Rheumatoid Arthritis and the Cell Cycle

This is a paper in which Sci has a certain amount of personal investment. You see, Sci has a family member who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. And when I say suffer, I mean she suffers terribly. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where you own body attacks the lining of the membranes between your joints. The result is painful swelling and stiffness (arthritis) which usually affects the smaller joints first (like your fingers) and which can severely impair your quality of life. Symptoms can wax and wane, but right now there is no cure, and treatments (which include things like aspirin or harder pain killers, steroids, and other immunosuppressants) are often not very effective and have a large number of side effects.
About 1% of the population is affected, and while the disease isn’t itself fatal, it does shorten your lifespan by about 5-10 years, and seriously affects quality of life. Sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis often can’t work and daily living is often impaired. So even though it’s not a large population of people, it’s still very important to find better treatments and attempt to find a cure to improve the lives of those who suffer from the disease.
And so this paper looks at two different proteins that might be able to help the disease…by controlling cell division. In fact, one of them is the SAME protein that Sci wrote about a few weeks ago when she looked at the incredible healing mouse. Interestingly, that mouse apparently is used for some autoimmune disease studies like lupus. Hmmmm.
ResearchBlogging.org Nasu et al. “Adenoviral transfer of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitory genes suppresses collagen induced arthritis in mice” Journal of Immunology, 2000.
(Does anyone else always worry they are spelling “arthritis” wrong? It’s one of those words that look wrong if you look at it too long)
Anyway, let me introduce to you…the arthritic mouse:
(ok, they don’t really look like that, but it’s cute!)

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Walking and Obesity: The City Life vs the Country Life

Sci rather wishes this study were done in mice, if only so she could write “the city mouse and the country mouse” in her title. But it was done in humans, which was really probably a good thing.
This post has some background. Sci was sitting around with her lab one day, shootin’ the breeze like you do when it’s Friday and science has you cross-eyed, and we were talking about going to meetings in exotic locales. We were talking about one especially large city, and one person in the group said “you know, what’s amazing about cities is how THIN everyone is”. And everyone in the group nodded sagely and said it was always shocking to go to large cities and realize how skinny everyone was.
But, being a scientist, Sci wondered…is this really true? Are people thinner in the city and thicker in the country, and if so, why? Is it just our perception, due to some cities featured on TV being full of starving artists and lots of plastic surgery? Is it universal? Is it just among the upper class? What about the urban poor? And is it due to all the walking, or is it just because of increased populations of starving artists?
And that’s not all. Sci just hopped up and moved to a new, Very Large City, and for the first week or so, my feet DEFINITELY noticed the walking increase. The blisters on my feet especially. Apparently every other female on the planet knew about those gel insoles to help you wear pretty shoes, but Sci apparently flunked that part of her “how to be a girl” exam.
So relationships between physical activity and obesity? Sci shot off an email to Travis of Obesity Panacea. Travis sent her a paper citation. Let’s do this.
ResearchBlogging.org Frank et al. “Obesity relationships with community design, physical activity, and time spent in cars” American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2004.
(Put on your walking shoes! Sci hates those obligatory pictures of obese people next to pictures of people who are obviously models. This one is better.)

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Homeopathy: the basics

I feel kind of weird doing a post on homeopathy. But it drives me crazy when people talk about homeopathy as though it is the poor unfortunate soul of modern scientific medicine. So this is an “info” post. I’ve read a lot of blogs out there, and many of them attack homeopathy without explaining why they think it’s bunk, and many people defend homeopathy without knowing what it is they are defending. And I hate when people say things, and then look like idiots because they didn’t know ANYTHING about what they were saying. Sci has done this in the past, and wants to save you all from the same embarrassment.
Ah, homeopathy. Almost everyone has an opinion, and opinions are very strong. I managed to find only one article that I could say made an effort to be unbiased, looking at various studies done and whether the studies were enough to determine effects. This article is actually a statement from the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education by Johnson et al in 2007, and it’s an article about homeopathy and how it should be covered by those in pharmaceutical practice. So I’m relying pretty heavily on that one article, with other articles as supplement. I do think this stuff is bunk, but this is not about what I think. Rather, it’s about what homeopathic remedies are, and how they are purported to work.
I’ve tried to talk to several people about this post, and every single one of them started out saying “Ooh! Homeopathy! Can you tell me about [insert herbal remedy/ Airborne/ Zinc tablets/ aromatherapy]?!”
I wish I could, and maybe if you ask me a specific question about a specific herbal remedy, I can (hint for possible future posts). Unfortunately, homeopathy is not ABOUT that. Recently, homeopathy has come to mean pretty much anything in the way of alternative therapy, from aromatherapy and herbal remedies to pressure points and chiropractic techniques. But homeopathy itself is actually something very different. It doesn’t mean that homeopathy doesn’t often coincide with herbal remedies or aromatherapy, many homeopathic remedies are herbal in origin. But what I will be covering today is homeopathy in the very strictest sense.
So, for the record. Homeopathy β‰  herbal remedies. A lot of people say stuff like “you scientists hate homeopathy, but herbs can have many medical properties”. Yes, herbs can have many medical properties, and many researchers are still looking at plants to isolate possible active ingredients for new drugs. We wouldn’t even have aspirin if the Bayer company hadn’t started questioning why people took Willow infusions for headaches (willow bark contains salisylic acid, which is a relative of acetylsalisylic acid, or asprin). But herbal remedies like those are NOT homeopathy. The difference lies in how homeopathic remedies are made and the theory behind how they work.

What is Homeopathy?

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Zicam and your Nose

Sci saw this post recently at Dr. Pal’s place, and it rang some major bells in her head. So, I figure, I’ve got to cover it myself, now don’t I.
ResearchBlogging.org Lim et al. “Zican-induced damage to mouse and human nasal tissue” PLoS ONE, 2009.
So let’s start with a couple of things:
1) What is Zicam?
2) Why was it recalled?
3) What are the possible effects of zinc on the common cold?

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HFCS: the good, the bad, and the sinfully sweet

Since I started grad school in physiology, I get a lot of questions from friends and family about the science that goes on in their daily lives. It’s part of the reason why I decided to start blogging in the first place, to finally give people well-researched, thought-out, and long (yeah, they’re usually very long) answers to their questions. I can’t answer all questions, obviously, but when it comes to something I can research on Pubmed, the world is my oyster!
One of the questions I’ve gotten most often goes something like this: “What is high fructose corn syrup and why is it evil”, or “I know high fructose corn syrup is evil, but why?” It’s taken Sci a lot of time to think about answering these questions. It’s not because I can’t access the information, but rather because I know that, whatever I end up telling people, I’m going to get a response like “OMG! You are in the pocket of teh evil cornz industries!” or “You just hate corn! You are a horrible evil cornz haters!” The reality is that Sci is neither of these things.
But, despite possible repercussions on Sci’s relationship with corn, I want to answer the question. Especially because the New York Times is bringing back the corn syrup debate. And so today, Sci will attempt to talk about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). In an effort to check this out I did a big literature search. I was careful to choose articles from researchers that didn’t receive company money as well as those that did. Citation list will be at the end.
Image via alibaba.com, where apparently you can buy this stuff in little bottles. Who knew?

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OMG, oldest TB evar!

This is one of those weeks where there is SO much to blog about and so little time to do it in! How shall I ever get to it all! This article actually came out on Tuesday, which means of course that others have now been there before me, but I like this paper a LOT and so I’m going to cover it anyway.
Hershkovitz et al. “Detection and molecular characterization of 9000-year-old mycobacterium tubuerculosis from a neolithic settlement in the eastern mediterranean”. PLoS ONE, 3(10), 2008.

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Complete speculation on the health of John McCain

Some people have been noticing erratic behavior from republican nominee John McCain lately. His most recent seems to be slight, but rather odd. Specifically, he appears to have developed ptosis— a drooping eyelid— which could of course be related to any number of causes, from an autoimmune attack on cholinergic receptors such as that seen in myasthenia gravis, to diabetes.
Ptosis can also be the result of a brain tumor that affects the oculomotor nerve (cranial nerve III). Sudden development of the condition at old age following multiple bouts of melanoma (which has a penchant for metastasizing to the brain) would seem to be cause for concern, so I wonder if any neurologists would like to weigh in?
McCain also seems to be hiring a very expensive makeup artist who may be assisting in the coverup of the condition. I really, really wish he’d release his medical records in full so that people can stop speculating about the ramifications of a chronically ill president with a potentially untreatable brain tumor, and his vice president with all the foreign policy experience and political saavy of a Hun.

Depression is all in your head….

…but for those who suffer from it, “in your head” can be more debilitating than other chronic, painful illnesses. A massive WHO survey study of 60 countries reported that 3.2% of people had depression over the course of a year. Interestingly, though…

This was a bit lower than for asthma (3.3 percent), arthritis (4.1 percent), and angina (4.5 percent), and higher than for diabetes (2.0 percent.)
But the results of a quality-of-life index called the “global mean health score” showed that depression was, by a significant margin, the most difficult to bear.

The most difficult to bear, and also quite prevalent.

The study, published in the British journal The Lancet, says that depression accounts for the greatest share of non-fatal disease burden, accounting for almost 12 percent of total years lived with disability worldwide.
The researchers called on doctors around the world to be more alert in the diagnosis and treatment of the condition, noting that it is fairly easy to recognize and treat.
They also note that even if the prevalence of depression is similar to the four other chronic physical diseases, the lifetime risk — the number of people who cycle in and out of depression — is five to 10 times greater.

As the article says, depression is pretty easy to identify. Educating doctors and the public about the warning signs is a simple thing, but getting people to stop looking away isn’t.
I think it’s pretty obvious that we, as a society, need to step up and remove the stigma associated with mental health issues. Not only are they as prevalent as so-called “real” diseases and disorders, more people will experience them at some point in their lives. Every facet of life is affected too, from rearing children to personal health to productivity at work, which may not necessarily be the case with a physical disorder. National health care system, I’m looking at you….

Promising Effects of Statins on Alzheimer’s Pathology

Finally we get some data on changes in AD pathology with statin use! Statins are taken for lowering cholesterol, but they have other beneficial effects such as modulating inflammatory responses. Thus, they could prove beneficial in the treatment of AD given the disease has a significant inflammatory component.
According to the press release

The two changes in the brain that are considered the most definitive hallmarks of Alzheimer’s are brain “plaques” and “tangles.” After controlling for variables including age at death, gender, and strokes in the brain, the researchers found significantly fewer tangles in the brains of people who had taken statins than in those who had not. “These results are exciting, novel, and have important implications for prevention strategies,” said senior co-author Eric Larson, MD, MPH, the leader of the ACT study and executive director of Group Health Center for Health Studies. “But they need to be confirmed, because ACT is not a randomized controlled trial.”

As the press release rightly points out

A randomized controlled trial of statin treatment and brain autopsy findings would be problematic for ethical and practical reasons, said Dr. Larson. But the ACT setting made the study more rigorous than previous observational epidemiological studies, because it uses reliable automated pharmacy records, is based in a community population, and includes autopsies in people both with and without dementia.

so don’t expect any prospective comparisons anytime soon. Or, ever. However, this study appears promising as it backs up the epidemiological data. I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on the actual paper and post about it.

Do PBDEs cause thyroid disorders in pets?

I’m on a environmental tox kick lately. The latest foray into endocrine disruption in the news is polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. PBDEs are used as flame retardant compounds, and like my earlier ruminations on bisphenol A, they’re in everything. Unfortunately, there’s evidence that they don’t just sit there, but rather, as the LA Times reports, they like to impersonate thyroid hormone and may lead to hyperthyroidism.

An epidemic of thyroid disease among pet cats could be caused by toxic flame retardants that are widely found in household dust and some pet food, government scientists reported Wednesday.
The often-lethal disease was rare in cats until the 1980s, when it began appearing widely, particularly in California cats. That was at the same time industry started using large volumes of brominated flame retardants in consumer products, including furniture cushions, electronics, mattresses and carpet padding.
Scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency noted a possible connection between hyperthyroidism and flame retardants. The chemicals — known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs — mimic thyroid hormones, so experts have theorized that high exposure in cats could cause overactive thyroids.
Cats that remain indoors and eat fish-flavored canned food were found to be the most highly contaminated.

Looks like melamine ain’t the only thing Toto’s gotta watch out for, Dorothy.

“It is clear that house cats may be able to serve as sentinels for indoor exposure to PBDEs for humans who share their houses,” said Birnbaum, one of the world’s leading experts on hormone-altering chemicals.
Brominated flame retardants are ubiquitous outdoors and inside homes. The chemicals have been building up in people and wildlife over the last two decades, particularly in the United States, where human concentrations have doubled every few years.
People in the United States have the highest PBDE levels in humans worldwide, but U.S. cats are even more exposed — some with levels 100 times greater, according to the study.
Twenty-three cats were tested in the EPA’s study, including 11 with hyperthyroidism. The researchers found that the cats with hyperthyroidism had substantially higher levels of a PBDE compound. Symptoms of the disease, which is a leading cause of cat death, include weight loss, rapid heartbeat and irritability.

Ok so this study is small. But the idea of using cats as sentinels for high PBDE concentrations– and thus indicators of areas where humans may be at risk– is particularly noteworthy, especially since the US has such high accumulations of PBDEs in its environs. So far, though, my stupid cat seems fine. This might explain, however, my ex-wife’s spooky cat…
This is your cat on PBDEs. Ok not really.