It’s not just Venus and Mars anymore

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

While the gender gaps are closing, sometimes the differences between men and women seem as great as the differences between Venus and Mars. For example, men and women tolerate medications very differently. Due to this, the Food and Drug Administration has recently changed the recommended dosage of the sleep aid Lunesta from 2 milligrams to 1 milligram because of its prolonged effects on women.

Women reported feeling drowsy in the morning hours after waking, raising concerns about the hazards of driving and working. While men and women are often prescribed the same dosages of medications, this case shows how men and women are not the same organism and drug dosing might need to take that into consideration.

For basic studies in the biomedical laboratory, many cells lines that are used experimentally are derived from tissues obtained from males, either human or animal. Even in the very early steps of identifying a drug and determining how it works, efforts are already focused on those of us with a Y chromosome. Continue reading

Research sheds new light on autism

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Based on statistics, you probably know someone with a form of autism. Autism rates in America grew by 30 percent from 2008-2010 and have doubled since 2000. Now, one in 68 8-year-olds are diagnosed with autism. On average, one child in each grade of every elementary school has autism. What is responsible for the remarkable rise of this disease?

Perhaps we have gotten better at diagnosing it. Now, researchers are working to establish how autism occurs, even before birth, and how to diagnose it sooner.Autism is actually not a single disease but a spectrum of disorders. It is clearly related to infant development and is caused by differences in the brain. There are multiple causes of autism, but most are not yet known. One possible connection is that people tend to conceive later. The age at which women give birth has been increasing for many years and is linked to higher chances of autism.

Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders relies on observing differences in a person’s communication, social skills and typical behavior. Roughly one-third of those with autism are also diagnosed with intellectual deficits, but the remaining two-thirds have normal or above average intelligence. Most are diagnosed at 4 years old but some are identified by age 2. This is critical because research has repeatedly shown that the earlier therapy starts, the more likely it will result in substantial improvement. Continue reading

Recommendations about dealing with children’s head injuries

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

What should you do if your child has a head injury but does not lose consciousness? This is what is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

For anything more than a light bump on the head, you should call your child’s doctor. The doctor will want to know when and how the injury happened and how your child is feeling.If your child is alert and responds to you, the head injury is mild and usually no tests or X-rays are needed.Your child may cry from pain or fright but this should last no longer than 10 minutes. You may need to apply a cold compress for 20 minutes to help the swelling go down and then watch your child closely for a time.

If there are any changes in your child’s condition call your doctor right away.You may need to bring your child to the doctor’s office or to the hospital.The following are signs of a more serious injury: Continue reading

Research looks at sugar sensors in the digestive system

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Your tongue isn’t the only part your body that can taste sweetness.

Three years ago, scientists discovered that our intestines and pancreas have receptors that can sense the sugars, glucose and fructose. This could revolutionize treatment for diabetics, who must closely monitor their blood sugar levels.

A drug called New-Met, made by Eleclyx Therapeutics in San Diego – that is now in phase II clinical trials – is attempting to do just that by targeting those sugar receptors in the digestive system.

It appears that these taste receptors are basically sensors for specific chemicals that can serve functions other than taste in other parts of the body, although we don’t know what all those functions are yet. We do know the function of the T1R2/T1R3 taste receptor found on some cells in the intestine. When they detect sugar molecules, these cells secrete hormones called incretins, which in turn stimulate insulin production in the pancreas. Continue reading

First, do no harm

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The father of medicine, Hippocrates, gave us the dictum, “Primum non nocere” meaning “First, do no harm.” The challenge is that many modern medical treatments, while offering benefits, also have a substantial potential list of risks.

For example, let me just take a couple of recent weight loss drugs and give you a sense of the warnings. Qysmia, approved in 2012, is a combination of phentermine/topiramate and costs $160 a month, lists potential kidney stones, cardiac damage, and risk of fetal malformation. Side effects are insomnia, irritability, numbness, constipation and dry mouth. The latest player, Contrave, was just approved in September, and is a combination of naltrexone/bupropion. Major warnings include risks of suicidal thoughts, seizures, blood pressure and cardiac problems, liver toxicity, eye damage from glaucoma, and low blood sugar. Other adverse reactions are nausea, constipation, headache, vomiting, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth and diarrhea.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

There is a big market for these products so other options include: prescription Xenical or Orlistat approved by the FDA in 1999. It costs $470 a month and basically causes you to poop out high fat in your diet. The over-the-counter variety, Alli, was approved in 2007 and is about $50 a month. Belviq or lorcaserin is about $213 a month and even Consumer Reports says to skip it. The cheapest of the pack is phentermine at $16 a month, basically a mild form of speed. All have significant side effects if you review the accompanying package handouts. Continue reading

Can measles save us from cancer?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Today, the words “measles,” “mumps” and “rubella” sound foreign to children.But before a vaccine prevented these three viruses, 3 million to 4 million American children contracted measles, a possibly serious respiratory disease that can lead to pneumonia, and 40 percent of them required hospitalization each year.

The vaccine is 95 percent effective, and in 2012 only 55 cases of measles were reported in the U.S., mostly due to traveling abroad. Now, a study has demonstrated that the measles virus might actually be a useful treatment — for cancer. It sounds strange — using one serious disease to fight off another — but scientists have found a way to direct the cell-killing powers of viruses to cancer cells.The use of viruses to destroy cancer cells, called oncolytic virotherapy, has been investigated since the 1950s. Other viruses such as herpes and pox have also been used as treatments for other diseases, but the measles virus’s potential to fight cancer is very promising.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., utilized a modified measles virus called MV-NIS. To create this version of the virus, scientists inserted a gene for the protein sodium iodide symporter. This protein helps concentrate iodine in the human thyroid. Therefore, when this genetically engineered measles virus infects tumor cells and replicates, it produces this protein that binds to and concentrates iodine. Continue reading

Getting some sunlight is good for you

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

As the days grow shorter, we become more aware of the role of light in our life. Light has certain obvious benefits. It keeps us from falling down and hurting ourselves or bumping into each other.

It activates vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, to keep our bones strong. Light feeds all our food crops and secondarily the animals that consume plants that serve as our food sources. We take light for granted. In fact without light, life as we know it would not exist. Yet, like so many things like water, dirt, gravity and oxygen that surround us, we often give it little thought or attention. Yet it has many more health benefits. At a recent integrative oncology meeting I attended, a psychiatrist who studies sleep and sleep disorders showed us her data on how light can be therapeutic. Her research subjects were women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy.

It turns out these women have significant disturbances in their sleep quality, getting worse with each week of chemotherapy. By the fourth week of therapy, they have major disruptions of their daily and nightly circadian rhythms. This causes severe fatigue and other negative effects on the immune system and healing response. In her studies, she exposed some women to light in the form of bright white light boxes and the control group to dim red light. The results were nothing less than dramatic. Continue reading

Are we close to making artificial blood?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

In the series “True Blood,” the invention of artificial blood allows vampires to live among humans without inciting fear. In the real world, however, artificial blood would have very different effects, as 85 million units of blood are donated worldwide and there is always a demand for more. An artificial blood substitute free of infectious agents that could be stored at room temperature and used on anyone regardless of blood type would be revolutionary.

That is exactly what a group of scientists at the University of Essex in England are working on, although the search for an artificial blood substitute started 80 years ago. All red blood cells contain a molecule called hemoglobin, which acquires oxygen from the lungs and distributes it to cells throughout the body. Their plan is to make an artificial hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier that could be used in place of blood. Continue reading

Bone health should be a lifelong pursuit

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

The last subject I dove into in this column was falling. I challenged all women to work on improving their physical balance to decrease their fall risk.I should have paid more attention to my topic.

On a recent visit to Asheville, N.C., I watched the sun rise over the Blue Ridge Mountains as wisps of fog nestled on the hilltops. The beauty called me. I grabbed my husband (thank goodness!) and marched off into the crisp mountain air.

Along one of the hillsides, my right foot landed on a mound of acorns in the dewy grass. As my foot rolled under me, I heard a pop. Something as simple as chasing beauty left me sidelined with a broken ankle.

Bones are dynamic tissues in our bodies. Building and maintaining the health of our 206 bones should be a lifelong goal. By 20, women generally reach their peak bone mass. That means it is crucial for young women to build strong bones with physical activity and adequate calcium intake in their youth. Continue reading

How clean is too clean?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Common knowledge and previous studies generally agree that children who grow up in the inner city and are exposed to mouse allergens, roach allergens and air pollutants are more likely to develop asthma and allergies. But a recent study adds a new twist — children exposed to these substances in their first year of life actually had lower rates of asthma and allergies. However, if these allergens were first encountered after age one, this protective effect did not exist.

Another study parallels this one, concluding that children growing up on farms also have lower allergy and asthma rates. Scientists argue that farm children are regularly exposed to microbes and allergens at an early age, leading to this same protective effect.

Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children. One in five Americans, or 60 million people, has asthma and allergies. In the industrialized world, allergic diseases have been on the rise for more than 50 years. Worldwide, 40-50 percent of school-age children are sensitive to one or more common allergens. Continue reading