Azithromycin.. maybe not a great antibiotic for heart patients

The story is being picked up by a lot of local news: a popular antibiotic has been shown to increase the risk of cancer in those who take it. Whoa. That’s scary.

But while they’re all saying that the risk is relatively low, the most informative article on the subject is a WebMD article. And if that doesn’t make local media hang their heads in shame, I’m not sure what will.

The study estimates that out of a million doses of the drug, 47 may have resulted in a heart attack. 13WHAM notes that there were approximately 55 million prescriptions filled out for this drug a year.

However, in those with prior heart conditions, the number jumps significantly to 245 cases per million. That’s a much different story.

It’s also worth noting that, while this one drug is being singled out in current reporting, notes that there are in fact a suite of antibiotics that increase the risk of heart attacks. And of course there is this big take-away:

While the study found an association between the use of azithromycin and potential heart problems, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

So a relatively low chance of heart attack in most people, a higher – but still not proven – chance of heart attack in those with pre-existing heart problems. On balance, this doesn’t strike me as anything to get too excited about. Rather, it’s one more thing to talk to one’s doctor about if you’ve already got concerns about your ticker.

Rochester Science

U of R boffins use Beijing Olympics data to link pollution to cardiovascular health problems

The extraordinary lengths to which the Chinese government went to avoid the embarrassment of hosting the Olympic Games in a smog-choked city offered researchers at the @UofR a rare opportunity to study the effects of air pollution on the day-to-day cardiovascular health of those who live under its pall.

Probably the most amazing part of this story is the fact that China’s efforts to curb pollution actually did work. For weeks prior to the Games, they restricted automobile traffic, closed factories and seeded clouds to produce more rainfall. The results were a significant – albeit temporary – reduction in airborne pollutants. Once the Games were done, however, they relaxed those rules.

This gave researchers the opportunity to measure some of the markers for cardiovascular problems – high blood pressure, heart rates, and blood clotting – before, during and after the moratorium on pollution. The results were unmistakable:

The authors found that the markers used in the study essentially mirrored pollution changes – improving as anti-pollution controls were implemented and rebounding once the air pollution controls were relaxed. For example, two key indicators of blood coagulation – von Willebrand factor and soluble P-selectin concentrations – were reduced by 13 and 34 percent respectively during the games. After the games, these two indicators returned to near pre-Olympic levels. The study also saw similar, but not statistically significant, patterns of change in blood pressure and white blood cell count during the period of pollution controls.

The study goes on to say that the participants in the study were young and healthy, and that the effects of pollution would likely be harsher in more vulnerable demographics.


Pound of flesh: in light of China’s “baby pills,” a history of European medical cannibalism

News just this past week out of South Korea was that they need to start cracking down on pills made of dried infant flesh, said to cure diseases and boost male sexual performance. Who knew this was a thing?

But before we get our harumph on about the crazy shit they do in Asia, lets review quickly the article on European medical cannibalism:

“The question was not, ‘Should you eat human flesh?’ but, ‘What sort of flesh should you eat?’ ” says Sugg. The answer, at first, was Egyptian mummy, which was crumbled into tinctures to staunch internal bleeding. But other parts of the body soon followed. Skull was one common ingredient, taken in powdered form to cure head ailments. Thomas Willis, a 17th-century pioneer of brain science, brewed a drink for apoplexy, or bleeding, that mingled powdered human skull and chocolate. And King Charles II of England sipped “The King’s Drops,” his personal tincture, containing human skull in alcohol. Even the toupee of moss that grew over a buried skull, called Usnea, became a prized additive, its powder believed to cure nosebleeds and possibly epilepsy. Human fat was used to treat the outside of the body. German doctors, for instance, prescribed bandages soaked in it for wounds, and rubbing fat into the skin was considered a remedy for gout.

Lets not forget also that Europe has a tradition of binding books in leather made of human flesh. Uses include many medical tomes, but also as a special fuck-you to one of the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot immortalized by Guy Fawkes Day. The list of offenses by Father Henry Garnet was bound in a book made of… his face.

So yeah. Claim it as ancient history if you prefer. Just don’t call it unheard of.

Rochester Science

Bridging the gap: U of R boffin discovers new means of regenerating lost nerve tissues

Here’s something you might not have known: people with severe nerve damage can have their nerves replaced with donor cells, but to do so requires that patients spend a lifetime on harsh drugs to suppress the immune system that will attack the foreign ganglia. People who have been hurt in car accidents or by gunshot wounds are better off if doctors can find a way to allow the patient’s own cells to aid in repairing the gaps caused by such severe wounds.

But this, as you might have guessed, is not as easy as it sounds. Unlike skin cells that just grow outwardly naturally and will eventually repair themselves, nerve cells have to attach themselves in the correct patterns in order to fulfill the same role they had before the accident. It’s the difference between slapping a new quarter panel on the side of your car on one hand, and rewiring the car’s stereo system on the other. How do two ends of a ragged hole in your nervous system find each other again?

Doctor Jason Huang of the University of Rochester Medical Center treats patients here in Rochester at Highland Hospital and also treated soldiers in Iraq. His research, funded by the U of R and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, has led to the discovery that cells – called dorsal root ganglion or DRG cells –  can play an important role in the bridging of those neuron gaps. More importantly, can do so while minimizing the undue attention of the immune system.

Doctor Huang’s research tested DRG cells’ effectiveness when compared with another type of neuron-repairing cell, the Schwann cell. A “bridge” of collagen is placed between the two ends of the damaged nerve, then paired with samples of one of the two test cells to test each cell type for effectiveness. The collagen bridge is already a technique being used by neurosurgeons, but the augmentation with neuron-regrowing cells is something new.

The game plan is to actually grow DRG cells in a lab using the patient’s own nerve cells as a base. They’ve discovered a means of stretching the cells (huh?) to encourage them to grow at a rate of an inch every three weeks. This means that, not only are the new neurons more likely to play ball with the body’s immune system, but replacing those cells may take only a few weeks rather than several months as with other treatments.

For more information on Dr. Huang’s research, see the article below:

A Step Forward In Effort to Regenerate Damaged Nerves – News Room – University of Rochester Medical Center.

Rochester Science

@UofR and IBM partnership puts the University at the front lines of respiratory health research.

The recently-announced partnership between the @UofR and IBM is starting to bear fruit already. The National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the National Institutes of Health have awarded the school $4.7 million in funding – extensible for up to 7 years and as much as $50m – for continued research into the germs which cause various lung diseases.

The University press release cites the Health Sciences Center for Computational Innovation (basically, a shit-ton of expensive computing power, aimed at crunching medical research numbers) that is the partnership between IBM and the University as the key factor in winning the grant. The State of New York has also awarded the U of R $5m in grant money for this project. The University expects to create as many as 250 jobs in Rochester for research assistants, nurses, info analysts and other support personnel.

Aims of the research include investigating the relationship and interaction between the beneficial germs that are native to our bodies and the harmful germs that cause the flu, research into better vaccinations for elderly patients against pneumonia and clinical trials of drugs and vaccines.

For more information on the research initiative and the federal grant money, see the below-linked press release:

University Lung Research Awarded $4.7 Million Contract to Establish a Respiratory Pathogens Research Center – News Room – University of Rochester Medical Center.


Are Cannabinoids Painkillers?

Well, no. They aren’t. But that’s not to say that they’re not responsible for at least some placebo effects, including as one study found, painkilling effects.

The whole thing’s a bit complicated, but here’s the gist: science has long known that cannabinoid receptors – chemicals in the brain whose only seeming purpose is to receive and utilize cannabinoids, basically what gets you high in pot – exist in the body. But in studying why the Placebo Effect works in some cases but not others, scientists have stumbled upon the theory that certain cannabinoid receptors are being utilized when the brain is fooling itself into believing a drug works or doesn’t.

Check it out here:

Body May Use Cannabinoids to Make Placebos Work | Wired Science |