Monday, January 28, 2008

Indonesia Hits 100 Again

Via ProMED-mail: Reuters reports that Indonesia has hit its hundredth bird flu death.

A 23-year-old Indonesian woman from East Jakarta has died from bird flu, taking the country's death toll to 100, according to a report from Indonesia's bird flu information centre on Monday.
The woman died on Sunday and two separate laboratory tests confirmed she contracted H5N1, the report said.
Earlier on Monday, a 9-year-old Indonesian boy who had tested positive for bird flu died, the health ministry said in a statement.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

World's First Blood-Type Conversion

Via plime: AFP reports on a girl who changed blood type after a liver transplant.

Demi-Lee Brennan was aged nine and seriously ill with liver failure when she received the transplant, doctors at a top Sydney children's hospital told AFP.
Nine months later it was discovered that she had changed blood types and her immune system had switched over to that of the donor after stem cells from the new liver migrated to her bone marrow.
She is now a healthy 15-year-old, Michael Stormon, a hepatologist treating her, told AFP. Stormon said he had given several presentations on the case around the world and had heard of none like it.
"It is extremely unusual -- in fact we don't know of any other instance in which this happened," Stormon told AFP from the Children's Hospital.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cholesterol Still Good For You

Via Half Sigma again: a New York Times editorial on cholesterol never having hurt a fly. Gary Taubes explains how cholesterol got its undeserved bad reputation:

In the 1950s, two hypotheses competed for attention among heart disease researchers. It had been known for decades that cholesterol was a component of atherosclerotic plaques, and people who have a genetic disorder that causes extremely high cholesterol levels typically have clogged arteries and heart attacks. As new technology enabled them to look more closely at lipoproteins, however, researchers began to suspect that these carrier molecules might play a greater role in cardiovascular disease than the cholesterol inside them. The cholesterol hypothesis dominated, however, because analyzing lipoproteins was still expensive and difficult, while cholesterol tests were easily ordered up by any doctor.
In the late 1960s, biochemists created a simple technique for measuring, more specifically, the cholesterol inside the different kinds of lipoproteins — high-density, low-density and very low-density. The National Institutes of Health financed a handful of studies to determine whether these “cholesterol fractions” could predict the risk of cardiovascular disease. In 1977, the researchers reported their results: total cholesterol turned out to be surprisingly useless as a predictor. Researchers involved with the Framingham Heart Study found that in men and women 50 and older, “total cholesterol per se is not a risk factor for coronary heart disease at all.”
The cholesterol in low-density lipoproteins was deemed a “marginal risk factor” for heart disease. Cholesterol in high-density lipoproteins was easily the best determinant of risk, but with the correlation reversed: the higher the amount, the lower the risk of heart disease.
These findings led directly to the notion that low-density lipoproteins carry “bad” cholesterol and high-density lipoproteins carry “good” cholesterol. And then the precise terminology was jettisoned in favor of the common shorthand. The lipoproteins LDL and HDL became “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol,” and the lipoprotein transport vehicle was now conflated with its cholesterol cargo. Lost in translation was the evidence that the causal agent in heart disease might be abnormalities in the lipoproteins themselves.
The truth is, we’ve always had reason to question the idea that cholesterol is an agent of disease. Indeed, what the Framingham researchers meant in 1977 when they described LDL cholesterol as a “marginal risk factor” is that a large proportion of people who suffer heart attacks have relatively low LDL cholesterol.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Morgellons Gets a Little More Respect

Via plime: the AP reports that the CDC has commissioned a study of Morgellons, a mysterious, possibly parasitic, possibly psychosomatic ailment that has been known possibly for centuries but dismissed as delusional parasitosis.

The study will be done in northern California, the source of many of the reports of Morgellons (pronounced mor-GELL-uns). Researchers will begin screening for patients immediately, CDC officials said Wednesday. A Kaiser official expects about 150 to 500 study participants.
Morgellons sufferers describe symptoms that include erupting sores, fatigue, the sensation of bugs crawling over them and — perhaps worst of all — mysterious red, blue or black fibers that sprout from their skin. They've documented their suffering on Web sites.

The Morgellons Research Foundation has more information, including pictures of the alleged neon threads that grow out of victims.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cholesterol Declared Good For You

Via Half Sigma: the New York Times reports that the link between "bad" cholesterol and bad outcomes has been torpedoed by two recent studies of non-statin cholesterol-reducing drugs:

In the last 13 months, however, the failures of two important clinical trials have thrown that hypothesis into question.
First, Pfizer stopped development of its experimental cholesterol drug torcetrapib in December 2006, when a trial involving 15,000 patients showed that the medicine caused heart attacks and strokes. That trial — somewhat unusual in that it was conducted before Pfizer sought F.D.A. approval — also showed that torcetrapib lowered LDL cholesterol while raising HDL, or good cholesterol.
Torcetrapib’s failure, Dr. Taylor said, shows that lowering cholesterol alone does not prove a drug will benefit patients.
Then, on Monday, Merck and Schering-Plough announced that Vytorin, which combines Zetia with Zocor, had failed to reduce the growth of fatty arterial plaque in a trial of 720 patients. In fact, patients taking Vytorin actually had more plaque growth than those who took Zocor alone.
Despite those drawbacks, that trial, called Enhance, also showed that patients on Vytorin had lower LDL levels than those on Zocor alone. For the second time in just over a year, a clinical trial found that LDL reduction did not translate into measurable medical benefits.

Statins do help people, but the mechanism may be something other than their cholesterol-lowering effects.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Popcorn Lung

Via plime: The Brisbane Times reports on a Denver man who's the only known consumer to fall prey to the dread disease of popcorn lung.

Popcorn lung, officially called bronchiolitis obliterans, generally has been associated with people who worked in microwave popcorn plants mixing large vats of flavours. Hundreds of workers have said they have severe lung disease or other respiratory illnesses from inhaling diacetyl vapours.
The chemical has been the subject of hundreds of lawsuits against the companies that produce or use the butter flavouring.
Watson is suing the store where he bought his popcorn instead.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Gay Germ

The genetics of male homosexuality came up on a mailing list recently, so I had the opportunity to push the plague perspective, or as it is more commonly known, the gay gene theory or pathogenic hypothesis. Nor is the gay germ alone among infectious causes of personality:

Cochran claims that theories of the cause of narcolepsy - that it is an auto-immune disease triggered by a virus - make the mechanism of selective brain modification plausible. He also claims that only humans and sheep exhibit homosexual behavior at population levels near 1% or greater. He says that given their physical proximity, it would be plausible to expect a pathogen that affected both species.
Proponents cite increasing evidence that some cases of Schizophrenia may be linked to exposure with Toxoplasma gondii. Other studies suggest that a variety of mood disorders may be linked to Borna Virus.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Beware the Stealthy Headache

Via Universal Hub: TS the EMT reports that we almost lost a building full of people in Boston to carbon monoxide poisoning:

Shortly after nine o'clock, a little girl crawled out of bed, tiptoed into the living room, and told her mother she wasn't feeling well.
A few minutes later, the girl's sister complained of a headache, too. Then the mother began to feel ill herself. Assuming they were all coming down with a bug of some kind, she picked up the phone and called 911.
Fortunately, nobody was found unconscious in an apartment. Workers from the gas company came to investigate, and apparently they located the source of the problem. The windows were opened, the building aired out, and the residents were able to return to their homes.
This could have been a real catastrophe. A few hours later, everyone would have been alseep. The rising carbon monoxide levels would have gone unnoticed. Dozens of people would have lapsed into unconsciousness, and by the time anyone noticed a problem, everyone in the building might have been dead.
In fact, this might have been a criminal negligence case in the making. Leaving the scene we heard talk that work was being done on the building, and that workers had temporarily disconnected the smoke- and carbon-dioxide detectors.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Follica, the Kindest Cut

Via Universal Hub: Xconomy reports on Follica, a biotech startup dedicated to curing baldness.

Cotsarelis, an expert in epithelial stem cells such as those found in the skin, was studying how skin heals and noticed that new hair follicles seemed to be forming in the middle of some of some wounds. He learned that when the skin’s top layers were removed, some cells within the wound revert to a more primitive state (what he calls an “embryonic window”) from which they can develop into either hair or skin. With more research, says Zohar, Cotsarelis found that he “could actually push them to one direction or another.” In a widely read Nature paper published last May, Cotsarelis showed for the first time that it’s possible to create new hair follicles in adult mammals—and to shut down hair growth. He could even grow thicker, darker hair.
Zohar says Follica has further developed this work and filed additional patents to protect the technology. What’s so beautiful about the approach, she says, is that translating it into a treatment for humans involves only devices and drugs that are already on the market. A doctor would first use a microdermabrasion tool, say, or a laser to remove the top layers of the skin—as is already commonly done in a number of dermatologic and cosmetic procedures—knocking some cells back into a primitive state. The doctor can then use this newly created therapeutic window to inject drugs that push the cells to develop along one pathway or another and grow hair or skin. Zohar won’t reveal what drugs Follica is using, except to say that they are small molecule drugs normally taken orally for purposes with no relation to hair growth.