Stem cell research is really whizzing along

Pluripotent stem cells (that is, the kind that could be turned into many different types of tissue) were successfully grown from urine:

http://f1000.com/11427957?key=khstst6kwbn437f

This is a little weird even for me, but intriguing as hell.

It’s normal for a tiny number of cells from the draining parts of the urinary system to wash away in urine. Throwing off very many is not healthy. However, given a tiny number of healthy cells, they managed to tweak the epithelial cells (the cells that form the “skin” of a space) of the renal system into being able to turn into a variety of other cells, including nerve cells that could grow and connect to other nerve cells.

Caveat emptor: manufactured stem cells are not like Mother made. There is always something they do that’s not in the original specification.

This article makes the point, at the end, that this is a starting point and that the stem cells it produces, and the differentiated (that is, specialized) cells that grow from them, really need to be evaluated before those of us who need new nerves (or kidneys, or whatevers) should start to cheer and break out the champagne.

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Neuroscientists map a "new" target to wipe pain away

This article discusses the role of the peptide CDB3 in modulating the specific calcium channel signals that transmit chronic pain:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110605132425.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fmind_brain+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Mind+%26+Brain+News%29

This article says it’s a “novel” peptide, but last I heard, CDB3 was a cannabinoid, one of a couple hundred constituents derived from a medicinal plant cultivated for thousands of years, being researched by the likes of Prof. Robert Malamede in Colorado… For, among other things, specific & benign interference in calcium-channel signaling in pain pathways.

Let’s keep our signals clear, even if we want to muddle pain’s signals.

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Why premature birth shouldn’t be iatrogenic

I’m delighted to get my hands on an article about a study done by a nurse. Prof. Sullivan, RN and her team say, “Effects of premature birth can reach into adulthood.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110615171408.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fmind_brain+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Mind+%26+Brain+News%29

Do you know why this is, logically, a candidate for the Department of the Blitheringly Obvious?

It has to do with fetal development. In a healthy pregnancy (that is, most of them), labor starts when the fetus’s lungs — the last thing to finish developing — are done. Then the fetus signals the mother’s body, and labor begins.

The neurological system and heart are getting the finishing touches in those last few weeks, too. The final stages of fetal development are extremely important, and ever more so as it gets harder and costlier to get care in this country.

Why does getting care matter? Aren’t preemies a lot easier to deliver?

They pop out faster, yes. They also tend to need time in the neonatal ICU.

But wait, there’s more.

This article goes on to say that premature babies tend to have lifelong problems with — you guessed it — heart, lungs, and neurology. Neurological issues that consistently show up relate to coordination; learning (especially math); memory; and, most worryingly, hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis problems — which messes up the body’s ability to regulate weight, growth, anxiety, sleep, and mood; it’s a major factor in CRPS, MS, and other constitutional illnesses.

These people are far more likely to require extra care and attention from parents, school, doctors, nurses, and therapists of both body and mind, _throughout_their_lives_ — or at least, as Prof. Sullivan has shown, to the age of 21. More data to follow, as the study continues.

This is why I find “elective c-sections”, which are often done at 37 weeks just to avoid the final stage of pregnancy, so appalling. They combine the drawbacks and long-term effects of prematurity with those of nonvaginal delivery and abdominal surgery. A full house, you might say.

Back to this article, which focuses on people who were born 21 years ago, when prematurity was not optional.

She states that these personalities tend to be more driven and success-oriented. On the one hand, that could be the cortisol talking (remember the lack of regulation? These people have higher than normal cortisol levels.) On the other, these are all people who have had a higher than average level of care, attention and structure in their young lives, and that tends to produce these characteristics anyway. When young people internalize the message that there are a lot of capable adults who really care what happens to them, they don’t see failure as anything but learning how not to do it next time. And that’s a setup for success.

Having explicated her stated finding, I have to say that she did not, nor did I read anything here about how she measured these personality characteristics. In short, it’s possible she was looking for ways to make everyone feel better about the learning disabilities and systemic issues.

And that, frankly, is one of the common characteristics of nurse studies that tend to lessen the respect they otherwise deserve: nurses who achieve worldly success don’t get there without being good at making decision-makers feel good.

I looked for the text of the study at her site, but no luck. I’ll look on PubMed once I’m off this handheld. I’d like to clear up that last gratuitous silliness, if I can.

* Can’t find it on PubMed. It was published very recently, so it might be worth checking back.

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Acupuncture helps where conventional medicine can’t even diagnose

A valid diagnosis is necessary to getting appropriate alopathic (that is, conventional Western) medical care. (This is why “House” is such a popular show: there’s a lot of inherent drama in wrong diagnoses, because they can lead to chaos, suffering and hideous deaths.) Unfortunately, fully 20% of those who seek ongoing care don’t get one.

No pressure.

The Chinese were developing diagnostic strategies before my British Isles ancestors were even sure how babies were made, so I view this intensely patronizing, very cagy terminology with a jaundiced eye, but the study itself looks pretty good:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110530080513.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fmind_brain+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Mind+%26+Brain+News%29

As well as dramatic improvements in function and well-being, it’s interesting to note that these patients made changes in their daily lives, because they felt their acupuncturists really cared (and probably because they knew what they were talking about.)

Do you have any idea how hard it is to persuade people to change the way they eat, move, sleep? Most people would rather put up with hideous suffering and tons of needless ill-health rather than change the pattern of their days. It’s incredibly hard to make those changes, and speaking as someone who has had to change all that and more, I’m still not sure why it’s so staggeringly hard.

But these practitioners of a well-structured form of acupuncture did it, and did it consistently.

– Or rather, their patients did, given the combination of good info and perceptible support. Now THAT’s a therapeutic relationship.

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Curing the incurable: type 1 diabetes in mice, with 78% success rate

Next Big Future: Gene therapy reverses type 1 diabetes in mice with 78% success rate

Intriguing approach: providing gene therapy to both protect and rebuild the Islets of Langerhans, which means blocking the T cells from the islet cells without compromising them otherwise.

For an early trial of a complex therapy, this is rather brilliant and very promising. Of course, humans are not mice, but type 1 diabetes is generally type 1 diabetes – or something very similar.

Next up: a cure for CRPS, Alzheimer’s, and AIDS. Hey, it could happen.

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News flash: Dementia is confusing & doctors should communicate

I can’t resist candidates for the Dept. of the Blith. Obv.: Many geriatric patients receive an incorrect dementia diagnosis. 

The final diagnosis was determined by postmortem autopsies examining structures and changes in the brain, which are pretty definitive.

Most dementias are currently incurable, and only some can even be managed. So why does this matter?
Two reasons: the clinical and the academic — which is ultimately clinical, too. 
Firstly — and I’m speaking as someone who has skirted dementia myself — if anything can be done to mitigate this hideous state, it should be done. Correct diagnosis improves your chances of getting appropriate care. 
Secondly, incorrect diagnoses screw up the data. How can we evolve our understanding, improve diagnostic criteria, develop more effective treatment, and work on actual cures, if we aren’t clear about what we’re working with and how it plays out?
What’s lovely and touching about this is, the researchers truly believed that correct diagnoses were much more common, and that the communications between the neurology department and the geriatric psychiatry clinic were better than they were … and that they changed their stance dramatically in response to their findings. 
Knowing how cautiously physician researchers normally phrase recommendations, and how neutral and respectful Swedes prefer to be, the researcher’s closing remarks sound like a passionate cry from the heart. It’s really moving. 
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