A couple of days ago, a woman in Germany gave birth at the Berlin’s Charité Hospital while inside an MRI scanner
so scientists could study the birthing process in more detail.
A hospital spokesperson said the entire procedure went well, and both mother and baby are doing well.
Researchers designed a special “open” MRI machine in order to accommodate the experiment. MRI’s are quite loud though, so the mother still had to wear earmuffs, and the procedure was stopped after the amniotic sac broke, in order to protect the baby’s hearing.
MRIs use large coils of wire to generate a strong magnetic field to image the body. Generally, the bigger the magnet means a better picture, so the opening in which the patients lie is as small as possible. In this case, it was more advantageous to have a more open design. A photo of the actual MRI machine used in this experiment was not given, but it would look something like this.
So what was the point of all this? Scientists want to study the birth process better in order to understand what causes complications, and prevent them.
Experiments like this are going to continue, as 5 more mothers have volunteered for the procedure.
Man, how many times have I said I would write a post about the “Physics of MRI”? Quite a few…its coming I promise, cause I have a couple more cool MRI studies to share… stay tuned.
The 9th Canadian Immunization Conference is being held right now in Quebec City.
The goals of this conference include reviewing new vaccinology science, developing immunization strategies for the country and “increase opportunities for networking, partnership and collaboration in the immunization field.”
They also have a poster contest for Grade 6 students across the country. I think this is a great way to teach kids the value of immunization and that vaccines are truly one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time, saving literally millions of lives.
Here are a couple of my favourites…
You can see the rest of the awesome posters here.
A few years ago, Oprah had a guest on her show by the name of Kim Tinkham. Ms. Tinkham explained that she had breast cancer, but after reading “The Secret” she decided to forgo conventional treatment and instead pursue “alternative therapies”.
David Gorski has written a post today at Science-Based Medicine about Ms. Tinkham, and the news is quite sad. She pursued a pseudoscientific treatment called “alkalinization” supported by one Robert O. Young, who believes there is “no such thing” as cancer and that this type of illness is caused by “excess acidity” in the body. It goes without saying, but this is totally without scientific merit.
But Ms. Tinkham followed this therapy, and for a few years her health was stable. But unfortunately, she is no longer doing well and is not expected to live through the year.
[Update: I am sad to report that Kim Tinkham passed away on December 7, 2010.]
Why do people seek out these types of therapies? Dr. Gorski explains it quite well:
In fact, Kim Tinkham made it explicit by saying that Young and his wife had told her what causes cancer by saying “there is no such thing as cancer.” Again, remember that Young thinks that cancer is the body’s reaction to cells “poisoned” by too much acid, and he really does say that there is no such thing as cancer. He even goes on and on about how acid being “deposited into the fatty tissues” and thereby causing cancer. From a scientific standpoint, it’s a load of rubbish, pure pseudoscience without any good scientific evidence to back it up. But Young can assert his nonsense about tissue being due to acid “spoiling” tissues with utter sincerity. He looks completely convincing–if you don’t know anything about cancer biology, and most people don’t know much, if anything, about cancer biology. Give him a woman who is afraid, who wants concrete answers, and who has demonstrated that she is fairly clueless about breast cancer, and he can convince her that he has the answer and can cure her. The reason, it appears to me, is that Tinkham (and women like her) just want to believe that someone knows what’s wrong with them and how to fix it. Knowing how to fix it isn’t enough; they want an answer to the question, “Why me?”
Quacks are only too happy to provide that answer.
You can and should read the whole sad story at Science-Based Medicine. People wonder why I get upset about alternative medicines, and this is why. Ms. Tinkham’s cancer was treatable, but has now metastasized into other parts of her body.
It is wholly depressing, because she is a victim. A victim of quacks who prey on the vulnerabilities and wishful thinking of sick people.
I’m ashamed to live on the same planet as those people.
And I get proud of myself when I run 3 or 4 miles. This sure is humbling…
But running 2,800 miles (4,500 km) in 2 months is exactly what a group of a few dozen “Ultramarathoners” do every few years in Europe. Its called the TransEurope Footrace, and I am in awe.
Last year, 44 of the 66 participants in this race allowed themselves to be medically examined through the course of the race, to find out exactly what happens to people who exert themselves this way.
The results were presented at the Radiological Society of North American meeting in Chicago this week. The study was entitled: Longitudinal Follow-up of Changes of Body Tissue Composition in Ultra-Endurance Runners during 4.500 km Trans Europe Foot Race 2009 Measured by Whole-Body MR Imaging on a Mobile MR Imaging Truck-trailer. (Yes, the same conference that had the acupuncture presentation I wrote about yesterday.)
So they followed these runners around with an MRI machine in their truck (!) and through the course of the race took 6 full body scans of the runners and measured their body fat content and muscle volume. The results?
We found muscle mass catabolism also in the exposed muscles of the leg. This occurs in every subject. Over all nearly 34% of nonvisceral body fat has been gone after the race. But there was nearly 20% of visceral fat loss, also.
So they found that 7% of muscle mass in the leg was lost through the course of the race as well.
I’m not sure whats more impressive about this study: that they ran 4,500 km, or that they followed them with a friggin’ MRI machine in a friggin’ truck!
A presentation is being given today at the 96th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
A couple of media outlets have jumped on this presentation, titled “Influence of Acupuncture on Pain Modulation during Electrical Stimulation: An fMRI Study“.
The headline in the Telegraph reads: Acupuncture’s effect ‘isn’t just psychological’
In the Daily Mail it reads: Acupuncture is no placebo and does relieve pain, say scientists
The Telegraph headline is misleading, and the Daily Mail headline is just plain wrong. And, as I’ll point out, both are overstating the findings of the study, as are the scientists who performed it.
So first off, fMRI stands for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It is a type of MRI scan which can determine which parts of the brain become “activated” by measuring the amount of blood flow to each part of the brain.
It is a fascinating field of study, and in a future post I will explain the physics of MRI, but for now lets just say that fMRI is (somewhat) able to tell which parts of the brain “turn on” when you do certain tasks.
So what happened in this particular study is this: the authors got 18 healthy volunteers and shocked their ankle with an electric shock to induce pain. At the same time, they imaged their brain using fMRI.
Next, they took the same 18 people, performed acupuncture on them, and then shocked their ankle again and took another fMRI of their brain.
They compare the two images, before and after the acupuncture, to see which parts of the brain light up (or don’t) to see if they could see any differences in how the brain reacts to pain stimuli with and without acupuncture.
And wouldn’t you know it? They did see a difference. Their conclusion:
Activation of brain areas involved in pain modulation was significantly reduced or modulated under acupuncture and the majority of the detected areas were not influenced by the analyzed covariate. However, left anterior insular cortex and orbitofrontal / superior frontal gyrus activation was modulated by stimulus intensity. We hypothesize that insula activation seems to be correlated to the stimulus and pain intensity while the importance of frontal activation increases during acupuncture and may be an acupuncture specific effect.
Essentially, they found that after the acupuncture, parts of the brain which control pain were not activated as strongly. Not only that, but the affective response to pain (the frontal cortex) was changed after the acupuncture as well. Pretty convincing right?
No. It’s not . First off, a similar response has been shown by Wager et al. in 2004 that placebos induce the same effect.
Second, it has also been shown that expecting pain can alter one’s response to pain. This study had the volunteers get their ankle shocked first, then they got acupuncture and had to be shocked again. They were expecting the pain, so this may have affected the results.
Third, there was no control group. A proper study should have had a placebo type of acupuncture, such as pricking the skin with toothpicks (which has been done before) or placing the needles at non-acupuncture points. Or they should have tried some other type of pain relief, like massage or relaxation prior to the second shock, to see if there was any difference.
Fourth, the study only had 18 volunteers. To make a claim that acupuncture works based on such a small group is irresponsible.
Fifth (geez, five points?!) fMRI is not easy to gather accurate conclusions from. The workings of the brain are affected by many things and brain responses can be non-localized.
I am not refuting the results of the study, only the conclusions drawn by the authors and the media. The data itself is not surprising. In fact, it is exactly what you would expect since placebos have shown similar results. But to draw the conclusion that this is an acupuncture specific effect from this data is fallacious.
It is the 115th anniversary of the discovery of x-rays by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen.
To celebrate, Google has put up a ‘Google Doodle’ featuring x-ray radiography.
This is awesome! It gives worldwide attention to one of the greatest medical discoveries in history. Hell, it’s one of the greatest scientific discoveries in history!