Category Archives: Health

Surgeons Repair Form of Spina Bifida For the First Time

The Americans have been doing this for a while.

Oh – whatever the Americans do, Canada cannot, it seems:

For the first time in Canada, a team of surgeons has successfully performed in-utero surgery to repair a form of spina bifida, two Toronto hospitals say. …

On June 4, a joint team of doctors and nurses from Mount Sinai and SickKids performed the surgery, when Eiko was at 25 weeks gestation. Her mother was given a general anesthetic, and the team inserted a needle through her abdomen to temporarily anesthetize and paralyze the fetus. 

They then made incisions into the uterus to reach the fetus and close the skin over the spinal defect. The team also replaced amniotic fluid lost from the uterus during the procedure through a catheter — a critical step to keeping the fetus healthy. 

More than two months later, on Aug. 19., Eiko was born by caesarean section. 


Houston Doctors Treat Baby With Spina Bifida Before He Is Born

The wonders of modern medicine:

Doctors in the U.S. have been pioneering an astonishing new treatment for spina bifida in which the baby is operated on before birth.

Spina bifida occurs when a baby’s spine and spinal cord do not develop properly, causing a gap in the spine. It affects 24 babies in 100,000. There are 14,000 people in Britain living with the condition, which leaves sufferers unable to walk, with fluid build-up in the brain, lack of bladder control and other complications.

Fetal surgery for spina bifida has been common since the 90’s, but trying to repair the spine while the baby is still inside its mother is fraught with difficulty and cutting into the womb risks premature birth.

Now Dr Michael Belford, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, has developed a new technique to remove the baby and womb so that any spinal defect can be fixed before amniotic fluid eats away further at the gap in the spinal nerve tissue.

Although the womb is still attached to the mother, once outside her body doctors can drain it, light it up and operate through tiny incisions.

One of the first operations was performed last month on hairdresser Lexi Royer, 28, who was initially offered an abortion, but chose instead to take part in the experimental surgery when her baby was 24 weeks old. …

To develop the procedure Belfort and colleague Whitehead spent two years practising on sheep and a rubber ball with a doll inside, wrapped in chicken skin to mimic the defect in spina bifida.

The team is now reporting on its work in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology following 28 successful operations in which no fetuses have died, and only a few have needed shunts to drain fluid from the brain. Some of the mothers have also not even needed caesarean sections. …

Royer’s baby is due in January.


Doctors Have Doubts About Marijuana As Medicine

They think this might be more effective:

As medical pot becomes increasingly mainstream and Canada moves toward legalizing the substance, health experts are emphasizing the need for doctors and patients to consider the sometimes serious side effects linked to the various ways of consuming the drug.

Paul Farnan, an addictions specialist at the University of British Columbia, likened a recommendation to smoke medicinal marijuana to a doctor handing out a prescription to light up an opium pipe.

“We know there’s something in opium that helps pain, and we’re able to pharmaceutically develop morphine and other analgesics, but we wouldn’t say to people, ‘You have pain? Why don’t you smoke opium?’ ” he said.

“We’re kind of saying to people, ‘We think there’s some stuff that cannabinoids will be helpful for. Why don’t you just smoke cannabis?’ First of all, cannabis is actually a really dangerous thing for your lungs.”

Mikhail Kogan, medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said he sees no reason for people to smoke marijuana medically anymore.

It’s difficult to absorb enough of the drug through the lungs, and gastric acids interfere when someone eats it, he said, adding that it’s more effective to take the drug by other means, such as under the tongue.

“Rectally is actually a lot more preferred because of the volume of absorption. You can put a lot more and it gets absorbed a lot better, but not everybody is open to this way of administration,” Kogan said.

You don’t say.


(Try to keep the comments clean.)


Saudi Cleric Declares That Men With Female Relatives in the Medical Profession Aren’t Men

Why is Saudi Arabia still standing?

The Saudi Ministry of Religion condemned Said Ben Farwa’s sermon, in which he said anyone whose daughter, sister or female relative works as a doctor, nurse or pharmacist is “not a man, because he has no honor.” He further called female medical and paramedical students “prostitutes,” because the studies of these professions bring about an “unnecessary mixing of the sexes” that contravenes Sharia law.

He said jealousy is part of what being a Muslim is, and he who is not jealous is not a man, “and if it makes someone angry – so be it.”

He lashed out at men who allow their daughters to sit in the same lecture halls alongside men with whom they have no family relation.

“How do these criminal parents allow their daughters to study abroad and meet the foreigners – the redhead American and the blond Briton?” he said.

Just like him, she rents a single room in student accommodation. “I am a man, and I’m saying this because when we see a beautiful woman, our urges come into play. What do you say when it happens to your daughter and to your sister?”

Following Ben Farwa’s speech, the Mufti of Saudi Arabia instructed the Department of Islamic Affairs to “reeducate” or oust him, and the Ministry of Religion said anyone who gives him a platform would be penalized.


BAD TIMING: Hillary Clinton to Appear in October Issue of ‘Women’s Health’ Magazine


Hillary Clinton suffered a serious health scare over the weekend, nearly collapsing at a 9/11 anniversary event in Manhattan. We later learned she had been diagnosed with pneumonia and was canceling a number of events after being advised by her doctor to get some rest.

In light of these events, it’s a little awkward that Hillary will be featured in next month’s issue of Women’s Health magazine.


Study Finds Success With Stem Cells

The problem I have with articles like this one is that they tend to be vague about what kind of stem cells being used (in this case, adult stem cells) giving the unaware reader the impression that the push for embryonic stem cells is a correct one even though there is no scientific evidence to back that up.

This article is encouraging:

Stanford researchers studying the effect of stem cells injected directly into the brains of stroke patients said on Thursday that they were “stunned” by the extent to which the experimental treatment restored motor function in some of the patients. While the research involved only 18 patients and was designed primarily to look at the safety of such a procedure and not its effectiveness, it is creating significant buzz in the neuroscience community because the results appear to contradict a core belief about brain damage — that it is permanent and irreversible.

The results, published in the journal Stroke, could have implications for our understanding of an array of disorders including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury and Alzheimer’s if confirmed in larger-scale testing.

The work involved patients who had passed the critical six-month mark when recoveries generally plateau and there are rarely further improvements. This is the point at which therapies are typically stopped as brain circuits are thought to be dead and unable to be repaired. Each participant in the study had suffered a stroke beneath the brain’s outermost layer and had significant impairments in moving their arms and-or legs. Some participants in the study had had a stroke as long as three to five years before the experimental treatment.

The one-time therapy involved surgeons drilling a hole into the study participants’ skulls and injecting stem cells in several locations around the area damaged by the stroke. These stem cells were harvested from the bone marrow of adult donors. While the procedure sounds dramatic, it is considered relatively simple as far as brain surgery goes. The patients were conscious the whole time and went home the same day.

They suffered minimal adverse effects such as temporary headaches, nausea and vomiting. One patient experienced some fluid buildup from the procedure that had to be drained but recovered fully from the issue. The volunteers were then tested at one month, six and 12 months after surgery using brain imaging and several standard scales that look at speech, vision, motor ability, and other aspects of daily functioning.

Gary Steinberg, the study’s lead author and chair of neurosurgery at Stanford said in an interview that while he is cautious about “overselling” the results of such a small study, his team has been “stunned” that 7 of the 18 patients experienced significant improvement in their abilities following treatment.

“Their recovery was not just a minimal recovery like someone who couldn’t move a thumb now being able to wiggle it. It was much more meaningful. One 71-year-old wheelchair-bound patient was walking again,” said Steinberg, who personally performed most of the surgeries.

He also recounted the progress of a much younger patient, aged 39, who was two years post-stroke and had had such problems walking and speaking that she “did not want to get married to her boyfriend.” “She was embarrassed about walking down the aisle,” he explained. But after treatment, Steinberg said, “She’s now walking much better and talking much better and she’s married and pregnant.”

Steinberg said that the study does not support the idea that the injected stem cells become neurons, as has been previously thought. Instead, it suggests that they seem to trigger some kind of biochemical process that enhances the brain’s ability to repair itself.



Korean Parents to Blame For Obese Children, Says Study

Well, of course. Cram schools (hogwans, if you will), long schedules, little parental guidance and introduction to the Western diet will do that:

Parents are entirely to blame for the obesity of their children, an explosive study suggests.

The Korean Society for the Study of Obesity said that 22.4 percent of children who do not eat dinner with their parents are obese, while the rate among kids who sit down to a family dinner is just 5.1 percent.

The KSSO said this is the first-ever study linking childhood obesity with the living patterns at home.

Childhood obesity in Korea rose steadily from 5.8 percent in 1997 to 9.6 percent in 2012. The number of children and teens with diabetes surged from 15,100 in 2005 to 21,300 in 2013.

The KSSO studied nutritional intake from 2009 and 2013 and analyzed data on 3,281 children between six and 11 and their parents, as well as surveying 1,000 parents of elementary schoolchildren this year.

It concluded that mothers who consume more than one carbonated drink a week increase the risk of obesity in their children 1.6 times. Also, families that eat out more than 5.5 times a week consume 204 kcal a day more than families that stay in.

Kim Dae-jung, a doctor at Ajou University, said, “The problem is that children who do not have dinner with their families often eat fast food, which is high in calories and low in nutrition, and don’t get enough exercise after their meal.”

Chung So-chung at Konkuk University Medical Center said, “If children eat alone, they don’t acquire a proper taste and only want salty, sweet or spicy foods. Eating together as a family is not just important from a purely nutritional point of view but also impacts what children learn about food.”


Viruses Uncovered In Arctic Ice

It’s good that people are uncovering these things:

Let’s get one thing out of the way really quickly: The ancient, giant virus recently discovered in melting Arctic ice is not going to kill you.

But here’s the bad news: It’s not the first ancient virus that scientists have found frozen — it’s the fourth found since 2003. And you can be sure it won’t be the last. And with climate change causing massive melts, it’s not totally alarmist to suggest that something deadly might one day emerge from a long, icy sleep. …

The newly discovered, 30,000-year-old virus is reported in a paper published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mollivirus sibericum is a whopping .6 microns across, making it what scientists call a giant virus. In addition to towering over modern viruses (and even some bacteria), size-wise, these ancient microbes had a lot more genes.

M. sibericum has more than 500 genes, compared to just 9 in HIV. One of the previously discovered giant viruses, Pandoravirus, has a staggering 2,500 genes. Scientists are still figuring out what that means for a virus, and what it says about the way viruses evolved — and how we should deal with them.

If scientists can confirm that humans and animals won’t be susceptible to sibericum, they’re going to go ahead and wake it up so they can study it. But they’re proceeding with caution. These viruses may be ancient, but they’ve also been kept in nature’s own deep freezer. They want to be sure they’re not reviving anything potentially harmful.


Have American Scientists Found A Way to “Switch Off” Cancer?

Cancer cells have been programmed back to normal by scientists in a breakthrough which could lead to new treatments and even reverse tumour growth.

For the first time, aggressive breast, lung and bladder cancer cells have been turned back into harmless benign cells by restoring the function which prevents them from multiplying excessively and forming dangerous growths.

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Florida in the U.S. said it was like applying the brakes to a speeding car.

So far it has only been tested on human cells in the lab, but the researchers are hopeful that the technique could one day be used to target tumours so that cancer could be “switched off” without the need for harsh chemotherapy or surgery.

 “We should be able to re-establish the brakes and restore normal cell function,” said Prof Panos Anastasiadis, of the Department for Cancer Biology.

Scientists May Have Found A Way to Locate Lost Memories

The conventional wisdom regarding memory-loss diseases such as amnesia and Alzheimer’s has long been that all affected memories are erased or destroyed.

But a new study from MIT is suggesting a possible alternative: that while the ability to access memories may vanish, the memories themselves may still be fully intact and encoded within the brain.

“If you ask a neuroscientist what we know about memory, most people will say we have these pathways, or traces, that are formed in the brain, and these are somehow required for us to recall information accurately,” MIT researcher and study co-author Dheeray Roy told Yahoo Canada.

“In cases of amnesia, a lot of people would believe these traces actually are non-existent, and that’s the underlying cause of the disease. Our study came in, I think, to ask whether amnesia truly is a storage-type issue, or whether some memories do persist and there is just no way to access them – and can we do something about it?”

A technology called optogenetics is enabling researchers to implant memories in rodents, create amnesia, and revive the memory using precisely-focused microbeams of light, Roy said.

“In our study, we tagged or engineered these memory engram cells, which we believe participate, or are necessary for, the formation and retrieval of a stable memory,” Roy explained.

A mouse or rat with amnesia is placed in a setting where it suffered a frightening experience it can no longer remember. With the activation of the light, the memory returns.

“Animals, like humans, have a very robust response when they don’t like something,” Roy said.

“They quickly display avoidance behavior. This becomes a way of testing specific memories.”

And it’s not a fluke, either.

“It’s amazing how robust the response is, and how long it lasts – up to one year,” Roy said.

The findings are very new. Roy freely concedes it will take more than this for many in the field to accept and embrace the findings. And while the MIT research clearly singled out amnesia, any breakthrough in memory science will always raise hopes of a possible imminent treatment or cure for the ever-increasing global epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease.


U.S. military lab shipped live anthrax samples to Canada

Live anthrax samples were shipped to three laboratories in Canada by a U.S. military lab, USA Today reported on June 1, following disclosures last week that samples of the bacteria were mistakenly sent to 11 U.S. states and two other countries.

The newspaper cited two Defense Department officials as saying the samples sent to Canada came from the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, where the other samples appear to trace back to as well. It is one of the U.S. military labs responsible for inactivation and shipping of biological material.

A Defense Department official said on June 1 the Pentagon had nothing to announce about the anthrax shipments and that the investigation is continuing…


First deaths from MERS spark panic in South Korea; case also confirmed in China

A couple wear masks as a precaution against MERS in Seoul, South Korea

A deadly respiratory disease has sparked widespread panic across South Korea after claiming its first victims in the largest outbreak outside the Middle East.

A 58-year-old woman died of acute respiratory failure yesterday and tests later came back positive for MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), the health ministry said.

The other victim was a 71-year-old man who was confirmed to have the virus several days ago and who died on Tuesday.

Six more South Koreans were diagnosed with the MERS virus Monday night, the ministry said, bringing the total number of people infected to 25 including the two deceased…

The first case – a 68-year-old man diagnosed after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia – was reported on May 20…

Note also: China last week reported its first MERS case. A South Korean man who tested positive after breaking a voluntary house quarantine last week, flying to Hong Kong and then traveling to mainland China.

A few previous posts on MERS to refresh your memory:

June 6, 2014: DNA Test Indicates Camel-To-Human Transmission Of MERS

June 7, 2014: Pilgrims Converge On Mecca, Undeterred By MERS

July 14, 2014: MERS Virus Detected In Air Samples From Saudi Camel Barn