A Vaccine Hero

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Despite the value of their work, scientists’ accomplishments don’t make them rich, and their talents generally don’t make them famous. For example, ever hear of Maurice R. Hilleman? Probably not, but most people are familiar with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine he invented.

Hilleman may have saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century – he created or contributed to the development of more than 25 vaccines! Vaccines are designed to safely stimulate the immune system to develop resistance to diseases caused by viruses and bacteria.

About 0.1 to 0.2 percent of children with measles, a highly contagious respiratory infection, die and an estimated 15 to 30 percent suffer complications such as pneumonia. Although the Food and Drug Administration approved a measles vaccine in 1963, hundreds of children were still dying. So Hilleman and a pediatrician named Joseph Stokes worked to minimize the significant side effects of the measles vaccine, which included fever and rash. Continue reading

Abstinence, but does it apply to football?

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Some years ago, I came across the concept of abstaining from the news for a week to help reduce my overall health and reduce my stress level. This included not reading the paper, watching news on TV, on the Internet or other media.

While it sounds challenging, “fasting” from news can be enormously relaxing. It also can leave us time for multiple other healthy pursuits during that time out from the usually bad news.

And as author Tom Robbins noted in his book “Another Roadside Attraction” back in the 1970s, “the international situation was desperate, as always.” Don’t worry about missing a week of news. When you come back, the situation will still be scary and critical. You’ve just given yourself a reprieve from it for a week!

But this is just the lead in to my main theme, which is abstinence from watching football on TV this year. Now this might seem downright unpatriotic, especially in Texas where football is akin to a religion. Continue reading

Yes, there is a weight-loss microbe living on and in us

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” Scientists would agree — man is more like a forest.

And just like the flora and fauna that call the forest home, each human body houses tons of other species in the form of microbes. In fact, most people have 10 times more microbes in and on them than their own cells!

These microscopic organisms live on skin, within the gastrointestinal tract, and inside mouths, helping the human body function and keeping it healthy. Now, new research shows that a certain microbe has huge influence on a person’s weight.

Science is just beginning to understand how the relationship between microbes and human cells, tissues, and organs contributes to good health. The key here is mutualism — the cooperation that benefits both the microbes and the human. Continue reading

Mercury rising

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

As a kid, I used to love to play with mercury. It is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, and as a junior chemist I enjoyed chasing little balls of glistening silver as they split into bits and then gathering them into a larger mass. This was more fun than any 10-year-old could imagine — at least any 10-year-old nerd chemist.

Mercury was used in those days in thermometers, blood pressure machines, vaccines and for a variety of industrial uses. It currently gets into the ocean from power plants and volcanic activity.

If you read “Alice in Wonderland,” you cannot help but remember the Mad Hatter. His madness, or neurological insanity, was based on an archetype of that era. Hatters used mercury to cure skins and make felt for hats. Over time, they inhaled or ingested enough mercury vapors to cause neurological damage creating a kind of dementia. Continue reading

Life-saving printers

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

3-D printers have proven capable of creating guns that actually fire bullets, pizza (although there’s no assurance of its taste), and now, livers. 3-D printing technology or stereolithography has been used to create miniature human livers, the first step toward producing full-sized livers and eliminating the long wait for a liver transplant.

3-D printing originated with the invention of the inkjet printer in 1976, which was then adapted to print with materials other than inks in 1984. The first machine to print in 3-D was created in 1992 to make objects by applying layer after layer of material governed by computer. By 2002, engineers and scientists developed methods to print biomaterials and make functional miniature kidneys. Since then, 3-D printers have been used to make cars, robotic aircraft, blood vessels, jewelry and even prosthetics. Continue reading

Treatment options for childhood cancer

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. During the last two weeks, we’ve discussed what cancer is and some of the common types of childhood cancers. This week we discuss the various treatment options, how they work and some of the side effects.

Doctors have three main treatment strategies to treat cancer: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Depending on the type of cancer and how much it has spread, the overall treatment may combine several of the different kinds of therapy. We’ve found it useful to explain cancer treatment with an analogy many people can easily relate to: fighting weeds in your yard.

When you discover a small cluster of weeds in the middle of your yard, you can probably successfully get rid of them by digging around the offending patch and pulling them out by the roots. This would be like removing a cancerous tumor with surgery. For some cancerous tumors discovered very early, surgical removal may be virtually all that is needed. There are inevitably some effects on the remainder of the organ involved, depending on the size of the tumor and extent of the surgery. Continue reading

Thalidomide: a nightmare revisited

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

While thalidomide is now being tapped for its cancer-fighting properties, it has a more notorious history. Starting in 1957, doctors recommended thalidomide as a mild over-the-counter sleeping pill supposedly safe enough for even pregnant women. That it also reduced morning sickness made it even more popular. The company that made thalidomide aggressively marketed the drug in 46 countries even after an employee’s wife who took the drug before its release gave birth to a child with no ears. Within two years, an estimated 1 million people in West Germany were taking the drug daily. However, thousands of babies born with severely malformed limbs revealed that this drug was not safe — but that connection was not made until 1961.

German pharmaceutical company Chemie Grünenthal GmbH originally developed thalidomide to treat convulsions, but users reported feeling sleepy. During testing, the company discovered that it was almost impossible to take enough thalidomide to be fatal. The company did not test the drug’s effects during pregnancy. Though thalidomide was approved for use in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration medical officer named Frances Oldham Kelsey denied its license because there was insufficient clinical evidence about its side effects. This decision limited the impact of the drug in America. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy awarded Kelsey the President’s Medal for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service. Continue reading

Leukemia, brain cancer most common type of childhood cancers

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 10,000children 15 and younger in the United States are diagnosed with various kinds of cancer each year.

Last week, we discussed what cancer is and how it begins when microscopic cells that make up a normal body part start growing out of control. This week, we discuss some of the different types of childhood cancer.

Leukemias are the most common, accounting for about one-third of all childhood cancers. Leukemia is a type of cancer that originates from white blood cells, which normally help fight infection.

Leukemia generally begins in the bone marrow where blood cells are formed, but eventually the cancerous cells are released out into the bloodstream so there is no distinct tumor. Continue reading

Hypnotics and sleep: Medicines that can help you

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

When you hear the word “hypnotize,” perhaps you think of a psychotherapy technique or even a stage act where someone is induced to bark like a dog while in a trance.

There is also a class of medications called hypnotics. The hypnotic drugs are very commonly prescribed for sleep disorders. They are heavily advertised as well.

I would like to educate you about some concerns that have been raised regarding the chronic use of these medicines, sold under trade names such as Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata.

Insomnia affects approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population and is a troubling condition for many people. Though sleep experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep nightly, American adults average only 6.9. Acute sleep deprivation for just a few days can cause mental, behavioral, metabolic, autonomic problems, and even a decrease in immune function leading to increased risk of infection. Continue reading

A top 10 list to die for

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

How are you going to die?

The Centers for Disease Control would answer that life expectancy depends greatly on where someone lives. Life expectancy in the United States ranks 40th in the world with 77.97 years. That addresses when someone might die but what about how? Most likely, it will be from one of these top 10 causes, based on how many Americans they kill each year.

10) Suicide – 38,285. Many factors are now known to influence suicide: mental illnesses, genetics, certain pharmaceuticals, traumatic brain injuries, drug and alcohol abuse and chemical or hormonal imbalances. To decrease these rates, education about the signs preceding suicide and accessible treatment is necessary.

9) Kidney Disorders – 45,731. Although dialysis can help people survive a little longer without a kidney, it is no cure. Kidney damage can occur from infection, high blood pressure, or toxic reactions to drugs, leading to chronic kidney disease that affects more than 26 million Americans. Continue reading