Born Without a Windpipe, Now Breathing A Full Life
Hannah Warren has become the youngest person to ever receive a bioengineered tissue transplant, receiving a windpipe created from her own stem cells grown around a special plastic scaffold. This “proto-windpipe” is then recognized by the body, and (through processes that aren’t entirely clear) a fully developed windpipe, complete with the many layers of specialized cells, is formed with the scaffold and stem cells as its guide.
I’ve posted about these bioengineered transplants in older patients before, but I think this captures the amazement we all feel:
Dr. Macchiarini described a look of befuddlement on the child’s face when she realized that the mouth tube was gone and she could put her lips together for the first time. “It was beautiful,” he said.
Yes. Beautiful, indeed. Way to go science.
(via New York Times)
Source: The New York Times
Kyle Hill has written up a new coroner’s report on one Bernie Lomax, 25 years deceased, based on more rigorous scientific analysis of why the guy didn’t decompose or enter rigor mortis:
Witnesses report that the body of the victim was not stiff, indeed, it was flexible enough to be carried around as if walking, dragged behind a boat, and finally flipped off a gurney to be buried in the sand by a small child. To achieve this ease of motion during the time the witnesses Wilson and Parker were in possession of the body, they could have used the same technique that butchers use to make sure recently refrigerated meat does not undergo rigor mortis. It is the opinion of this investigator that the witnesses applied alternating electric current to the body, in effect tenderizing the victim.
Sounds like a couple happy-go-lucky vacationers may have some Geneva convention violations on their hands.
(Read the whole, hilarious thing at Scientific American)
The Science of Hair Loss and Balding by the AsapSCIENCE guys. Alopeciate it if you’d watch this video.
It’s not as simple as just your maternal grandfather, but that’s part of it. Scientists have identified one of the key proteins (and its target) that make men go bald. And did you know that the major commercial treatments for androgenetic alopecia (male-pattern baldness) were found by accident? Rogaine was a blood pressure drug and Propecia was for prostate enlargement!
I’m pretty confident that these flowing blond locks of mine are gonna stick around for a while … knock on (genetic) wood.
Functional Cure for HIV in a Newborn Infant
Very cool news over the weekend: Doctors report that they have been able to functionally cure HIV in an infected baby born to an HIV-positive mother in Mississippi. While only a few hundred HIV-infected babies are born in the U.S. every year (thanks to antiviral treatments in pregnant mothers), over 300,000 are born in Africa annually. So this is something that needs to be tackled, Ray Lewis-style.
Why It’s Cool: I want to emphasize that this is a “functional cure”. Like the “Berlin Patient” (who was functionally cured by a completely different process), the virus might still technically be there, but the baby is “cured” for all intents and purposes. Also, this was done by giving the newborn large doses of antiviral drugs that are already available and already used to fight HIV. About a month after birth, the virus was undetectable in the baby’s blood, and on visits months later (even after the mother stopped treating the child for some reason), no HIV was found. The most sensitive tests showed signs of HIV RNA and DNA, which means the virus was there, but no actual virus.
What Questions Remain: This research was presented at a science conference this weekend, and needs to go through the process of peer review to be double and triple-checked, because that’s what we do. Is this the best way to prevent HIV in babies? Not all babies born of HIV+ moms get infected, only about 15-45%. And with methods already in place, that number can be reduced to more like 1%. Did the baby actually have HIV to start? Mothers and babies actually share cells across the placenta, and they are floating in each other’s bodies. Maybe there’s a chance (this is one that I haven’t seen brought up elsewhere) that thetests done to “confirm” the HIV was there to begin with actually detected some of the mother’s cells? I don’t know. Time will tell.
All in all, this is a very cool report of something that hadn’t been done before. But like Sarah Boseley discusses at The Guardian, in the places where HIV+ babies are found the most (sub-Saharan Africa) the problem isn’t finding new methods. It’s getting those methods into practice, and getting mothers and doctors in Africa to take action (often against incredible social resistance). Just this week, “successful” HIV treatments were reported useless in Africa because simply people don’t use them.
Great application of careful medicine, but like the “Berlin Patient”, it probably won’t end up treating HIV where it’s most needed. Not unless something else changes first.
You can find links to more stories in this post by Rose Eveleth.
The Origins of the Heart
The traditional heart symbol has been used to represent love and devotion for hundreds of years, but where did it come from? Because it only very loosely resembles the organ it is supposed to symbolize.
In the 4th century BCE, Aristotle popularized the idea that the heart was the seat of passion and emotions. His early anatomical studies also incorrectly claimed that it only had three chambers, much like the shape that persists today.
The Greek colony of Cyrene (in modern-day Libya) also holds claim to some heart-shaped history. Beginning in the 7th century BCE, they made a boatload of coin trading silphium, a now-extinct plant whose seeds were used to season food and for medicine. They loved it so much that they put it on their money! Oh, and it was allegedly a contraceptive, which is a whole other kind of love …
The heart shape really began to take over the Western world in the 1600’s, after Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque reported a vision of Christ holding a traditional three-pointed heart surrounded by a crown of thorns. the Catholic Church owned the modern image of the heart, and its association with St. Valentine, until it lost a bidding war with Hallmark.
Bachman’s bundle, Bartholin’s gland, Buck’s fascia and many, many more.
The “Zonule of Zinn” sounds like the tale of an evil galactic empire fighting a clan of ancient space wizards!
Best Wikipedia page since “Timeline of the Far Future”.
Rose Eveleth digs deep into the cooties epidemic that has been sweeping through our schools since that time that Franky Lundberg totally ran up and smooched little Sally by the swings when she wasn’t looking because that’s how Contagion started, folks.
What would cooties be if it was a real disease?
First, cooties are passed through physical contact with an infected person, say, Jimmy from math class. So if you touch Jimmy, you’re doomed. Which is what doctors call “transmission by direct contact.” So cooties work something like meningococcal disease, MRSA, plague, strep, SARS, pinkeye, Legionnaire’s disease or leprosy.
Second, cooties are both extremely common and extremely contagious. Just one brush against Jimmy, and you’re definitely going to get infected. While SARS or Legionnaire’s disease are contagious, they’re not THAT contagious—one touch won’t do you in.
Now, the symptoms of those with cooties are unclear. Jimmy has it, but he doesn’t seem sick. So cooties must be a disease with few outward manifestations. Plague and pinkeye are probably out. We could be talking about meningitis, though, a disease that attacks the spinal cord and the central nervous system and causes some vague early symptoms like a stiff neck.
There is a point to this silly exercise. It turns out that knowledge of cooties can help kids learn about disease, and how NOT to get real ones.
It’s been a big week for poop science …
Thankfully, most of us don’t go through our day puckered in fear that we might, at any unknown moment, loose our bowels in a Niagara-esque outpouring of one’s colon contents. But for people with Clostridium dificile infections, that is a clear and present danger.
It’s not just the discomfort of frequent and recurring diarrhea that plagues those with C. diff. They are at real risk of damaging their colon tissue from inflammation as well as serious dehydration. Even worse, C. diff. is hard to kill with antibiotics, as it most often rears its anaerobic head when a patient has had their normal gut flora killed off by previous antibiotic treatment, leaving the colon a lawless Wild West for the tiny diarrhea bandits to take over.
There is good news, though (see below)! The Wyatt Earp in this (south)-Western is being played by fecal transplants.
Yep. In a fecal transplant, C. diff colons are seeded with donated (purified) fecal material, and all the healthy bacteria therein, and they fight off the bad guys. Not a very intriguing opportunity, eh? Well, if you’ve ever had a C. diff. infection, I hear you’d change your mind pretty fast.
- A clinical trial in Europe for fecal transplants was halted early … because it worked so well! People in the placebo group were like “Hey, that guy’s getting better really fast. Damn! I’m in the placebo group! Hey doc, give me some of that gravy!”
- A separate team of scientists has developed a “pseudo-poo” to take the “poo donors” out of the equation. By infusing a solution full of the 33 most helpful gut bacteria, two women were cured of their C. diff infections!
These scientists must be swollen full of pride, about ready to gush thanks to this outpouring of amazing results!
But seriously, fighting bad poo with good poo? Nature, you work in mysterious ways. I like that. Keeps it interesting.
The Alphabet of Epidemiology
After watching this, I washed everything I own. There is not enough soap in the world … how are we not all dead?
(Stay for the rap at the end, it’s amazing!)