hydrogen bonding that may be part of the reason it is beneficial to tooth enamel.

His second reason for fearing fluoride just seems silly. It’s not in breast milk therefore we should not use it? This just flat-out doesn’t make sense. We have evolved to a point where we can use medicine and vaccines to improve our health beyond that which has naturally occurred through evolution. To deprive an infant of these advantages because they are not in mother’s milk is ridiculous.

In the case of fluoridation, the water supply is being used as a drug-delivery mechanism to treat a medical condition. Why is this wrong, in your view?

It violates people’s right to informed consent, which has always been the strongest argument against fluoridation. We’ve never done it with other drugs. Since fluoridation began in 1945, not one other substance has been added to the water to address a health concern. You shouldn’t use the water supply to deliver medication, for obvious reasons. You can’t control the dose. You can’t control who will get it. There is no individual supervision. The whole practice doesn’t make sense from a medical point of view.

True, we have never use water to deliver other drugs. But we have in salt. Iodised salt was introduced in the United States in 1924 to help prevent goiters and iodine deficiency. I don’t hear anyone complaining about the lack of goiters.

Dose control is a noble concern, but not relevant. So long as the fluoride concentration is controlled and tested regularly (about 0.5 to 1 mg/L), it would take an unfeasible amount of water ingestion to even have a chance of causing any detrimental health effects.

The right to informed consent is actually the one argument I think has merit. However, people are always informed if fluoride is added to their water supply and do have the option to get a water filter to remove the majority of it if they wish.

The first U.S. fluoridation trial began in the mid-1940s. Would fluoridation pass a modern, drug-style clinical trial or risk assessment?

There is no way on planet Earth that you could get fluoridation through today. It’s only because it’s been an inherited practice and so much credibility is at stake for the medical community that keeps it going.

This is just flat-out wrong. Studies on the effect of fluoride have never stopped and continue to be updated. The consensus remains the same: fluoride is an effective and safe means of preventing dental caries.

What are the health dangers from fluoridation?

I think we’re going to pay a huge price. I’m convinced, based on animal studies, clinical trials and epidemiological studies, that drinking fluoridated water for a whole lifetime will increase your risk of arthritis and also increase your risk of hip fractures, which is very serious in the elderly. The reason for these problems is that half the fluoride people ingest is stored in the bone. We may also have a problem with it lowering the IQ of children. There are 23 studies from four countries that have found a possible association between drinking naturally fluoridated water and lower IQ in children.

Regions which have artificially fluoridated water, that is, water in which the fluoride concentration is controlled, show no significant correlation between arthritis or hip fractures. The statement that “half the fluoride ingested is stored in the bone” is not necessarily true. 75-90% of ingested fluoride is absorbed and in adults about 60% of absorbed fluoride is retained. Connet’s concern about the IQ of children comes from studies of naturally fluoridated water, that is, water which does not have the fluoride added by the city, but comes from natural sources or fluoride pollution. These naturally fluoridated waters supplies usually have much, much higher concentrations of fluoride than artificially fluoridated sources.

A lot of these concerns are based on flimsy evidence and straw man arguments. There are however, a couple of things I do actually agree with:

1. Naturally fluoridated water supplies are a problem because the concentration are too high and may cause adverse health effects. However, this concern should not be unfairly extended to artificially fluoridated water supplies.

2. The argument about informed consent is a valid one. But if you don’t want fluoride in your water because of this reason, don’t argue it based on health effects; argue it based on an informed consent platform.

Oh and one more thing. I am actually worried about the fluoride in MY water supply. The reason is because Calgary has voted to remove it.

I will definitely be making sure there is fluoride in my toothpaste.

Cell Phones, Your Brain, and the Media

February 23, 2011 72 comments

Usually, when a scientific study gets this much media attention, it has something quite impactful to report.

But when the study has nice, media-friendly buzz-words like “radiation” and “brain activity”, you get a firestorm of media coverage. Even if your study doesn’t say all that much.

The study I am referring to is called “Effects of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Signal Exposure on Brain Glucose Metabolism” which was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study looked at 47 healthy volunteers; a relatively small study. The researchers took these volunteers and gave them all PET scans on their brains. They had also strapped two cellphones on either side of their head. One cell phone was on, and the other was turned off.

During a 50 minute phone call, they compared the two sides of their brain to see if there was any change in glucose uptake.

What did they find?

Whole-brain metabolism did not differ between on and off conditions. In contrast, metabolism in the region closest to the antenna (orbitofrontal cortex and temporal pole) was significantly higher for on than off conditions (35.7 vs 33.3 μmol/100 g per minute; mean difference, 2.4 [95% confidence interval, 0.67-4.2]; P = .004). The increases were significantly correlated with the estimated electromagnetic field amplitudes both for absolute metabolism (R = 0.95,P < .001) and normalized metabolism (R = 0.89; P < .001). [JAMA]

So basically, whole-brain metabolism was the same whether the phone was on or off. However, in regions close to the phone’s antenna, the metabolism was “significantly higher”. It is important to point out that in this context, “significantly” means statistical significance, not a large increase. In fact, the increase was only about 7%.

Brain imaging physicist Dardo Tomasi of Brookhaven National Laboratory, who co-authored the study, said that’s several times less activity than visual brain regions show during an engaging movie. [Wired]

Ok, so now the important question: what does this mean for our health? Nora Volkow, the study’s lead author commented:

Volkow says it is too early to tell whether this is good or bad for the brain. “Much larger fluctuations in brain activity occur naturally,” says Patrick Haggard at University College London. In fact, being able to increase activity might boost the brain’s connectivity, and could even be useful therapeutically, Volkow suggests. [New Scientist]

So although the study was published as a “Preliminary Communication”, and that the study itself concludes:

This finding is of unknown clinical significance. [JAMA] (emphasis mine)

there is still a large number of news outlets which reported on the study. Why?

Well we know why already. That “unknown” word in the above quote carries a lot of baggage.

Cell phones are the new danger to health, of course. Despite there being no conclusive evidence that cell phones even have the ability to cause cancer, and the fact that even with the explosion of cell phone use in recent years, cancer rates have not increased, people are still scared of their cell phone.

This is thanks to poor media coverage, and a few crackpots out there who are determined to prove that technology is going to destroy us all.

And as a result this small, preliminary study with a result that, while interesting, is completely benign, gets extensive media coverage. Not only that, but some news sites give thinly veiled comments suggesting that the results somehow show that cell phones are dangerous, like this one:

The unusual finding, published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is likely to lead to new calls for stricter regulation of radiation emissions from the ubiquitous phones. The government currently assumes the signals have no effects other than a harmless warming of tissues near where they’re held. [The Globe and Mail]

or this one:

Some studies have linked cell phone exposure to an increased risk of brain cancers, but a large study by the World Health Organization was inconclusive. [MSNBC]

Of course they used the word “inconclusive” in the above quote, when it should really read “it showed no correlation”. Scicurious points out that this is probably because “‘inconclusive’ sounds scarier”.

So nobody panic. This study does not show that cell phones are dangerous. It may show that the electric field from the antenna somehow increases metabolism of glucose, but those findings need to be corroborated by other labs. Let’s wait until their findings are duplicated on a larger scale and a mechanism by which this effect happens can be discovered before we decide what, if any, impact this study should have.