Wednesday, April 28, 2010

HFA Inhalers Really Grind My Gears

I can remember it like yesterday, my last puff from my CFC MDI albuterol inhaler, it was that cold consistent blast of life my body so desperately needed. I’ve had severe asthma my entire life, so I can say that over the years I have learned what products work for me the best in preventing or stopping an asthma attack. However, the FDA stepped in and last year CFC MDI inhalers were banned in the United States because of the clean air act. Many people out there might be wondering, “What’s the big deal, there obviously is something else out there that’s just as effective and good for use if the government is stepping in and banning one product.” My answer is yes there is another product, how useful it is where I my gears get grinded.

For those who started reading this and are wondering what CFC MDI is its chloroflurocarbon metered-dose inhaler. Albuterol needs a carrier compound to help in delivering it to the lungs, so CFC was used for more than 50 years. The change of the CFC MDI comes after the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer (MPSTDOL) met and decided that these inhalers are not environmentally friendly and can affect the ozone. However, the MPSTDOL looked at CFCs as a whole and not individually. CFCs were used in many other things like fire extinguishers, air conditioners, and industrial refrigerants besides just their medical use mention here. So CFCs were taken as a whole into consideration and decided upon the need to replace them with something more environmentally friendly…keywords: environmentally friendly.

HFAs (hydrofluoralkane) are the new kid in town that’s taking over CFCs. HFAs haven’t been around for very long but the FDA approved the cutting of CFCs in 2005 so testing of the HFAs hasn’t been going on for as long as the CFCs. This may not be a crucial part the changing over but in 2008 HFAs were only making up 5-10% of the albuterol sales. With doctors fully knowing that a change was coming, why wouldn’t they get their patients ready for the change? Now there isn’t any information on why doctors didn’t but it just seems odd to me that they didn’t inform or ready their patients for the change and I just wanted to point it out.

Now in the journal article “Final Count Down to HFA Albuterol Inhalers: Are We Ready as Yet?” there is a nice table that I can not find a way to place here that list which HFA or CFC is better at. When I look at this table it is pretty equal across the board on which is the better delivery method except for the fact that in the paper they consider the CFC inhalers and environmentally unfriendly due to the previous studies on the whole group of CFCs. That grinds my gears because it obviously gives the HFA an overall better look.

The HFA is considered a better steroid because it is smaller and can deliver the medicine deeper into the lungs unlike the bulky CFC. Now asthma attacks can occur at different levels in asthmatics lungs. For me I know that the majority of my asthma attacks start in my upper lungs and spread down to the smaller air sacs. Because of this the reaction my body receives from the HFA inhalers is delayed and I feel the need to keep puffing on my inhaler. Some may think that that’s not a problem but it definitely is when looking at the cost of the product.

HFA inhalers cost anywhere from $30-$60, while the CFC inhalers cost $5-$25. So now for me to feel like I’m protected against my asthma I spend more money, but I never seem to get my monies worth out of an inhaler because it doesn’t seem to last and insurance has to be considered here too. Insurance will only allow you to purchase one inhaler a month. Before with the CFC inhalers I could go three months without replacing my inhaler, and now with the HFA inhaler I can barely make it a month. For me this is frustrating since my asthma is in the severe category and I need to be carrying an inhaler with me at times even if the inhaler doesn’t seem to be working properly.

These new HFA inhalers need to be cleaned out weekly or steroid builds up and clogs the spray hole. I have been stuck before when I needed the inhaler badly and it hasn’t worked because I used it for two days and the spray hole was clogged. Now I haven’t seen any studies out there that have looked at the correlation between asthma deaths to those due to improper maintenance of inhaler but it would be interesting to see done. Now with the CFC I never had a problem with clogging. When the HFC clogs it limits the dose received. Its frustrating that I just now saw that it needs to be cleaned weekly. I was never told this and it was never apparent in the material given with the inhaler or made clear. I feel like that the cleaning of the inhaler so that it can be used properly would be very important to tell patients.

If all of that hasn’t grinded my gears enough I voiced my concerns of the new inhalers with my family doctor, who just so happens to be one of the people that gets to review all inhalers and their design and ease of use. It was refreshing that he felt the same about the new inhalers and is currently trying to get them reversed back to the CFC MDI albuterol inhalers. He provided me with some aggravating information on the CFC inhalers that they have been provided within his focus group. One plane flying from L.A. to NYC produces more harm to the environment and ozone than did all the CFC inhalers being used do in a complete year. That stat with the obvious problems that can occur and the cost of HFAs really grinds my gears!

1.Butt, Ahmed T et al. Final Count Down to HFA Albuterol Inhalers: Are We Ready as Yet?. Clinical Pediatrics. Vol 48. March 2009.
2. Evans, Jeff. Switch to HFA-propelled albuterol inhalers now, FDA advisory urges. Entrepreneur. August 2008.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dave’s 800-1000 Word Dissertation on Beer...and Other Manly Insights

Man, four years flies by fast. It seems like just yesterday that my parents drove me to AU to attend college. My mom teared up as she imparted some of the most poorly chosen words of wisdom I’ve ever heard. She said to me, “David, college is a fountain of wisdom, and you’re here to drink”. After hugging my parents goodbye, and promptly ditching them to go have dinner with a cute girl that I had met mere minutes earlier, I set out to drink from that fountain. And drink I did.

A couple years later and here we are, learning how to communicate the concepts we've learned. During our Sr. Seminar course, Dr. Posner has given us some very useful advice on how to present data. My approach is to mix humor with factual information in an attempt to keep the material lively and engaging. I will probably always remember Dr. Posner saying that if the audience walks away with two take home messages, the presentation was a relative success. I’ve left college with two take home messages...and feel relatively successful.

Take Home Message #1: College is a collection of classrooms where you sit for roughly 1,500 hours trying to memorize things. The rest of the time is spent napping and trying to get dates. Therefore, avoid choosing a major that involves “known facts” or “right answers”. Philosophy is generally a good choice because from my understanding you sit in a room, decide that reality doesn’t exist, and then go to convo for lunch.

Take Home Message #2: The things you learn in college can be thrown into one of two categories. The first are things you need to know later in life. It will take about 2 hours of your college career to learn all of these. The other 1,498 hours are spent learning things you will not need later in life. These things typically end in –ics, -ology, istry, ect. The key here is to write the things you learn in these classes down in little examination books and then forget it. Those of you who fail to forget it will inevitably become university professors and be forced to stay in school the rest of your adult life.

But I digress. My undergraduate career in biology has taught me a few things I know with relative certainty. For instance, the hormone testosterone plays a key role in promoting muscle development, bone mass, and the inability to stop pressing the channel changer until Cops comes on. It’s also the reason men don’t ask for directions. This is why it takes several million male sperm cells to locate a female egg. Another thing that I’ve learned via my biology career is how to make beer. I like beer. I’ll enjoy a nice brew to celebrate occasions such as the fourth of July, my mom’s birthday, or that my fridge is still working. The beer making process has inspired me to read several papers on the purported benefits of occasionally enjoying a good brew.

For those of you who are completely oblivious to what exactly that golden nectar of the gods is, beer is a fermented beverage comprised of malted cereals and spiced with hops. The fermentation of sugars released in the brewing process results in an alcoholic beverage that is pleasing to drink, and scientifically complicated. Craft beer, much like wine, contains compounds that have been scientifically shown to improve heart health and other proliferative effects. A study conducted in 1999 by Miranda et. al. reported the cytotoxic effects of one such compound on human cancer cell lines. The flavinoid compound present in hops, called xanthohumol was shown to diminish the proliferative activity of human breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and colon cancer cells in vitro. The researchers treated the cancer cells with a dose dependant amount of the compound to study its effect on the cancer cells. After two days, the growth of the cancer cells was inhibited by 50% at the 13.3 um dose. A 3.47 um dose retarded cancer cell growth by 50% after 4 days. The compound was found to be extremely effective against a stain of ovarian cancer cells in which a 5.2 um dose completely retarded growth of the cells after 4 days (Miranda et. al., 1999). The compound has also proved to be a powerful antioxidant. The implication of this study is that the effective chemical can be refined and used to prevent cancer occurrences.

Figur 1: Xanthohumol Effects on Ovarian Cancer Cell Line

However, the concentration of xanthohumol in most beer has recently been proven to be 0.002-0.628 mg/L-1 using sensitive HPLC quantification (Chen et. al., 2010). Unfortunately, this molecule is present in such minute quantities that one would need to consume nearly 1,300 12 ounce bottles a day for the amount of xanthohuol to be beneficial. Therefore I recommend that you consume 120 gallons of beer daily to reap the benefits.

If you need another reason to drink to your health, it’s been widely demonstrated that light consumption of alcoholic beverages ahs been associated with reduction in cardiovascular related mortality. Moderate alcohol intake has shown to improve lipoprotein metabolism as well (Kondo, 2004). The effects of antioxidants on atherosclerosis have been well documented. Figure 2 in the paper shows the effects of beer, water, and red wine on the antioxidant levels in the blood circulation of rats. The data suggests that the antioxidants in beer may be more easily absorbed than those in red wine.

Figure 2: Antioxidant Levels in Blood

So here’s to you guys. It’s been great getting to know everyone and good luck to you in all your future endeavors. Have a drink to your success thus far. Cheers!


Miranda et. al. “Antiproliferative and Cytotoxic Effects of Prenylted Flavinoids from Hops (Humuls lupulus) in Human Cancer Cells”. Food and Chemical Toxicology. Vol 37, p. 271-285. 1999.

Chen et. al. “Determination of xanthohumol in beer based on cloud point extraction coupled with high performance liquid chromotrography”. Talanta. Vol 81, p. 692-697. 2010.

Kondo, Keiji. “Beer and health: Preventative effects of beer components on lifestyle-related disorders”. Biofactors. Vol 22, p. 303-310. 2004.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sweet Dream or a Beautiful Nightmare

Just like Beyonce’s song, a night of sleep can end up as a “Sweet Dream or a Beautiful Nightmare,” well, in my experience nightmares are not beautiful, but she's the uber-famous recording artist, so I'll let it slide . But the real question is what causes us to have a sweet dream or a nightmare?

There are two types of sleep that we experience, Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep (NREM) and Rapid-Eye Movement sleep (REM).

REM sleep is the time that we experience our most vivid dreams, 75% of sleep occurs NREM. Dreams during NREM sleep are very rare, muscles are not paralyzed and there is minimal eye movement. NREM is divided into 3 stages, each with distinctive brain wave patterns.

Stage 1 of NREM sleep is the beginning of sleep, the eyes are moving slowly, brain monitors show that alpha waves disappear and theta waves appear. In stage 1, sleepers often experience a hypnic jerk, which is an involuntary muscle twitch, resembling a “jump” made when a person is startled, a sensation of falling often occurs with a hypnic jerk. This happens to me all the time, I lay down and then see myself running in a field, only to fall in a whole and wake up “jumping” or trying to catch myself and break my fall.

Stage 2 of NREM sleep, there is no eye movement and the sleeper is a very light sleep. Stage 3 is characterized as a very deep sleep, known as slow-wave sleep. Dreaming is common in this stage, but not nearly as common as in REM sleep. Dreams in this stage tend to be less memorable and typically are not remembered as they are in REM sleep. Stage 3 is the stage that many people with sleeping disorders, such as sleep walking are in when they sleep walk.

To start, a dream or nightmare occurs during the REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep, you guessed it, at this point in sleep, and the eyes are rapidly moving. This comprises roughly 20-25% of an adult’s sleep each night. During REM sleep, the activity of the brain is very similar to that when a person is awake, but the body is paralyzed, due to the relaxed state of the skeletal muscles at this time, because motor neurons are not being stimulated.

Types of dreams
When we are asleep, there are a number of different types of dreams that we can have. They include dreams, lucid dreams and nightmares. Dreams are classified as a grouping of images, thoughts, sounds and emotions that the mind experiences.
Lucid dreams are the type of dreams in which we are aware that we are dreaming, so we can actively participate in and change the events and locations that happen in the dream, how aware we are during the dream determines how realistic it is.

We’ve all probably had at least one nightmare in our lives, but for any of those lucky few who haven’t, a nightmare is typically classified as a dream that triggers a strong negative effect from the sleeper, such as fear. Nightmares typically contain situations of discomfort, pain, danger, psychological or physical distress. Often times a sleeper will wake up from the nightmare in a distressed state and may be unable to go back to sleep.

It is interesting to look at how nightmares are perceived by different cultures. Some cultures believe that nightmares are a sign that the dreamer is open to physical and spiritual harm, while in other cultures they are thought to contain messages from the spirits that can predict the future. To me though, Nightmares=Not fun.

Nightmares can have a number of causes both physical and emotional. Some physical causes are sleeping in uncomfortable positions, fever and eating too close to bedtime (this increases the body’s metabolism and brain activity, potentially triggering nightmares). Some emotional triggers of nightmares include depression, stress, anxiety, experiencing a traumatic incident, such as rape and post-traumatic stress disorder.1

The typical protocol for the treatment of reoccurring nightmares is to treat the underlying problem, or believed cause of the nightmare. Using this hypothesis for treatment, treating the cause/trigger, the nightmares should fade away.

For nightmares that persist after treating the believed underlying cause, a treatment known as Imagery Rehearsal Therapy can be used. In this type of treatment a person, while awake writes down or describes their nightmare, and then while still awake writes an alternate ending to the nightmare, so that it does not upset them. The person is then instructed to visualize and continually replay this rewritten nightmare (now a new dream) in their minds.

A study published in 2000 involved nearly 200 women who had been victims of sexual assault, who were plagued by nightmares. They were divided into two groups, one group which maintained their regular sleep routine, while the other group was given Imagery Rehearsal Therapy. At the end of treatment, the women in the Imagery Rehearsal Therapy group had a significant decrease in nightmares and disturbing dreams. 2

So the next time that you lay your head down to sleep, try your best to think happy thoughts and hopefully you will have a Sweet Dream or a Beautiful Nightmare.

Check out Rhytmn City's (a dance crew from the fourth season of ABDC) take on a Sweet Dream or a Beautiful Nightmare...

1Forbes, D. et al. (2001) Brief Report: Treatment of Combat-Related Nightmares Using Imagery Rehearsal: A Pilot Study, Journal of Traumatic Stress 14 (2): 433-442
2Johnston L, Krakow B, Melendrez D, Herlan M, Hollifield M, Chavez-Kennedy D. 2000. Treatment of nightmares and insomnia in crime victims. Sleep 23 (Suppl #2): A316.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Squirrels of Ashland

This video shows the squirrels around Ashland University. Although often comical, the video offers some squirrel facts as well to the interested viewers. Really though, who wouldn't want to watch Blair and Pat chase squirrels?

Monday, April 19, 2010

I'll Have a McCancer With Fries Please

In the past few years’ comical documentaries with serious messages have been sweeping the nation targeting the health consequences that can arise from fast food consumption and obesity in general. Some recent films include those such as “Supersize Me” and “Fast Food Nation."


Obviously eating fast food is not the best thing for any individual provided most cheeseburgers and French fries come laden with high amounts of sodium, fat and calories. However, beyond knowing how eating this food can give you a bulging waist line, it can also lead to levels of obesity that can greatly increase one’s risk to develop breast, pancreatic, and gastrointestinal cancers. [1] One research project conducted focused on demonstrating the relationship between obesity and breast cancer. It has been estimated that for every 5kg of weight a woman gains, the risk of developing breast cancer is increased by 1.08%. Furthermore, just an increase of one point in BMI could increase the risk of developing breast cancer by 3%. The analysts also found that obese women have a 31% increased risk of developing breast cancer. As can be seen via analysis of BMI, overall weight gain, as well as hip and waist girth the risk of breast cancer was determined. However, all of those factors can also prevent proper diagnosis of breast cancer due to several factors. [1]

One factor that can help determine the relationship between obesity and cancer development is the discovery that hormones are not properly regulated in individuals with excess weight. Obese women have a 35 % higher concentration of estrogen and 130% higher concentration of estradiol compared to women who are of normal or healthy weight. An increase in these hormones promotes increased adiposity of cells, which could lead to tumor development. Concomitant hyperinsulinaemia is another hormone found in abundance in obese women, which may promote mammary carcinogenesis by increasing the levels of insulin-like growth factor leading to tumor development. Another hormone that can cause the development of cancer if not properly regulated is leptin, which is part of a family of hormones, produced by adipocytes and has been associated with carcinogenesis in the past.

Beyond the realm of hormones, researches discovered that individuals who are obese have a higher risk of developing problems associated with the tumors that arise when one contracts breast cancer. In obese individuals it has been found that the tumors are often larger once the breast cancer is discovered and the tumors often have markers of high cellular proliferation on them. [1]

Lastly, perhaps the most devastating effect of obesity on breast cancer is the hindrance obesity causes on the various treatment options. One option to treat breast cancer is surgery. Those who are obese and under go surgery are more likely to suffer complications both during and after the procedure then those who are of a more normal weight. Obesity can also alter the success of radiotherapy and chemotherapy provided the tumor and cancerous cells cannot be as easily found or attacked. As can be seen breast cancer can drastically affect one’s chance of developing cancer and how well it is treated, however obesity can also increase one’s chance of developing pancreatic cancer. [1]

The study to determine the relationship between obesity and pancreatic cancer determined that excess body weight both accelerates pancreatic cancer development along with increasing the progression of the disease. The researchers admit that they are unaware of the mechanisms behind such a finding, however obesity acts to disturb the functioning of the immune system one way or another. In the study researchers utilized six lean mice and six obese mice. The tumors that grew in the mice were analyzed and immunochemistry was utilized to see the impact on both T and B cells. [2]

At the conclusion of the study it was determined that in mice who were over weight, pancreatic cancer tumors grew larger, metastasized more and overall decreased the survival of obese mice. The mice with the tumors also had lower amounts of circulation T and B cells. Researchers found the lower amounts to be due to down regulation of B cells as well as immunoglobulin gene expression. It is believed that a down regulation in tumor infiltrating lymphocytes was responsible for the lower lymphocyte amounts provided in analyzed tumors from obese mice, there were fewer tumor infiltrating B cells. [2]

Thus the main findings of the study were that T cells, B cells, and macrophages are present in pancreatic cancer tumors of both obese and lean mice. However, in comparisons to the tumors analyzed in lean mice, those from obsess mice once again had the lower B cell amounts. So it was presumed that obesity lowers immune functioning to limit the number of lymphocytes produced to combat developing cancerous tumors. [2]

As can be seen from the studies focusing on determining the relationship between obesity and cancer development previously discussed, excess weight plays a role in both pancreatic as well as breast dancer development. Moreover, obesity also has a significant role in the development of gastrointestinal cancer. [3]

The study was based on the emerging evidence that an association lays between both excess weight and gastrointestinal cancer. To determine such a relationship researches conducted a study in which both epidemiological and pathophysiological studies were conducted. It was found that sex plays an important role in the development of gastrointestinal cancers. Furthermore, it was found that adipose tissue, especially that surrounding on the visceral surface of organ is metabolically active with the ability to exert a systemic endocrine effect due to alteration of the insulin growth like hormone. Obesity’s effect on adipocytokines is well as sex steroids also suggest having a vital role in cancer development. [3]


Thus as can be seen, as America’s waistlines continue to grow at an alarming rate, so does the risk for developing life-threatening cancers such as breast, pancreatic, and gastrointestinal strains. However, combating the epidemic of obesity is hindered by the genetic make-up of humans. In the more ancestral times, individuals craved foods high in both fat and sugar since they provide the body with a greater amount of energy. However, people do not generally utilize all the calories they intake, which ultimately adds to an accumulation of body fat. If action is not taken to reverse or at least remedy the obesity epidemic, individuals could soon face a cancer epidemic, with no cure to turn to. [3]. So the next time you crave a McDouble or a Whopper you may want to reconsider your options. Or when they ask if you want fries with that, listen to the reality of “Do you want lies with that?”

[1] Carmichael, AR. "Obesity as a risk factor for development and poor prognosis of breast cancer." An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (2006).

[2] White, P., et al. "Pancreatic Cancer and Obesity: Do B cells play an important role?" Indiana University Medical School (2010).

[3] Donohoe, C., et al. "Obesity and gastrointestional cancer." British Journal of Surgery (2010).

Sunday, February 28, 2010

What color is a Polar Bear?



What color is a Polar Bear? The answer to this question seems pretty black and white, when in reality the answer is that polar bears are transparent…yes, that’s right, polar bears are transparent. The long, thick hairs that protect the polar bear and keep it warm are hollow and transparent. The reason they appear white is because air spaces in between each hair scatter and reflect all the colors of the visible wavelengths of light, rather than absorbing it. Because of this, polar bears appear white.
Oddly enough, there have been some cases of polar bears being green! This has happened in a few zoos around the world. It is caused by algae growth in the pools that are in polar bear enclosures. However, the algae that turns the polar bears green isn’t on the surface of their hair, it’s inside it! Ewwww!!!!
Also, in Argentina a polar bear turned purple when it was given medication to treat a skin condition!!

It glows in the dark!

While swimming off the coast of Puerto Rico, the water glows with every stroke. Every stroke through the clear water left a wake of white-ish blue light. This was caused by tiny organisms, known as dinoflagellates. On a warm summer night, lightning bugs fly around sporadically glowing in the dark. A jellyfish swims through the ocean, glowing as it makes it way around. How do they do that, it’s so cool! The answer is that these organisms all contain proteins, which produce bioluminescence, which is a natural phenomenon, in which living organisms convert chemical energy into light energy.
In 1962 scientists identified two proteins which allow organisms to glow, one produced blue light while the other—green fluorescent protein, or GFP—turned that blue light a brilliant green. GFP has been used to tag genes and cancer cells, so that they can be tracked throughout the body. But what is really cool is that scientists have inserted the GFP into different animals, such as mice, rabbits, cats, pigs and dogs, so that they too can glow in the dark! [1]
Follow the link and heck out this video to see a glow in the dark mouse! It’s awesome!


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Women Should Drink Beer

Yes you read the title right. Women really should drink beer. A study in the February issue of the Journal of Food and Agriculture tells about how the silicon in beer can promote bone health. In beer silicon is present in the form of orthosilicic acid (OSA). Scientist have long known that OSA is important for building bone and connective tissue. Of the OSA in beer 50% of it can be used by the human body and its also known that OSA is present in bananas but the human body can only use 5% of it. There was a wide range of silicon in the 100 beers sampled in the study but there was an over all average of 30mg/L of silicon in beer. Humans naturally take in 20-50mg a day from overall consumption. Drinking two beers could achieve that daily amount but taking more in can definitely do the body no harm.

So now we have that information on silicon in beer, but why should women drink beer? Well as women age its also well known that their bone health decreases after menopause, making it easier for bones to break and fracture. We know this as osteoporosis. Sure men are capable of acquiring osteoporosis, but it's seen more in women. There have been studies before this one on beer and silicon on women and healthy women and it focused on 1700 women tested for bone health. In that study they looked at bone health in the each woman's hands. What was found was that the women who enjoyed a cold one had thicker and better bone health in their hands.

Having these two studies should tell women that beer is good not only to drink but could possibly fight the onset of osteoporosis in their future. So those of age women out there go and enjoy a nice cold one for bone health!

*Resources to come*

Arsenic's Link to Cancer

Being the tox nerd that I am, I actually enjoy learning about how drugs are metabolized in the body, finding out what makes tetrodotoxin (puffer fish venom) so deadly, and speculating as to why I developed an eye twitch ever since I accidently spilled atrazine on my arm last Friday (true story). I'll get that checked out...after more blogging! I'd like to take this time to impart some toxicological knowledge upon the masses. It's well known that Arsenic is detrimental to one's health. It has been used as a pesticide because it inhibits several essential metabolic enzymes. However, this must not have always been the case as women in the Victorian Era would mix arsenic with chalk and vinegar to improve make their skin complexion lighter. Pain is beauty I suppose. But I digress, arsenic exposure has also been linked to cancer. The mechanism as to why arsenic causes tumor growth has been unknown up until a recent discovery published in the journal Cancer Research. They found that arsenic causes tumors in mice and bladder cancer patients by affecting the awesomely named "Sonic Hedgehog Signaling Pathway". Chronic exposure to low arsenic levels in water can over-activate the signaling pathway which can cause tumors to form in the bladder. Stay thirsty my friends.

Thinking About Applying to Med-School???

If so...
DITCH THE MCAT PREP BOOKS AND PICK UP THAT X-BOX 360 CONTROLLER BABY!!! That's right, the study most males ages 5-33 have been waiting for,
the February issue of Archives of Surgery reported that surgeons who played video games did better on a standardized surgery exam than their slightly more focussed counterparts who spent less time playing video-games. The study looked at how well 33 surgeons and surgical residents performed on a test called the "Rosser Top Gun Laparoscopic Skills and Suturing Program". This program gives each surgeon a score based on how quickly and how well they are able to complete several simulated surgery techniques. The scores of the each of the 33 surgeons were calculated, and the score results were compared with the amount of time each reported playing video-games. As unbelievable as it may sound, surgeons who reported spending at least 3 hours of mind-numbing quality time with their game system of choice a week made 37% fewer errors and were 27% faster than those who didn't. So take heed misguided med-students, your time is nigh. Kick back, grab a cold one, and by all means, trash talk the 14 year old you just pwned. In fact, don your head set proudly and let everyone know that the game ending shot you just made with laser like precision came from the person that will someday perform their tracheotomy.

In all seriousness, the implications of this study may not be as wild as they seem. Check out this video of a remote control heart surgery to see how a video-game enthusiast may someday save your life.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gene Doping, the new Steroids?

            With the winter Olympics in full swing I thought an article on performance enhancing therapies might be an interesting topic for discussion.  In 2004, the human genome was completely decoded.  Since then, individuals have discovered a new way to manipulate the genome in a method called gene doping.  This methodology offers the opportunity for athletes to enhance their performance in a way that cannot be detected by the current day performance enhancing drug tests used to detect steroids.  

            Gene doping is a treatment in which a change is made that purposely alters an individual’s DNA though various ways such as pills and injections. One gene doping method that has currently been seen to be successful is to inject rodents with IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor, a chemical manipulation of naturally occurring IGF. When this chemical is injected into rodents it causes the muscles that are ruptured during exercise to heal quicker thus allowing the animal to exercise more.  Therefore, should this process be applied to human models it would allow them to lift more weights since their muscles are healing faster . It is also believed that IGF-1 can boost that initial strength and healing process in muscles as well as artificially block myostatin production. This would allow the muscle to keep growing in strength without putting in half the effort as would normally be needed.


            Beyond the realm of IGF-1 injections, the option of pills exists. That’s right imagine taking a pill the size of a vitamin. You could go to sleep looking like Jack Black, and wake up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. This treatment option has already been utilized to make pills such as the synthetic protein called Aicar. This synthetic compound was shown to enhance rodents who did not regularly exercise endurance by 44% in four short weeks.  On the other hand another artificial compound GW1516, improved endurance capability by 75%.

            So now that we know the technology exists for illegal gene doping to occur the question of how can we treat or prevent it from occurring arises. Many obstacles exist with testing for these compounds, which ultimately makes the concept of gene doping more attractive to the individuals who want to cheat. Just think now instead of using fourteen year olds passed on as eighteen years olds, the gymnasts can just take miracle gene doping pills making them agile as ever.  That’s good news for China….........just kidding.

One issue that exists with testing is the ability to determine a difference in gene make-up without an athlete's genetic code already on file for comparison. The only feasible way right now to conquer such an issue would be to have a urine and blood bank for athletes.  Although this solution seems improbable and complicated it has actually been announced that it will be used for the London 2012 Olympics.

            Although most of the debate for gene doping comes from the notion that it is immoral and unethical, serious health risks exist for those who use such drugs. The biggest risk sited is that it is unclear to scientists how a gene mutation could be stopped once started. 

So is it worth the risk?  Some say athletes have the right to prepare for a match by using whatever technology they want. However, it seems rather ridiculous that gene doping would be supported as a technological option when such up roar has already occurred the genetically perfect basketball player Yao Ming. Whatever the case, I’m sure athletes such as Apollo Anton Ohno and Lebron James will continue to amaze the sports enthusiasts for years to come. The question however exists as to whether the athletic amazement will come through natural hard work or through artificial compounds.  I guess the answer will come when swimmers start appearing with webbed hands and feet, and runners can sprint at twice the normal human speed. So not only will opponents be mad to see Michael Phelps in the lane next to them, but imagine he has frog like hands. This sounds like the myth of super hero tales yet with gene doping, it’s possible.


Could 2012 Really Happen?

For years movie directors such as Steven Spielberg have been producing disaster flicks showing worldwide catastrophe in one way or another. However, one of the most frightening new releases named “2012” focuses on the probability of the end of the world on December 21, 2012 based on the prediction of the ancient Mayan calendar.  According to their predictions the world will end on this date, which falls on the winter solstice.  On the winter solstice, the earth will be in perfect alignment with the sun as well as the middle of the Milky Way galaxy, which holds a black hole. The alarming part of this theory comes with the fact that it is supported by geo-physicists that predict a pole shift will occur resulting in worldwide catastrophe.  The video below shows a small portion of a history channel documentary that utilizes history professionals as well as a variety of scientists to determine the feasibility and probability of such an event occurring.

Probability of 2010


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Science vs. Ignorance

How many times have you been watching TV and seen the latest ads for weight loss supplements?  Sure the people in the ad are tan, with perfect white smiles and washboard abs. As they beam out at you from the television screen the announcer, who is usually a claimed doctor, informs you that just by taking this pill you will lose weight, no exercise required. However, if you merely peer at the faint white text located at the bottom of the screen you can clearly see that the fit models are merely actors as well as the doctors. In actuality these individuals have probably never even touched the product they are promoting.    This new trend of ads supposedly supported by “scientists” is part of a new wave called denialism.   This term coined by Michael Specter, describes the tendency of individuals in present day society to deny facts and statistics presented by the scientific community. For example, he sites the denial of H1N1 vaccine use despite the fact that nearly 40% of the adults in America have the virus.  He believes that this denialism spawns from promises made by scientists that can’t be answered immediately.  In all, skepticism spawns denialism that is only fed by politics and an individual’s hesitancy to believe scientific claims. (1)

In an attempt to combat the growing strength of scientific denialism, it can be seen that within the past few years when looking back at some of the most controversial movies as well as some of the biggest blockbuster movies, the plots seem to deal with some form of science that is currently under fire. Take for example the movie “The day After Tomorrow.”  Although the movie has big stars to help its cause such as Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhall, the plot speaks to the public in a manner that makes global warming much more than statistics in a newspaper. Although it is after all nothing more than a fictional story, the scenes of a tsunami drowning the inhabitants of New York City or tornados demolishing the infamous Hollywood sign can sometimes speak louder than the temperature statistics in science journals.  As a scientist however, it is frustrating to me to hear individuals in Ashland deny the presence of global warming. Just this past week in convo I heard someone commenting on how global warming can’t exist if we are getting pounded with all of this snow. What they fail to realize is yes, you will still get snow in the winter with global warming however, if they would simply study the melting of the glacial ice, or the diminishing of polar bear populations due to ice melt they could make a more educated judgment. 


Beyond the flashy fictional Hollywood stories on science documentaries have been released in the past few years, which also aim to target denialism.  Take for example the recent releases of “Super Size Me” and  “An Inconvenient Truth”.  Both films take the approach of targeting the general public in order to gain attention and science recognition. However, in order to truly combat denialism on hot topics such as evolution, global warming, and overall health, I believe scientists need to use a variety of mediums to make the information both understandable but also interesting to the public.  Spewing facts and figures in an attempt to inspire action or knowledge won’t help unless it is presented in a way that shows how they personally will be affected.  For example, take some of the conservative individuals who deny global warming. If you show them a picture of a polar bear on a small piece of glacial ice that more than likely is going to perish due to lack of terrain and food, they will more than likely turn the other direction. However, if you were to show them their favorite tropical resort getting destroyed by a hurricane strengthened by the warmer waters induced by global warming I guarantee they’d be more prone to listen. 


Denialism: The Integrity of Science is at Stake

I started this blog post by tearing a page out of George Orwell's "1984" for a reason. In his book, he depicts a dystopia in which the "Ministry of Truth" revises historical records and data in order to render the society incapable of making informed decisions based upon the truth [1]. As scientists, isn't it our duty to simply portray the truth based on research and empirical evidence? And yet this data is often undermined by public opinion and misinformation portrayed by the media. In the podcast by Michael Specter we listened to, he says that he doesn't even mention evolution in his book because he believes there is enough evidence supporting it that few people should doubt this theory. However, many do. Another crippling example of the anti-science movement is the impact it has had on vaccination campaigns. Many people, even to this day, believe that vaccinating their children children against diseases can cause more harm than good.
How do we as scientists combat this plague of denialism? Like any fight, it pays to know your opponent, and not to underestimate them. Just because a because a person's logic isn't entirely sound doesn't mean that they're any less smart than a scientist. My suggestion would be to find out the root their anti-science beliefs come from, and then support the scientific data on the topic in layman's terms. After all, the purpose of science is to promote knowledge. If science is misunderstood or becomes corrupted by popular opinion, the result is no longer knowledge but partial truths and propaganda. I think the most important thing to remember when combating denialism is to start small. The biggest impact will come from a collaborative effort among scientists to spread the truth to the masses in terms that anyone is capable of comprehending.

[1]Orwell, George. 1984. London: Secker and Warburg, 1949

Monday, February 15, 2010

Denialism and the anti-science movement

In an effort to learn more about the anti-science/denialism movement I came across the term pseudoscience. Pseudoscience is something that claims to be scientific, but in reality lacks sufficient supporting evidence. I think that it is these pseudoscience type of studies that have led the public astray and given them false ideals, ultimately leading to the anti-science/denialism movement.

Watching a 5 minute commercial break during my favorite show, it’s common to see those and infomercial in which you’re told to buy a product from “so and so, a doctor”, but take a closer look, often the small print on the bottom of the screen reveals the truth, which is that everyone in the commercial is a paid actor and none of the claims are really true. This is the kind of information that the public is most commonly exposed to, and thus has led to the anti-science/denialism movement because the real science and facts haven’t been communicated or have been lost in translation.

A few topics that are often brought up in the antiscience movement are evolution and global warming. Evolution is a common topic due to the creationists that due to their religious views resist any suggestion or evidence that humans evolved over the course of many centuries. Global warming is another hot topic for the antisicence movement, and is constantly debated. Part of the reason for such heated debates over global warming is that people think that scientists are being alarmists, in order to call more attention and focus to the issue and their research. Articles predicting the cooling of the earth in the 1970s[1], as well as the misinformation given by the U.N. and other organizations on how quickly glaciers in various parts of the world are contributing to the denial of global warming. In the case of global warming, I think that the biggest cause for denial is that the public doesn’t want to change. They are comfortable living and doing all the things they are doing now, by recognizing the plausibility of global warming, they have to (well they should) in some way change their lifestyle for the betterment of society and the world.
Another contributing factor to the anti-science movement is that the public just doesn’t understand what scientists are doing and well. This is in part, is due to the inability of majority of the scientific community to communicate their ideas in a way that is understandable to the general public. The public doesn’t need to/ probably can’t understand every detail of scientific research that is going on, but we need to be able to communicate the general idea, so that the public is knowledgeable and can make informed decisions.

Scientists should try to bring out a little bit of their inner "Bill Nye The Science Guy" in an effort to better communicate science and expose the public to their research on a more regular basis.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A toxic chain reaction...

Besides devoting too much of my time to making beer, a large portion of my education at Ashland has been dedicated to the study of toxicology. I find it fascinating how chemicals interact at a molecular level and how they alter normal physiology at the biological level. I was fortunate enough to obtain an internship at the OARDC during the summer (check it out, great program) where I helped devise a new method to quickly detect several herbicides in rain water samples. This research sparked my interest in environmental toxicology. Recently I found a paper published in the letters section of Nature that explains how multiple agrochemicals can have an additive effect that causes them to disrupt the entire ecosystem. The paper, titled Agrochemicals increase trematode infections in a declining amphibian species, explains the detrimental effects of atrazine and phosphate on an amphibian population (Rohr et. al 2008).
The authors of this paper were confused as to why toads and frogs were developing strange limb malformations. They theorized that this was due to atrazine, but could not reproduce the results in lab. However, when they added elevated levels of phosphate which is commonly used on corn crops in combination with atrazine, they found that the amphibians would develop the malformations. The combination throws a one-two punch at the animals. The atrazine suppresses the immune system of the animals. The phosphate enriched environment leads to more algae and snails which increase the amount of larval trematoads. While the amphibians weakened immune system is thus more susceptible to the trematoad infections which produce the malformations (Rohr et. al. 2008).

Rohr, R. Jason et. al. Agrochemicals increase trematode infections in a declining amphibian species. 2008 Nature vol. 455 p. 1235-1239.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cancer Causing Drinks?

“Nobody puts baby in a corner.”  That line is quite possibly one of the most well-known and easily recognizable lines by the late Patrick Swayze.   As Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, awareness of the disease soon reached the public as he promoted both research and overall knowledge of the silent killer.  Recently, however, a break through has been made in an understanding of how the ailment is induced.  The study demonstrated that people who drink two or more sweetened soft drinks a week have a much higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.  For those not as familiar with this particular line of cancer, it is extremely virulent, often giving those diagnosed only a 5% chance of survival provided detection of the cancer is often only possible in its later more developed stages. (1)


In the study conducted in Singapore it was shown that people who drank mostly fruit juice rather than the sugar-laden sodas did not have the same increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, as did those who constantly consumed the sweetened beverages. The study was conducted using 60,000 people, however, it was still relatively inconclusive provided individuals who drink sweetened sodas usually have other poor health habits that could induce cancer. , Mark Pereira of the University of Minnesota was the ultimate coordinator of the study and he hypothesized that increase levels of sugar in the soft drinks could lead to an elevation of insulin in the body. The increased insulin amounts are believed to contribute to the growth of pancreatic cancer cells.  The correlation between insulin and pancreatic cancer development is further supported by the principle that insulin, which is necessary to aid the body in metabolizing sugar, the pancreas produces it.(1)


To further support the assertion that sugary soft drinks can lead to pancreatic cancer development, the study followed a total of 60,524 men and women in a Singapore Chinese health study. For a total of fourteen years, 140 of the volunteers developed pancreatic cancer.  It was further discovered that individuals who consumed two or more soft drinks a week had an 87 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.(1)


In an attempt to evade arguments from other scientists that the correlation between the soft drinks and pancreatic cancer was not applicable to other regions of the globe, Pereira asserted, "Singapore is a wealthy country with excellent healthcare. Favorite pastimes are eating and shopping, so the findings should apply to other western countries.”  Despite this assertion however, the study was not published without controversy.(1)


            Susan Mayne of Yale Cancer Center at Yale University suggested the study was based on a relatively small group of individuals and thus the association between the drinks and cancer should be supported cautiously. Furthermore, it has been shown that red meat can also attribute to increasing the risk of pancreatic cancer development. Consumption of red meat and smoking of cigarettes is another popular past time of Singapore, and both habits Mayne argues can further attribute to cancer development. (1)


            Despite the direct cause of pancreatic cancer development remaining unknown, it is still one of the deadliest forms of cancer. In the United States, around 37,000 people are diagnosed with this form of cancer, and of those diagnosed 34,000-fall victim to it. Of those who initially survive this disease only around 5% will survive it past the five-year mark.  In 2008 my Uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of fifty and died 5 months later due to the disease. Thus, research for this unknown killer is extremely important in order to aid those who contract the disease as well as assist those who have not yet developed this form of cancer in preventing its development.(1). Near the end of his fight with the cancer Swayze admitted, “"What winning is to me is not giving up, not matter what's thrown at me. And I can keep going."