The Zen of safer driving

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Driving a car actually takes a lot of skills. It is a daily example of complex multi-tasking.

Since most of us have been doing it so long, it can seem automatic. Yet just think of how many tasks — or switches between what we are paying attention to — happen as we drive.

We glance at the dash, the mirrors, gauge the speed and location of our vehicle and those around us, accelerate, brake, read road signs and so forth.

Now that is just the driving part. It doesn’t include drinking a beverage, adjusting the sound system or answering a phone call.

Having worked in emergency rooms for many years, I have seen some horrific outcomes of poor driving, intoxication, distraction, poor road conditions, equipment malfunctions and bad judgment. Continue reading

Putting Your Bacteria to Work

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

A biotech startup company called uBiome has adopted the concept of crowdsourcing, using the Internet to rally people around a cause, for research on the human microbiome. The microbiome is all the microscopic flora and fauna that live in and on the human body. Humans have 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells. But science is just beginning to understand the populations of the microbiome and how they affect a person’s health for good or bad.

What science already knows about the microbiome comes from the $173 million government-funded Human Microbiome Project. This project took five years and researchers collected and sequenced the microbiome of 250 healthy people. It proved there are at least 1,000 different types of bacteria present on every person. The National Institutes of Health has made the four terabytes of data from this project available to all researchers via the Microbiome Cloud Project. Continue reading

Poisons can be found all throughout the house

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

It’s important for parents to remember that not all poisons are in the garage or basement.

A number of poisons can be found throughout the house. Small children are both curious and fast, so parents have to exercise special care not to leave dangerous products open or within their reach.

Take a tour of your house or apartment to see if some of these dangerous conditions exist.

  • In the kitchen, check that all detergents, bleaches, cleaners and especially drain cleaners, as well as soaps and bug killers are not under the sink in an unlocked cupboard, but up high in a cupboard with a childproof lock.
  • Products containing lye are extremely dangerous. Don’t keep these in your home. Keep alcoholic drinks up out of the reach of children.
  • Buy products with childproof or child-resistant caps. Opening them should require thumb pressure beyond the ability of small children.
  • In the bathroom, besides checking that soaps are out of reach, keep medicines, cosmetics, colognes, toothpaste and mouthwashes out of reach — and preferably locked up.
  • Don’t leave pills in open bottles or in a dish of “the day’s dose of medicine.” Make sure all product labels are clear — both on medicine and on products that might be found anywhere in the house. In an emergency, you will need to know what product was involved. Continue reading

Why Do We Cheat?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Even a child can explain why cheating is wrong. Students are well-warned about the consequences that ensue, and adults know the legal implications. Yet cases of cheating continue to emerge in classrooms, boardrooms and newsrooms. People cheat on tests, for sports and in elections. Why? Microbiologists Ferric C. Fang and Arturo Casadevall attempted to answer this question by exploring the causes of cheating and why people deceive to get ahead.

Cheating is not unique to any area of society. Seventy-five percent of university students surveyed had cheated, one-third of scientists surveyed admitted to irregularities in their research practices, and an estimated 1.6 million Americans cheat on their taxes. Cheating isn’t even exclusive to humans — even single-celled organisms can “steal” products made by others.

The size of a particular part of the brain called the neocortex is directly related to an animal’s intelligence. It is also responsible for conscious thought and language. Additionally, the size of the neocortex is predictive of the degree that animals engage in deception. The more intelligent the animal, the more it exhibits deceptive behavior. Continue reading

You only need a cleaver and a small knife in the kitchen

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Do you remember “Leave it to Beaver,” the 1950s-60s show with the quintessential suburban American family

Beaver was an 8-year-old with more existential crises than any 8-year-old deserves. His punk older brother, Wally, was always in trouble, and neither his mother, June, nor his dad, Ward, would ever, despite their surname, at least on TV, wield a cleaver.

The cleaver is a large, flat-bladed cutting instrument and, as I grew up, my exposure to cleavers was limited to butchers holding a big one threateningly to cut up a dead animal or maniacs using cleavers to dismember their victims, sometimes their own family members. None of that for the wholesome Beaver and his Cleaver family.

None of these images left me with a great feeling about cleavers. Nor did my folks even own one. We killed our chickens with a regular hand hatchet. So when I got one as part of a knife set, I slid it into the back of my drawer not to be seen again for five years.

Then, not long back, I discovered the surprising and easy-to-use aspects of the cleaver for preparation of healthy food. Continue reading

Learn the lessons of the garden angels

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Something magical happens during that springtime ritual of turning over a spade of dirt in the garden. Garden angels seem to appear from wherever they have been hiding all winter.

While digging in the garden last weekend, I had somewhat of an epiphany due, I believe, to their visitation.

As a lifelong gardener, I have always found deep pleasure and satisfaction in getting dirt under my fingernails, putting seeds in a little line and seeing them sprout next to neatly labeled signs or seed envelopes, and ultimately enjoying the fruits of homegrown produce.

Last week, my granddaughter Serenity, now almost 6, and I played with mixing soil in a big container, set out Gerber Daisies, which seem to bloom forever, and decided where the tomatoes would go. She helped me choose how my colorful new tomato cages — bright purple, yellow, orange, and red from Tom’s Thumb — would be artistically arranged.

I enjoy introducing her each spring to the joys of gardening as part of the cycle and rhythm of life.

So while digging and weeding and planting, several metaphysical principles came to me that I wish to share. Continue reading

Violence against women hurts us all

Dr. Jeff Temple

Dr. Jeff Temple

The arrest in recent weeks of more than 30 fugitives wanted in Harris County on domestic violence charges should bring home the fact that intimate partner violence is widespread. Last year, and the year before, the Harris County District Attorney’s office filed more than 10,500 cases of domestic violence. Thirty people were killed in cases of domestic violence in the county, the most in the state.

Violence against women is a pervasive and widespread plague on our society – one that crosses geographic, economic and racial lines. In the United States alone, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.3 million women each year are victims of physical violence at the hands of their partners; one in four will be physically assaulted by a boyfriend or husband in her lifetime. Texas is no exception to this problem.

While men also are victims of family violence, women overwhelmingly are the targets. In 2012, which saw nearly 200,000 instances of family violence, 114 women were killed by their partner in the Lone Star State. Continue reading

Human memory might be able to be altered in the future

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

In the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” people can request a medical procedure that targets memories pertaining to a specific subject or person and change or delete them.

Several characters choose to have their memories of unrequited love and failed relationships erased.

While the plot is purely fictional, new research does provide intriguing new details on how memories are stored and how they might be manipulated.

Memories are stored in the temporal lobe and the hippocampus of the brain. Experiences produce physical and chemical changes in specific brain cells.

Connections between brain cells that help with memory storage also can change. Scientists can identify the precise cells in a network involved with a specific experience. These are called memory traces or engrams.

Nobel Prize winner Susumu Tonegawa and his team wanted to explore how these memory traces are stored in cells. They used cells from the hippocampus that contained a light-sensitive protein called channelrhodopsin. Continue reading

Organ Farming

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News
Imagine that a patient needs an organ, like an airway to the lungs called a trachea. A scientist harvests some of the patient’s cells and attaches them to a scaffold the proper shape and size for the tube. The cells and scaffolds are placed into a tissue reactor and — ta da! — in a week or two there is an organ ready for the surgeon to transplant into the patient. While it sounds like a chapter from “Brave New World,” this science fiction scenario is a growing reality.

Bladders and ears have been grown in the laboratory, and hearts, eyes and kidneys and other organs are in progress. These organs are close to the natural ones they’re copying — some even have their own immune system. In April 2013, surgeons at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois implanted a bioengineered trachea into a 2-year-old child. This was the first surgery of its kind in the United States and one of only six worldwide.

The patient receiving the transplant was a girl named Hannah Warren who was born without a trachea, commonly called a windpipe. Since birth, she’s had a plastic pipe inserted in her mouth that went down into her lungs, allowing her to breathe. She could not eat normally or even speak. With few options available, this type of congenital defect has always meant an early death; only a few children live past the age of 6. Continue reading

Add to value of your lives as a couple

Drs. Victor & Michelle Sierpina

Drs. Victor & Michelle Sierpina

Walking by a beautiful garden, you admire how lovely it looks. How did it get that way?

Of course, the neighbors tended it carefully over the seasons — pruning, weeding, planting, fertilizing and watering.

As a result, they created a wonderful space for themselves and all who pass by to appreciate.

Much the same can be said about a successful marriage. Good relationships, friendships, partnerships and especially marriages require that we — like that dedicated gardener — give the time, mindful effort and hard work to make the magic happen.

Since we married decades ago, Michelle and I have made it a practice to invest time daily in growing our little corner of the marriage world.

Our marriage commitment has involved a number of shared activities that, like that gardener, add to the value of our lives together.

These have included time each morning reading devotional and inspirational literature, journaling and meditating together. At the end of the day, we take time to debrief, listening mindfully to each others’ experiences — the joys, sorrows, challenges and blessings, along with the hopes and dreams. Continue reading