BunsenBwog: Medical Science Omnibus
Written by Bwog Staff
Zach Kagan PhD (Professional hummus Dipper) gives a rundown of what is happening in the medical world.
Here’s the problem with modern medical science: it’s just too damn productive. In the past medicine was all about leeches, treacle, and the occasional tobacco smoke blown up the rectum. But scientists and doctors seem to think they can improve on proven, albeit antiquated, techniques. Damn their steadfast pursuit of knowledge. Their curiosity cannot be sated!
And so BunsenBwog is left with stacks upon stacks of new papers on medicine each week. And they just keep coming. There’s only one prescription fit to treat this problem, and it involves a concentrated dose of medical science news.
Chemistry Professor Samuel Danishefsky and colleagues have managed to synthesize what might be the longest and most complicated polymer ever. Their feat of organic chemistry was accomplished via a technique known as Solid Phase Peptide Synthesis, but what’s important here is the molecule they’ve chosen to create: a synthetic version of erythropoietin (EPO), the hormone that regulates the production of red blood cells. And because we know you biochem majors are on the edge of your seats, yes, their method attaches carbohydrates in all the right places. Danishefsky’s group’s results can be used to find variants of erythropoietin that’s more biologically active, which can lead to better treatments for diseases like Anemia.
You may think that Typhoid is just one of those Gold Rush-era diseases that no one gets any more. However, certain strains pose major problems to children and the infirm in developing countries because no effective vaccine exists. Studying typhoid isn’t easy though, especially since mice—a biologist’s genetically well characterized best friend—aren’t susceptible to the disease. But a team of researchers from the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) noticed that mice have a gene that codes for a type of bacterial recognition that is not present in humans. When that gene was knocked out lo and behold the mice were then able to contract typhoid, which is good news as long as you’re not a mouse. The team has even been able to develop a working vaccine—for mice at least.
Computers aren’t just for the internet, although an evening procrastinating in Butler can make you feel that way. In fact, computers’ data-crunching skills are being put to good use in the field of medical science. Dr. Dennis Vitkup and coauthors created a program called NETBAG+ which analyzed hundreds of genes associated with schizophrenia. NETBAG+ has helped identify what specific genetic networks result in phenotypes similar to schizophrenia, and interestingly enough they resemble similar genetic networks for autism. According to Dr. Vitkup, the results show “how closely the autism and schizophrenia genetic networks are intertwined.”
A new study from the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and CUMC has found that ovarian cancer patients tend to have lower mortality rates at high volume hospitals verses low volume hospitals. And it’s not because patients at high volume hospitals have less complications, but rather it seems that high volume hospitals are just better equipped to treat them. According to author and Columbia MD, Dawn Hershman, the “findings suggest that targeted initiatives to improve the care of patients with complications can improve outcomes.”
There have been quite a few papers published in recent years showing that drinking green tea can slow down tumor growth, but so far the active ingredient in green tea causing this has not been identified. A new study by Catherine Crew, an MD from the CUMC, proposes a possible mechanism for green tea’s calming affect on cancer. Specifically, the identified active ingredient is Polyphenon E which has the ability to inhibit certain growth factors responsible for tumor growth.
As we enter these cold, dark winter months it’s normal to feel a bit bummed out. But, did you know that your sour mood is hurting the economy? Well it is, sort of. A new study from a team of Columbia and Harvard researchers has found that when people feel sad they tend to value short term pleasures over long term gain. That means sad people make poor, short sighted investments, such as choosing to invest an evening in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a Doctor Who marathon—or as we like to call it at Bwog, “Saturday night.”
What makes the world go ’round via Wikimedia Commons