Drug in clinical trials could help Alzheimer’s

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

More than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, the sixth leading cause of death. Unfortunately, a comprehensive review found that four Alzheimer’s drugs had short-term benefits that are lost after a year and a half of treatment. However, there is some hope in a new drug called aducanumab, which sharply reduced cognitive decline in patients with early symptoms of dementia in a small clinical trial.

Dementia is a neurological condition with a broad range of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to perform daily functions. It is diagnosed when there are significant impairments in memory, communication, language, judgment, reasoning, visual perception and the ability to focus or pay attention. It is usually progressive, so patients steadily lose their cognitive abilities and require increasing levels of care. Patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which accounts for about 60-80 percent of dementias, live an average of eight to 10 years after their symptoms begin. Continue reading

Beneficial mutations as sources of new treatment

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

The word mutation doesn’t have the best reputation — most people think of the army of mutants featured in X-Men and other science fiction. There is some basis for the uniformly negative connotation: genetic mutations cause cancer, mutations in bacteria cause antibiotic resistance and many human diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia are the result of mutations in just a single gene. But that doesn’t mean mutations can’t be good for us too.

A mutation is a change in your DNA sequence, altering your genetic code. We are all born with some genetic mutations, which we inherit from our parents. We also acquire genetic mutations from our lifestyles. For example, exposure to UV or other types of radiation can cause changes in your DNA. Some mutations even occur as mistakes during the normal duplication of your DNA as cells divide. Since we have two copies of each of our genes, we can often tolerate one bad or mutated gene — most genetic diseases require two bad copies of the gene to cause symptoms. Continue reading

Healing stories

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Stories can heal both speaker and listener. Last week, I attended an incredible event at UTMB’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in which a roomful of burn survivors met with OLLI lifestory writers who had volunteered to write down the survivors’ stories.

The stories will be collected in a book to describe the survivors’ grief, despair, shame and pain as well as their courage, love, social support, faith and the perseverance that pulled them through. These stories will chronicle the suffering, incredible challenges and how people not only survived, but thrived in their lives after serious burns. The finished anthology will be shared with every Blocker Burn Unit patient new to the trauma of being burned and to whom hearing others’ stories can bring hope.

Conceived by UTMB’s Family Medicine social worker, Amy Barrera-Kovach, who formerly spent 17 years working in the Blocker Burn Unit, it is a joint effort with OLLI at UTMB — Health. It has been funded as a two-year project by UTMB’s President’s Cabinet: “Burn Survivors’ Journeys: Real Stories of Challenges, Strength, and Triumph.” Continue reading

No evidence homeopathy works

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Many families rely on homeopathy, an alternative or complementary form of health care. Until now, there has been little scientific data to support or debunk their use. However, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council reviewed scientific evidence of the use of homeopathy in treating a variety of clinical conditions, and concluded that there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.

While conventional medicine is now commonly accepted, complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) have persisted throughout history. Homeopathy is the oldest form of CAM from Europe. It originated with the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who lived from 1755-1843. He stumbled upon the cinchona, the bark of a South American tree that was used by the indigenous people to treat fevers. Among the active ingredients in the bark is quinine, which is still used to treat malaria. If a healthy person took cinchona, it mimicked malaria with mild, intermittent fevers not associated with any pathology. In 1796 and 1810, Hahnemann published essays on the two theories of homeopathy: substances that cause illnesses or symptoms in people can be used in small doses as treatment, and molecules in a solution can be highly diluted and the solution will retain a “memory” of that molecule. Supporters of homeopathy viewed it as a safe, patient-centered system that was simple and easy to understand. Hahnemann claimed he could cure any and all illnesses using homeopathic principles. Continue reading

Back to school tips: How to handle a bully

Dr. Sally Robinson

Dr. Sally Robinson

Keeping Kids Healthy

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Back to School Tips discusses bullying. Bullying or cyberbullying is when one child picks on another child repeatedly. Bullying can be physical, verbal or social. It can happen at school, on the playground, on the school bus, in the neighborhood, over the Internet or through mobile devices like cellphones.
When your child is bullied the Academy suggests the following:

• Look the bully in the eye

• Stand tall and stay calm

• Walk away

•Teach your child how to speak in a firm voice. Continue reading

The doctor healer track at UTMB

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Today, I describe an antidote to loss of empathy during medical school, an all too common casualty of medical education. One study showed that up to 70 percent of graduating medical students entering internship met clinical criteria for “burn out.” This results in depersonalization, loss of human connection, and decreases in motivation, compassion, and empathy. It is a catastrophic, unhealthy cascade.

Medical educators strive to prevent such a negative outcome while still being charged with producing highly skilled, qualified, and competent medical graduates.

One approach that is now in its third year of trial at UTMB is the Physician Healer Track. Early student feedback shows it is effective in improving their professional skills and personal lives on multiple levels.

The Physician Healer Track was conceived and developed by UTMB School of Medicine faculty Drs. Cara Geary, Julie McKee, Susie Gerik, Era Buck, and Lee Grumbles. The course is supported by the efforts of a couple dozen other dedicated volunteer physician educators. The focus is to take students starting in year one of medical school into intimate and highly personal experiences that improve empathy, stress resilience, self-compassion, mindfulness, self-awareness, and improved communication skills. Continue reading

The Myopia pandemic

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

You’ve probably heard of pandemics — the plague, influenza, HIV — but you might not have seen coverage of the growing myopia pandemic. Before you consider bathing in sanitizer, you should know that myopia isn’t contagious. Another word for it is nearsightedness.

Myopia is a condition in which close objects are seen clearly but distant objects are blurred due to the elongation of the eye or too much curvature of the cornea. This causes light entering the eye to focus in front of the retina rather than on it. Myopia is different from hyperopia, which is the kind of nearsightedness that comes from growing older. In fact, the myopia pandemic is primarily affecting young people.

It currently affects 90 percent of the young adults in China, although 60 years ago it was 10-20 percent. In the United States and Europe it affects about half of all young adults, double what it was 50 years ago. Seoul has the highest incidence: 96.5 percent of young people in South Korea’s capital have myopia. An estimated 2.5 billion people will experience myopia by 2020. Continue reading

How to prevent backpack-related injuries

Dr. Sally Robinson

Dr. Sally Robinson

Keeping Children Healthy

The American Academy of Pediatrics made the following recommendations about backpack safety in 2014.
Backpacks are great for kids to carry items back and forth from school to home, but backpacks that weigh more than 15 percent of your child’s body weight may cause health problems for your child. Neck, shoulder and back pain may develop from carrying a heavy backpack everyday.

The spine is made of 33 bones (called vertebrae) that have disks in between them that act as natural shock absorbers. A child carrying an unusually heavy backpack leans their head and chest forward to compensate for the weight of the pack, which puts stress on the back and neck. If your child uses only one strap to carry their backpack, the spine’s natural shock absorption ability is reduced because only one side is carrying the weight and your child will end up leaning to one side to make up for the extra weight in the pack.

When choosing a backpack check to make sure that it has two wide, padded straps that fit over your child’s shoulders, a padded waist or chest belt that will distribute weight more evenly across the body, multiple compartments to distribute weight, and does not have a width greater than the child’s chest. Continue reading

Obesity and diabetes: Is your gut in control?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Your body is like a forest, providing a home to microscopic flora and fauna. In fact, your body is home to up to 100 times more microbes than your own cells, which make up your microbiome. While we provide them residence, these microbes help us out by providing a first line of defense against disease trying to invade our bodies, even breaking down food during digestion and producing vitamins. Now, the microbes that live in the digestive tract are helping us understand diabetes better.

According to the Human Microbiome Project sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the microbiome plays a huge role in human health. When the microbiome is altered or unbalanced, it can cause conditions like obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, skin disease, urogenital infection, allergy and can even affect emotion and behavior. Continue reading

The benefits of empathy

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Clinical empathy is defined as “a cognitive attribute that involves an ability to understand the patient’s inner experiences and perspective and a capability to communicate this understanding.”

If this seems like something you would like to have in your physician or other health care provider, it is for a good reason. There have been a number of studies that show that besides the sense of connection you will have with someone showing empathy, there are measurable improvements in clinical outcomes. Continue reading