"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

Science is best when discussed: leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Different Strokes: Drugs, Brains, and Fat Asses 

Everything has side-effects, especially medications. Many are bad, some are good, and most come as a bit of a surprise.

A household item, so basic it's hard to even think of it as medicine, may turn out to be a powerful weapon against cancer: talc, when applied to the chest cavity, appears to greatly (and lastingly) stimulate production of the powerful anti-cancer hormone endostatin. Yay for baby powder!

On the downside (or possibly not, depending on how evil you are): those wheeled shoes that seem so popular these days, sending already-bothersome children (and frat boys...hi Mark!) careening down supermarket aisles at ever-increased velocity, appear to be linked to a rash of orthopedic injuries. Hah-hah!

In a recent study, US researchers found that a popular anti-hypertension drug, isradipine, seems to slow, and maybe even halt, the neurodegenerative process of Parkinson's disease. They found that young dopamine neurons used sodium gradients for their electrical activity, but older ones used calcium - a much more unruly and dangerous ion for cells - and that isradipine seems to force the cells to 'rejuvenate,' reverting to less-damaging sodium pump function. Aside from how awesome it'd be to really have a treatment for Parkinson's (to which I am rather strongly genetically predisposed), this discovery is bloody cool!

More good news for Parkinson's sufferers (at least in countries that aren't run by anti-science nimrods): researchers injected human neural stem cells into Parkinsonian monkeys, and found that they showed sustained improvement in symptomology. Awesome!!!

Drugs aren't the only things that have multiple surprising effects: Alzheimer's disease whipping-boy protein gamma-secretase (an enzyme responsible for production of AD's signature amyloid plaques) may not be a good place to target drug interventions. You see, it also acts as a potent tumor suppressor by lowering activity of epidermal growth factor receptor, which is implicated in skin cancer development. Bad as AD is, patients probably won't be lining up to get cancer instead.

Speaking of brains. Those of medical residents work better on more sleep, and patient care improves as a result. Well, OK, maybe not strictly as a result of more sleep, but certainly as a result of less overworked residents: a Yale study has found that patient care improved after the training program moved to the new 80-hour maximum week for residents.

And, last but not least, the Bad News. At least, for those looking for a quick-fix miracle diet pill, now that TrimSpa is ... errr ... not so hot anymore. We've all been awaiting the FDA study results on rimonabant, aka Acomplia, aka Zimulti, aka that-CB-1inhbitor-Michael-keeps-blabbing-about.

Well here's the thing: it seems to be fairly effective for weight loss (a promising but unthrilling 5% over placebo), but it has a very prominent side effect: depression and suicidal thoughts. I have to admit though, I'm not really impressed so far: people likely to be prescribed such a drug are likely to be highly sensitive about their self-esteem in the first place. If the drug doesn't work the almost-certainly advertised "miracles" they might get really disheartened. On the other hand, CB1 is rather profoundly linked to mood and cognition, and to motivation/executive functions, so that its inhibition could cause depression doesn't shock me one bit.


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