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Better Than Xanax

24 May

These tiny knitted happy pills are way better than Xanax.
How could one be depressed with a few of these guys floating around your purse?
(My anxiety meds always end up floating in my purse, like pharmaceutical nomads)

Eating Seasonably Chart

8 May

I Love Both :D

20 Apr

Love your coffee and tea, and they will love you back. There are a ton more benefits of coffee and tea, but these cover some good ones. 

5 Year Old Dies Of Drug Overdose

17 Apr

Via Huffington Post:

Kimber Michelle Brown, 5-Year-Old, Dies From Cold Medicine Overdose

Medical examiners in La Plata County in southwest Colorado have ruled that Kimber Michelle Brown, a 5-year-old girl who died in February, had toxic levels of two over-the-counter medications in her system at the time of her death, the Associated Press reports.

A toxicology report on Brown found that the kindergartner had two-and-half times the maximum recommended dose of dextromethorphan — the active ingredient in Robitussin, Vicks and many other over-the-counter cold medications — in addition to high levels of the anti-allergy medicine Cetirizine.

“In my opinion, the combination of these drugs — which were the ingredients of the over-the-counter medications with which Kimber was being treated — caused her death,” La Plata County Coroner Dr. Carol Huser wrote in an autopsy reported obtained by the Durango Herald.

Brown was staying with her grandmother, 59-year-old Linda Sheets, in early February when she began exhibiting flu-like symptoms, a sheriff’s department spokesman told the Herald. Huser told the paper that on the evening before her death on Sunday, Feb. 12, the girl had been complaining of leg pain, cramps and muscle spasms that would indicate that she had toxic levels of medication in her system. Investigators are unsure whether Sheets accidentally gave her granddaughter too much medicine or if the girl ingested the substances after finding them on the counter, where they were in reach.
An investigation is ongoing.

According KWGN-TV, the death is currently being treated as an accident.

Read the Durango Herald‘s full report on Brown’s death and herobituary for more on this story.

How Safe Is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

13 Apr

The following is written by Kai Kupferschmidt of sciencemag.org:

Dangers of Chinese Medicine Brought to Light by DNA Studies

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is enjoying increasing popularity all over the world. But two molecular genetics studies published this week show that the trendy treatments can be harmful, as well. The papers focus attention on the fact that not all of their ingredients are listed, or even legal, and that some can cause cancer.

“These two studies show very clearly how dangerous the products of TCM can be,” says Fritz Sörgel, the head of the Institute for Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Research in Nuremberg, Germany, who was not involved in the work. “The public needs to be better informed about these dangers.”

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on TCM products each year—a growing portion of it on the Internet—and some scientists are looking at these preparations hoping to discover new pharmacological substances. Many would like to emulate the success of Tu Youyou, the Chinese scientist who isolated artemisinin, now the world’s most important malaria drug, from an ancient Chinese medicine. Tu won a Lasker award last year and is rumored to be a Nobel candidate.

But critics have long warned that some mixtures can also contain naturally occurring toxins, contaminants like heavy metals, added substances such as steroids that make them appear more effective, and traces of animals that are endangered and trade-restricted.

Now, researchers at Murdoch University in Australia have investigated the problem using modern sequencing technology. The team, based at the university’s Australian Wildlife Forensic Services and Ancient DNA Laboratory in Perth, analyzed 15 samples of traditional Chinese medicine seized by Australian border officials.

“We took these traditional preparations, smashed them to pieces, and extracted the DNA from the powder,” explains molecular geneticist Michael Bunce. The scientists then fished out copies of two specific genes, trnL, a chloroplast gene common to all plants, and 16srRNA, conserved among plants and animals, and multiplied and sequenced them. By comparing the sequences to those in genetic databases, they could pinpoint the animals and plants used to make the medicine. “Sometimes we really struggled to assign a particular DNA to a particular species,” Bunce says. But as genetic databases expand, this should become easier.

Some products contained material from animals classified as vulnerable or critically endangered, such as the Asiatic black bear and the Saiga antelope—just as the producers claimed. But often, the medicine also harbored ingredients not mentioned on the packaging, the team reports online today in PLoS Genetics. “For example, a product labeled 100 percent Saiga antelope contained considerable quantities of goat and sheep DNA,” Bunce writes.

“Using DNA to identify the animal species and thus prove illegal trading is very elegant,” says Dietmar Lieckfeldt, who works in molecular forensics at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany. Identifying animals by their DNA has been possible for a while, he says, but the next-generation sequencing technology makes it possible to nail different species in a mixture very quickly.

In the herbal preparations, Bunce and his colleagues found members of 68 different plant families, among them plants of the genera Ephedra and Asarum. Both can contain toxic chemicals such as aristolochic acid, a compound banned in many countries because it causes kidney disease and cancer of the upper urinary tract (UUC). While detecting DNA from a certain species does not mean that a toxin produced by that plant is present, chemical analysis of one of the four samples containing Asarum DNA did turn up aristolochic acid.

The threat posed by aristolochic acid is also highlighted in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. The researchers, led by pharmacologist Arthur Grollman of Stony Brook University, focused on Taiwan, the country with the highest rate of UUC in the world. A previous analysis had shown that roughly one-third of the Taiwanese population consumed herbs likely to contain aristolochic acid.

The scientists sequenced the tumors of 151 patients with UUC. Among patients with characteristic mutations in the important tumor-suppressor gene TP53—which make people more vulnerable to cancer—84% also showed a known molecular signature of exposure to aristolochic acid, they found. The study provides compelling evidence that aristolochic acid is a primary cause of UUC in Taiwan, the authors argue.

Bunce and his colleagues also found DNA from plant families known to contain medicinally important species that could pose risks when used in combination with other drugs, as well as DNA from soybean and plants of the cashew family, which can contain allergens. “This just shows that the ingredients in these preparations aren’t accurately declared,” Bunce argues. Indeed, says Sörgel, the studies show that partaking in traditional Chinese herbal medicine is a gamble: “We just don’t know enough about it.”

Boob Quickies

6 Apr

This post was originally about boobs.
And then somehow it grew into some sort of verbose blog monster.

I had set out to write about how my breasts have impacted my life, but that post will have to wait for another day. There has been a lot of controversy in our culture lately regarding women. The concept of being a woman in our culture has been the center of a nasty political war, to the point that even a simple blog post about how awesome boobs are turns into a statement of what it means to be a woman. Honestly, it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. And as a result, I’ve noticed a surge of woman-related content on my usual Internet browsing sites.
This isn’t going to be the deep and reflective post I intended to write. Mostly, it’s because of the research. There is just so much information out there, so many opinion articles, that I really can’t say what hasn’t already been said before. The primary purpose of this blog is to store and share articles that interest me, since I know I will eventually want to refer back to them. So this post is going to be quickie-style.

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of boobs.

(Without boobs, where would be store our kittens?)

First off, the cost of being owning a vagina. Jezebel threw together this nice little article outlining the basic cost of owning a vagina, based on the staffer’s personal experience and drug-store prices. Not incredibly scientific, but enough to give you a ball-park estimate and an average idea of all the items needed for proper maintenance. The list doesn’t include pregnancy costs (though it does include pregnancy test, for those trying and those who have the occasional scare). I suppose it makes sense, if the list is the basics. It inspires me to go through my finances and calculate what its costs for me to maintain my own fabulous lady parts. I already know that bras, at about $75 a piece (+/- $10), typically run me $150 to $225 a year. And eventually I’ll have to start getting breast exams, which are another hefty expense.

SMBC, which always makes me giggle, recently released this delightful gem.

Back to the boobs!
The over-diagnosis of breast cancer is one of those things that a lot of women and feminists are still quiet about, because 1) many of them have had a sister/mother/friend/relative whose life was saved by early detection, and they don’t want to admit that such a case may have been due to over-diagnosis and 2) the medical, social, and political implications are too horrifying to think about.



The road of breast cancer is a very difficult one to endure. Chemo saves many lives, but also takes an incredible physical and emotional toll. Chemo is not “just another drug” that can be handed out like aspirin. Its a detrimental drug which should only be given because the other alternative is death. Additionally, mastectomies are essentially an amputation, and emotionally devastating because of how much importance our culture places on breasts. According to social standards, a huge portion of what it means to be a woman is wrapped up in our breasts, and when one is raised in such an environment, losing a breast can result in a huge psychological toll. Many are still in denial, or trying to come to terms with the concept of breast cancer over-diagnosis. But the reports are still out there, and for the sake of our health and our boobs (which are pretty super awesome), this issue deserves to be  investigated further. Diagnostic techniques are improving, and detecting breast cancer with a single drop of blood may soon be possible. However, on a brighter note, a recent discovery gives us hope in detecting the infamous “triple negative” breast cancer, which is considered the deadliest form of breast cancer.


A few more quickies on breast cancer: The first large-scale U.S.-based study to evaluate the link between an injectable form of progestin-only birth control and breast cancer risk in young women. Stick to the pill, ladies.  There is also a link between long-term estrogen hormone use and breast cancer, and a new breast cancer susceptibility gene, named XRCC2, has been discovered.


I few weeks ago I shared the idea that we should all knit out congressmen a vagina, so they will stay out of ours. The idea was conceived by The Snatchel Project. The Internet loved it! I started seeing crochet and knitted uteruses, vulvas, and cervixes everywhere (Even a uterus lamp). But it’s not the first time woman have used yarn to emulate female anatomy. Knitted tits have been used to raise awareness about breast cancer for years. You can even buy knitted bikini tops.

Today Cracked released a delightful article written by Luke McKinney, “The 7 Most Sexist Things Ever Invented For Boobs.” It’s both horrific and hilarious. I would love to see prototypes of some of these inventions, just so I can giggle in horror.

Political slut quickies: John Stewart explains why the transvaginal ultrasound bill of Virginia has enraged women across the country. Ever since Rush called Sandra Fluke a slut on air, woman have rushing to re-appropriate the word slut. Why? Probably because shame has long been used as a powerful tool to silence women. And there was this controversial Doonesbury comic, which was pulled from several newspapers. (Because it’s okay to call a woman a slut and introduce bills infringing on her rights, but not okay to satirically bring attention to it.)


Also, Elizabeth Banks threatens to bleed all over furniture if women are denied access to the pill, and Rick Perry’s facebook page is now buried with woman asking him about menstruation, and updating him of their flow status.

Happy April Fools Day!

1 Apr

Happy April Fools Day, Internet!
In celebration of the trickiest of days, I present to you random “science facts” floating around the internet, all of which are completely, completely untrue.


Now excuse me while I go plant some rice grains.
I’ll be sure to wash up with kitten saliva afterwards.
Speaking of which, where on earth does a person get “one glass of cat salvia?” Can I get that at the local Safeway, or do I have to special order it online?

German Health Care

31 Mar

Mention European health care to an American, and it probably conjures up a negative stereotype — high taxes, long waiting lines, rationed care.

It’s not that way in Germany. Very little tax money goes into the system. The lion’s share comes, as in America, from premiums paid by workers and employers to insurance companies.

German health benefits are very generous. And there’s usually little or no wait to get elective surgery or diagnostic tests, such as MRIs. It’s one of the world’s best health care systems, visible in little ways that most Germans take for granted.


Checking In With An Old Friend
Juergen in der Schmitten was a medical student when I first met him 17 years ago. Now, he’s a 42-year-old general practitioner in a suburb of Dusseldorf.

On one particular night, Juergen was the doctor on call for the region. Any German who needs after-hours care can call a central number and get connected to a doctor.

Around 11 p.m., a woman with a fever called Juergen. She wanted him to make a house call. They talked for maybe five minutes, in the end agreeing that she would come into his office in the morning.

A situation like this would be unlikely in the United States. Americans might not get through to a doctor at all, let alone have a discussion about whether the physician should make a house call in the middle of the night to treat a case of flu.


The Patients’ Perspective
Sabina and Jan Casagrandes say they’ve had really good care from the German health system. And they’ve used it a lot.

Sabina is American, Jan is German. They live in a fourth-floor walkup with their two little girls in Cologne, an ancient city on the Rhine in western Germany.

“I’ve probably been very expensive for the health insurance system here,” Sabina says. “When I was 33 years old, I had a giant lump on my neck all of a sudden, where your thyroid is. And it was a big tumor.”

It took two operations to remove her cancer. Luckily it was curable with surgery and radiation. Sabina says she had the best care she could imagine.

“Then I came home to my little daughter, who I couldn’t really lift up because of my neck having been cut open,” Sabina says. “So I asked my doctor, ‘What can I do?’ And she said, ‘Well, your health insurance will pay for someone to come help you in the house.'”

Sabina’s health insurer paid a friend to shop, cook and even help care for the baby until Sabina was back on her feet. That’s not unusual in Germany. In fact, under the country’s system for long-term care, family members can choose to be paid for taking care of a frail elder at home if they want to avoid nursing home care.


Coverage For All
The health care system that took such good care of Sabina is not funded by government taxes. But it is compulsory. All German workers pay about 8 percent of their gross income to a nonprofit insurance company called a sickness fund. Their employers pay about the same amount. Workers can choose among 240 sickness funds.

Basing premiums on a percentage-of-salary means that the less people make, the less they have to pay. The more money they make, the more they pay. This principle is at the heart of the system. Germans call it “solidarity.” The idea is that everybody’s in it together, and nobody should be without health insurance.

“If I don’t make a lot of money, I don’t have to pay a lot of money for health insurance,” Sabina says. “But I have the same access to health care that someone who makes more money has.”

But she acknowledges that nearly 8 percent of her salary is a sizable bite.

“Yes, it’s expensive. You know, it’s a big chunk of your monthly income,” Sabina says. “But considering what you can get for it, it’s worth it.”

Actually, it’s about the same proportion of income that American workers pay, on average, if they get their health insurance through their job. The big difference is that U.S. employers pay far more, on average, than German employers do — 18 percent of each employee’s gross income versus around 8 percent in Germany.
More Added Benefits In Germany
Moreover, German health insurance has more generous benefits than U.S. policies cover. There are never any deductibles, for instance, before coverage kicks in. And all Germans get the same coverage.

For instance, the Casagrandes’ insurance covers an expensive medicine Jan needs for a chronic intestinal problem. He says if they moved to America, they might not be able to buy insurance at all because of their pre-existing conditions — a nonproblem in Germany.

“He says for himself — or for us — the health care system in the United States is the major reason why we have never moved there, and never will move there. Because both of us have chronic illnesses that have to have a lot of medical attention, and we would go broke,” Sabina says, translating for Jan.

Jan adds something else. “It’s also the No. 1 reason in the United States that people personally go bankrupt,” Sabina translates, “which would never happen here … never!”


Coverage For The Family
On the other side of Germany, in Berlin, we meet another couple who know both the American and German health systems.

Nicole and Chris Ertl own Tip Toe Shoes, a children’s shoe shop in a well-off area of the German capital. The Ertls sell high-quality European shoes — tiny Italian sandals, French and Danish boots and clogs in wonderful colors.

Chris is from San Diego, Nicole is German. She also works part time as a physician therapist and gets her health care through her job like the great majority of Germans. Like the Casagrandes, she’s happy with her coverage.

“It’s a good deal!” she says. “It’s really good because it’s a package.”

It’s a package many Americans might envy. Nicole pays a premium of $270 a month for insurance that covers her children, too. Nicole pays a single $15 copayment once every three months to see her primary-care doctor — and another $15 a quarter to see each specialist, as often as she wants. She pays no copayments for her children’s care —-and her insurance even covers her daughter’s orthodontia bill.

“They always have good care,” Nicole says, “because for kids, everything is free. The drugs, it’s always free” until they turn 18.

 

Different Rules For The Self-Employed
But even though her insurance covers the kids, it doesn’t cover her husband. Because Chris Ertl is self-employed, he has to buy insurance on his own, from a for-profit insurance company.

About one in 10 Germans buy this so-called “private” coverage. It’s not just for people who are self-employed. Civil servants and anyone who makes more than $72,000 a year can opt out of the main system. It’s a kind of safety valve for people who want more and can pay for it.

But most people don’t opt out. Chris says that’s because there’s a fundamental difference in the way Germans view health care and the government’s role — which, in Germany, means refereeing the system and making sure it’s fair and affordable.

“The general opinion in Germany is always that the government will do it for us, everything will be OK,” Chris says. “In the States, I think you grow up knowing that no one’s going to help you do anything. If you want health care, go get it.”

It’s important to remember that the German government doesn’t provide health care or finance it directly. It does regulate insurance companies closely — the nonprofits in the main system and the for-profits where Chris gets his coverage. So Chris’ insurer can’t raise his rates if he gets sick or jack up his premiums too much as he gets older. The government also requires insurers to keep costs down so things don’t get too expensive.

“Where am I better off medically?” Chris says. “I would probably say Germany.”

In some ways, Chis Ertl’s coverage is better than his wife’s. He gets his choice of top doctors — the chief of medicine, if he wants. If he goes into the hospital, he gets a private room. When he goes to the doctor, he gets a free cup of coffee and goes to the head of the line. All this embarrasses him — and annoys Nicole.

“When he goes to the doctor, he has a lot more service,” she complains.

Germans really hate any hint of unfairness in health care. The fundamental idea is that everybody must be covered and, preferably, everybody should get equal treatment. So the fact that 10 percent or so can buy some perks is an irritant — something Germans complain about but manage to put up with.

But it’s unthinkable that 48 million people wouldn’t have health insurance at all — the situation in America. As an American, Chris thinks that’s shameful. “It’s terrible,” he says. “It’s unbelievable. It shouldn’t happen.”

Germans, he says, would never tolerate that. And their system has been working pretty well for 125 years.

Radio piece produced by Jane Greenhalgh.

The Brilliant Landlord

30 Mar

Whew, these past few days have been busy. Between celebrating my birthday with friends and family, prepping for the move, and the usual shenanigans with my bestie, I haven’t had much time for sharing interesting articles. My poor browser window is drowning in tabs from science websites.
I currently live down the street from a Planned Parenthood clinic, which I used to volunteer for often in college. I admire their dedication to public health and reproductive education, which are two of my biggest passions. And of course, it’s spring time, which means all the nasty protesters have come out to play. I used to pass by them often while walking to class. While I respect their right to protest, they do tend to put me in a less-than-cheery mood.
Here is an amazing story to lift your day. A man, whose family has owned land leased to a reproductive clinic for generations. He’s had to deal with protesters for literally his entire life, and as a result has developed an admirable amount of patience and restraint. However, when they took things too far by harassing his little girl at school and calling his home at all hours, he took action in a very creative way, and started a movement.

Payback Is a Bitch for Abortion Clinic Protestors, Thanks to a Brilliant Landlord

by Cassie Murdock of Jezebel

Todd Stave has the unenviable position of being the landlord of a building in Germantown, Maryland, which he leases to an abortion provider called Reproductive Health Services Clinic. So he knows a little something about dealing patiently with anti-abortion protesters. But when they started calling him at home at all hours and harassing his family, he got fed up and came up with a very clever solution: Do unto others as they have been doing unto you.

Problems really began for Stave at the end of 2010, when he leased his building to LeRoy Carhart, one of the only doctors in the U.S. who openly acknowledges that he performs late-term abortions. As you can imagine, he’s a controversial man, and protesters come from far and wide. There is a constant group of them parked outside, praying and holding up signs, many of which have pictures of mangled fetuses. That’s pretty much a landlord’s nightmare, and yet Stave has a very calm attitude about it. He told Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post this week,

It’s their right. They are protected by the First Amendment. And outside the clinic is probably the most appropriate place for them to express their views.

If you’re wondering how Stave can remain so relaxed about the situation, he explains, “I’ve been a member of this fight since Roe v. Wade. Since I was 5 years old.” You see, the clinic used to belong to his father, and then his sister ran it. When he was younger, the office was firebombed, and protesters were often gathered outside his dad’s house. So he’s used to a certain level of harassment and he’ll tolerate it — but only up to a point. And recently, the usually calm, cool, and collected Stave was pushed to his limit.

It’s common practice for anti-abortion protesters to disseminate doctors’ personal information and urge people to harass them—and it can clearly go far beyond that, as with the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas. LeRoy Carhart, who’s now in Stave’s clinic, had his Nebraska farm burned to the ground back in 1991. But protesters in Maryland figured out they could start targeting Stave for owning the clinic’s property. He was largely unfazed by this campaign, until last fall when they took it too far. On his daughter’s first day in middle school, a large group of people protested outside her school, and then they showed up again for back-to-school night. They were naturally carrying signs with his name and contact info and those nasty pictures of fetuses.

Stave was furious, and then it got even worse. Dozens of the protestors began calling him at home, around the clock. His friends wanted to help him fight back; that’s when Stave had the brilliant idea of turning the tables on his tormentors. He began recording the names and numbers of the assholes who called, and then he gave the list of info to his friends and asked them to call these people back on his behalf. Shazam! And the really smart part was that when someone from Team Stave called, they always took the high road. He explains,

In a very calm, very respectful voice, they said that the Stave family thanks you for your prayers. They cannot terminate the lease, and they do not want to. They support women’s rights.

Genius. While it was initially only a few friends doing the calling, the group quickly expanded. Soon, he was up to having 1,000 callers at his disposal. And they got crafty too. They’d look up information on the people who’d placed unwanted calls to Stave, and then when they called, they’d drop the names of the person’s children or their school into the conversation. They’d also, said Stave, “tell them that we bless their home on such and such street,” and then name their address. Are you getting shivers up you’re spine yet? Stave’s calling force became so powerful that sometimes he was able to hammer an unwanted caller with up to 5,000 calls in return. Looks like two can play at this game, stalkers.

Stave’s approach was so appealing that he was flooded with people from all over wanting to help. So he organized Voice of Choice, which now has about 3,000 volunteers. They don’t just fight back for Stave anymore. They’ll make calls on behalf of whoever is being bullied by anti-abortion protesters, whether it’s a doctor or a landlord or their family.

When asked if he thought this method of payback was harsh, Stave said no: “We gave them back what they gave us.” Actually, not even. You gave back a mild, family-friendly version of what they gave to you. You proved to them that you know where they live and who their children are, but you didn’t show up at their homes and schools and threaten them. You didn’t come onto their lawn with posters detailing terrible imaginary things that they’ve done. You’re serving up Revenge Lite™: Tastes great, less killing.

What’s more, Stave is strict about who Voice of Choice will make calls for. If it’s just run-of-the-mill protests outside clinics, he won’t help them because he believes in people’s First Amendment right to be out there saying what’s on their mind. Protestors must be personally harassing doctors or landlords in order for Stave to step in. If only abortion opponents had the same respect for people doing what they were allowed by law to do. Ahem.

So this is the part where the evil bullies who’ve plagued him (and others) at all hours of the day or night learn their lesson after having a taste of their own medicine, right? Yep, yep. They all realized they were being horrible, and now every anti-abortion protester is treating their pro-choice opponents with the utmost respect. HA. No. Actually this is the part in the story where it gets much worse. Ready?

Since Voice of Choice has been such a success, Stave was honored by NARAL in California last week. Knowing that he was going to be out of town receiving the award, his personal band of haters chose that moment to canvass his neighborhood with fliers that had a photo of Stave in a Nazi uniform, photos of Holocaust victims, and bloody fetuses. [Pause for a brief rage-stroke intermission.] Of course, the fliers had Stave’s contact information—and all of the phone numbers and addresses for other members of his family.

This goes without saying but, nevertheless: This is so incredibly fucked up. First of all, the guy owns a building, not a concentration camp. Second of all, what kind of person picks up a flier like that and thinks, “I need to get in touch with this Nazi!” God help us all.

Obviously Stave’s daughter and all of his neighbors saw the fliers, but the contact information for Stave’s family members must have been spread around. Because on Monday an abortion protestor showed up at the dental office owned by Stave’s brother-in-law and began doing his abortion-protestor routine outside. That’s such a great idea — I’m sure the random patient walking in for a cleaning is totally going to make the connection that the dentist’s brother-in-law owns a building where there’s an abortion clinic, and therefore abortion is wrong. At this point, Stave was back in town, so he went over to confront the protestor. And when he got there, the creep said, “How was your trip to San Francisco?” Deep inhale, slow exhale.

It is amazing that people like Stave have fortitude to stand up to psychos like this coming at them from every direction, but thank heavens they do, because, honestly, the thought that these protesters get away with so much is sickening. It’s hard to know where these nutcases will end when it comes to making Stave’s life a living hell—but it’s probably not going to get any better now that he’s getting more and more national media attention.

At least we know he’s got plenty of backup from Voice of Choice. The worse these people get, the longer VoC can keep them on the phone, telling them all about the many “blessings and prayers” they’re sending to their home addresses and to the locations of their children’s daycare centers. Then everyone will be so busy making and receiving calls that they’ll have less time to spend protesting outside clinics. And maybe in the future, we’ll get to a magical place where both sides are talking to each other 100 percent of the time, and a woman will be able to walk right up to the front door of an abortion clinic without being harassed—because everyone will be so busy talking on the phone to their enemies to notice or care what she’s choosing to do with her body.

A clinic’s landlord turns the tables on anti-abortion protesters [Washington Post]

Oh, House!

28 Mar

❤ ❤ ❤

The Best Contraception Method I’ve Ever Seen

27 Mar

The Best Birth Control In The World Is For Men

by .
March 26, 2012, 11:25 AM CDT

If I were going to describe the perfect contraceptive, it would go something like this: no babies, no latex, no daily pill to remember, no hormones to interfere with mood or sex drive, no negative health effects whatsoever, and 100 percent effectiveness. The funny thing is, something like that currently exists.

The procedure called RISUG in India (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance) takes about 15 minutes with a doctor, is effective after about three days, and lasts for 10 or more years. A doctor applies some local anesthetic, makes a small pinhole in the base of the scrotum, reaches in with a pair of very thin forceps, and pulls out the small white vas deferens tube. Then, the doctor injects the polymer gel (called Vasalgel here in the US), pushes the vas deferens back inside, repeats the process for the other vas deferens, puts a Band-Aid over the small hole, and the man is on his way. If this all sounds incredibly simple and inexpensive, that’s because it is. The chemicals themselves cost less than the syringe used to administer them. But the science of what happens next is the really fascinating part.

The two common chemicals — styrene maleic anhydride and dimethyl sulfoxide — form a polymer that thickens over the next 72 hours, much like a pliable epoxy, but the purpose of these chemicals isn’t to harden and block the vas deferens. Instead, the polymer lines the wall of the vas deferens and allows sperm to flow freely down the middle (this prevents any pressure buildup),  and because of the polymer’s pattern of negative/positive polarization, the sperm are torn apart through the polyelectrolytic effect. On a molecular level, it’s what supervillains envision will happen when they stick the good guy between two huge magnets and flip the switch.

Easier than aiming magnets at your junk.

With one little injection, this non-toxic jelly will sit there for 10+ years without you having to do anything else to not have babies. Set it and forget it. Oh, and when you do decide you want those babies, it only takes one other injection of water and baking soda to flush out the gel, and within two to three months, you’ve got all your healthy sperm again.

The trouble is, most people don’t even know this exists. And if men only need one super-cheap shot every 10 years 0r more, that’s not something that gets big pharmaceutical companies all fired up, because they’ll make zero money on it (even if it might have the side benefit of, you know, destroying HIV).

If this sounds awesome for you or your loved one, get the word out. Share this article. Or this link. Or this one. Or this one. Sign this petition. Do something! A revolutionary contraceptive like this needs all the support it can get.

UPDATE: A lot of people are asking to be kept in the loop. So here’s the clinical trial/mailing list sign-upfrom the Parsemus Foundation to get further information about this procedure’s development. And again, please fill out the short non-spam petition to get the procedure funded and keep buzz going.

Delightfully Vintage STD Posters

27 Mar

I love these! If I ever have an office, I am going to print and frame some of these and hang them up. Or maybe I’ll just hang them up in my home.
Of course, that might freak out any potential boyfriends.
But it would be totally worth it.

Click here for more information on these posters, including artist and era.

Patient Experience Infographic

25 Mar

World Tuberculosis Day

24 Mar

Today is World Tuberculosis Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness to one of the world’s deadliest diseases, because no holiday is complete if it doesn’t involve celebrating the misery of millions of people.
That’s why Christmas is so popular.

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is one of those bacteria that is really awesome to talk about and really annoying to work with.
Really, really, really annoying.
Seriously, you have no idea.
It sucks.

The Disease

Despite how charming Doc Holiday made tuberculosis look, the disease is just as annoying as the bacterium. If you catch tuberculosis, treatment can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 or 3 years, depending on it’s drug resistance. Oh yeah, it’s highly drug resistant. And we only really have 8 types of drugs to treat it with (2 first line and 6 second line drugs) . Mutli-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is resistant to rifampicin and isoniazid, the first line of drug defense doctors use. Extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) is also resistant to three or more of the six classes of second-line drugs. Totally resistant TB was first reported in 2003, and was pretty rare. At first. Now it’s a bit more widespread.
Because it’s an annoying bastard.

Also, if the drug resistance and multi-year treatment isn’t bad enough, in the United States, you have no choice on whether or not you get treated. You HAVE to get treated, because the disease is such a danger to public health. Part of the drug resistance is due to people no continuing their treatment, which can be rigorous. And while there is a vaccine, it’s has varying degrees of effectiveness against pulmonary tuberculosis.

On top of everything else, many cultures have a huge social stigma against those who have it, even after they’ve been cured. During the treatment, they may be completely ostracized from their village and even their families who fear the disease. You can’t blame the people for wanting to protect themselves, but it also leaves the patient , leaving them with no emotional support structure and facing the shame of disease. They will often find themselves alone, and become very depressed and stop taking their treatment. It’s a problem Doctor’s Without Borders has to face every day, and has done their best to bring public attention to the multiple issues surrounding the disease with their adorably named project “TB And Me”.

Most people think that TB is a “third world problem.” But in reality, it’s everywhere. There are parts of London which have rates nearly as high as Chinese provinces. Alaska is facing a tuberculosis epidemic among their homeless and do random sweeps every few weeks. Even my father caught tuberculosis as a boy living in Colorado. It is highly contagious: a person with active TB can infect 10 to 15 people a year. It killed 1.7 million people in 2009. Over 2 billion people are infected, though not all of these cased are active. Of these 2 billion, 10% will develop an active infection during their lifetime.

The Bitchy Diva

It’s a Class III organism, which means you have to use a bunch of annoying precautions when working with it. Not only do you have to process the specimens under a biohood, you have to do it in a special room completely dedicated to working with tuberculosis, and only tuberculosis. This room separated from the rest of the lab by a series of doors and negative air pressure. You also have to wear a special mask so you don’t accidentally inhale it, since the infective dose of M. tuberculosis is fewer than 10 bacterium. And before you work with it, you have to spread bleach-soaked paper towels everywhere, so that if by chance even one bacterium falls onto the counter, it will immediately die a horrible, bleachy death.

We don’t mess around with tuberculosis. It’s not a fun and cute bacteria like E.coli. It’s a high maintenance bitchy little diva that will slowly and violently murder your lungs if it gets a chance.

Science Stuffs

Mycobacterium are a genus of Actinobacteria. There are over 70 species of Mycobacteria, but most people are familiar with M. tuberculosis and M. leprae, the causative agent of leprosy. While most clinically significant bacteria grow within 18-48 hours, Mycobacteria takes it’s time. Some species will form colonies within 7 days (termed “rapid growers,” because microbiologists have a skewed perception of time), while other may take 6 weeks or longer to grow. Maybe they like to take their time growing because they don’t want to come across as desperate. Or maybe they’re just stubborn and will grow when they’re damn well good and ready.
Either way, it’s really annoying.

One of the most significant characteristics of Mycobacterium is their cell wall, which is thicker than most other bacteria and completely stuffed with mycolic acids that give it a waxy appearance. The cell wall consists of the hydrophobic mycolate layer and a peptidoglycan layer held together by the polysaccharide arabinogalactan, which is one of those words I love watching drunk people try to pronounce.

M. tuberculosis is a bacillus and may be considered Gram-positive, but this is actually a huge misnomer. Due to the high lipid content of their unique cell wall and general stubbornness, they do not retain any portion of the Gram stain, and thus are neither truly Gram positive  or Gram negative. While they don’t truly retain crystal violet, upon staining they can appear to be weakly Gram positive, because it likes to laugh in the face of logic. Or they won’t stain at all and be referred to as “ghosts.” Again, either way, it’s really really annoying.

If only they were this cute.

A much more useful stain for this species is the Ziehl–Neelsen stain, commonly referred to as the acid-fast stain.
M. tuberculosis is acid-fast, meaning they are resistant to decolorization by acids during staining.  This is due the the lack of an outer cell membrane. It decided somewhere along the way that outer cell membranes were too mainstream, and never bothered getting one.


 M. tuberculosis is nonphotochromogenic, meaning it won’t produce a pigment in the presence or absence of light. Their colonies are buff-colored, dry, rough, and honestly rather ugly. They look like demented warts.


If growth conditions are optimal in broth cultures, M. tuberculosis will actually grow in long, rope-like strands, which we called “cording,” which is actually pretty cool. M. tuberculosis is strictly aerobic, requiring high amounts of oxygen, which is why it loves to invade your lungs.. They are nonmotile, and lack spores and capsules. In terms of biochemical identification, they are negative for catalase, including the 68 degrees Celsius catalase test which is commonly performed on Mycobacteria species. They are positive for niacin and nitrate.

M. tuberculosis was first described on 24 March 1882 by Robert Koch, a guy every biologist should recognize, if not for all his grand achievements in the field of microbiology, then at least for his dapper style.

 Note the fine beard and bow tie, which can both be used to clean microscopes. He received a Nobel Prize in 1905 for his discovery. In 1998 we sequenced it’s annoying little genome.

Doctors Without Borders have made several awesome infographic posters to help educate about TB rates:
TB-infographic-treatment
TB-effects-infographic2-final

Stop TB - In My Lifetime, World TB Day, March 24. http://www.cdc.gov/tb/events/WorldTBDay/default.htm

Click here to learn more about World TB Day!
Click here to learn more about Tuberculosis and it’s growing drug resistance.

This Is How The Zombie Apocalypse Begins…

22 Mar

Baffling Illness Strikes Africa, Turns Children Into Violent “Zombies”

by Jason Mick

World Health Organization is on high alert about new Ugandan outbreak, cause is not fully known

It’s called the “nodding disease” and it’s a baffling illness that has struck thousands of children in northern Uganda.  The illness brings on seizures, violent behavior, personality changes, and a host of other unusual symptoms.

I. Violent and Mindless: Child Victims Have no Cure, no Future

Grace Lagat, a northern Uganda native, is mother of two children — Pauline Oto and Thomas — both of whom are victims of the disease.  For their safety, when she leaves the house, she now ties them up, using fabric like handcuffs.  She recalls, “When I am going to the garden, I tie them with cloth. If I don’t tie them I come back and find that they have disappeared.”

Reportedly the children gnaw at their fabric restraints, like a rabid animals — or “zombies”of popular fiction — in an attempt  to escape.

The effort to restrain the children is not unwarranted.  In one of the most bizarre symptoms of this tragic illness, children with the disease are reportedly setting fire to buildings in their communities.  Coupled with the aimless wandering this disease provokes in victims, this is a deadly combination.  More than 200 people have been killed in fires believed to be set by the zombified children.
Nodding disease zombie child
The disease leaves child victims in an often-violent “zombiefied” state. [Image Source: CNN]
The disease is not new.  It popped up in the 1960s in Sudan.  From there it slowly spread to Libya and Tanzania.

The Uganda infections, though, are a new outbreak — a troubling sign.  The jump into a new region could be pure coincidence, or it could indicate the disease has become more virulent or found a new transmissions vector.

Africa map
Uganda is located in central Africa [Image Source: U of Tex., Modifications: Jason Mick]

Infected children typically have regular seizures, which are proceeded by a repetitive nodding of the head.  This characteristic symptom has given rise to the unofficial title for the malady.

II. World Medical Organizations Racing for a Cure

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have been tracking the spread of this frightening ailment.  Dr. Joaquin Saweka says the scene in Uganda is horrific, stating, “It was quite desperate, I can tell you.  Imagine being surrounded by 26 children and 12 of them showing signs of this. The attitude was to quickly find a solution to the problem.”

Yet the WHO and CDC are not fully sure what is causing the illness, which cripples children and turns them into mindless, violence-prone zombies.  The best clue they have is that most of the cases occur in regions inhabited by “Black flies”, which carry the parasitic worm Onchocerca Volvulus.  That worm is responsible for another dangerous disease dubbed “river blindness”, the world’s second leading cause of infectious blindness.

Black Fly and worm
The illness may have something to do with Black flies (left, center) and their parasitic worm (right). [Image Source: WHO (left), Wikimedia Commons (center), Human Healths (right)]

However 7 percent of infected children live in regions not inhabited by the Black fly, so a link is speculative at best.

Children with the disease also frequently exhibit vitamin B6 deficiency, leading medical experts to believe that the disease may be nutrition related.  However, infections by microbes, parasites, fungi, or even fungi/microbes carried by a parasitic host, can all lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Dr. Scott Dowell, director of global disease detection and emergency response at CDC, says the race is on to determine the cause and a cure.  He states, “At first we cast the net wide. We ruled out three dozen potential causes and we are working on a handful of probabilities.  We know from past experience an unknown disease could end up having more global implications.”

In the current cases children as old as 19 have been found to be stricken, with the majority of the worst symptoms being spread over the 3-11 age range.

One mystery surrounding the disease is the seizures themselves.  While typically seizures are either randomly occurring or follow some singular cue/pattern, the nodding disease seems to have multiple triggers, including eating new foods, changing weather, and other changes.

Seizure often leave the children soiled with urine and drooling.  Local nurses are afraid to touch the infected.  States local nurse Elupe Petua, “I feel, because I don’t know what causes it, I don’t even know how it transmits, when I touch them I feel that I can also get the infection because I don’t know what causes it.”

III. Medication is Ineffective

Anti-epileptic medication slows the onset of symptoms, but is unable to stop the progression of the disease.  The seizures eventually leave many children unable to walk, only able to drag their bodies along the ground as flies tried to attack them.

Nodding disease
The current treatment approach of anti-epileptics has done little to halt the illness.
[Image Souce: CNN]

The government of Uganda has come under criticism for not being vocal enough in addressing the tragedy and demanding foreign aid/research expertise.  Local politicians have taken to transporting victims from affected villages by bus to city hospitals in order to force the issue into the eyes of the more affluent city-dwellers.

The issue is yet another woe for a nation in which the impoverished majority was terrorized for years by warlord Jospeph Kony’s militia, dubbed the “Lord’s Resistance Army.”

Mr. Kony is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court on multiple counts of violent war crimes, including rape and murder.  These offenses are punishable by death, if he is ever brought to trial.

IV. What if the “Nodding Disease” Found a Way to Reach the U.S.?

Dr. Saweka says that for all the hand-waving by the government about using better anti-epileptics and offering more funding, he appreciates and shares in the villagers frustration.  He states, “People complain that it looks like the lives in developing countries have less value than the lives in the western countries. When you know the root cause, you address the cure. Now you are just relieving the symptoms. We don’t expect to cure anybody.”

Ugandans
Ugandans, grief stricken, feel somewhat abandoned by the government and the wealthy developed “First World”. [Image Source: CNN]

While the “First World” may not be focused on — or even aware of — the zombification that is leaving children in these African nations violent, crippled shells of their former selves — tied like dogs — it is an issue that must be addressed.  After all, viruses, bacteria, parasites thanks to the wonders of evolution can mutate and adapt to new environments and new transmission vectors.

Thus this zombie virus may seem like a foreign issue to regions like the U.S. and EU who are struggling with their own financial crisises.  But if the illness finds a way to broaden its spread, this “zombie” outbreak could cripple the globe.


Tuberculosis Infographic

22 Mar

Video

Acoustic Focusing in Flow Cytometry

22 Mar

I will admit that I am a bit of a flow cytometry nerd. Our medical lab science program only has one graduate class so far, and it is in diagnostic flow cytometry. I begged the department head to let me take it, despite not having yet fulfilled my immunology requirement. I had taken the hematology class though, and flow cytometry is most commonly used in the medical lab to identify and monitor hematological diseases, so they decided to let me take it. I was ecstatic, and flow cytometry is still one of my favorite instrumentation methods. So this little video demonstrating acoustic focusing made my day.

The Importance of Health and Kick-Ass Mothers

16 Mar

A pretty powerful photo:

I don’t weigh 120 pounds. Honestly, I don’t know if I would ever want to. I do have an “ideal weight” goal, but it’s higher than 120 pounds. Both sides of my family produce rather curvaceous women, and I started developing secondary sex features (*cough* boobs *cough*) in the 5th grade. I’ve never been the petite or slender type, and I am perfectly okay with that. I don’t mind my current weight, nor do I care about the stretch marks on my tummy.
What I care about is my health. My cholesterol and glucose values are far more important to me than my dress size.

Health was a huge deal in my childhood. My mom was adopted and her biological family’s medical history remains unknown, so the best she and I can do is lead a healthy lifestyle. She taught me to decipher nutrition labels as soon as I could read. She showed me a bunch of little tricks, like how to compare not only calories, but serving size, carbohydrates, fat, sugar, etc.

She also taught me that:

  • Mayonnaise is Satan in culinary clothing.
  • Salads should be a part of Every. Single. Dinner.
  • There is no such thing as too many vegetables.
  • Bacon is delicious meat-candy which will make your heart absolutely hate you. And can also be microwaved. She would always microwave bacon in a 2 inch layer of paper towels to absorb the grease. It wasn’t until I was 13 did I realize that bacon could also be fried in a pan. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I realized that’s how most people actually cook bacon. 

However, she did forget to teach me that bacon is very useful when it comes to making meat-themed Nativity scenes, but hey, nobody’s perfect. She was probably too busy being an awesome mom.

She preached against dangerous fad diets, explaining that true weight loss is a lifestyle choice, and there is no easy way. Weight that is easily lost is easily regained. She never complained about her own weight struggles in front of me, instead pursued them with steady perseverance and patience. She never once made a negative comment about my weight, try to guilt-trip me into dieting, or do anything else that would have crippled my self esteem. The goal wasn’t to be thin or to hate your body; The goal was health, because your body deserves to be loved.
I cannot thank her enough for that.

Parents play the biggest role in their child’s health, and too often don’t fully realize it. The Mayo Clinic has a wonderful online resource with simple and effective steps for families to battle childhood obesity in a way the promotes healthy lifestyle choices and doesn’t damage self esteem. I highly recommend checking it out, it’s a quick read. Best of all, while the article is written for parents, their simple suggestions can be applied to all ages:

  • Eat nutritious foods
  • Don’t bring junk food into the house
  • Control your portion sizes
  • Save treats and high-calorie snacks for special occasions
  • Turn off the TV and computer
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine
  • Stress the importance of healthy lifestyle choices, rather than a number on the scaleFor other great resources, be sure to check out The University of Michigan Health System, the Help Cure Childhood Obesity website, or simply Google childhood obesity. Another great resource for families on a budget (and poor college students like me) is this super awesome Hamilton Health Science Eating Guide. Money should not be an issue when it comes to eating healthy, and may even save you money.Teaching your child good nutritional habits doesn’t end when they turn 18. Even though I’ve grown up and live in another city, she still gives me handy tips on eating healthy. Just recently she introduced my to a variation of peanut butter on celery sticks. She substitutes peanut butter with a Laughing Cow Lite spreadable cheese wedge. One wedge will fill 3 sticks, at only 35 calories. Genius.

    It smiles because it knows it can kill you.

Open Source Drugs

15 Mar

The following was written by Jacqueline of Skepchick.org. I absolutely love this concept, as well as her clear and succinct writing style.

OPEN SOURCE DRUG DISCOVERY

Drug discovery is challenging, lengthy, and extraordinarily expensive. All companies focus on making money and drug companies are no different. They spend their research and development budgets focusing on diseases that affect the affluent world population. As a consequence diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis that are abundant in sub-Saharan Africa and India are left unstudied by industry. Despite the omission by drug companies, other efforts are underway to aid in drug discovery for these diseases.

Just to hash out a few details of where the problem arises– the Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that 35 countries (30 African and 5 Asian) account for 98% of the malarial related deaths. Similarly, in 2010, 8.8 million people became sick with tuberculosis (TB) of which 82% of the cases lived in 22 TB ridden countries. These diseases do exist in other parts of the world, but result in significantly less deaths.

Despite the lack of interest from drug companies for treating these infectious diseases, other organizations have picked up the slack. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed significant funds to these poverty ridden populations in the form of care, research, and vaccines. Much of their focus is on HIV/AIDS treatment in addition to other conditions including malaria and TB. However, while reading Science I recently came across an open source drug design initiative based out of India.

A few years ago, Samir Brahmachari launched the Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) network. The initiative began in 2008 and set out to combat India’s leading cause of death, TB. The initial $12 million of seed money was provided by the Indian government and that has led to 5500 participants in 130 countries. So has this global network of researchers provided any results? Their first goal was to sequence the TB genome and the task was accomplished in a mere four months by 500 volunteers. Since then they utilized this information and have determined two viable drug candidates that are currently being tested. Following the principles of OSDD, the data from their clinical trials are open for all to see. It is too soon to tell if the drugs will be successful, but if so they will be on the market as generic drugs.

This approach could produce affordable health care and treatments for many without.

Black Tea = Happy Heart

14 Mar

Black Tea Is Shown To Lower Blood Pressure


Western Australian tea drinkers are helping build evidence that black tea may aid in maintaining cardiovascular health — with local researchers showing three cups of black tea daily lowers blood pressure by 2 to 3mmHg.

Lead author Jonathon Hodgson from the University of Western Australia’s School of Medicine and Pharmacology says many studies have looked at black and green tea in relation to heart and vascular disease outcomes.

“Meta-analyses of these studies indicate that drinking more tea, compared to drinking less or no tea, is associated with about a 10 to 20 per cent lower risk of heart disease and stroke,” Prof Hodgson says.

Seeking to investigate if this association was causal, the team from UWA and researchers from Unilever, conducted the first human intervention study to look at black tea and blood pressure outcomes.

“There have been a number of human intervention studies looking at effects on vascular function, with reasonably consistent findings that tea can increase the relaxation of blood vessels — an outcome linked with blood pressure and risk of heart disease,” he says. “This was the first large study specifically designed and powered to look at blood pressure as the primary outcome.”

Ninety-five Australian participants aged between 35 and 75 were required to drink three cups of black tea or three cups of a placebo, with the same flavour and caffeine content as the tea, daily for six months. Using 24-hour blood pressure measurement taken at the end of the trial, the group found a reduction in the systolic and diastolic blood pressure of the tea-drinkers of between 2 and 3mmHg.


According to Prof Hodgson, while a reduction of 2 or 3mmHg is not large, it is still a valuable effect when combined with other interventions.

“If you put the effect of tea together with other dietary and lifestyle changes, such as weight loss or reduced salt and alcohol intake, you might get up to a 10mmHg reduction in blood pressure without drug therapy,” he says.

The group believe high flavonoid levels in black tea cause an increase in nitric oxide, a compound that acts on cells in blood vessel walls to cause relaxation, blood vessel dilation and, ultimately, a reduction in blood pressure. According to Prof Hodgson, the findings also show promise for those who prefer to not drink tea.

“You can get the same benefits if you eat enough of other flavonoid-rich foods such as apples, plums and red grapes — no tea required.”

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Quite a bit of research has been done over the years demonstrating the benefits of tea. So if the mood strikes you today, here is a handy dandy tea brewing chart. Drink tea and enjoy a happy heart ^_^