Well, I realized that the medical file was bulging and since I’ve got several items that have some relevance for us islanders, I figured it was time to dig in the back and pull out some wonderful things!
We certainly do a lot of flying in these islands and I’m sure we all have our little tales of horror about some of our incredibly long flights. It’s hard to top my worst because I was in the air between Tokyo and Chicago when the planes went into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. What happened afterwards was a tale of legendary proportions!
SICK ON A PLANE
I suspect we’ve all been on flights where someone became ill. Our first little item is on in-flight emergencies. Scientists researched the data on the number, type and frequency of medical emergencies on board two airlines.
Michael Sand led a team of researchers from UCLA who analyzed 10,189 different emergencies. He said, “The breakdown of the various medical emergencies encountered in our study showed that fainting was by far the most frequent medical condition, followed by stomach upsets, and heart conditions”.
In all, the authors found 5307 cases of fainting (53.5%), 926 cases of gastrointestinal problems (8.9%) and 509 cases related to a cardiac condition (4.9%). The highly publicized problem of deep vein thrombosis accounted for a very small number of cases, although they do occur most often after a flight, rather than during. The authors said, “Surgical illnesses accounted for a minor percentage of all on-board emergencies. There were 47 cases of thrombosis (0.5%), 27 appendicitis cases (0.25%) and just one case of gastrointestinal bleeding (less than 0.1 %). There were two births and 52 deaths”.
The authors also stated that there are major problems with record keeping about in-flight emergencies. Out of 32 airlines approached to take part, 27 did not have the data available, one had data that was unsuitable and two refused to take part due to company policy. Sand said, “Standardization of in-flight medical emergency reporting is necessary for further larger studies to be conducted, as the current quality of data is poor”.
The limited scope of the data available makes it difficult to make strong recommendations based on the information, but the authors do note that not all of the airlines had defibrillators as part of their medical flight kits. Sand said, “Considering the fact that cardiac conditions were the third most common condition seen in this study, patients with cardiac irregularities may profit from an on-board automatic external defibrillator. The same is true for patients with a suspected myocardial infarction."
Hmmm, I don’t find this particularly reassuring, I’m afraid. With all that money we pay for tickets to be trapped in a tin box for eight to twelve hours, it would be nice to know that our health care was a little higher on the list.
The next news is significantly better. I suspect that many of my readers take the drug called Glucophage, also known by its generic name metformin. Glucophage means “eats sugar” and it’s traditionally given to diabetics and pre-diabetics. It’s cheap and effective and doctors routinely prescribe it for their older patients. I take two metformin tablets every day.
NOT JUST FOR DIABETES ANYMORE
Researchers at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that metformin increases the efficiency of the immune system’s T-cells, which in turn makes cancer and virus-fighting vaccines more effective.
The specialized white blood cells of the human immune system known as "T-cells" remember pathogens they encountered in previous infections or vaccinations. This ‘memory’ enables them to fight subsequent infections much faster and it’s been the subject of intense study for many years, but until now scientists didn’t really understand how it worked.
Researchers have discovered that many of the same genes that are involved in sugar metabolism and diabetes are also involved in cancer progression. Research data also indicate that diabetics are more prone to certain cancers. This study is the first to suggest that targeting the same metabolic pathways that play a role in diabetes can also alter how well the immune system functions.
The scientists discovered that the metabolizing, or burning, of fatty acids by T-cells following the peak of infection is critical to establishing immunological memory. They used metformin, which operates on fatty-acid metabolism, to enhance this process, and their experiments on mice have shown that metformin increases T-cell memory as well as the ensuing protective immunity of an experimental anti-cancer vaccine.
We don’t really tend to link cancer and diabetes but recent advances have uncovered common links between them, in particular how metabolic pathways, the basic chemical reactions in our cells, are controlled in these diseases. The results suggest that common diabetic therapies that alter cellular metabolism may enhance T-cell memory, providing a boost to the immune system. This could lead to novel strategies for vaccine and anti-cancer therapies.
So, keep taking your metformin. It may be better for you than anyone realized! And along the lines of “it may be better for you than anyone realized”, let’s also add vinegar. Yes, vinegar, that lovely cooking condiment and maker of pickles that’s also one of the best cleaners around in our limestone-dominated world here on Guam. Read on!
Researchers in Japan are reporting new evidence that the ordinary vinegar may live up to its age-old reputation in folk medicine as a health promoter. They report new evidence that vinegar can help prevent the accumulation of body fat and weight gain.
Tomoo Kondo and his colleagues note in the new study that vinegar has been used as a folk medicine since ancient times. Modern scientific research suggests that acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, may help control blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and fat accumulation.
Their new study showed that laboratory mice fed a high-fat diet and given acetic acid developed significantly less body fat (up to 10 percent less) than other mice.
The new research suggests acetic acid fights fat by turning on genes that regulate fatty acid metabolism. The genes churn out proteins involved in breaking down fats, thus suppressing body fat accumulation in the body.
Found in many salad dressings, pickles, and other foods, vinegar could help prevent accumulation of body fat and weight gain, scientists report. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
So, we’ve had some feel-good stuff about how taking common things is good for you, now how about some information about how you can be good for other people. We’ve all lost loved ones to diseases that could be cured if only there were enough scientists, enough researchers, enough money to devote to finding those cures. Well, now YOU can be that scientist, that researcher and it won’t cost you a thing.
SETI FOR DISEASES
Several years ago, astronomers developed a program that allowed your home computer to sift through mountains of data gathered by radio telescopes to see if there was any signal that seemed regular and possibly generated by an alien society. Although the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) astronomers haven’t found any alien signals yet, their idea of using home computers to parse data and the number of people who signed up to do it has not been lost on other researchers.
Not using your computer at the mome
nt? You can now donate your computer’s idle time to cutting-edge biomedical research aimed at finding a cure for HIV, Parkinson’s, arthritis, and breast cancer. Through the University of Delaware’s “Docking@Home” project, led by Michela Taufer, more than 6,000 volunteers worldwide are donating their computer’s idle time to perform scientific calculations that will aid in creating new and improved medicines to thwart these major diseases.
Before new drugs can be produced for laboratory testing, researchers must create molecular models and simulate their interactions to reveal possible candidates for effective drugs. This simulation is called “docking”.
Since the combinations of molecules and their binding orientations are nearly infinite, simulating as many combinations as possible requires tremendous computing power. Supercomputers often have long waiting lists or are too expensive to use for extended periods. Thus, medical researchers have turned to citizen volunteers for help. Using their personal computers, the scientists can distribute the hundreds of thousands of computing tasks across a large number of computers.
Volunteering your computer’s idle time to do these calculations takes only a few simple steps highlighted on the project Web page (http://docking.cis.udel.edu/). You install a free, software program called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing), and link up to the Docking Server at the University of Delaware to become part of the network. Your computer’s idle cycles are accessed automatically when you’re not using your system.
The BOINC software also is in use for such programs as IBM’s World Community Grid, which focuses on diseases caused by the mis-folding of proteins, and SETI@Home, which is searching for signs of intelligent life outside Earth.
Currently, the 6,000 volunteers worldwide who currently are involved in UD’s Docking@Home project are contributing to the completion of some 30,000 docking tasks per day.
Kevin Kreiser, a third-year graduate student at the University of Delaware is developing software that will allow volunteers to “throw” a molecule right into a protein using a Nintendo Wii. “Other people do yoga with a Wii,” Taufer notes, smiling. “We’re doing science.”