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Health

Google on Life and Death

Monday, 23 September, 2013 1 Comment

“One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy. We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world, but when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think.” So says search engine entrepreneur Larry Page in “The Audacity of Google”, the main feature article in the current issue of Time magazine, which plays up the interview on its cover with the dramatic title: Can Google Solve Death?.

In a post on Google+ dated 18 September, Page wrote: “I’m excited to announce Calico, a new company that will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases… These issues affect us all — from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families.”

Nabanita Das commented on the post: “quite an overpowering thought ….cancer is known to exist more than 5000 yrs back (as mentioned in epics ) ….it is the most persistent harbinger of natural (aging) death process ….any breakthrough will surely be multifaceted.”

But a close reading of Page’s comments in the Time interview suggest that “solving” the cancer problem is not what Page has in mind. Sure, the search for the cancer “cure” is regarded by many as the Holy Grail of modern medicine, but it does not follow that Page would see it this way. The reason is “Big Data”. More about that here on Wednesday.

Time


Stop Sepsis. Save Lives.

Monday, 9 September, 2013 0 Comments

The first-ever Berlin Sepsis Summit (PDF) opens today in Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus. Your blogger has a personal interest in the disease as he contracted sepsis, with near fatal consequences, while in hospital during summer and nothing concentrates the mind more wonderfully than the prospect of closure and its causes, to paraphrase Dr Johnson. For those unfamiliar with the syndrome, sepsis occurs when the body is unable to fight bacterial infection. Perversely, many of the advances in modern healthcare weaken our immune system, opening the door for sepsis. These include cancer treatments, medicines for gastro-intestinal illnesses and drugs that affect the immune system, like cortisone.

Every three seconds someone around the world dies of sepsis and, terrifyingly, it is now the second-leading cause of death in non-coronary intensive care unit patients. Even in first-world countries such as Germany, with a much-praised healthcare system, some 160,000 people die from the disease annually. Imagine, then, the havoc it wreaks in less developed societies?

The keynote address in Berlin today will be given by Ciaran Staunton, whose young son, Rory, died of sepsis in April last year in NYU Langone Medical Center. A preventable death in one of the world’s best medical facilities produced a storm of outrage and led in January to the enactment in New York State of “Rory’s Regulations“, a series of protocols to diagnose and treat sepsis before it turns fatal.

World Sepsis Day will be marked globally on Friday and the declared goal is reducing the incidence of the disease by 20 percent by 2020. Stop Sepsis. Save Lives.

World Sepsis Day


Cranberries and Red Bull

Tuesday, 27 August, 2013 0 Comments

There’s sugar in Red Bull, but that hasn’t hindered its march to global dominance in the energy drinks segment. Close to five billion cans of the stuff were sold in 2011, and the Austrians are masters of marketing the drink because they keep on spotting clever ways to insert themselves into stories where the colour red has a role to play. As in the growth and harvesting of cranberries as filmed so beautifully by Alex Horner.

“Cranberries can serve as a good source of supplemental antioxidants. Simply put, antioxidants protect our bodies from harmful molecules we are exposed to every day of our lives.” So says The Cranberry Institute, which has a clear interest in talking up the benefits of the red berries. So what are the facts? Well, cranberries are produced by the Vaccinium macrocarpon plant that’s grown extensively in the northern USA and Canada, and they do contain many healthy, natural compounds. So if you drink cranberry juice, you’ll be taking in relatively large amounts of antioxidants called anthocyanidins which, like all antioxidants, stabilize and ultimately destroy free radicals, the potentially damaging compounds produced in your body as byproducts of metabolism or after exposure to environmental toxins. Be aware, though, that the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center says “cranberry juice has not been shown to treat or prevent cancer.” What’s more, the “cranberry juice” that reaches the consumer often contains higher levels of sugar than are to be found in Red Bull.


The promise of immunotherapy

Friday, 16 August, 2013 0 Comments

“YERVOY (ipilimumab) can cause serious side effects in many parts of your body which can lead to death.” That’s a rather drastic warning for a drug company to offer prospective users, but that’s exactly what Bristol-Myers Squibb is doing in the case of YERVOY (ipilimumab), which “shrank tumors significantly in about 41 percent of patients with advanced melanoma in a small study. In few of the 52 patients in the study, tumors disappeared completely, at least as could be determined by imaging.” One of that “few” is the journalist is Mary Elizabeth Williams, who writes for Salon. Since late 2011, she’s been taking part in an immunotherapy clinical trial at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan and, as she puts it, she’s “clean”. What is immunotherapy? Williams explains:

“Unlike traditional cancer treatments, immunotherapy works with the body’s own defense system, releasing the braking system on a patient’s T-cells to attack cancer. And because it works systemically, the hope is that the immune system will be able to fight not just the cancer cells that testing can detect, but anywhere it might be lurking in the body — and to continue to do so long-term.”

That’s a snippet from “My ‘truly remarkable’ cancer breakthrough,” which appeared in Salon on 17 May this year. “Because immunotherapy worked so well for enough of us, my greatest hope is that now it will work well for a whole hell of a lot more of us,” says Williams. And so say all of us. By the way, on Wednesday OncLive reported that, “Any lingering skepticism about immunotherapy as an anticancer strategy appears to have been banished by research presented at the 2013 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, with fresh data from several key trials translating into excitement in clinical circles and in the investment arena.” Faster, please.

 melanoma cells


Brilliant!

Wednesday, 17 July, 2013 0 Comments

Matt

The great Matt is a daily pleasure. Hat tip for the link: Sister Ann.


An app a day

Thursday, 20 June, 2013 0 Comments

Nowadays, a 50,000-page library of medical reference books can be converted into an app that occupies about 1GB of space on a mobile device. Some of the most popular apps being used by doctors in the field are drug databases and reference guides that deliver critical clinical information to their fingertips. Among the makers of such apps is Skyscape Inc., which licenses content from medical publishers. It’s an expanding space.


Sky blue drab green

Sunday, 6 January, 2013 0 Comments

Home for the Christmas from Brisbane, Australia, were Kieran O’Brien and Hazel O’Sullivan and they brought with them, by request, an example of Australia’s laws on cigarette and tobacco “plain packaging”, which came into force on 1 December. These latest restrictions replace brand logos and colours with dull olive-green coverings. The effect in the case […]

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How the Mad Men marketed coffee

Wednesday, 15 August, 2012

Produced by Vision Associates in 1961 as a promotional film for the Coffee Brewing Institute, This is Coffee has been placed in the public domain thanks to the Prelinger Archives. Coffee, is there anything it cannot do? Study: Coffee Lowers Colon Cancer Risk. And there’s this: Coffee Cuts Alzheimer’s Disease Risk. Drink lots today!

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On the road

Monday, 2 January, 2012

Along the road The New Year will be a year of walking. That’s the resolution here, anyway. “The most important lesson that walking teaches a writer is that, although there are certain duties that cannot be shirked, those duties are often not as difficult as they appear. Impossible-looking tasks can be carried out by breaking them down into small and practicable steps.” That’s what Christopher Caldwell wrote at the weekend in the Financial Times in a column titled “Go forth, open the mind and just walk“.

Quite a bit of research has been done on the neurochemical response to walking, and the potential of controlling mood through walking is the subject of much scientific debate. We still don’t understand all of the mechanisms involved, but it is a fact that different intensities of exercise create different chemical responses in the body. And it is beyond doubt that walking has a very positive effect on mood, which means that walking can create the mood you want. So, let’s get walking this year!

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” Søren Kierkegaard