End of Antibiotics in View?

A report published by the CDC last week has confirmed that a Nevada woman who passed away in September was infected by an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria. Every single FDA-approved antibiotic, twenty six in total, were utilized to fight her infection and none were successful. This marks the first-ever case of a “superbug” officially documented in the US. At this point, it is still limited to this one case, but these findings have alerted the scientific community to be vigilant in finding the source of these bacteria and infections, along with cures.

This superbug was an infection caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria called CRE (carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae). Carbapenems are basically super antibiotics that are used as a last resort when illnesses do not respond to regular antibiotics. So when a bacteria is resistant even to carbapenems, it is a type of CRE. Disconcertingly enough, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has called CRE “nightmare bacteria”. According to the CDC, CRE cause 9,000 drug-resistant infections per year and 600 related deaths, according to the CDC. Most CRE are resistant to at least one type of antibiotic, but in the Nevada woman’s case, the bacteria was resistant to all 26 FDA-approved antibiotics, hence a “superbug”.

A study published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that CRE are more common than previously believed. According to the study’s senior author William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, this bacteria can be passed from person to person without any symptoms arising, and thus, is spreading beyond the more observable case of disease. Due to this factor, the authors of the study believe it is important to increase genetic surveillance of CRE. The study also showed that CRE contain a large range of genetic material that makes them resistant to antibiotics, and that this genetic material can be transferred over to other CRE species, and cause them to also become resistant. Hanage says that if the unobserved transmission of the bacteria is found and studied, then we can formulate ways to prevent transmission of the bacteria in the first place.

Since bacteria always eventually form a resistance to any antibiotic, new antibiotics are always needing to be developed. In the case of a CRE, this resistance evolves much faster- faster than humans can develop an antibiotic to defeat it. And as drug resistance has been growing exponentially, antibiotic development has been grinding to a halt.

Though the underlying cause of CRE infection is still to be found, there are many factors that may contribute to developing this drug-resistant bacterial infection. Long hospital stays (especially in India or other countries that are more susceptible to this type of bacteria), travel, and exposure to many different types of antibiotics may all contribute to the acquiring of a CRE infection. While this seems to be a looming threat, it is important for individuals to be precautious and take watchful care in observing basic sanitary measures.

Image Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech

Vitamin injection

New Findings to Support Vitamin C Cancer Therapy

Vitamin C has long been thought to have cancer-fighting abilities when properly used in conjunction with other treatments. However, questions still remain concerning how effective vitamin C is in destroying cancer cells, and if it damages healthy cells. A new study has shown that the way in which vitamin C is administered to a cancer patient, and the type of cancer it is administered to, greatly determines effectiveness.

A new study by researchers at the University of Iowa has shown that when vitamin C is administered intravenously, it is much stronger and more powerful than when administered orally. The research showed that the blood concentration of vitamin C was 100 to 500 times higher when it was given to a patient intravenously, than when it was given orally. Proponents of vitamin C therapy claim that high concentration in the blood is critical to the vitamin C’s ability to aid in the fight against cancer.

Another concern about vitamin C therapy is that it produces hydrogen peroxide, which can damage DNA and tissues. Fortunately, cells have ways of naturally fighting off hydrogen peroxide using an enzyme called “catalase”.

These new studies have found that cancer cells with a lower level of catalase enzymes are more susceptible to damage from the hydrogen peroxide than are cells with a higher level of catalase. Therefore, the findings suggest that high-dose vitamin C therapy may be more effective on cancers with low levels of catalase, and it may be less effective on cancers with high levels of catalase. So the less catalase protection cancer cells have, the more effective the high dosages of vitamin C. This finding can help doctors pinpoint the cancers that will likely respond to vitamin C therapy, and those that likely will not.

The medical community is currently experimenting with vitamin C in conjunction with radiation or chemotherapy, depending on the type of cancer. Professor Buettner’s team from the University of Iowa aims to develop methods to measure the catalase levels in tumors, so that high-dose vitamin C therapy can be prescribed for the correct types of cancers.


More American Children Becoming Paralyzed

A polio-like illness is on the rise in the US, and its source and cause remain mysterious and unknown. The illness is a muscular condition called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) and affects the nervous system, mostly the spinal cord, and in most cases causes paralysis. The symptoms of AFM are compared to the symptoms of polio.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pediatrician Dr. Manisha Patel, there have been 50 reported cases in 24 different states since August 2016, which is more than half the reported cases in all of 2015 combined. Ninety percent of these cases are children.

Health officials believe the condition is occurring due to enteroviruses, and is possibly linked to West Nile and adenoviruses. The enterovirus is the most likely culprit because these viruses circulate the most between August and October, and that is when the rise of AFM has occurred this year. Also, there is a strain of enterovirus presently in circulation, and in 2014, a certain enterovirus strain paralyzed 120 children throughout the US. So doctors think this could be the same enterovirus strain now linked to AFM. An enterovirus is any of a group of RNA viruses that usually occur in the gastrointestinal tract, and sometimes spread to the central nervous system or other parts of the body. Usually they cause only mild illness in children, but when they spread to the central nervous system is when they become more dangerous, and can even cause inflammation of the brain. The affecting of the central nervous system is a clear link to AFM.

Before paralysis occurs, symptoms of AFM include sudden limb weakness and limping, loss of muscle tone and reflexes, difficulty swallowing, and slurred speech. Respiratory failure can also occur if the muscles needed for breathing are among the muscles weakened.

Though the condition is still very rare, scientists at the CDC are hard at work testing patients’ blood, nose, respiratory, and spinal cord specimens to figure out the cause and how to accurately treat and prevent the illness. The source of the illness may not even be a single infection, but could possibly be the outcome of complications from more than one viral infection.

While scientists attempt to develop a vaccine and treatment, taking steps for prevention is necessary, most importantly with children. The most effective ways to prevent acquiring an enterovirus is to remain vigilant about washing your and your children’s hands with soap and water, and using insect repellent when outdoors to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses. Additionally, covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze, and not going to work or school when you’re sick, are both very important things to remember for prevention.


How to Defeat the Effects of Daylight Saving Time

It seems that there is a love-hate relationship between American citizens and Daylight Saving Time. While we may love having one extra hour of light in spring and summer, we hate losing the hour of sleep. While we hate it being darker an hour earlier, worsened by the already shorter days, in fall and winter, we love gaining the “extra” hour of sleep.

Daylight Saving Time was invented in 1918 as a way to give everyone more daylight hours during months that are warm. Though it already had some complaints, mainly from farmers of how it disrupted their schedule that followed the natural pattern of the sun, the United States officially standardized DST in the 1960s.

Like a large majority of people, Brant Hasler, assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, thinks that DST is no longer necessary. He attributes this thought to “both the health downsides and from living in Arizona, where they do not observe daylight saving time and do just fine”.

Other health effects include cluster headaches at the end of DST, and over-eating

Whatever the feelings about DST, it has been proven to negatively affect our health. The human biological clock, known as our circadian rhythm, is programmed to work with the movements of the sun. So while DST is going on, our internal clocks are actually out of sync- causing loss of sleep and irregular sleeping patterns in a large percentage of people- then after it ends, our bodies return to their normal circadian rhythm. This means that scientifically, the switch to save time in the spring is more challenging on our bodies, however, both switches have been proven to cause sleep pattern disruptions for up to a week afterward.

Other health effects include cluster headaches at the end of DST, and over-eating, caused by the hormone level changes that occur with sleep deprivation. Additionally, the effects of DST on mental health coupled with sleep deprivation may lead to the increase of work-related injuries and car accidents. Studies have also suggested that the rate of heart attacks and stokes in the US is dramatically increased in the first three weeks of DST.

Hasler notes, “Our biological clocks evolved to make small daily changes — the changes in day length that naturally occur over the course of the year”. So one thing we can do to defeat the effects of the time transition on our bodies is to adjust our physical clocks and schedules by small increments, like 15 minutes, for several days before the switch occurs. This should be easier than an abrupt one hour transition that most people just try to accept. Also, those who are night owls have a harder time adjusting to the the later light in the spring, since the body naturally relies on the light to wake up. So using bright lights in the morning, or having them come one with timers, may help the body with the adjustment. It is also important to try to keep to a regular sleeping schedule, though the change in light may altar our daily schedule and mess with our perception of time. So, keeping an eye on the time and trying to get to bed at our regular hour is important for normal body functioning. Not staying up an hour later just because we have gained another hour is also a wise tip to keep in mind.

Though many of the reasons for using DST may be antiquated, and there are proven downsides and health effects, there are still some positive attributes of enjoying more light. So the ultimate fate of DST in the US may be in the balance, but in the meantime, with pro-activeness and the right knowledge, we can do our best to help our bodies adjust and flow with the changes.


Political Debates are Taking a Toll on our Bodies

Do you find yourself getting riled up when reading political articles or talking with friends or family about the presidential race? Do the debates cause you to pour out your feelings on Facebook or other social media? A large percentage of Americans have found ourselves in that place. However, psychologists advise us to settle down.

An August poll by The American Psychological Association revealed that more than half of U.S. adults felt very or somewhat stressed by the presidential campaigns.

It may be unbeknownst to us, but our bodies actually feel the stress we place on them over things like political disagreements and defending our candidate of choice. When we feel that we are fighting between right and wrong, it can put our bodies under physical duress. We may think our stress is caused by work or our busy schedules, but much of it can be due to our recent strong political feelings and anxiety.

The National Institute of Mental Health describes how stress can affect a person’s body in this way, “Different people may feel it in different ways. For example, some people experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger and irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold, and vaccines, such as the flu shot, are less effective for them.” With chronic, or continual, stress, such as might be felt in a prolonged time period of political feuding, our bodies can react by lowering immunity, and by ceasing the normal function of certain bodily systems, so that they can put more resources towards dealing with the stress. This happens in a fight or flight type of bodily response to a sudden threat, however, when the source of stress is constant, problems can occur when the body is trying to accommodate to prolonged stress.

According to psychologists, there are things we can do to avoid conflicts and help our own bodies feel less stress. These include showing understanding, and asking why the person you disagree with feels the way they do. Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, reminds us that the purpose of a political conversation is not to win, but to exchange points if view. He says, “Be the first to de-escalate”, to avoid getting too heated when things get personal.

Maidenberg also mentions that discussions, or arguments, over the internet are not the best way to go. He says, “In-person interactions are likely to be more satisfying and rewarding in the long run.” This makes sense when considering the fact that many sentiments can be easily misinterpreted over the internet, when tone of voice has to be guessed over text, rather than accurately perceived in a face-to-face discussion.

If more of us remember that we are not in a competition to win correct points of view, then there may be less physical stress on everyone, and more peace, throughout the presidential campaign discussion.


Leaking Out Injustices

Residents of the small community of Eight Mile near Mobile, Alabama, have been dealing with the stench of rotten eggs and increased health problems due to a chemical leak. Last year, in the seventh year of the residents’ misery, a similar chemical leak occurred on the other side of the country in a town in southern California – Porter Ranch. The difference is that one leak was cleaned up and the residents taken care of after a few months, and the other has been left to take its toll on residents and the surrounding environment for eight years now.

Along with the constant rank stench, seizures, nausea, vomiting, head aches and nosebleeds are health problems of which residents of both communities complained. However, residents of Eight Mile, including both children and adults, have suffered more serious effects, such as seizures, respiratory problems, leg pain, hypertension and vision problems- all of which are believed to be caused by breathing in the leaked chemical mercaptan that still lingers in the area. The extensive and more serious problems could likely be due to the very prolonged amount of time the Eight Mile residents have been exposed to the toxic chemical.

The chemical leak in Porter Ranch, an affluent community, occurred at the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility, owned by Sempra Energy, based in San Diego. Interestingly, Sempra Energy also owned the Eight Mile facility up until last month, when Sempra sold it to the local gas company Mobile Gas. The Eight Mile incident was caused by lightning striking a gas line and pouring an estimated 500 gallons of mercaptan into the ground water. Sempra claims that the leak was discovered just a few months before they acquired the utility in October 2008, and owned it for almost all of the eight years since the leak occurred.

As opposed to the residents in porter Ranch, residents in Eight Mile have not been relocated to different homes out of harm’s way

Mercaptan is the chemical that is added to natural gas to help detect leaks, which contains compounds of sulfur and mercury. It has long been considered to be fairly harmless to humans (though mercury is proven to be toxic), hence why much research has gone into detecting if mercaptan has been the true cause of the health problems. Dr. Jeffrey Nordella, an urgent care physician in Porter Ranch, disagrees with the notion that mercaptan is not all that dangerous. He has been researching the effects of the chemical since the leak occurred. “Mercaptan is toxic to the human body,” Nordella said. “The question is exposure — how much and for how long?” Cases have been documented of people dying from exposure to large amounts of variants of mercaptan in a short amount of time, but how a smaller amount would effect people over the course of long time is the unknown being researched.

As opposed to the residents in porter Ranch, residents in Eight Mile have not been relocated to different homes out of harm’s way, transferred to different schools, or given treatment for their ailments. In the first few months, the Aliso Canyon leak attracted government officials and investigators to solve the problem, while at the same time, Eight Mile had been suffering for seven years mostly unattended to. The court has been lax, as hundreds of residents have filed lawsuits, which are still under litigation, and only few residents have obtained settlement.

At Aliso Canyon, methane also leaked out along with mercaptan, causing more concern due to threat of explosion, air quality decline and climate change. However, even with a more urgent threat, it still took four months for the affected well to be sealed. At Eight Mile, Mobile Gas claims that only mercaptan leaked from the pipeline, possibly showing why it has been shrugged off for so long, not having as large of a proven threat, since the effects of mercaptan have not largely been researched. Along with this reasoning for not acting quickly, Eight Mile is a smaller, poor and predominantly black community. Sadly, this is why the residents believe they are being overlooked.

Some residents of Eight Mile have packed up and moved in the last eight years due to the all the problems, but most residents do not have the resources to leave. They are dependent upon the gas companies responsible and on the state to fix the mistakes they have made, and do their best to solve the residents’ health problems and quality of life.

Will the number eight in Eight Mile turn out to be a foreshadowing for the number of years it would take for government officials to finally act and do justice for Eight Mile, or will it take even longer? Affluent or non-affluent town, resources to offer or none, pretty reputation or not as pretty- all of these aside, people are still people and should be treated equally no matter their livelihoods. The treatment of the rich California town after a toxic leak contrasted with the picture of the poor Alabama town after a toxic leak is a stark, but accurate, picture of injustice in our society. Hopefully after this situation has come into more light, things will begin to change. Positively, after a recent march at the state Capitol this month, the Alabama governor had agreed to meet with residents to discuss options.


A Sense Of Entitlement May Be Harming Your Wellbeing

Entitlement is defined as “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment”. The lead author of a new study on the effects of entitlement, Joshua Grubbs, assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, considers it simply “a desire to get something for nothing”, and the belief held by a person that they are an exception to the rule in a very exaggerated way.

Grubbs conducted a review of over 170 students on the subject of entitlement while he was a graduate student in psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Through the study, he found that people with attitudes of entitlement are very susceptible to disappointment, and that disappointment very often leads to anger, blame, social tension and depression.

The attitude itself does not stem from the possession of wealth, as many believe, but from many different factors including culture, economic status, and upbringing. Helped by co-author Julie Exline, a professor of psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve, Grubbs dove into the data to find out why entitlement can be such an issue.

An interesting pattern of behavior was discovered by their research. “First, there’s the burden of living with the constant threat of failed expectations. Next comes emotional instability when an expected path or goal fails to materialize”, Grubbs explained. These individuals are then spurred on by the increase of adversity to rely even more heavily on their sense of superiority- their deserving attitude being strengthened rather than weakened, which only causes the cycle to start over again. This then goes beyond the individual and puts the strain on society.

Sometimes, a person may have no idea that they have a sense of entitlement in a certain situation, or even in general. It is a deep, underlying belief of which we can actually not be aware, that can be so visible to others, but invisible to ourselves. It is important for us as a society to try to detect these ideas that we may unknowingly hold, as they can be toxic to our love life, family life, social life, and work life- all of which combined make up the constructs of our society.

To apply this research to real life, we can look at the outcome of certain happenings and events in our lives, and evaluate our emotional response to them. If the response was unhappy, disappointed, or bitter, we should then go back and examine how we truly felt prior to the outcome, and figure out if we may have originally had any kind of entitled attitude toward the outcome of those events.

Grubbs explains that ambition is different from entitlement, and that he is not at all opposing a healthy drive for success. But despite his grim findings, he says that getting rid of an entitled attitude is indeed achievable and can be accomplished with introspection and “active gratitude”, which is, Grubbs explains, “actually taking time to reflect about how much you are grateful for, how much others have helped you become what you are, and the ways you can express that gratitude.”


3D Printer Can Make Real Bones With Morphing Biomaterial

A new breakthrough has occurred in bone repair and replacement surgery for breaks, fractures, and other bone defects. To this day, the materials used in this type of surgery have proven difficult for the doctor and painful for the patient. Now, researchers have developed a new way for patients to receive bone implants – not having to take bone from another part of their bodies, but rather printing the bone from a 3D printer with a biomaterial that will eventually turn into real bone.

The biomaterial, or “ink”, with which the implants are printed with a 3D printer is made up of two main ingredients – a calcium mineral naturally found in bone, hydroxyapatite, and the natural polymer PLGA (poly lactic-co-glycolic acid), which acts as a glue to hold the hydroxyapatite together. The PLGA is also very flexible, which allows the printed scaffold of the implant to be able to be misshapen or deformed and then come back to its original shape. This advantage of the polymer means that surgeons could even reshape the implant during surgery, if necessary.

It is a natural environment for regeneration with the hydroxyapatite, which induces the cells to begin mineralization, which will then turn the implant into real bone

The implant will eventually morph into real bone by the body’s natural methods. Cells and blood vessels will populate the scaffold of the implant due to its microscopic structure mimicking that of real bone. The 3D printed structure provides a natural environment for regeneration with the hydroxyapatite, which induces the cells to begin mineralization, which will then turn the implant into real bone.

The lead of this ground-breaking research, Ramille N. Shah, explained, “When you put stem cells on our scaffolds, they turn into bone cells and start to up-regulate their expression of bone specific genes. This is in the absence of any other osteo-inducing substances. It’s just the interaction between the cells and the material itself.”

Another pertinent application for these printed implants is for use in child patients who, still growing, often need replacements that can be very painful. To allow the implants to be versatile with growth, the biomaterial can be made to include different growth factors to further enhance regeneration, as well as antibiotics to prevent infections after surgery.

These 3D printed implants have only been tested on animals, but those tests have been very successful and promising. Shah believes that after more extensive trials, the implant biomaterial will reach clinics within five years. She hopes for a swift and easy solution to bone repair surgery- for hospitals to have 3D printers that will print individually tailored implants for patients within 24 hours.