The missing finger that never was

I read a really interesting article in BBC News not long ago about a guy who was given a substance extracted from pig’s bladder to grow back part of his finger. Sounds too good to be true!

The Guardian (warning: semi-gross pictures) sorts it out:

The patient is Lee Spievack. He was given the powder by Acell, a large and longstanding biotech firm founded by Alan Spievack. He is Lee Spievack’s big brother. Dr Badylak is Acell’s chief scientific adviser, and he can be seen bravely making the best of all this unwelcome media attention by showing TV cameras around his labs and giving lengthy interviews, both now and in February 2008, when this story made the US news, and also, interestingly, in February of 2007, when it made the news for the first time, in exactly the same form, with exactly the same characters, and many identical quotes, verbatim, in the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, and more.

I’m glad someone besides Jon Stewart is fact-checking these trigger-happy news morons. In addition to being published in the Guardian, Ben Goldacre’s got a great blog entitled Bad Science.

Sustainable energy in African villages

Nairobi businessman bringing sustainable energy to unpowered villages – Boing Boing Gadgets

Solar is, in Africa as in the west, mostly impractical. But wind, like sunlight, is “everywhere,” providing a natural, inexhaustible supply of energy. Among the most interesting of CraftSkills’ installations is the one at Chifiri, which uses a turbine’s power to run a pump, which filters 422 liters of water an hour from a brackish pond that is the only source of water for 500 villagers.

This is just the kind of business growth that needs to be encouraged in developing areas. It’s exciting to think of the possibilities – the clean drinking water alone will do a great deal to improve health conditions and increase a village’s abillity to move from survival mode to production and growth – not to mention that electricity could be made available. When wealthier nations decide to support developing ones, these are the kinds of projects to support. Is there a foundation for supporting sustainable energy projects out there? It would be cool if there is.

Pharma Pictograms

7847_web.jpgFrench researchers have developed a potentially very useful set of graphical icons to depict disease and drug information:

Like road signs, the VCM graphical language uses a small set of graphical signs. The current dictionary contains about 130 pictograms displayed in 5 colors. For example, current conditions of a patient are shown as red icons while risks of future conditions are orange. The physicians who tested the system learned it in a couple of hours and think this system will reduce the number of errors in drug prescriptions.

I think a universal, simplified set of icons is a great idea. Of course they wouldn’t be a replacement for drug information sheets, etc., but they could allow doctors and pharmacist to quickly identify a substance and work more safely and efficiently.

Our next President will most likely be stupid

Orac has a nice rejoinder to David Kirby’s recent article, which contained the following disheartening, if not unsurprising news:

Senator Hillary Clinton, in response to a questionnaire from the autism activist group A-CHAMP, wrote that she was “Committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.” And when asked if she would support a study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, she said: “Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out.”And now, yesterday, at a rally in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama had this rather surprising thing to say:

“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

(Note: The Washington Post reports that when Obama said “this person,” he pointed to someone who had asked an autism question).

Orac contends (and I agree) that the problem isn’t the answers themselves, but rather that they answered at all (his notes and links, not mine):

In essence, both candidates accepted some of the major pillars of the mercury militia’s fantasies as being true. These include claims that:

  • there is an autism “epidemic.” (Arguably, there is very likely not.)
  • there is a scientific controversy over whether vaccines cause autism. (There really isn’t; it’s a so-called manufactured controversy. There is no good evidence that vaccines cause autism, David Kirby’s bloviations and pontifications otherwise notwithstanding. Multiple large epidemiological studies have failed to find even a hint of a convincing link, and the publicizing of the Hannah Poling case as some sort of “smoking gun” by antivaccinationists is nothing more than a rebranding of autism and more evidence of the incredibly shrinking vaccine claim.)
  • that vaccines are somehow unsafe or that children are “overvaccinated” and eceive too many vaccines. (Again, there is no good evidence that either of these is the case.)

And of course, John McCain is even worse.

LifeStraw for water purification

l-s-family.jpgMeant for use in developing countries or in areas with few sources of clean water, the LifeStraw seems to be a promising product:

  • Arrow Filters a minimum of 15,000 litres of water – provides safe drinking water for a family for more
    than 2 years (calculated approximately on a family’s consumption of 20 litres water/day).
  • Arrow Has a high flow rate.
  • Arrow Removes minimum 99.9999% of all bacteria.
  • Arrow Removes minimum 99.99% of all viruses.
  • Arrow Removes minimum 99.9% of all parasites.
  • Arrow No electrical power or batteries required.
  • Arrow No spare parts required for the lifetime of the product.
  • Arrow No running water required.
  • Arrow Easy-to-clean pre-filter as well as purifier cartridge.

ls-f-user-c1-3.jpgSounds pretty ideal, and not as impractical as peddling for clean water. The design is simple and straightforward, with good water coming from the blue spout, and the remaining non-potable water coming from the red spout. It would be really great to see these offered for little to no money for those who really need it.

FRONTLINE:sick around the world

FRONTLINE does yet another great job as one of the only remaining investigative journalism outfit in America. It’s kind of like Sicko without the persuasive slant, though it is done in an editorial/feature style. You can watch it entirely online (because PBS is awesome), and there’s even a little bonus footage at the end where he explores Ayurvedic medicine. One of the great things about watching Frontline online is the little text popups that link to informative pages, such as this one, that contained a few very interesting graphs (click for bigger):

graph1.jpg   graph2.jpg   graph3.jpg

You’ll notice that the US spends far more money to far less effect than the other nations gathered in these charts (data gathered from a 2007 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)). Another really interesting section is on how different countries compensate doctors and deal with malpractice. I thought the author made a really excellent point when he said that the current presidential candidates are mentioning health care reform, but not one is referring to how we can emulate more effective systems from other parts of the world.

The Greatest Silence

tgs-poster.jpgI missed this last night, both because I don’t have HBO, and because I was playing my last soccer game. If you have HBO, record and torrent it, because I can’t find it anywhere yet. This year’s Special Jury Prize at Sundance went to The Greatest Silence:

Since 1998 a brutal war has been raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Over 4 million people have died. And there are the uncountable casualties: the many tens of thousands of women and girls who have been systematically kidnapped, raped, mutilated and tortured by soldiers from both foreign militias and the Congolese army.

The world knows nothing of these women. Their stories have never been told. They suffer and die in silence. In The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo these brave women finally speak.

The HBO page for the film is here, if you want to find the schedule. If any of my friends with cable and a DVR want to record it for me, I’d be grateful. There’s an interview with the director here. The HBO trailer:

Genetic link for lung cancer identified

464749_cigarettes.jpgSome really interesting genetic research was recently published in Nature on smoking and lung caner:

Three independent genetic studies have found some of the strongest evidence yet that your genes influence your risk of developing lung cancer.

Lung cancer, the most common killer cancer in the world, is largely caused by smoking. Tobacco is thought to be responsible for about 5 million premature deaths every year and smoking is still clearly the largest risk factor. But the new results suggest that, amongst smokers, some people may be as much as 80% more at risk than others thanks to their genes.

So how risky is smoking? You won’t need a genetic test; it suffices to say it’s fairly risky indeed:

About 50% of the general population carries a single copy of this cancer gene variant, members of the three research groups suggest. Data from all three studies — some of which did not include non-smokers — show that possessing this single copy raises the risk of lung cancer by about 30%.

What’s more, another 10% of the population is likely to carry two copies of this set of mutations, raising cancer risk by as much as 80% relative to people with equivalent lifestyles without the cancer-linked gene variant.

McCain is anti-vaccine

Into the Fray Over the Cause of Autism – New York Times

“It’s indisputable that autism is on the rise among children,” Senator John McCain said while campaigning recently in Texas. “The question is, What’s causing it? And we go back and forth, and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”

Not as if I need another reason not to vote for McCain… I’ve posted numerous refutations of the thimerosal-autism link here before, and this one‘s as good as any. You can also take a look here [NSFW] at what happens when you don’t immunize children, but I’ll warn you the pictures are pretty graphic. Here’s my favorite Metafilter comment from a now-deleted thread:

It’s mercury, a neurotoxin.

You know what else is a toxin? Chlorine. That’s right: it corrodes sensitive mucous membranes and can digest living cells. I therefore suggest you stay away from table salt — it contains chlorine, you know. Clearly toxic!

Overdose Rescue Kits Save Lives

NPR: Overdose Rescue Kits Save Lives

Every year, overdoses of heroin and opiates, such as Oxycontin, kill more drug users than AIDS, hepatitis or homicide.And the number of overdoses has gone up dramatically over the past decade.

But now, public health workers from New York to Los Angeles, North Carolina to New Mexico, are preventing thousands of deaths by giving $9.50 rescue kits to drug users. The kits turn drug users into first responders by giving them the tools to save a life.

[…]

The nasal spray is a drug called naloxone, or Narcan. It blocks the brain receptors that heroin activates, instantly reversing an overdose.

Pretty awesome, right?  The Bush administration doesn’t think so:

But Dr. Bertha Madras, deputy director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, opposes the use of Narcan in overdose-rescue programs.

“First of all, I dont agree with giving an opioid antidote to non-medical professionals. Thats No. 1,” she says. “I just dont think thats good public health policy.”

Madras says drug users arent likely to be competent to deal with an overdose emergency. More importantly, she says, Narcan kits may actually encourage drug abusers to keep using heroin because they know overdosing isnt as likely.

Madras says the rescue programs might take away the drug users motivation to get into detoxification and drug treatment.

Now, this would be an ok position for an idiotic, hack pundit or talk show host to have, but this is the deputy director of the ONDCP. Let’s see what their mission is:

The goals of the program are to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing, and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences.

I always hear President Bush saying history will be the judge of his administration. I’ve got a good guess what word history will file his presidency under: failure. It’s like he hires people based on their ability to be willfully and blissfully stupid. The rationale against Narcan reminds me a lot of the opposition to the HPV vaccine; a twisted moral argument at worst, a bureaucratic cop-out at best.