Monday, April 25, 2005

Circadian rhythm and health

I am interested in health matters related to a good night's sleep.

A new report shows that researchers at Northwestern University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute noticed during studies molecular and behavioral changes in mice that they believe applies to humans. The mice they are interested in have problems with their circadian systems. When there are changes in body fat and metabolic activity in people like there were in the mice, it is called metabolic syndrome, a complex medical problem which can lead to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

The study was reported in a press release on by the scientists. They said the mice have defective Clock genes that control daily rhythms in the brain and throughout the body, including sleeping and eating.

The circadian-challenged mice developed high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, low insulin, bloated fat cells, and lipid-engorged liver cells, the report says. The tricky part comes when the researchers determine the relationship to weight gain, as they found some of these changes appeared to be independent of this factor.

The researchers, reporting in Science Magazine's Scienceexpress at found changes in the key proteins in the hypothalamic region of the brain that manages feeding, energy balance, and sleep-wake regulation. They believe that the metabolic changes are caused more directly by misregulated genes in various tissues normally controlled by the Clock gene, rather than by the effects of the weight gain.

So where will this new knowledge take researcher Joseph Bass next? Quoting from his press statement, "It's like an orchestra," said Bass. "The tissues important in metabolism have to be conducted properly. But in the Clock mutant, each tissue plays to its own beat, which creates cacophony at the biological level that sets up the animal for obesity and metabolic disregulation."

More study needed.....

Monday, April 18, 2005

Statins are looking good

More good news on statins came out this week at a cancer research meeting. This amazing medication used to lower cholesterol has been found to cut a man's risk of advanced prostate cancer. What is it about statins that is helping people? It cuts cholesterol and this may affect testosterone levels which in turn is linked to prostate cancer. Experts say that if you cut cholesterol and thus lower testosterone, then you are lowering the risk for prostate cancer.

Statins were studied by Elizabeth Platz and colleagues at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. They found that men who used these medications had half the risk of advanced prostate cancer and a third of the risk of metastatic or fatal prostate cancer, compared to men who did not use cholesterol-lowering drugs. In a statement released today, Platz says "Instead of preventing cancer, statins might work by stalling a tumor already in the prostate, helping to ensure that it doesn't get worse."

Kudos to scientists learning more about statins and their benefits!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Light therapy helps depression

Researchers have some good news about using sunlight or phototherapy to treat mood disorders such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and depression. In a mega study, Dr. Robert Golden found that bright artificial light has helped improve these conditions. Light therapy also has been tried in non-seasonal mood disorders, Alzheimer's disease, jet lag, insomnia, eating disorders and behavior problems. One approach uses "dawn simulation" to make the day longer like it is in summertime. Reseachers are not sure how the light therapy works, but this type of study continues.

I like the natural therapy approach when it is safe like this one is, and it has great potential to help a lot of people.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Good news for infant heart transplants

I have followed organ transplantation science for some years now, and there is some great news out today. A study shows that infants under age one year can accept heart transplants from a donor with a different blood type. For example, a heart from a donor with Type A blood can be successfully transplanted into an infant with Type O blood. This works because children this young have not yet developed the antibodies that would normally reject antigens from a different blood type. Dr. Lori West says that one of the biggest challenges in transplantation is the whether or not a patient can do well with the donor organ. Dr. West says that now more babies will survive congenital (born with) heart defects and go on to live full lives with a donor heart.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Zinc linked to quick thinking

We all are interested in how we can be sharper and think more quickly on our feet. It turns out that scientists have looked at 7th grade students to see how they are doing. The researchers conducted the first test in adolescents to see how zinc is linked to several things - motor skills, coordination, and cognitive function. On the mental performance side it looks like the students showed improvement by responding more quickly and accurately on memory tasks and with longer attentions spans than those who did not take the zinc supplements. The 7th-graders were given 20 mg of zinc five days each week for 10 to 12 weeks. Dr. James Penland studied adolescents because they grow quickly and sometimes have poor eating habits. Ultimately experts will decide whether or not this age group dietary guidelines for zinc should be adjusted.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Floating over a treadmill

I wanted to say something about a new study released today on rehab after surgery because the treatment intrigues me. A unique pressure chamber allows patients who have lower-extremity orthopaedic surgery to begin upright, normal walking really soon after their surgery. The chamber has a positive air pressure that creates buoyancy like walking without gravity. Patients can start rehab sooner than with the usual stuff like swimming pools, parallel bars or walking aids because they start out with only putting about 5 percent to 10 percent of their actual weight down when they walk. Each week more "pounds" can be added as they improve. Dr. Alan Hargens and Dr. Adnan Cutuk believe this is the first chamber to use a treadmill - allowing a patient to use a normal gait and not push against water, start with no weight-bearing and then increase it, and rehab can start right away.

That's it for today.

Crime scene investigation

I have had a chance to talk with some physical anthroplogists today, one who said he was "in forensic science before it was cool." Dr. Harrell Gill-King says he stopped mentioning his job at cocktail parties so as not to be mobbed by people interested in crime scenes. He says forensics specialists are usually very specialized in one area, not experts in every aspect of an investigation like the actors on the CSI shows on TV. He knows how to interpret plane crashes, accidents and murders, but he seeks help when it relates to a wound and how fast a knife traveled or how many teeth were in the blade.

Dr. David Glassman says that experience wins over technology most days. He works with law enforcement to look at fractured bones to determine the type of injury that has occured, such as high velocity gunshot wounds or low velocity impacts like punching. Dr. Glassman says that technology is not as helpful in finding answers as actual practice. He says that "most answers come from recognition of minute differences that occur between different ages, ancestry, backgrounds, and inujuries, something that comes with years of experience. He says, "When forensic scientists like me look for a small mark made in bone by a knife, we usually use our finger tips, like reading Braille."

Scientists often look for clues from obvious things like dental fillings, but they also look at lack of healthcare as a possible socioeconomic link or low self-esteem. Dr. Mark Teaford, a physical anthroplogist, says that teeth are one of the best clues at a crime scene. Teeth tell alot about age, health, nutritional status, and even the type of food in a person's diet. He can tell how teeth wear when a person has been stressed. These scientists say that their work is not as glamorous as it looks like on TV. Dr. Glassman says he realizes that much of the work "may not make particularly good television."

Dr. Gregory Buck, a molecular geneticist, says, "Bottom line, forensic sciences is not just about the way TV shows depict it, but about using science to solve legal problems - meaning how did someone die and what were the circumstances and how do we use science to discern all these things, really a team effort.

Signing off for now.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Science on my mind

I am attending a science meeting in San Diego, where the cures of tomorrow can be seen in the science of today. I am lucky to be part of this meeting of 12,000 scientists who are working to advance medicine that will help many people now and in the future. Today scientists in the pressroom are talking about green tea and boosting immunity, how a certain kind of exercise is helping persons with spinal cord injury, improving autistic children's metabolic profile, and the use of garlic to prvent pulmonary hypertension. Most of these scientists devote their lives to helping others! You can always check out the public news section of for interesting news on science and medicine. Back with more discoveries on Sunday.