Category Archives: Research

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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.

political

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.

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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.

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When Your Body Turns Against Itself

It can be a scary thing to think about something that it supposed to be good for your body turning around and harming it. This is exactly the case with proteins called prions.

In a village in Papua New Guinea, a strange disease had been spreading for years killing women and children in the tribe- its source and cause was elusive. When researchers delved into the matter in the early 1960s, the answer they got surprised them.

The disease was known as kuru among the people, meaning “shivering” or “trembling”. It would begin to take over an individual by slowly causing the inability to move limbs, then the loss of control of emotions, followed by the loss of control of bodily functions and complete inability to move. The village was losing about 200 people a year to the disease- mostly women and children.
After conducting extensive research in the village, researcher Shirley Lindenbaum found that it was not correlated with genetics, but with an unnerving funeral ritual. Some of the people of the tribe, mostly only women, would cook and ingest the bodies of deceased tribe members. They thought it to be an act of love, and believed they were giving the spirit of the deceased a safe place of housing for a time. Children would sometimes partake, thus the link was connected to those dying of the disease. However, it was found not be a bacteria or infection that caused the disease, but proteins gone bad.

A prion is a protein inside our brains that, when becoming twisted in the wrong way, or “misfolded”, turns hostile and combative, acting like a pathogen and causing any other protein it comes into contact with to also become warped. This forms clumps of prions that will attack brain cells until the brain completely loses functionality.

These proteins turned to the dark side are the cause of “mad cow” disease, among others, and have been linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It is disturbing that these proteins intended for good have the potential to harm so immensely. Yet more disturbing still is that the “infected” prions are not killed by boiling water, or easily with heat or radiation. This means the warped prions can carry over to other patients from contact with surgical tools, and the reason why mad cow disease is spread through the ingesting of affected meat. Since thorough cooking does not get rid of bad prions, one is not be able to know they are infected until later. Likewise, with the case of kuru, the disease began to spread due to one of the deceased tribal members already having a prion-related disease.

Prion-related diseases, known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or TSEs, are untreatable since not much information is yet known how and why prions become misfolded. Researches at Iowa State University have linked copper ions with the misfolding of the proteins, but not with the actual prion-related disease. However, the link is a start, and for now, scientists are hard at work to determine the root cause so that when symptoms of TSEs arise, the misfolding of the prions can be undone.

Stent

Lawsuits for Unneeded Heart Stents

Dr. Seydi Aksut was once one of the busiest cardiologist in Alabama. According to federal data in 2012, Dr. Aksut installed more heart stents than any other doctor in Alabama.

Unfortunately, it seems like many of the procedures may have been unnecessary. In 2013 Vaughn Hospital performed an independent review of all stent cases and notified patients who may have been impacted. Since then, more than 12 lawsuits have been filed against Dr. Aksut.

To learn more click here and here.

Arguments

Why is our country being torn apart? Confirmation Bias

Some would say that our country hasn’t been this divided in decades. There are so many issues that have polarized us into different camps; Black Lives Matter, Obamacare, gun control, marriage, and even bathrooms.

It doesn’t matter where you stand on these issues one thing can be certain: the other side is crazy! In fact, you probably have hard facts to back you up, but believe this… so does the other side.

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Say hello to “Confirmation Bias”. It’s a scientific term that describes our natural inclination to confirm our position.

Without even trying, we tend to look for things that support our thoughts, interpret data in a way that backs our arguments, and then favorably recall data that makes us right. In fact, researchers have shown that we don’t even need clear evidence to believe it proves our point – we will even use ambiguous evidence in a pinch and think it completely backs us up.

One of the results of confirmation bias is “attitude polarization”. On emotionally charged issues, groups of people are prone to generate very different perspectives using the same data. Once our emotions set us on a particular path, we will naturally seek evidence to confirm that path.  In complex real-world issues, there’s enough data to go around to support anyone’s position.

Unfortunately, our bias isn’t on the conscious level and so almost all of us exhibit confirmation bias without even trying.

Knowing about confirmation bias isn’t about doubting your own position. Obviously you are right. Whatever your stance on the issues, you’ve rationally built your arguments on hard facts. Nevertheless, what’s important to know is that the other side has also built their arguments on hard facts (or at least they’ve armed themselves with enough data to “know” they are right).

If we aim to bring healing to this country, it will not be through arguing our agenda. Thanks to confirmation bias, the other side has amassed sufficient evidence to contradict your rational argument. If you want change and healing, you must appeal to emotion; and empathy is the main tool to do so.

Pig

US to mutate pigs to grow human organs

They call them Chimeras, pig embreos that have been injected with human stem cells. These creations have been made by various labs around the world but are typically killed before the fetus is able to fully develop.

A research team from the University of California, Davis, is hoping to create Chimeras to solve organ transplant shortages. They will create mutant pigs that lack the genes required to make a pancreas. Then, they hope the human stems cells will fill the void and create a human pancreas within the pig. They believe the process can work for any needed organ.

Although there are many ethical concerns that have delayed research in this area, one of the major concerns is what would happen if a chimera accidentally developed a human brain. How should we treat such a creation? Should we even be allowed to make one in the first place?

Aside from the moral / ethical issues involved, one of the many interesting applications would allow individuals who need a transplant to create their missing organ within a Chimera using their own stem cells. This would create a cloned organ that is a perfect match, in good health, and young – even better quality than a traditional donor organ.

Click here to learn more.