Health Politics

The House GOP’s AHCA Health Care Bill is Cruel. Because it Had to Be.

Let’s all remember how we got here.

Before Obamacare, before the Tea Party, before the election of Barack Obama, we had a healthcare crisis. Premiums were skyrocketing. Insurance companies were cutting off access to expensive procedures. The bottom line was: health insurance as we’d enjoyed it for decades was going away with nothing left in it’s wake. Nobody disagreed with this assessment.

Ross Perot once famously quipped of Social Security, “Social Security made sense when the age to collect ws 65 and the average person lived to be 60.” Whatever you think of his or anyone else’s policy prescriptions for SS, the truth of this statement was pretty undeniable. As our lifespans lengthen, it gets more and more expensive to take care of each other.

And as people lost insurance, they didn’t lose their diseases. Which meant people ended up in the most expensive part of the hospital – the Emergency Room – instead of taking care of issues early with a primary care physician. Because hospitals have an ethical responsibility to fix broken people, the cost of those emergency visits was necessarily passed on to the rest of us.

Neither are cost and advanced age the only issues. In the last few decades, we’ve seen a shocking rise in the rate of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease and heart disease. It isn’t just that we’re getting older: we’re getting sicker when we’re young. All of this adds up to a pretty incredible burden on a health insurance system. Especially one that is market- and profit-driven.


Obamacare sought to address the fundamental issues of the health insurance industry by bringing more people into the system. Similar to Social Security, the more participants are paying into the system, the more money there is to pay for the more expensive needs of other members. Better still, by bringing people into the health insurance system and giving them access to preventative care, Obamacare sought to lower the overall cost of taking care of sick people.

In exchange for new business and more profit, Obamacare required insurers to adhere to a list of demands like insuring people regardless of their “pre-existing conditions,” which is just a way of saying you know they have potentially expensive issues, but you’re going to cover them anyway. In fact, Obamacare eliminated “insurance underwriting,” which means insurance companies are not allowed to demand a complete medical history to cover you.

Much of what Obamacare was meant to address did work. We got 24m more Americans covered by health care. Insurance companies honored the commitment to cover all comers. But the largest concern of most Middle Americans, the cost, didn’t stop rising. It rose at a much slower pace, but that’s cold comfort to someone already feeling the pinch of rising costs.

I would argue that, given that a big component of Obamacare was wrestling with pre-existing conditions and lack of preventative care, there probably was never a chance that the cost curve could be reversed overnight. Or even in seven years. Sick people don’t stop being sick. A lifetime lack of care doesn’t get that much better right away. Nevertheless, Obamacare promised lower healthcare costs and didn’t deliver fast enough for America’s patience, it seems.

Because if President Obama ran on the promise of Obamacare, to the extent that President Trump’s campaign was “about” anything, it was once again the promise of way better healthcare.


So Republicans are tasked with reversing Obamacare. And they’re tasked with creating a new system that allows health insurance to be a profitable business at a lower cost, because the one thing Obamacare didn’t deliver on was lowered premiums.

Go back and reread the first few paras of this article. Our healthcare crisis is a logical conclusion of living longer and getting sicker as a species. It wasn’t an institutional crisis – it wasn’t that insurance companies were changing policy without reason. We have a genuine crisis of a demand for coverage that drives costs through the roof. Lowering costs, then, can only mean one thing: lowering demand by cutting off access.

If we’re not going to stick it out with Obamacare, then as harsh and cruel as the AHCA is, it is exactly what is necessary. If we’re not going to do our best to increase participation, our only other alternative is to make what insurance companies previously tried to do quietly a matter of national health care policy. We need to decrease demand.

Cruelty isn’t a bug: it’s a feature.

The cruelty of the AHCA is hard to take in. The expansive ways in which Republicans chose – completely on their own – to take a sledgehammer to the very idea of health insurance is breathtaking. As the ACLU points out, the AHCA basically makes being a woman a pre-existing condition. VoteVets points out that it bumps millions of veterans out of the health insurance markets by denying them the tax credits “granted” to the rest of us and shunts them into an already overwhelmed VA system.

Cruel though these things may be, supply and demand economics requires that either there is way more supply or way less demand. No other thing will reduce costs. Democrats essentially tried to buoy supply by increasing participation and in so doing, raise the capital required to expand the supply side. Republicans have now fully bought into the idea that slashing demand will work.

And the worst part of all this is, again, that sick people don’t stop being sick because they don’t have health care. They’re going right back to the emergency rooms. And they’re going to jack up the price of health care. And – brace yourselves – there will be no cost savings. There will be no lowered premiums. And we know this, because we already lived through this once.

But Republicans have spent eight years decrying Obamacare. They can’t just walk away now. And there is absolutely no way of “improving” this bill. The Senate will not be our saviors. Because to alter this bill is self-defeating. The only thing to do is let it die. Do we believe Republicans have the strength to do that alone? Or should we help them come to the logical conclusion?

Health Politics Rochester

Just legalize it: tales from Wine Country

I have a good friend whose name you surely know if you live in the Rochester area: Evan Dawson. I met him when he worked for 13WHAM as a reporter on their nightly news, and he’s now moved on to host his radio show, Connections with Evan Dawson all week on WXXI radio. I mention him because, as you may also know, he wrote a book called Summer in a Glass about Upstate New York’s wine region and the men and women who shape that industry’s fate.

It is a book rich with poetic turns of phrase; it is a book filled with impressions of the country, the people, the history. Very clearly, Evan has a deep and abiding respect for the industry and the products of its labour. It’s a great book and you should definitely read it.

Flash back to a grown-ass adult trying to buy a goddamned bag of weed in the same state: sitting in the cigarette-reeking back of some asshole 20-something’s mini Toyota pickup truck – not the “back seat,” just a subwoofer he never bothered to plug in – waiting patiently among the food wrappers, old clothing and personal hygiene implements for an overpriced bag of agricultural product no more harmful than the stuff Evan waxes poetic about in his book.

With apologies to Evan, we live in a state that doesn’t just allow you to make wine, beer and now hard alcohol: it fetishizes those things as though they were some noble thing. “Uncork New York,” as they say. Every festival in Rochester has a wine tent. There are stores throughout the Finger Lakes that don’t even sell wine, just all the wine accessories you could possibly want including tee shirts, bottle openers, earrings. Evan’s is, as you might suspect, hardly the only written document on the subject.

Matter of fact, there is a comfort care home down the road from me that can’t house more than five people; they’re having a wine tasting in a couple weeks. A home for five people, all of whom must certainly have been told to stop drinking alcohol thirty years ago, and they’re having a wine tasting.

I don’t begrudge the alcohol industry’s success in New York State. Hell, I even used to write a column for (585) Magazine called Over Drinks, dedicated to the topic. But as silly as it’s ever been for weed to be illegal when alcohol is legal, that goes doubly and trebly for a state that makes such a farcically big deal out of hootch. There are those who want or need marijuana for medical use, recreational use and research, but even attempts to make medical weed available have stalled.

If any state in the union ought to have promotions all summer long for it’s Marijuana Region, it is a state as hilly and sunny as New York. We have conditions to make beautiful, award-winning ganja to suit every palate and preference. Setivas. Indikas. Candy bars and sodas. And sure! Why not a weed-themed New York State tee shirt?

“New York State of Mind,” or “We Came, We Saw, We Smoked,” or “My Parents Went to Weed Country, and I Had to Buy This Shirt Online Because They Forgot.” Just as suggestions. Perhaps there could be a “Toke New York” campaign with billboards on the 90?

Either way, while half a dozen other states have a referendum on the ballot this November to legalize weed, our silly-ass pols sit in Albany trying to figure out which universities are going to get weed in pill form. And then get a drink of wine with dinner. Because thank you, New York.

Health Science

Is freshness really guaranteed, now?

Does the origin of your meat concern you? Since the outbreaks of 2003, the Country of Origin law has required meat packers to reveal where any meat you buy comes from. Now Congress has repealed the law, making determining the source of your red meat even harder to figure this out.

Congress has tried to prevent repealing the act, in part because of the World Trade Organization’s objections. The World Trade Organization had recently authorized Canada and Mexico to begin more than $1 billion in economic retaliation against the United States. Thankfully U.S exporters can now relax now that the law has been lifted and there will be no need for such a drastic retaliation.

In the United States, there’s really no need to worry about disease since there has only been 4 confirmed cases of mad cow disease in the United States since 1996. What about other countries that our meat might be coming from though?

The United Kingdom coming in first with 177 confirmed cases and France with 27 confirmed cases might not be as healthy as one would have previously thought. Technology advances in 2008 that allow us to test live cows for the disease instead of having to wait post-mortem will also help. This should prevent the spread of mad cow disease between cattle and limit the chances of it getting spread to humans.

For many, buying locally and supporting American industries are important values. Although only 8-20 percent of the total United States meat supplies comes from foreign sources, with the repeal of this law its going to be extremely difficult to know exactly which meat is foreign and which was born, raised or slaughtered here.

For other people, ensuring the freshness of the food they eat is important. Not because it could be coming from a different country but many meat manufacturers alter the meat to make it last longer than it typically would. For example, while many might look to color to determine how fresh a package of ground beef might be, this can be false due to the treatment that the meat undergoes.

Many manufacturers inject meat with carbon monoxide in order to give it a fresh pink color. This works because the carbon monoxide binds with a pigment in the meat so that it brings out the vibrant red colors. Unfortunately this false advertising can cause the meat to look edible and fresh but in reality it could be days, weeks or even years old and still have that same bright color to it.

So while your meat might be safe from disease, the idea of how fresh your meat is could be the main cause for consumers’ concern. It’s now up to the consumer to make sure that freshness is guaranteed and in order to do that you should ask the butcher at your grocery store but if that’s not enough for you, then buy from a local butcher who personally deals with the meat. With changes to your food happening daily, it becomes increasingly important to know not only the capabilities of the companies but what you could be feeding your family.

Health Science

Spin Class: A Cautionary Tale

Statistics say that spin class burns between 500-700 calories per class. Statistics say that spin class is designed to bring about your ultimate cardio workout, and that spin class is designed for people on all levels, beginners to advanced. Though they say it, doesn’t make it true.

I’m 25, I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs of any sort. I am active and I have always held a healthy weight. In high school I was involved in sports and various other active hobbies, however lately I have found myself bored with the usual workouts.

A friend of mine at work suggested spin class as an idea, saying that it was becoming extremely popular and was extremely effective.

I figured it couldn’t hurt, and it should keep me on track because now I had a class to physically go to with people that were counting on me to be there.

My first class was quite interesting, there was no introduction at all, it was get on the bike and go! Luckily I had my friend to help point out that I was new to the class I didn’t so much as know how to properly adjust my bike. While adjusting my bike the instructor confidently states that I am clearly an athlete. Having not so much as run a mile since high school, this instructor was clearly not the best judge of character.

During the spin class, you were told when to increase the resistance, and when to peddle faster or slower. If it is noticed by the instructor that you have not increased your resistance, it would be yelled from across the room for you to do so. Peer pressure to encourage you to do something you might not be able to do.

Exercise, yes. But this?

After what seemed to be the longest 60 minutes of my life, I shakily got off my bike almost falling and wobbled over to my belongings. As I was heading out the door I was asked to sign a waiver for the class: probably something that should have been done before participating.

Nothing in the waiver mentioned anything about harmful effects that this class could cause, only things about if you have previous medical conditions that you would be participating at your own risk. Did I have any previous medical conditions? Of course not! So I signed the waiver and went on my way.

I needed help climbing the stairs from my friend to reach the parking lot, as my legs literally felt like jello and were completely uncontrollable.

The next day I woke up in an extraordinary amount of pain, but I thought, “No pain, no gain right?” Everyone is always sore after a workout. But I could literally not even walk, sit, or move my legs at all without being brought to tears.

After two days of this extreme pain which seemed to only get worse by the day I decided to go to my doctors for pain killers so that at the very least I could work.

The doctor took me right in and after I explained the situation asked for a urine sample, a step I thought was irrelevant but okay!

It was relevant. My urine was black! Without even testing it first my doctor immediately sent me to the emergency room.

After three IV’s, antibiotics, and six days spent in the hospital I was diagnosed with Rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle tissue that releases a damaging protein into the blood. The most common causes of “rhabdo” is use of alcohol or illegal drugs, or extreme muscle strain. Since we’ve already covered the fact that I don’t drink or do drugs, my doctors pointed at spin class as the culprit.

Recovering from a healthy lifestyle…

My six day nightmare consisted of more fluids than any bladder should ever be allowed to handle, three IV’s,antibiotics, two kidney specialists, and my doctors telling me that they have not seen numbers this high in the history of the hospital.

Luckily, my kidneys were not damaged due to this condition. Both kidney specialists, my doctor as well as consulting doctors from another hospital were flabbergasted that my kidneys weren’t damaged due to the amount of toxic proteins in my blood. Thus this landed me the gimmick of hospital anomaly.

My CK protein levels, the dreaded toxic protein, peaked at 400,000. Let me give you another statistic, CK protein levels range from 30-135 for women, 55-170 for men, and 68-580 for newborns.

At 400,000 they wanted to send me to the ICU. Luckily this didn’t happen due to the fact that my organs were all working fine.

Fast forward, six days later I was released from the hospital and my CK protein level was at 22,000. I had the order to see a neuromuscular specialist, and have blood taken once a week for the foreseeable future.

Spin Class Rhabdomyolysis? Only Your Lawyer Knows for Sure:

I got home, slept for a day and emailed my spin class instructor, harboring no ill will but instead just wondering if I could have a refund for the class as my doctors obviously said I could no longer continue.

I received a letter from the owner of the spin class that noticeably did contain a check with a full refund. The letter itself was a snarky rebuttal, saying that their attorney did not believe that rhabdomyolysis could be caused by spin class. That in fact, they both had never even heard of such a thing.

I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that an attorney was an M.D.! My mistake. I found this letter appalling as I never mentioned sueing or anything like that, I just wanted my money back. I did however mention the fact that as my doctor pointed out this condition is becoming more common and can even happen to professional athletes, so maybe it could be mentioned in the waiver that needs to be signed your first day of class.

Almost a month later, my levels have returned to normal however I still need to see a neuromuscular specialist to determine if there is any muscle damage.

I am writing this to warn you about the dangers affiliated with spin class. It is not for everyone and at least for the class I took, beginners and advanced riders are not given different lessons. Rhabdomyolysis is real, it is painful and it can even in rare cases lead to death if not treated by a hospital stay.

Exercise is good, staying active is good but I am here to tell you that pain is NOT gain! Pain is pain.

Health Science

Midol as a hangover cure? Save your money.

While listening to a popular local radio show this morning, it came up in discussion that Midol was a hangover cure to end all hangover cures. Midol, the over-the-counter medicine for women’s menstrual cramps, has suddenly become an Internet phenomenon as the wonder-cure for hangovers. But does it actually work? You could argue “a little of Column A and a little of Column B,” but really, the whole Midol hangover thing is just crap.

Let me explain.

What’s in a Midol Pill?

Ya gotta start at the beginning. Before we can know whether or not Midol is an effective anything, we first need to understand what it’s made of. This is pretty straight forward. Midol is a combination of acetaminophen, caffeine and something called pyrilamine maleate.

Acetaminophen is commonly known as Tylenol – ed note: thanks for the correct, Tom from the comments! – . It’s uses are pretty straight forward as well. As is it’s history as a hangover “cure.” So, we won’t bother going into too much detail on this one.

Caffeine is the active ingredient in the miracle drug I like to call coffee. It’s affects are very well known – and cherished – as well. No point in getting too deep on that one.

Pyrilamine maleate is a bit of cypher, in that a quick search of the Internet reveals only articles about Midol when you search for this particular mystery ingredient. Midol seems to be it’s one use, but it is an antihistamine, a diuretic and arguably another form of pain suppressant.

In short, Midol is basically two aspirin and a cup of coffee. If that sounds more or less exactly the same as your normal ritual the morning after a bender, that’s because it is. No mystery cure, no miracles. The Midol hangover thing is just Internet bullshit.

The Midol Hangover Cure: From Bad to Worse

Man in the throws of the Midol hangover cure.
Wait, dude. It’s about to get a lot worse.

If the application of Midol isn’t a cure, that’s not to say it won’t have an affect. No, indeed. Because both caffeine and pyrilamine maleate will dehydrate your system. Caffeine is also what is known as a vasodilator, meaning it constricts blood vessels. Very little is understood about the complex phenomena associated with the dreaded “hangover.” But unquestionably, hangovers are always associated with dehydration.

It is the dehydration that causes things like nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, dizziness, confusion and heart palpitations. So, if you’re looking for a cure for a hangover that might actually make all of those things way worse, I say “go for it.”

Otherwise, an actual cup of coffee and a few aspirin work just as well and won’t lead to new or worsening symptoms. You can sip your coffee nice and slow, rather than be at the mercy of a large dose of caffeine in pill form. Since dehydration is such a key component to a hangover, you’ll probably want to get a good drink of water before you go to sleep, too. That is: if you’re not too drunk to make it to a sink or operate a cup safely.

Ultimately, I think this “Midol hangover cure” is just another symptom of a kind of sideways Internet sexism / male insecurity: a medicine normally associated with the most womanly of womanly functions – verboten for male consumption as a clear violation of Dude Rules – becomes the everyday cure for the most masculine thing most frat boys can think of: rampant alcoholism and binge drinking.


Naloxone: how the life-saving anti-heroin drug now available in NYS works.

New York State just joined a handful of states in allowing trained private citizens to be given Naloxone, also known as Narcan, a drug proven to be highly effective at bringing heroin users back from the brink of overdose and death. There is also a federal bill that proposes to extend those protections to all citizens of the U.S. Such is the state of our nation’s drug addiction.

Without question, Naloxone is a life saver. But how is it so effective at saving the intoxicated?

Opioid intoxication

Collectively, all opium-derived drugs or the synthetic drugs meant to mimic them are called opioids. Heroin, morphine, oxycodone (Hillbilly Heroin), methadone and literally dozens of other chemicals are all included in this list. What makes them work in the body – what gets you high – is a case of mistaken identity.

No, despite what you may have heard from your druggie friends in your twenties, there is nothing particularly special or magical about the fact that the body has “opioid receptors.” Really, the truth is that in times of pain or stress, the pituitary gland secretes neuropeptides into the body that help ease pain and cause feelings of well-being. These peptides are called Endorphins. Critically, Wikipedia notes:

The term implies apharmacological activity … as opposed to a specific chemical formulation.

In other words, endorphins don’t all look the same, and the receptors they trigger can be fooled. Fooled by opiates, as indeed the term Endorphin literally means “endogenous morphine,” or morphine created by the body. The name is actually kind of logically backwards, since opioids are external drugs that trigger natural responses, not the other way ’round.

Whether the opioid in question is external or the body’s own natural chemicals, the result is the same: the entire body relaxes, slows down and is given a sense of well-being. The more receptors that are filled with these chemicals, the more relaxed, slowed and unconcerned the entire nervous system becomes.

Unfortunately for opiate addicts, the process of overdosing is actually a very uncomplicated one. Whereas other overdoses like those caused by alcohol or cocaine cause cascades of changes in the body that might be arrested, opiate overdose is a simple case of too much of the drug filling too many receptors. Once you’ve got too much in your system, there isn’t any other step in the overdose: the damage is already done. The body slows to the point that the heart cannot be jump started without a shot of adrenaline, which might even cause a heart attack.

Yup. That scene.
Yup. That scene.

Enter Naloxone

If other methods of reviving an overdosing junkie require potentially-lethal amounts of adrenaline, then what is the better solution? The solution is to find a chemical that opiate receptors like even better.

Naloxone is not an opioid at all. In fact, although Naloxone can fill the same receptors as opiates, it doesn’t trigger any of the receptors’ effects. It won’t get you high, in other words. It simply occupies the same space that might otherwise be occupied by an opiate and does nothing but block it.

Naloxone is a pure synthetic drug that not only fits into opioid receptors, but does so well, it can actually knock opioids out of their receptors and replace them. This is why Naloxone is referred to as an “opiate antagonist.” has a great illustration that demonstrates this:


Narcan / Naloxone is a short-lived chemical that will only help an addict out for about half an hour. But that half an hour can easily be the difference between life and death – it’s more than enough time for an ambulance ride to the hospital where more help is available.

None of which is to say that our conjecturable junkie’s next few hours are going to be pleasant. Far from it. Since Naloxone blocks those endorphin receptors – and since those same receptors are used naturally to ease pain and yadda, yadda – I’m afraid there won’t be many receptors left to cheer them up. Instead, he can look forward to:

change in mood, increased sweating, nausea, nervousness, restlessness, trembling, vomiting, allergic reactions such as rash or swelling, dizziness, fainting, fast or irregular pulse, flushing, headache, heart rhythm changes, seizures, sudden chest pain, and pulmonary edema.

So, chin up, junkie! The sun will come up… well, maybe not tomorrow. But whenever the junk clears your system.

Health Rochester

How healthy is Monroe County? New U of Wisconsin study reports.

The University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute has just released it’s 2015 report on the rankings of each county in the US on the basis of several health factors and results. Looking at New York State’s counties, we find Monroe County smack-dab in the middle of the pack, with a “health outcome” ranking of 38 out of 62 counties. Other local counties like Wayne and Genesee followed suit, ranking 39 and 40 respectively.

A heat map of health by county.
A heat map of health by county.

This outcomes ranking is based on a number of quality-of-life factors such as sick days and overall length of lives within the county. According to the report, Monroe County health is dragged down by two major issues: low birth weight babies and the reported overall healthiness of individuals living in the county. The study shows 8.4% of babies born in Monroe are underweight and that 17% of respondents report bad health.

Interestingly, our southern rural neighbors fared much better in this study. Ontario and Livingston Counties ranked in the top 10 healthiest counties with Livingston topping the charts for best quality-of-life. The deciding factor for Livingston County’s high ranking appears to have been a lot less reported sick days and mental health days, though across the board, they appear to beat the NYS average in every rating category.

It’s worth noting that reported numbers are not as accurate as tabulated ones. For a start, people don’t necessarily remember exact numbers and may therefore misreport the number of sick days they’ve taken. Additionally, my experience is that people in rural areas tend not to under-value mental health as a legitimate reason to take a day off work. That may skew the numbers a bit as well.

Dark numbers for Monroe:

Even if Monroe County out performs a lot of other counties – including neighboring Orleans County, which looks like it could use a stern talking too – some of the numbers are just depressing. Monroe absolutely dwarfs other local counties for sexually transmitted disease infections, which is no surprise. Not unrelated, Monroe County also has among the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state, except for some especially hard-bitten downstate counties.

Here’s a cross-tab view of Monroe County health, along with other local counties – you can add other counties to the comparison of you want. Lots of excellent reading, here.

Health Science

Bundle up, #roc! What is frostbite?

As our area battens down the hatches in preparation for what promises to be a very cold, very snowy Saturday night and Sunday, there are no shortages of reasons to stay in. Not the least of which is, “fuck that.”

But one major danger posed to even those who limit their exposure to the elements can be frostbite. A really bad case of frostbite can cause you to lose digits. But even a relatively mild case is a painful experience. So what is frostbite, exactly? What is happening to your body when you experience the bite of winter?

What is Frostbite?

In short, frostbite is the injury sustained when parts of the body begin to freeze. As the body is exposed to more and more cold, it’s protective reaction is to pull blood flow away from the extremities and into your body’s core, thus protecting critical systems. However, this leaves cells in your fingers or your nose with less oxygen flow. This begins the damage to the cells in extremities, and causes them to start failing. But then… it gets worse.

With little blood to warm them and no oxygen to feed them, cells begin to freeze. Freezing water inside the cells creates crystals, which of course take up more room than water in liquid form. This causes cell walls and capillary vessels to burst open, often causing blood clots.

NOAA defines four major degrees of frostbite as follows:

Different Degrees of Frostbite

  • First degree: ice crystals forming on your skin
  • Second degree: your skin begins to feel warm, even though it is not yet defrosted.
  • Third degree: your skin turns red, pale, or white.
  • Fourth degree: pain lasts for more than a few hours, and you may see dark blue or black areas under the skin. See a doctor immediately if these symptoms arise. Gangrene is a real threat.

With enough damage, flesh and skin become unrepairable and may even require grafts. With enough damaged flesh on more exposed body parts, there’s nothing left to do but remove them. Cases this extreme are fairly rare. But in the meanwhile, rebuilding painfully swollen and damaged body parts is not a fun experience.

Oddly, while children and the elderly are the most at-risk members of our society, most cases of frostbite that get treated in hospitals are people between 30-49. That’s probably because people in that age group are more likely to have outside jobs like construction or to participate in winter sports.

Regardless of how much or how little exposure to the frigid temps that await us, just keep in mind that in the fight between skin and winter wind, your skin doesn’t stand a chance. Bundle up!


U of R boffins discover wrinkle therapy chem may cure cancer in naked mole rats

The husband and wife team of Seluanov and Gorbunova at the University of Rochester may be one step closer to discovering a practical cancer treatment. They have isolated a specific chemical in the naked mole rat which seems to gird the rodent Lothario’s cells against tumors. And as it turns out, curing wrinkles may have been better for your health than previously thought:

Seluanov and Gorbunova then showed that when HMW-HA was removed, the cells became susceptible to tumors, confirming that the chemical did play a role in making naked mole rats cancer-proof. The Rochester team also identified the gene, named HAS2, responsible for making HMW-HA in the naked mole rat. Surprisingly, the naked mole rat gene was different from HAS2 in all other animals. In addition naked mole rats were very slow at recycling HMW-HA, which contributed to the accumulation of the chemical in the animals’ tissues.

The next step will be to test the effectiveness of HMW-HA in mice. If that test goes well, Seluanov and Gorbunova hope to try the chemical on human cells. “There’s indirect evidence that HMW-HA would work in people,” said Seluanov. “It’s used in anti-wrinkle injections and to relieve pain from arthritis in knee joints, without any adverse effects. Our hope is that it can also induce an anti-cancer response.”

It was this same husband and wife team that, in November of last year, announced that they’d discovered a protein which may prevent run-away cell growth in NMR. Unchecked cell growth is the hallmark of cancer.

HMW-HA is known to help vascular health by maintaining the integrity of Endothelial cells, which line the inside of veins and arteries. It is this property that makes it desirable in wrinkle therapy. Seluanov and Gorbunova discovered the same chemical in a “goop” that seemed to clog up testing equipment while the scientists tested other properties of the NMR.


University of Rochester boffins discover possible new key to breast cancer treatment in later stages.

Certain types of cancers seem to show resistance to treatments that in earlier stages are very effective. An example of this is the breast cancer fighting drug known as Tamoxifan. In early stages, it is a standard drug to prescribe because of its effectiveness. But in later stages, it appears to have no effect whatsoever.

University of Rochester researchers believe they have isolated the difference between the two stages that causes this stymie. They have isolated a specific protein. that seems to make the difference. And with it, they may have discovered a way to extend the treatment of breast and other forms of cancer well beyond the early stages:

Led by doctoral student Hsing-Yu Chen and Mark Noble, Ph.D., professor of Biomedical Genetics at URMC, the team studied the molecular mechanism that allows basal-like breast cancer cells to escape the secondary effects of tamoxifen, and discovered that two proteins are critical in this escape. One protein, called c-Cbl, controls the levels of multiple receptors that are critical for cancer cell function. A second protein, Cdc42, can inhibit c-Cbl and is responsible for the tumor’s underlying resistance.

The team also discovered that targeting Cdc42 – and thus inhibiting the inhibitor – with an experimental drug compound known as ML141 restored c-Cbl’s normal function. Through additional work in animal models and in human cell cultures, the team demonstrated that when ML141 is paired with tamoxifen, it enhances the ability of tamoxifen to induce cancer cell death and suppress the growth of new cancer cells. Neither drug alone had the same effect on basal-like breast cells.

So in the future, a one / two punch of Tamoxifan and ML141 may be the program of choice when dealing with this difficult cancer.

Health Technology

Before your next MRI: the nanoparticles that may be poisoning your body

Gold nanoparticles are used in a variety of medical applications, including delivery of drugs and also in what are known as “MRI contrast agents.” Basically, to make certain organs stand out among the noise of your innards, techs pump a little gold dust in you.

But new research at Stony Brook University suggests that those nanoparticles – once thought harmless – actually disrupt cell production and functioning:

 The scientists discovered that the human adipose-derived stromal cells—a type of adult stem cells—were penetrated by the gold nanoparticles almost instantly and that the particles accumulated in the cells with no obvious pathway for elimination.

The presence of the particles disrupted multiple cell functions, including movement, replication (cell division), and collagen contraction—all processes that are essential in wound healing.

Oh, and the fun doesn’t stop there! It turns out that the introduction of nanoparticles seems to veer into the Incredible Hulk territories:

The most disturbing finding was that the particles interfered with genetic regulation, RNA expression and inhibited the ability to differentiate into mature adipocytes or fat cells.

So in summary, pumping your body with gold dust may actually turn you into Midas. For realzies. Or maybe not. This is just one study…

Health Politics

Are “bath salts” a shot in the gut for drug legalization?

I think it is more an article of faith than a empirical  fact that liberalizing drug laws or legalizing certain drugs would cure a lot of our society’s ills. I say that as a person who very-much supports the idea of drug legalization, at least for pot and a few other limited drugs.

But as I watch the bath salts and fake weed controversies evolve, I wonder whether they don’t offer empirical evidence that our fantasy of legal drug Nirvana may be just that. Out of a list of reasons to legalize weed, two that jump out as the more common ones are that:

  1. Making drugs illegal doesn’t really stop people from doing them, and
  2. Illegal, unregulated drugs are inherently dangerous, because you don’t know what you’re buying

13WHAM’s Evan Dawson has a report up that shows that cracking down on the sale of synthetic, nominally legal intoxicants is having a significant impact in the Rochester area:

13WHAM News combined the number of local calls to poison control about bath salts with the number of emergency room visits related to bath salts. Here are the totals, month-by-month, which show a surge in bath salts, followed by a steep decline after the ban:

March 2012:  23
April 2012:  30
May 2012:  42
June 2012:  81
July 2012:  104
August 2012:  29
September 2012:  19
October 2012:  3

In a bubble, we had what seems to be a pretty significant problem by July, which seems to have been eliminated by October. It is impossible to tell whether this is just a fad that ran its course – perhaps sped by crackdowns – or a legitimate case for illegality as a preventative measure. Certainly, High Times and head shops have always been filled with “alternative” drugs. I can’t say I ever knew anyone who tried them. Certainly, things changed.

But the second argument – that legal drugs will be less harmful – is clearly in doubt as well. In fact, the only reason this story was ever a story is because people were getting hurt. Hurt by things sold over the counter, entirely legally.

American history prior to the passage of the 18th Amendment bares both these truths out: use of legal drugs from alcohol to cocaine and opiates was legion throughout the country. For a Rochester perspective on just how overrun our alcohol culture was in the mid-1800’s, read A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837. There is no credible measure by which our current levels of drug and alcohol abuse compare to those days. And because our 19th century drug and alcohol problem was as much as anything a manufacturing problem, there are numerous examples of less than ethical mixtures, including but not limited to using cocaine and opiates in just about every “curative” you could sell at the drug store.

Perhaps what this says is that “decriminalization” is less desirable than legalization – bringing illegal drugs under the same legal regime as alcohol. Anyway, just food for thought on a Thursday afternoon.