Category: Serious stuff

Cancer, meet AIDS


Leave it to medical science to push the envelope. According to the New York Times, doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have been testing out a new cancer treatment: infecting a patient’s T-cells with a disabled form of H.I.V. In a nutshell, the T-cells are extracted from the patient and genetically modified to attack cancer cells. H.I.V. virus is added to the mix since it helps carry the new genetic material to those T-cells.

Emma Whitehead was six years old when the hospital tried their AIDS treatment on her. Her acute lymphoblastic leukemia is now seven months in remission. Another three adult patients have experienced the same full remission. There have, of course, been stumbles and failures along the way (as with any new medical treatment).

But for the Whiteheads, and for who knows how many future cancer patients, AIDS is a cure.


Remember Terri Schiavo?

After all the hoopla about Terri’s death in 2005, researchers at the University of Ontario have proven that vegetative-state patients can communicate. And not just wiggling a finger. Stick them in an fMRI and watch the monitors light up with answers to direct questions. They’re even working on portable EEGs for family members to re-establish communication at home.

Makes you wonder if Terri’s husband regrets putting her down.

University of Ontario

Right now is a pretty good time to see the sights in Italy. Venice is under water, Florence police finally tracked down the TNT supplier from bombings 20 years ago, and archeologists in Rome have found the exact site of Caesar’s stabbing 2,000 years ago.

Disasters sure do draw attention—guess we’re all rubberneckers at heart.

Meet our match

In June, 2008, Astrid Joosten took a 10-minute treck through a bat cave in Uganda. A couple of weeks later, she was dead, courtesy of a virus closely related to Ebola. The cave was closed, but the Marburg virus lived on.

Discovered in the 1960s and named after the German town hosting the lab full of infectious green monkeys, Marburg laid low for another 30 years. Then 150 cases popped up in the Congo with a 90% mortality rate. (Dr. Stuart Nichol interview)

Zoonotic RNA Viruses can easily be considered the most dangerous of infections, and will very likely source the Next Big One. They don’t respond to antibiotics, frequently ignore antiviral meds, have high death rates, and adapt quickly. Hollywood’s tapped into the entertainment factor: Contagion, Outbreak, even zombie movies put viruses in center stage. Books abound. Imagination is tapped and exploited.

But the reality is a far cry from a two-hour popcornfest where the biggest threat is hoping your bladder will make it. Not even a week ago, the CDC reported 14 cases in Uganda, a country that claimed to be Ebola-free just a month ago. But financial constraints are a problem—Uganda can’t afford protective gear or pay for more healthcare workers. The best they can do is ask people to self-quarantine away from suspected infectious areas.

So what can we do? Sure, we can hand-wash more, or donate to the WHO. But just as dangerous as the rapid evolutionary pace of viruses, we fall victim to the ‘it won’t happen to me’ mentality. Admit it—you don’t care much what happens in Uganda.

We are a global community, which means we must care. We consume products from around the world: Colombian coffee, fish from China, and Italian sausage (yes, they do come from Italy). The only way you might be safe from an outbreak on the other side of the planet is to grown your own food. Even then, E. coli is a common invader.

Does it sometimes feel like we can’t win this war? Excuse me while I go bury my head in a bucket of popcorn.

F is for Fun, not Fat

We all know obesity is a growing (no pun intended) problem. Schools, in particular, are concerned about childhood obesity. One report by KSAT describes San Antonio school districts’ efforts, such as weekly health lessons and monthly ‘fun’ runs. At the same time, schools have cut down recess.

This is supposed to do what, exactly? No kid wants to sit through a health lecture, and chubby kids don’t have ‘fun’ runs.

I say give ’em nerf guns and add recess periods.