Why don’t we bite our tongues?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Why don’t we normally bite our tongues when we eat? A recent study found that two types of cells in brain, the premotor neurons and motoneurons, work together to coordinate the movements of the jaw and tongue, so that you do not usually bite your own tongue.

We can control chewing consciously, but otherwise it works automatically. Coordination of jaw and tongue muscles during eating is one of the most intricate mechanisms of the motor system in animals and humans. The coordination concerns both the timing and the sequence of muscle activation, in order to achieve the smooth and effective motions required when eating.

Three basic systems must be coordinated when eating. First, activity of the left and right jaw muscles must be symmetrical. Second, the tongue must be coordinated to position food between the teeth while the jaw moves the teeth to break down the food during chewing. Finally, jaw opening and tongue protrusion must be coordinated with jaw closing and tongue retraction to prevent the tongue from getting in between rows of sharp teeth.

Muscles in the jaw and tongue are controlled by brain cells called motoneurons, and those are then controlled by premotor neurons. The previously unsolved mystery was exactly which premotor neurons connect to which motoneurons, which then control muscles. To find the answer, scientists engineered a rabies virus to map the signals that control chewing. The bullet-shaped rabies virus was useful for this study because it infects muscle cells and peripheral neurons and moves rapidly up the nerves to the central nervous system, where it replicates in the brain. Continue reading

Are you ready for participatory medicine?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Imagine if public use of social media influenced health care in the United States. The result would be medical care that’s more patient-centric and data-driven.

Luckily, we don’t have to wait for these two platforms to converge because it’s already on the horizon. Called participatory medicine, it’s based on four components termed P4: preventive, predictive, personalized and participatory. This focuses on the patient, not just as a recipient of care, but as an active and contributing part of maintaining health and diagnosing, and treating disease.

Think of participatory medicine as a team sport that includes a patient, patient groups, specialized social networks, the entire care team and clinical researchers. All team members have access to the patient’s data and participate equally in making decisions. Continue reading

Rainforest is a reservoir for new medicines

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

On a recent trip to Brazil, I immersed myself in an exploration of the richly diverse Amazonian rain forest. I was awed to learn that so many of the plants that filled this paradise have been used throughout human history to make medicines, poisons, hallucinogens, rubber, building materials and so much more.

While it makes sense that native people use the plants to support their lives, it is astonishing to learn that approximately 70 percent of the new drugs introduced in our country in the past 25 years are derived from nature. Despite the expanding sophistication of bioengineering, Mother Nature retains the crown as the world’s greatest drug engineer.

The indigenous healers in the Northwest Amazon have used more than1,300 species of plants for medicinal purposes. Today, pharmacologists and ethnobotanists work with native shamans to identify potential drugs for further development. Continue reading

Always tired? Here are 5 things to check

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

“Doc, I just feel tired all the time.”

This is the kind of vague complaint, along with dizziness, that challenges every physician. Such patients often show up on a Friday afternoon or mention the fatigue at the end of a visit for other matters. The issue is so common, yet complex, that up to 40 percent of those suffering from chronic fatigue may never receive a specific diagnosis.

Our medical students are trained to make sure a fatigue complaint isn’t caused by anemia or low thyroid. While these certainly can be a factor, it is rare to find the answer to chronic fatigue with a simple blood test.

Many medical conditions can cause fatigue. Loss of organ reserve in vital organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, adrenal glands, and kidney can all lead to fatigue. Chronic infections, cancer, chronic pain, poorly controlled diabetes, obesity, and sleep apnea make up a partial list of well over a hundred identifiable medical causes for fatigue. Continue reading

Quick diagnosis for early treatment

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

The time it takes to test for the cause of an infection ranges from minutes to weeks. A new generation of biosensors may change that, as they are being developed to identify the viral, bacterial or fungal origin of an illness within a few hours, allowing physicians to begin the correct treatment sooner.

Many infections have symptoms that resemble the flu, such as HIV, the fungal infection coccidioidomycosis, Ebola and even anthrax. This makes it very difficult to make a diagnosis. The emergence of new microbial pathogens such as SARS and MERS and bacterial resistance to antibiotics only adds to the fight against infectious agents. Scientists like Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch developed the traditional method for diagnosing infectious diseases about 150 years ago, and modern methods have improved their discoveries. Continue reading

Five tips for handling those holiday blues

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

This is the time of year when everyone is acting cheerful and happy, so why do I feel blue?

Just know you are not alone. The holiday blues are a common phenomenon and may seem paradoxical in just the time of the year when we are in the midst of planning to enjoy friends, family, feasts and fun.

In fact, this is not always such a cheerful time for some. Those who have lost family members, those who are financially stretched, or those who already feel their life activities are too stressful may not look forward to the holidays.

Holding unrealistic expectations that everything will go perfectly is another source of inner stress. Such thoughts, beliefs and feelings may even be internalized as physical symptoms: chest pain may show up from emotional heartache, headache could represent repressed anger, or backache concerns about lack in financial according to some metaphysical interpretations. Continue reading

Select toys that are safe, age appropriate for children

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was created in 1973 to develop safety regulations for all consumer products. The CPSC spends more than half of its budget every year testing children’s toys, as well as other items on the market for children.

When buying presents for your child, select toys that are age-appropriate. No matter how mature you think that your child is, he or she should not play with toys that are meant for an older age group. Age-appropriate levels for toys are determined by safety factors rather than by intellectual and developmental factors. Continue reading

Basic guidelines to internet safety

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

The Internet can be a valuable resource for both adults and children, but there are potential dangers for children when it comes to the Internet. A child may come across material that is sexual, hateful, violent or otherwise inappropriate. Also, some websites ask visitors to enter personal information. Parents should not allow their children to enter personal information without first finding and reviewing the site’s privacy policy, which websites are required to provide to visitors, if they ask for personal information. Here are some basic Internet guidelines for you and your child: Continue reading

The inside story on natural gas

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

A topic rarely discussed in polite company is the production, distribution and dissemination of natural gas. This is the kind of gas produced by the fermentation and digestion of food in the human intestinal tract. In medical terms, it is referred to as flatus. Our gut bacteria and microbiome processes along with swallowed air results in about 1-2 liters of gas daily. This is largely odorless nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide.

The gas is aroma-fied by sulfides, methane and tiny amounts of cadaverine, putrescine and butyric acid. This is the stinky stuff. Men and women both produce about equal amounts, though women tend to be more, shall we say, polite and secretive about expelling it. In my medical practice, “excess gas” is a common complaint. This is often attributable to benign factors such improper mix of gut bacteria, gas producing foods such as beans and legumes, foods from the cabbage family, and common offenders such as cucumbers, celery, apples, carrots, onions and garlic.

While healthy, a high fiber diet can initially cause increased gas.Medical conditions such a gall bladder disease, anxiety from swallowing too much air during panic attacks, and small bowel bacterial overgrowth, and medications can be contributing factors. Continue reading

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