mm390: Mudge’s Healthy Obsession

May 24, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

While puttering around doing the formatting and graphics hunt for today’s effort, discovered that, without really being specifically aware of it, MUDGE has devoted at least 30 posts to issues relating to health. That’s a sizable chunk of time and attention.

But, why not? As we’ve noted frequently, the oldest of the Boomer cohort of which I am nearly a charter member is 62 years old, eligible to retire (and, indeed, a number of MUDGE’s friends have already done so). And, regardless of age, for at least the past 25 years we Boomers have paid outsized attention to health issues.

This year alone at Casa MUDGE, while dealing with the Achilles tendon partial tear that has been a pest for way too long and my wife’s rotator cuff issue (after the last cortisone injection, doing very well thank you), we continue our concern with our Los Angeles daughter’s Crohn’s disease (current treatment seems to be helping, thank goodness, although there’s a health insurance battle brewing), and my dear mother’s recent diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia (she’s fighting it tenaciously).

Not to mention, of course, our various chronic conditions for which our monthly pharmaceutical expense is ever increasing.

So, health is on our mind, all of the time. Fortunately, there is never a lack of news.

In that spirit, to conclude setting the table for today’s health post, here’s a link table of our most important posts on the topic.

healthyobsession1_thumb[3] dreamstime_1230255-400_thumb[4] MUDGE‘s Healthy Obsession

mm386: Your Boomer brain…
mm363: “60 Minutes:” Dead wrong?
mm346: All together now: Ewwwww
mm325: I’m an Internet informed parent…
mm323: Get medicine out of the hands…
mm305: Google Health – 1984 for the 21st Century
mm283: Cause and effect: an ongoing mystery
mm281: No! Don’t take away my Mountain Dew!
mm276: Fat Tuesday…
mm270: Health trilogy
mm268: Sometimes it’s personal
mm251: Stem cells – Lab harvests non-destructively
mm230: Stem cells; Insurance scum; Overtreatment!
mm227: Nanotechnology: The future is safe?
mm223: Pigs, bees, fish – dangerous ways
mm221: The dread disease we all hope to catch
mm201: Stemming the tide of ignorance
mm200: Stem cells: an alternative source
mm198: GM foods – Wrongheaded opposition
mm197: Short attention span
mm190: U.S. Health Care – Excuses, not facts
mm177: Healthy eating — Overrated!
mm176.5: Sleep: The Threequel
mm176: Sleep: But <after> you read this, please!
mm172: Diabetes: Not so simple, Simon…
mm171: Maintain your brain
mm165: Junkfood Science: Obesity Paradox #13
mm152: Evidence of genetic response to diet
mm073: 22 ways to overclock your brain
mm012: Hazardous to your health

Read the rest of this entry »

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mm230: Stem Cells; Insurance Scum; Overtreatment!

December 22, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Yes, fan, it’s a Health/Medical edition of SASB!

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We begin with a doubly frightening topic: Cancer combined with cancerous Stem Cells. This story hit NYTimes:

nytimes

Scientists Weigh Stem Cells’ Role as Cancer Cause

By GINA KOLATA | Published: December 21, 2007

Within the next few months, researchers at three medical centers expect to start the first test in patients of one of the most promising — and contentious — ideas about the cause and treatment of cancer.

The idea is to take aim at what some scientists say are cancerous stem cells — aberrant cells that maintain and propagate malignant tumors.

Although many scientists have assumed that cancer cells are immortal — that they divide and grow indefinitely — most can only divide a certain number of times before dying. The stem-cell hypothesis says that cancers themselves may not die because they are fed by cancerous stem cells, a small and particularly dangerous kind of cell that can renew by dividing even as it spews out more cells that form the bulk of a tumor. Worse, stem cells may be impervious to most standard cancer therapies.

Not everyone accepts the hypothesis of cancerous stem cells. Skeptics say proponents are so in love with the idea that they dismiss or ignore evidence against it. Dr. Scott E. Kern, for instance, a leading pancreatic cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said the hypothesis was more akin to religion than to science.

“…more akin to religion than to science.” How fitting when stem cells are the topic!

Of course these are one’s own, cancerous stem cells in question.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Scientists Weigh Stem Cells’ Role as Cancer Cause – New York Times

Here’s the telling quote:

“Not only are some of the approaches we are using not getting us anywhere, but even the way we approve drugs is a bad model,” he said. Anti-cancer drugs, he noted, are approved if they shrink tumors even if they do not prolong life. It is the medical equivalent, he said, of mowing a dandelion field.

Cancer patients and their families are desperate, so promising drugs can get expedited approval, even if, as noted, they don’t prolong life.

It would be spectacular if this stem cell related research might yield an effective, more permanent treatment.

Now, let’s get angry together…

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For some time now, we’ve had Esoterically.net/weblog as a member of L-HC’s blogroll blogroll2. The subtitle has changed since we originally captured it, Life is too short to live it as a Republican,” but the blog continues to highlight the important issues. Here’s one also from Dec. 21 that set me off:

esotericallynetweblog

Health insurance screwup

Published by Len Dec. 21, 2007 at 17:50 under General, Politics

I hope the Sarkisyan family wins their lawsuit and is award millions and millions of dollars. It is time for these $7.00/hour clerks at the insurance companies to stop playing doctor.

Family to Sue Insurer in Transplant Case

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The family of a 17-year-old girl who died hours after her health insurer reversed a decision and said it would pay for a liver transplant plans to sue the company, their attorney said Friday.

Nataline Sarkisyan died Thursday at about 6 p.m. at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. She had been in a vegetative state for weeks, said her mother, Hilda.

Len updated the post with a link to a more complete analysis definitely worth the detour.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Esoterically.net/weblog » Health insurance screwup

Tragedy is tragedy, but the absolute worst ones are those that were preventable: Katrina, the I-35 bridge, and now Nataline Sarkisyan are all examples of bureaucratic failures caused by a deliberate policy of undercutting the public good in the service of private political agendas, in the first two examples, and shareholder profit, in poor Nataline’s case.

U.S. healthcare needs fixing, and here’s a story pointing to an unexpected cause, and potential fix.

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This week, NYTimes published its list of top economics books as chosen by its columnist, David Leonhardt. His No. 1 book is one I’d not encountered shame on me!

nytimes

No. 1 Book, and It Offers Solutions

By DAVID LEONHARDT | Published: December 19, 2007

In 1967, Jack Wennberg, a young medical researcher at Johns Hopkins, moved his family to a farmhouse in northern Vermont.

“Overtreated” by Shannon Brownlee, above, diagnoses the big flaw in medical spending.

Dr. Wennberg had been chosen to run a new center based at the University of Vermont that would examine medical care in the state. With a colleague, he traveled around Vermont, visiting its 16 hospitals and collecting data on how often they did various procedures.

The results turned out to be quite odd. Vermont has one of the most homogenous populations in the country — overwhelmingly white (especially in 1967), with relatively similar levels of poverty and education statewide. Yet medical practice across the state varied enormously, for all kinds of care. In Middlebury, for instance, only 7 percent of children had their tonsils removed. In Morrisville, 70 percent did.

Dr. Wennberg and some colleagues then did a survey, interviewing 4,000 people around the state, to see whether different patterns of illness could explain the variations in medical care. They couldn’t. The children of Morrisville weren’t suffering from an epidemic of tonsillitis. Instead, they happened to live in a place where a small group of doctors — just five of them — had decided to be aggressive about removing tonsils.

But here was the stunner: Vermonters who lived in towns with more aggressive care weren’t healthier. They were just getting more health care.

That last bears repeating: Vermonters who lived in towns with more aggressive care weren’t healthier. They were just getting more health care.”

As you’ve doubtless heard, this country spends far more money per person on medical care than other countries and still seems to get worse results. We devote 16 percent of our gross domestic product to health care, while Canada and France, where people live longer, spend about 10 percent.

So, we’re overtreated, but undercured. Part due to our fee-for-service system; part due to our own ignorance of medicine’s true costs when we ourselves are the patients; part due to that byzantine health insurance system” that dazzles and confuses us, and lets Natalines die rather than pay.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

No. 1 Book, and It Offers Solutions – New York Times

As Leonhardt makes clear, the true value of this book is that it has clear and achievable recommendations for reforming our sick healthcare system.

When it’s back in stock (ah, the power of the press!) we ought to buy copies for every senator, congressperson and presidential candidate.

So, that’s our Health/Medicine edition of SASB shortattention©. Stay healthy!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Note!: the links to Amazon.com used above is for the convenience of faithful reader and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. It’s an artifact of Sequitur Service©. Deal with it.


mm227: Nanotechnology: The future is now — is it safe?

December 19, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Nanotechnology. The gee-whiz technology of our future. Tiny robotic surgeons, injected into our bloodstream, repairing damaged organs and scouring clogged arteries. “Fantastic Voyage” made real.

That nanotechnology hasn’t arrived quite yet. But, The Economist, the best magazine on the planet, explored today’s nanotechnology in a recent issue, and raised some rather unsettling questions. Because, as it happens, nanotechnology has arrived in a big way, as it were, and once again, we may not be aware of its implications.

A little risky business

Nov 22nd 2007 | From The Economist print edition

The unusual properties of tiny particles contain huge promise. But nobody knows how safe they are. And too few people are trying to find out

Illustration by Bill Butcher

WAVING a packet of carbon nanotubes accusingly at the assembled American politicians during a hearing last month in Congress, Andrew Maynard was determined to make a point. The nanotechnology expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, DC, had bought the tiny tubes on the internet. They had arrived in the post along with a safety sheet describing them as graphite and thus requiring no special precautions beyond those needed for a nuisance dust.

Dr Maynard’s theatrics were designed to draw attention to a growing concern about the safety of nanotechnology. The advice he had received was at best uncertain, and at worst breathtakingly negligent. For a start, describing carbon nanotubes as graphite was rather like describing a lump of coal as a diamond. Graphite is made of carbon, just like the nanotubes, although the tubes themselves are about 1m times smaller than the graphite that makes up the “lead” in a pencil. Carbon nanotubes may be perfectly safe, but then again, they may have asbestos-like properties. Nobody knows. Indeed, industry, regulators and governments know little about the general safety of all manner of materials that are made into fantastically small sizes.

Let’s start with a level set: turns out that nanotechnology is more than the tiny machines that I’ve always been led to imagine that the field encompasses:

In the past few years the number of consumer products claiming to use nanotechnology has dramatically grown—to almost 600 by one count. Patents are rapidly being filed (see chart 1). For a product to count as nanotechnology, it does not need to contain a tiny machine—though some seers imagine that as the field’s ultimate aim. It is enough merely for some of the material to have been tinkered with at a small scale. Often that can involve grinding down a substance into particles that may be only a few nanometres big—a nanometre is a billionth of a metre—about 100,000th of the thickness of a sheet of paper. These particles can also be engineered into shapes that provide some functional property, like rigidity. The variety of shapes includes rings, shells, wires, beads, cages and plates. The particles and shapes can also be incorporated into other materials to bestow useful properties on them.

Examples are cosmetics and sunscreens, where ground up nanoparticles of titanium oxide can block ultraviolet rays but remain transparent.

Problem is, that while scaling known elements into tiny sizes can improve their functionality in tremendously useful ways, it might also increase toxicity, by making the particles much more reactive than in their normal state. Because nanoparticles can thus be more reactive, and are so infinitesimal, they could breach the body’s normal defense against invasion and perhaps accumulate to possibly toxic levels in the organs.

Concerned yet? You might become more so when you learn that there is no clear consensus in industry or among government regulators regarding the amount of risk, or even whether there is risk at all, in the growing use of nanotechnology, even for those products meant to be applied to the skin of, or consumed internally by humans.

Meanwhile, commercial application of nanotechnology is increasing:

Meanwhile, nanotechnology is becoming part of the global economy. It could help produce trillions of dollars of products by 2014, ranging from face creams to computer chips and car panels, according to Lux Research. The risks from these products will often be very low or non-existent. In the computer industry, for instance, making smaller and smaller features on the surface of a chip is not likely to involve much risk to computer users. Motorists probably have little to fear from carbon nanotubes being embedded into a car door to make it more crash-resistant. Yet what happens to such products at the end of their life remains a question.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The risk in nanotechnology | A little risky business | Economist.com

MUDGE is all for pushing the envelope, creating breakthroughs, reaching for Mars. But in our haste toward the future, the risks involved should be given more than lip service, or remain in the hands of organizations whose priorities are conflicted.

Or else we won’t be able to blame the next health scare on China.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm223: Pigs, bees, fish — the dangerous ways we set our table

December 16, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The lavish supplies of cheap food we take for granted in the U.S. are far more costly than we’ve understood. Two stories in NYTimes this weekend provide disturbing evidence on several fronts. Michael Pollan authored the first, where he analyzed a pair of stories.

Staph infection and pig farms

The incursion of staph infection into the world at large from the general confinement of hospitals is distressing. In fact,

MRSA, the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria … is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS — 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

One formerly understood that staph has mutated to develop resistance to antibiotics due to the overuse of antibiotics in the hospital setting, and thus is difficult to combat there. The victims of the resistant infections are generally the weak and elderly patients.

Now, there is disturbing evidence that the massive use of antibiotics in the ubiquitous ginormous feedlots might be causing staph to mutate outside hospitals.

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that at least 70 percent of the antibiotics used in America are fed to animals living on factory farms. Raising vast numbers of pigs or chickens or cattle in close and filthy confinement simply would not be possible without the routine feeding of antibiotics to keep the animals from dying of infectious diseases. That the antibiotics speed up the animals’ growth also commends their use to industrial agriculture, but the crucial fact is that without these pharmaceuticals, meat production practiced on the scale and with the intensity we practice it could not be sustained for months, let alone decades.

This is all still guesswork on the part of researchers, as neither the FDA nor the livestock industry seems that interested in examining the issue.

Scientists have not established that any of the strains of MRSA presently killing Americans originated on factory farms. But given the rising public alarm about MRSA and the widespread use on these farms of precisely the class of antibiotics to which these microbes have acquired resistance, you would think our public-health authorities would be all over it. Apparently not. When, in August, the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition asked the Food and Drug Administration what the agency was doing about the problem of MRSA in livestock, the agency had little to say. Earlier this month, though, the F.D.A. indicated that it may begin a pilot screening program with the C.D.C.

The implication for the long-term costs of the inexpensive meat the world (except of course the 20% who are starving) takes for granted if a relationship is established between MRSA and CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation, a new acronym for MUDGE) is definitely disturbing. As is, of course, the fact that MRSA has overtaken AIDS as a killer in the U.S.

Bees, again

This space has taken some note over the past several months of the honeybee story (here, here and here): the bees have disappeared; do we really know why? Michael Pollan has some significant observations, and relates the issues with the bees to that of the pigs.

The second story is about honeybees, which have endured their own mysterious epidemic this past year. Colony Collapse Disorder was first identified in 2006, when a Pennsylvanian beekeeper noticed that his bees were disappearing — going out on foraging expeditions in the morning never to return. Within months, beekeepers in 24 states were reporting losses of between 20 percent and 80 percent of their bees, in some cases virtually overnight. Entomologists have yet to identify the culprit, but suspects include a virus, agricultural pesticides and a parasitic mite. (Media reports that genetically modified crops or cellphone towers might be responsible have been discounted.) But whatever turns out to be the immediate cause of colony collapse, many entomologists believe some such disaster was waiting to happen: the lifestyle of the modern honeybee leaves the insects so stressed out and their immune systems so compromised that, much like livestock on factory farms, they’ve become vulnerable to whatever new infectious agent happens to come along.

Due to the massive scale of agriculture in California, source of so much of the food grown in this country, the state has, by necessity, become an importer of itinerant bees.

In 2005 the demand for honeybees in California had so far outstripped supply that the U.S.D.A. approved the importation of bees from Australia. These bees get off a 747 at SFO and travel by truck to the Central Valley, where they get to work pollinating almond flowers — and mingling with bees arriving from every corner of America. As one beekeeper put it to Singeli Agnew in The San Francisco Chronicle, California’s almond orchards have become “one big brothel” — a place where each February bees swap microbes and parasites from all over the country and the world before returning home bearing whatever pathogens they may have picked up. Add to this their routine exposure to agricultural pesticides and you have a bee population ripe for an epidemic national in scope.

So, pigs and bees have become industrialized. The law of unintended consequences has gone to work, also.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Michael Pollan – Agriculture – Disease Resistant Staph – Concentrated Animal Feed Operations – Sustainability – New York Times

a disturbing Chinese fish story

The final element of today’s food fright is also a Times story.

In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters

By DAVID BARBOZA

FUQING, China — Here in southern China, beneath the looming mountains of Fujian Province, lie dozens of enormous ponds filled with murky brown water and teeming with eels, shrimp and tilapia, much of it destined for markets in Japan and the West.

Fuqing is one of the centers of a booming industry that over two decades has transformed this country into the biggest producer and exporter of seafood in the world, and the fastest-growing supplier to the United States.

But that growth is threatened by the two most glaring environmental weaknesses in China: acute water shortages and water supplies contaminated by sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff that includes pesticides. The fish farms, in turn, are discharging wastewater that further pollutes the water supply.

“Our waters here are filthy,” said Ye Chao, an eel and shrimp farmer who has 20 giant ponds in western Fuqing. “There are simply too many aquaculture farms in this area. They’re all discharging water here, fouling up other farms.”

Farmers have coped with the toxic waters by mixing illegal veterinary drugs and pesticides into fish feed, which helps keep their stocks alive yet leaves poisonous and carcinogenic residues in seafood, posing health threats to consumers.

Okay, let me count: eels, shrimp, tilapia, sewage, industrial waste, agricultural runoff including pesticides, veterinary drugs and pesticides. The food we want seems swamped by all the stuff we want no part of, but we don’t get to choose. After all,

Environmental problems plaguing seafood would appear to be a bad omen for the industry. But with fish stocks in the oceans steadily declining and global demand for seafood soaring, farmed seafood, or aquaculture, is the future. And no country does more of it than China, which produced about 115 billion pounds of seafood last year.

China produces about 70 percent of the farmed fish in the world, harvested at thousands of giant factory-style farms that extend along the entire eastern seaboard of the country. Farmers mass-produce seafood just offshore, but mostly on land, and in lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs, or in huge rectangular fish ponds dug into the earth.

The U.S. imports 80% of its fish; the Chinese produces 70% of the world’s supply of farmed fish. China is huge, ambitious, and often very primitive in its safety surveillance. This is an ugly combination.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters – New York Times

Let’s review:

  1. Some scientists are convinced that pig and other livestock agriculture can kill us, because the overuse of antibiotics in CAFO settings could cause the mutation of antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus bacteria.
  2. Honeybees have been worked so hard in the service of agribusiness that some scientists believe that the stress made them less resistant to bee-killing viruses and parasites.
  3. Chinese aquaculture (a wetter form of agribusiness) is producing massive quantities — the overwhelming majority of the globe’s farmed product — of fish contaminated by sewage, industrial waste, agricultural runoff and veterinary drugs and pesticides.

To paraphrase Will Rogers, it’s not what you pay for food, but what it costs you that counts. I don’t think that we can afford inexpensive food.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm221: The dread disease we all hope to catch: Old age

December 13, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It is always interesting to see how stories hit from different directions, and yet form a pattern startling in its similarity of topic. So it was when, while dining in the company cafeteria today accompanied by my trusty companion, Business Week, I encountered an article that grabbed my attention as I leafed by in search of something else.

The topic: Alzheimer’s disease. I pulled it out of the magazine, the better to locate on line, see below.

While scanning the NYTimes somewhat later, this story jumped out. The relationship is obvious — Alzheimer’s. The Times speculates on prevention; BW speculates on its origins, in search of treatment or cure. Take a look:

nytimes

Mental Reserves Keep Brains Agile

By JANE E. BRODY

My husband, at 74, is the baby of his bridge group, which includes a woman of 85 and a man of 89. This challenging game demands an excellent memory (for bids, cards played, rules and so on) and an ability to think strategically and read subtle psychological cues. Never having had a head for cards, I continue to be amazed by the mental agility of these septua- and octogenarians.

The brain, like every other part of the body, changes with age, and those changes can impede clear thinking and memory. Yet many older people seem to remain sharp as a tack well into their 80s and beyond. Although their pace may have slowed, they continue to work, travel, attend plays and concerts, play cards and board games, study foreign languages, design buildings, work with computers, write books, do puzzles, knit or perform other mentally challenging tasks that can befuddle people much younger.

But when these sharp old folks die, autopsy studies often reveal extensive brain abnormalities like those in patients with Alzheimer’s. Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas and Yaakov Stern at Columbia University Medical Center recall that in 1988, a study of “cognitively normal elderly women” showed that they had “advanced Alzheimer’s disease pathology in their brains at death.” Later studies indicated that up to two-thirds of people with autopsy findings of Alzheimer’s disease were cognitively intact when they died.

Alzheimer’s doesn’t automatically cause the impairment we’ve always presumed it universally does? How strange!

“Something must account for the disjunction between the degree of brain damage and its outcome,” the Columbia scientists deduced. And that something, they and others suggest, is “cognitive reserve.”

Cognitive reserve, in this theory, refers to the brain’s ability to develop and maintain extra neurons and connections between them via axons and dendrites. Later in life, these connections may help compensate for the rise in dementia-related brain pathology that accompanies normal aging.

Sounds like MUDGE has got to get out and get some of that cognitive reserve. Think Target carries it? Or Neiman Marcus?

No, you guessed it, cognitive reserve is home made, not bought.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Memory – Aging – Medicine & Health – New York Times

This will never do — actually changing sedentary habits. Let’s look for a magic bullet instead:

bw_255x65

Is Alzheimer’s a Form of Diabetes?

If so, an insulin-centered treatment could alter the course of the disease

by Catherine Arnst

Scientists have been searching for the cause of Alzheimer’s disease for more than 100 years, and during that time, theories about why brain cells are destroyed in the course of the illness have come and gone. One of the newer and more unorthodox theories posits that Alzheimer’s may actually be a form of diabetes. Some experts have even taken to calling the brain disease type 3 diabetes, as distinct from the insulin-dependent (type 1) and adult-onset (type 2) varieties of the condition.

The diabetes hypothesis stems from growing evidence that cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims are resistant to insulin; just as in diabetes, the cells don’t respond appropriately to this hormone. As a result, neurons are deprived of glucose, which they need for energy. As the evidence mounts, the type 3 label is gaining currency in Alzheimer’s research circles and is drawing attention from the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies are testing existing diabetes drugs against Alzheimer’s, while startup Acumen Pharmaceuticals, in partnership with Merck (MRK), is focusing on molecules that allow insulin to reach brain cells.

This is absolutely stunning: suddenly Alzheimer’s might not be mysterious; it may operate according to long-understood mechanisms, like diabetes. While there is no cure for diabetes, there are treatments that are quite effective. Imagine adapting such pharmaceuticals to work in the insulin resistant areas of the Alzheimer’s brain.

A research team led by neurobiologist William L. Klein at Northwestern University came up with more supporting evidence for the type 3 diabetes theory in September, 2007. Klein, a founder of Acumen, discovered that a toxic protein called ADDL damages insulin receptors on the surface of brain cells, rendering them less responsive to the hormone.

Seems that type 3 diabetes might be as controllable as type 2, which long has drawn the continued attention of pharmaceutical science.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Is Alzheimer’s a Form of Diabetes?

Approaching a stupendous birthday, with a mother and mother-in-law 80 years old and above, concerns about aging are certainly more immediate to this writer than before.

And, thanks to the fact that I’m part of a very large cohort of similarly aged population, researchers have come to recognize like never before the profit potential of science directed toward the ailments of the elderly.

Couldn’t be happening at a better time. By the way, do you think that daily blogging is sufficiently challenging brain stimulation?

MUDGE is certainly hoping so!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm201: Stemming the tide of ignorance despite the neocons

November 22, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Last post, we picked up on the report that stem cell researchers have an alternative source for the miracle tools. The writer of that NYTimes story follows up with a sidebar on the lead scientist, James A. Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, who has played a leading, even defining, role in stem cell research for more than a decade.

nytimes3_thumb1

By GINA KOLATA

If the stem cell wars are indeed nearly over, no one will savor the peace more than James A. Thomson.

Dr. Thomson’s laboratory at the University of Wisconsin was one of two that in 1998 plucked stem cells from human embryos for the first time, destroying the embryos in the process and touching off a divisive national debate.

And on Tuesday, his laboratory was one of two that reported a new way to turn ordinary human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without ever using a human embryo.

Turns out that Dr. Thomson was, as he and his UW colleagues report it, concerned about the ethical implications of stem cell research from the beginning.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Man Who Helped Start Stem Cell War May End It – New York Times

Some of the commentary others in the blogosphere have shared since the original story hit the other day have expressed a good deal of knee-jerk cynicism regarding the nature of this latest twist. It’s just so perfect that this latest news fits so well with Bush administration dogma. See, you can do your research without abortion!

People, this isn’t politics, or religion; it’s science. Forced by ethical, political and/or religious imperatives to curtail stem cell research, many wrung their hands, took off to more scientifically adventurous locales, or found a new field to pursue.

Thomson, and, separately, Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, decided that the potential for breakthrough discoveries was too important, and figuratively lit a candle rather than curse the darkness, and began the work that resulted in this weeks breakthrough announcements.

MUDGE chooses to suspend cynicism (after all, it’s a holiday in the U.S. today!), and believe the best. Okay, so this fits with distorted agenda of the neo-con know-nothings who have distorted too much and spread a huge swath of medieval ignorance over too much of our culture.

But, sometimes, even good news for the dolts is good news for humankind, and this discovery, whose potential to accelerate further discoveries into the cause, prevention and cure of many neurological diseases that have caused such misery in the world, is worthy of our Thanksgiving celebration.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm200: Stem cells: Unlike oil, we now have an alternative source

November 21, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Stem cell research, emblematic of all that’s promising regarding the ability of scientists to remedy hitherto incurable diseases. Stem cell research, emblematic of the George III administration’s wrong-headedness in nearly every important issue of our times.

Until yesterday, stem cell researchers found their most promising source material in human embryos, whose availability is, one presumes, mainly dependent upon the supply resulting from aborting pregnancies.

Since 1973, such supplies have been legally available to science in the U.S. Since the Bush administration outlawed the practice (or severely curtailed the use of new embryonic material by restricting federal funds required to finance it), researchers into cures for the crippling and fatal diseases that include multiple sclerosis, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have been thwarted from fully pursuing this most promising field of research.

Now it appears that scientists have discovered an alternative to embryos as the feedstock for stem cells.

nytimes3

By GINA KOLATA

Published: November 21, 2007

Two teams of scientists reported yesterday that they had turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo — a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.

All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them from a human embryo several days after fertilization, destroying the embryo in the process.

Science in the pursuit of prevention or remediating disease is critical, and the fact that it has been hamstrung over this moral quandary, mainly promoted by those same folks who brought you Creationism, is yet another embarrassing lowlight of the past seven years.

So much of what research has been occurring moved offshore (as so many other occupations have). But, science is always attempting to navigate new ways around knowledge gaps, and this promising achievement is an eye-opening demonstration.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Scientists Bypass Need for Embryo to Get Stem Cells – New York Times

So there’s much work left to do before this new process is proven successful — the fact that a cancer gene is part of the process sounds distressing — but we can’t help but be hopeful that, after years of roadblocks, necessary research into the causes, prevention and cures of some of the most dreadful diseases can resume at full throttle.

In the long run, the new process might prove to be more useful, with wider application than the controversial one. So in a way, maybe the know-nothings did science a favor.

Irony. Today’s sixth sense.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE