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Scary virus revived by scientists

In 1918, a man died of a vicious strain of “Spanish Flu” and was buried in the Alaskan tundra. Almost a century later, scientists found his well preserved body poking through some permafrost and decided to take tissue samples to a Canadian laboratory to thaw out the virus that killed the man.

Sounds like the beginning of a made-for-TV, horror movie, doesn’t it? Well, I wish it were fiction. This is a true story.

So why did the scientists revive this infectious menace? To see what it would do to modern day macaque monkeys, of course.

The BBC news reports:

“Symptoms appeared within 24 hours of exposure to the virus, and the subsequent destruction of lung tissue was so widespread that, had the monkeys not been put to sleep a few days later, they would literally have drowned in their own blood.”

Um… gross?

The scientists say,

“This research provides an important piece in the puzzle of the 1918 virus, helping us to better understand influenza viruses and their potential to cause pandemics.”

The BBC continues:

“Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M) revealed that a key component of the immune system, a gene called RIG-1 appeared to be involved.

Levels of the protein produced by the gene were lower in tissue infected with the 1918 virus, suggesting it had a method of switching it off, causing immune defenses to run wild. This ability to alter the body’s immune response is shared with the most recent candidate for mutation into a pandemic strain, the H5N1 avian flu.”

There is a final word from Dr. Jim Robertson, a British virologist:

“Many influenza virologists remain nervous about creating and experimenting with a reconstructed 1918 Spanish flu virus.”

Yeah, I’m nervous too.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Dermatologists more elusive than ever…

Thanks to med blogger Kevin MD for highlighting an interesting, though cynical, comment about the extended wait times that many people have in getting an appointment to see a dermatologist.

“It’s just as well that there’s a long wait. Someone who comes in with a rash is likely to be biopsied and end up with a scar. If they wait until an appointment is available the rash will probably have cleared up.”

The Boston Globe explains why consumers are having a hard time getting dermatologist appointments:

“In dermatology, the waits are created both by patient demand and, some believe, by dermatologists’ shifting their time to new, more lucrative or complex procedures. Public service campaigns have heightened fear of skin cancer, and melanoma cases are rising, meaning more people are seeking appointments.

At the same time, some dermatologists are devoting time to cosmetic procedures, or to skin cancer surgery that used to be done by general surgeons. Meanwhile, the federal government limits the number of residents hospitals can train, and hospitals would have to create more dermatology slots at the expense of other specialties. This means the number of dermatologists entering practice each year has remained flat, at about 300 nationally, making it difficult for practices to hire new doctors. Just as many have been retiring in the past five years.”

Have you had a hard time finding a dermatologist?


This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Sea algae: new weapon against HIV?

Interesting research ongoing in Brazil: Dr. Luiz Castello-Branco has spent the last 3 years studying the HIV-killing effects of a compound derived from algae. Apparently, in a Petrie dish of human cells, the algae reduces viral replication by 95%. Dr. Castello-Branco suggests that this algae could be added to a gel that women could use to protect themselves from HIV transmission during sexual contact. The algae will be tested in mice next month, and then human studies may begin as early as next year. Let’s all hope that the algae is as effective in humans as it seems to be in the lab! This could become a really great advance in HIV prevention.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Chewing gum drug could help curb obesity?

I came across a news headline: “Chewing gum drug could help curb obesity.”  I couldn’t help but be intrigued, so I decided to dig a little deeper.  The news release, as it turns out, is based upon the work of professor Steven R. Blum, a British researcher who is a consultant for many major pharmaceutical companies (Merck, GSK, Roche, Novartis, Pfizer, Astra-Zeneca, J&J and others).  In addition to owning stock in Thiakis, a new biopharmaceutical company created in 2004, the professor has just received 19 million dollars in VC money (and a 5 million dollar grant from the Wellcome Trust) to further investigate the use of pancreatic polypeptide – an appetite suppressing hormone – for the treatment of obesity.

The amount of money flowing into Blum’s research tells me one thing for sure – Big Pharma is placing a bet on gut hormones as the next big breakthrough in obesity management.  Whether this is money well spent, I’m not sure.  Leptin (an appetite suppressant hormone produced by fat cells) proved to be a big disappointment to researchers, as obese individuals proved to be resistant to leptin.  Pancreatic polypeptide also has a flaw that may prove to limit its use: it is rapidly broken down in the blood stream by enzymes, causing its appetite suppressing effects to be quite transitory.

Evidence to date is limited in humans (as far as I can tell previous studies have mostly focused on mice – I’ll let my GI colleagues correct me here) and Bloom cites a study in which 17 obese adults ate ~15 -25% less at a buffet after being injected with pancreatic polypeptide (compared to 18 others who were injected with saline).

I’d like to believe that gut hormones will lead to an appetite suppressing pill that will reverse or slow our obesity epidemic.  But I remain skeptical at this point.  What do other people think about this?


This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Understanding introverts

Here’s an excerpt from a timeless essay in the Atlantic Monthly about understanding and appreciating introverts. For the full article, click here.

“Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially ‘on,’ we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: ‘I’m okay, you’re okay—in small doses.’”


This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

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