Tag Archives: treatment

Regrowing Spinal Tissue

Spinal cord injuries are generally regarded as impossible to recover from. The spinal cord is responsible for connecting the brain to most of the body, providing the pathways through which the brain sends signals to the muscles in the arms, legs, and other areas, and receives information from these areas—touch sensations, when a person feels something on the skin. When the spinal cord is injured, these communications are disrupted, and the brain can not communicate as effectively—or at all—with these areas. There are 12,000 new cases of spinal cord injury every year in the United States, generally from automobile accidents, falls, violence, and sports injuries, and most result in permanent paralysis and sensory problems.

Now researchers have found a way to help recovery, and have successfully saved at least one patient’s spine. The researchers used olfactory stem cells to regenerate damaged tissue. The cells were taken from the scent receptors in the nose, an area in which cells are regularly damaged and regularly repaired by the body. Because of this, the tissue could be removed from the olfactory bulb and would be regenerated as part of the ordinary repair process; it also meant that thee cells, which are designed to regenerate and which, being stem cells, are not locked into any specific function, could grow new spinal cord tissue when used there. Though none of the patients in which this was tried made a complete recovery, all three experimental subjects showed a significant degree of recovery and gained back at least some of the lost function.

The most successful procedure was done in a Bulgarian man named Darek Fidyka, who’d had his spinal cord entirely severed in a knife attack, and became completely paralyzed from the chest down. As a result of his injuries, he’d been unable to move or feel anything below his rib cage. Fidyka was the most severely injured of the three patients in the study, and according to doctors, he is believed to be the first person ever to recover from such an injury. From total paralysis, he has recovered to the point that he can walk, with the help of a walker, and drive a car.

Blue Light Special

Type 2 diabetes develops during the course of a person’s lifetime. It is the type that used to be called "adult-onset diabetes," though that term was dropped as more and more children started developing the disease. It differs from type 1, however, in that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease present from a very young age. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include being thirsty unusually often and wounds that heal notably slowly, as well as increased appetite and fatigue.

A consequence of the differences between the types of diabetes is that type 2 diabetes is preventable. It generally strikes smokers and people who are overweight, sedentary, or both. In addition, chronically elevated blood sugar often progresses to diabetes. It is particularly important for people to take preventative measures if hey carry fat in the abdomen as opposed to other parts of the body, if they are over 45, or if they have a family history of type 2 diabetes. Prevention means losing weight, getting active, quitting smoking, and adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to the diet.

Another possible preventative measure is to get sunshine. Recent research suggests that vitamin D, which is create in the human body in response to sunlight, does not have any effect on diabetes. However, sunlight does seem to be beneficial in other ways, researchers said. In addition ti making vitamin D, sunlight triggers the release of nitric oxide in the skin, which has a beneficial effect on diabetes. In fact, a topical cream that includes nitric oxide was found to have a similar effect.

In another study, a blue light was found to enhance the effectiveness and precision of certain diabetes medications. In fact, the medication is activated or deactivated by the light, making it easier to calibrate dosage. Although diabetes medication is necessary to prevent blood sugar levels from getting too high, there is a risk of the medication working too well, causing blood sugar to be dangerously low. New patients are particularly prone to this problem. With the light-activated medication, there would be more tolerance in dosing, since the drug could be activated only when and to the extent needed.

Unusual Treatments For A Gastrointestinal Illness

Intestinal flora are microbes living in every human being's digestive tract that do the grunt work of digestion; they play an important role in breaking down the food people eat. These microbiota are also a part of the immune response, helping the immune system learn to properly distinguish friend from foe. One type of these microbes is a bacterium called Clostridium difficile. Normally, there is only a small population of this bacterium in the gut. When, however, other gut microflora are reduced or eliminated, typically by antibiotics, C. diff can get out of control, growing unchecked and causing serious illness. Symptoms of this include watery diarrhea, fever, and nausea. In some cases, a C. diff infection can result in colitis.

It can also result from colitis, as inflammatory bowel disease can trigger a C. diff infection. Abdominal or gastrointestinal surgery is another possible cause, particularly in patients who have experienced an infection already. A type of drug called a proton pump inhibitor is often prescribed for chronic indigestion, GERD, and other conditions; it can also make someone more prone to C. diff infection. Suppressing the immune system, such as through chemotherapy, also raises the risk.

The standard treatment for C. diff infection is easily administered and when it works—90 percent of the time—it works quickly and with no side effects. Despite this, the treatment sounds unappealing: fecal transplant. The microbes in the donated matter replace the gut flora the patient had lost, recolonizing the intestine and taking it back from C. diff. Recently, researchers have been looking for a synthetic substitute. Not just a joke-shop novelty, the synthetic version avoids the problem of pathogens from the donor being acquired by the recipient, as well as overcoming the aesthetic objection.

Another possible treatment being investigated involves llamas. A group of Canadian scientists who are studying llamas say they have found a type of antibody in the South American pack animals—shared by their cousins, camels, as well as by sharks—that may give information on how to stop C. diff from colonizing the gut when it is able to do so. The llama antibodies aren’t suitable for human use directly, but they may provide a blueprint to develop a synthetic treatment.

New Treatment Prospect For HIV Found Underwater

Victory in the war on AIDS may be closer than ever before. Researchers have found a source for a chemical that may hold the key to ending the disease once and for all. A protein newly discovered in a kind of coral seems to have the ability to stop HIV from being infectious, meaning it can not only be incorporated into the treatment of people who are already HIV-positive, it can also help prevent the transmission of the virus, even without barrier protection.

Coral are often associated with coral reefs. The animals are invertebrates, and live in colonies; individual animals, called polyps, gather together with thousands of identical siblings. The most common and best known types form the exoskeletons that are the reefs. After decades or even centuries of growth—the coral reproduce by cloning, as well as sexually by releasing spores—these reefs can grow to enormous size. Other coral, known as soft coral, are lacy and flexible rather than stony, waving along with the current. Almost all coral get nutrients from a symbiotic relationship with algae that live among them.

Researchers identified the proteins, called cnidarin, while looking at specimens of feathery coral—a type of soft coral—collected near Australia. They then isolated and purified cnidarin and tested it against laboratory strains of HIV. The proteins were soon determined to be capable of blocking HIV at concentrations of a billionth of a gram. HIV transmission starts with the virus attaching itself to a type of immune cell known as the T-cell. Cnidarin blocked this attachment, defeating the virus. Uniquely the proteins bind to the virus, preventing it from getting into the T cell. This may help avoid the drug resistance that is the bane of HIV research; because its mechanism of action is unlike anything that has been seen before, it does not appear to contribute to resistance.

The next step, say researchers, is to find ways to produce more of the protein without over-harvesting the coral itself. They need to produce more cnidarin not only to meet demand if it does prove to be viable, but to determine if there are any side effects if there are any other illnesses against which the protein might prove useful, and to gain a more precise understanding of how it works, with an eye towards replicating the effect.

Treatment Options For Skin Cancer

Melanoma is one of the most survivable forms of cancer, with a ten-year survival rate of 75 percent. It’s also the most common of the three types of skin cancer, itself the most common form of cancer in the United States. An estimated 2 million people are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer each year, one in every 150 Americans. The three kinds of skin caner are squamous-cell, basal cell, and melanoma. Squamous-cell carcinoma is found the layer of cells immediately under the epidermis. The next layer is the basal cell layer, where basal cell carcinoma is found. Melanoma occurs in the innermost skin layer.

The most obvious symptoms of skin caner are associated with the mnemonic ABCDE:

  • A mole or other mark that is asymmetrical, with a different shape on each side
  • An uneven or ragged border
  • The mark has multiple colors
  • The mark is more than a quarter-inch in diameter, about the size of a pencil eraser
  • The mark is evolving, changing its size or shape from week to week.

The standard treatment for skin cancer is surgery to remove the growth, though this isn’t always possible for melanoma. Researchers recently found a treatment approach that may be effective for melanoma. Cancers such as melanoma are dependent on copper to grow and spread because of a genetic mutation. In a study using laboratory animals, administering a drug that blocks the absorption of copper caused tumors to shrink.

Help For Alcohol Addiction

It is estimated that about 140 million people are struggling with alcohol addiction, which is a physical as well as a mental disease. This is because the body can come to depend on, or at least expect, alcohol with long-term constant use. Drinking a lot can actually change the structure of the brain, compounded in some people by a genetic predisposition to addiction. In general, however, the more someone drinks, and the younger they start, the more likely they are to develop a problem and to be unable to control their drinking behavior—to become addicted.

Here are some indicators that you might have a drinking problem:

  • You find yourself drinking more than you planned to.
  • You continue drinking despite it causing legal, professional, or relationship problems.
  • You lie about your drinking or drink in secret, or feel guilt or shame around your drinking.
  • Your family and friends are concerned about your drinking.
  • You regularly drink to the point of blacking out or forgetting periods of time.

Fortunately, help is available. Talk therapy and 12-step programs have shown great success in helping people stop drinking, although the 12-step approach has been criticized for taking a moral view of what is ultimately a disease. A recently created smartphone app called A-CHESS designed for recovering alcoholics provides daily supportive messages and weekly assessments of progress. The app even warns users if they are near old drinking haunts, and offers instant access to online support groups, as well as a "panic button" to provide distraction from urges to drink.

New Hope For Treating HIV

New research is giving scientists greater insight than ever before into the mechanism by which HIV affects the immune system, weakening it ad causing AIDS. With this discovery, better treatment and possibly even a complete cure could be within reach, as the new knowledge leads to a more thorough and complete understanding of what HIV infection does to the body, and how it can be stopped.

AIDS is currently treated with antiretroviral therapy, but this approach is not without problems. Though mostly effective, it can be more hit-and-miss than most patients or public health professionals are comfortable with in the case of so serious an illness. In addition, the drugs are expensive, and need to be taken very consistently and on a strict schedule; otherwise, not only will the disease resurge, but it will become more resistant to treatment. For patients who might not have regular, uninterrupted access to their medication, antiretroviral treatments have the potential to do more harm than good.

Until this study, the prevailing model for understanding HIV infection was that the virus colonized cells and destroyed them from the inside in the course of spreading throughout the body. However, this left some questions unanswered—in particular, it seemed to require the virus to take over more cells, faster, than it was observed to actually do. Researchers had no clear understanding of the process by which cells were being killed that were not directly affected by the virus, an understanding that is important in devising a strategy to stop it.

The answer proved to lie in the way infected cells call for an immune response. In a process called "pyroptosis"—self-immolation on the cellular level—the cells make themselves inflamed as a result of the HIV infection, and destroy themselves. This brings other immune cells to the scene, but when the pyroptosis is triggered by HIV, these new cells simply make themselves targets, causing a chain reaction. This offers new hope, however, because drugs that can inhibit pyroptosis already exist, and in animal experiments, do not appear to interfere with health themselves. If successful, this approach appears to have no potential to create more virulent versions of HIV.

Frostbite And Safety

When Jack Frost is nipping at your nose, that’s often an early sign of frostbite. Frostbite is burning cold—the cold weather produces effects on your body surprisingly similar to being burned. The cold causes the water in your skin cells to freeze and expand, causing damage to the cells. Extreme temperatures or long exposure times can cause similar damage in other organs, and more severe damage to the skin. In addition, the low temperatures cause blood vessels to contract, making circulation harder, and causing injuries that way.

Warning signs of frostbite include gray, white or yellow skin, which will be numb and feel waxy. You may also have a pins-and-needles feeling in the effected area. If you think you have frostbite, get in from the cold as soon as possible, make sure you’re wearing warm, dry clothes, and hold the area under warm, but not hot, water. If you’ve been exposed for a ,long time, or if you can’t get and stay in a warm environment, it’s important to get medical attention right away. Very long exposure can affect the bones, or cause gangrene to set in, in which case amputation may be needed.

As with many conditions, prevention is better and more effective that treatment. You’re only as warm as tour coldest part, so the best way to prevent frostbite is to bundle up as best you can, and not expose any skin to the cold if you don’t have to. The colder the temperatures, the more important it is to get covered, and people who are particularly sensitive to cold—such as people who have had frostbite in the past, people taking beta blockers or some other medications, or people with certain medical conditions such as diabetes—should be particularly sure to minimize exposure to the cold.

For example, there is a fashion for half-gloves that make it possible to use cell-phone touch screens and other hand-held devices. Unfortunately, doctors are warning, by leaving the fingers exposed, these gloves don’t actually protect the fingers. Worse, fingers are already among the body parts most prone to frostbite. As the body gets colder, the extremities, such as the fingers and toes, are the first to be affected and are likely to experience the most severe damage.

CPR Training

Lower-income and rural areas, particularly in the South, have very few people trained in proper cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques, according to a new study by Duke University. These are the areas that most need people who are trained in CPR—they are the parts of the country with the highest rates of cardiovascular illness, meaning people are more prone to heart-related medical emergencies—but they are also the areas where people to whom those emergencies happen are least likely to have someone around who can help.

This is a serious public health issue, researchers say, because CPR, performed quickly, can dramatically improve survival rates. Survival drops off ten percentage points for every minute of delay in starting CPR. Even simple compression CPR—call 911, then push hard and fast on the chest until help arrives—can help save lives, at least as compared to doing nothing. Often, nothing is exactly what people who see a person go into cardiac arrest do, generally out of a fear that they’ll do something wrong and cause further harm. That’s why laws have been passed in North Carolina and 11 other states that make CPR training a requirement for high school graduation, with yet more states considering doing the same.

Even without a requirement, more and more schools are teaching students CPR. In fact, the American Heart Association has developed a training kit specifically designed to be used with school health curricula to teach CPR to teens. It uses an inflatable manikin and a DVD to teach the needed skills in less than 30 minutes. The hope is that by teaching CPR to the next generation, we can be sure people will be able to help for a long time to come.

Even faster are one-minute training kiosks for compression CPR such as one recently installed in Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The American Heart Association revised its guidelines in 2010 to reflect the understanding that this hands-only form of CPR can save lives when ambulances are on the way. The kiosk in Dallas is part of a pilot program to create instructional guides that untrained bystanders can turn to in an emergency situation.

Infant HIV Cure Holding

Nearly eight months after preliminary results suggested a Mississippi toddler might have been successfully cured of HIV infection, more thorough testing and analysis have found that she is still HIV-negative. That means that in tests, she has no detectible levels of the virus, which can be transmitted from mothers to their children in the uterus, despite the fact that the toddler is no longer actively being treated. She had been given a course of antiviral medication, but has not been given the medication for well over a year.

"Our findings suggest that this child’s remission is not a mere fluke but the likely result of aggressive and very early therapy that may have prevented the virus from taking a hold in the child’s immune cells," said Deborah Persaud, a pediatric HIV specialist involved in the child’s treatment, in a statement.

The three-year-old is the third person, and first child, to be pronounced cured of HIV infection without need for ongoing antiviral treatment since the virus was first identified in 1983. The other two are adults known as "the Berlin patients," one of whom is a Seattle native named Timothy Ray Brown. In 2007, 12 years after he was diagnosed as HIV-positive, Brown received a stem cell transplant in Germany from a donor with a gene mutation that confers resistance to HIV infection. Brown then received a second transplant in 2008; a year after that, Brown became the first person in whom the virus was declared completely eradicated rather than just inactive. The other Berlin patient, whose name has not been made public, was a German man given an experimental drug treatment in 1998. This patient was the only one in the experimental group who was successfully cured, with signs of inactive virus but no further symptoms.

The toddler, who was born premature at 35 weeks, was given the standard HIV treatment regimen for infants from 30 hours old. The severity of HIV infection is measured by viral load, a count of the amount of virus present in the patient; treatment can reduce viral load to low or undetectable levels but normally must be maintained to avoid a resurgence. The child’s viral load was low when measured after 29 days and remained low or undetectable as treatment continued over approximately 18 months. In this patient, however, long after treatment was stopped no sign of active virus or symptoms of ongoing infection were found.