Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Right to Life, but What Life?

Usually, I do not post items for reasons that are purely personal.  Today is an exception.  My wife and I were watching the Republican convention.  I lasted about three minutes; she lasted at least five minutes.  They say that women are tougher than men.  Anyway, I left the room, then turned on my computer to get some real news:

Fight Over Woman's Life Heard in Florida Supreme Court
Tue Aug 31, 2004 04:42 PM ET
By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE (Reuters) - A bitter legal battle over whether the husband of a brain-damaged woman should be allowed to remove her feeding tube against the wishes of her parents reached the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The court heard arguments over a law that allowed Gov. Jeb Bush to override a court ruling that had given Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, permission to have her feeding tube removed. It was not known when the court would rule.

Brain damaged since a 1990 heart attack, Schiavo, 40, has been at the center of a long battle between her parents and her husband that has drawn in supporters on both sides of the right to die argument.

Michael Schiavo was granted permission by a court to have the feeding tube removed in October 2003, but Florida lawmakers, at Bush's behest, hastily passed legislation allowing the governor to intervene. The tube was reinserted six days later.

But in May, a Florida circuit court judge struck down the law. [...]

Probably, most of you know the story.  The woman had a heart attack, coma ensued, but her body has been kept alive via artificial means ever since.  She's been lying in a bed for fourteen years.  A legal battle has been going on for six years. 

This is a fate most medical professionals dread. 

My wife and are in agreement that we do not want such a thing to happen to ourselves.  A part of the Schiavo case rests on a previous court finding that there is clear and convincing evidence that Ms. Schiavo did not want this life either, but there is no written record.  Yvonne and I do have a written record: it is in a lawyer's vault on Liberty Street in Ann Arbor.  But if both of us are seriously injured at the same time, I'm not sure how those documents would come to light. 

Both of us have done consultations in nursing homes, often doing them together, and we talked about the subject during those times, and many other occasions.  So here it is on the 'net, for all to see, to be archived forever by Google, et. al.   This is intended to go beyond clear and convincing evidence, into the realm of beyond a reasonable doubt.

If I end up in a persistent vegetative state, please pull out the feeding tube.  By the way, I don't plan to retire in Florida.

Mikhaela B. Reid is a Brooklyn-based political cartoonist.

The Effect of Political Vacuum Upon Embryonic Stem Cells

News@nature.com still has free access for another 24 hours. After that, you need a subscription to one of their journals for access. I think they still will offer free access to their special section, Stem Cell Focus.

Meanwhile, I've taken the liberty of adding two of their articles pertaining to stem cells to my Furl archive. The first is a report on a survey of clinics that perform in vitro fertilization (IVF). The clinics were surveyed regarding their practices followed for the storage and/or disposal of the embryos created in the IVF process. The second is an editorial on the issues raised in the first article.  Read excerpts and my commentary at The Rest of the Story

Monday, August 30, 2004

Another Look at Economic Data

Courtesy of the Queen of Some Evil, who got it from She Who Usually Will be Obeyed, I noticed an editorial that was published in the Detroit News.  (The link is to theDonald L. Luskin Furled version, in case the DetNews pulls the article.  The link to the original is here.)  It actually wasn't written by anyone at the (conservative) Detroit News.  It was written by Donald Luskin.  He is identified as the chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC, an independent economics and investment-research firm in Menlo Park, Calif.  I suppose that makes him qualified to comment on matters economic, although I wonder how impartial he can be. 

The gist of the editorial is that the <air quotes>Bush tax cuts</air quotes> are fair, in the opinion of an investment banker.  (The <air quote> tag, for those who haven't read the latest HTML standards, direct the reader to hold up both hands, with palms inclined at a 70% angle to the floor, and gesture up and down with the index and middle fingers together.)  The air quotes are used in this context because, as every high school graduate should know, a tax cut that occurs at the same time as a deficit increase is not really a tax cut.  It is a tax shift, moving taxes from today's taxpayer to the taxpayer of tomorrow. 

Anyway, Mr. Luskin tries to argue that the Democrats have made a false portrayal of the impact of the tax changes.  Read the rest at The Rest of the Story

Saturday, August 28, 2004

New Understanding of Genetic Plasticity
An Illustation of a General Concept

Frederick W. Alt, Ph.D.Frederick W. Alt, Ph.D. along with Jayanta Chaudhuri and Chan Khoung, have published a paper  in Nature, entitled Replication protein A interacts with AID to promote deamination of somatic hypermutation targets.  A somewhat less abstruse version  can be found at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute website, along with additional information here.

The studies focus on B cells, specialized immune cells responsible for producing antibodies, and how an enzyme in those cells known as activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID) triggers mutations of antibody gene segments to produce an assortment of antibody proteins. This process enables the immune system to produce antibodies that will recognize billions of different antigens – the fragments of foreign invaders that are used to call the immune system to arms.

The presence of an antigen on the surface of a B cell stimulates it to produce antibodies. An important step in this process is the activation of AID, which causes largely random mutations in the genes for the antibody segments that recognize antigens. These mutations occur about a million times more frequently than spontaneous mutations in other genes. In this process, known as somatic hypermutation, AID selectively “damages” the DNA strand, prompting the DNA repair system to create the mutations.

AID also triggers class switch recombination, a highly specific process that involves recombining gene segments that encode the part of the antibody molecule that direct it where to take its antigen cargo and how to dispose of it.

The Nature paper and the reports on the HHMI website go into detail about why this is important in the field of Immunology, mentioning that it could have implications in the understanding of the development, and the treatment, of lymphoma.

That is great, but it is not what drew the interest of The Corpus Callosum.

The article illustrates an important general concept in biology: all systems are dynamic. That is, no structure in a biological system can be modeled accurately as a static thing. In order to really understand something in biology, it is necessary to appreciate the fact that everything changes all the time. In introductory biology, we are taught that DNA is made up of a string of nucleotides, and that the sequence of the nucleotides is what carries the information needed to make proteins. That is only vaguely correct. It encourages one to think of DNA as being analogous to the printed letters on a page of text: static, unchanging. We are taught that mutations occur, but they are thought of as exceptional, accidental events.

Now, we learn that mutations are not always accidental. In fact, some cells have a mechanism that exists for the specific purpose of causing mutations. No only that, but when the system is activated, it produces mutations by the millions. The idea that mutations in such large numbers might actually be beneficial seems, at first glance, to be completely counterintuitive. That illustrates a second general principle: intuition is a tricky thing.

Follow-Up on Stem-cell Lab Blast

Yesterday, I posted a blurb about a bomb that was exploded at a stem-cell research lab in Watertown, MA.  Yesterday and today, I mentioned it to a few people; they hadn't heard about it.  So today, I searched Google and the New York Times.  Google finds the original report  on Reuters (a British news service) but nothing else.  There is one article in the Boston Herald. 

I went to the Amaranth Bio website, and there is no mention there, either.  The reports on the Amaranth site mention their stem cell research, but it appears that they do not use embryonic stem cells, which, of course, are the controversial kind of stem cell. 

Today, on the front page of the New York Times web edition, there is a report about two men arrested for a suspected bomb plot.  They did not actually have any explosives.  The article was syndicated over AP and Reuters, and appears in the Washington Post. 

What is it about our press corps, that a mere plot is publicized widely -- even though the alleged conspirators did not actually have a bomb -- while an actual explosion is barely mentioned?  Why is it that an explosion in the United States of America would only be published by a British news organization?

In fact, other that the original Reuters report, I could find only four other mentions.  Yahoo News echoes the Reuters story.  One is on a blog, The Talent Show.  The other two are on websites: The Terrorism Research Center, and Biospace.  Like the Corpus Callosum, The Talent Show expresses wonder at the relative obscurity of the Watertown bomb story:

This happened yesterday, yet it's barely being reported anywhere. Considering what a big deal people have been making out of stem cell research lately, I'd think a minor act of terrorism against a stem cell lab would be somewhat newsworthy. I guess it probably wouldn't look too good to point out that the president is on the same side of a major issue as thugs who want to blow people up.

How are we supposed to trust the media, when plots are reported, but actual terrorist bombings are not? 

Promising Development in the War on Cancer

This news item caught my attention:

Cannabinoids Block Brain Tumor Angiogenesis Via VEGF Pathway

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Aug 26 - Cannabinoids depress the VEGF pathway in brain tumors, apparently by boosting ceramide activity, according to a Spanish study in mice and in two patients.

Although past animal studies have shown cannabinoids can slow tumor angiogenesis, the mechanism by which the marijuana derivatives exert this effect has not been clear, Dr. Manuel Guzman of Complutense University in Madrid and colleagues note in the August 15th issue of Cancer Research.

Cannabinoids are known to act on the G protein-coupled receptors CB1 and CB2, the researchers add, and neuronal CB1 receptors mediate their psychoactive effects. [...]

Blocking cannabinoid-specific CB2 receptors in mouse gliomas with JWH-133 changed the expression of 10 genes related to the VEGF pathway, the investigators found. Using a series of cannabinoids in cultured glioma cells and mouse gliomas also cut VEGF production and reduced activation of the VEGF receptor (VEGFR)-2. [...]

The researchers note that cannabinoids that selectively block CB2 receptors would be ideal for cancer treatment, because they avoid psychoactive effects. "Unfortunately, very little is known about the pharmacokinetics and toxicology of the selective CB2 ligands synthesized to date, making them as yet unavailable for clinical trials," they add.

"Because blockade of the VEGF pathway constitutes one of the most promising antitumoral approaches currently available," the team concludes, the findings "provide a novel pharmacological target for cannabinoid-based therapies."

Cancer Res 2004;64:5617-5623.

Although one could not advocate use of cannabis for cancer treatment -- it is a known carcinogen -- this research shows that it would be premature to discourage research on a drug that happens to be illegal.

Friday, August 27, 2004

This Wasn't Terrorism?

I feel so much safer, knowing that this was not terrorism.  The FBI is doing a great job...

FBI Helps Probe of Blast at U.S. Stem-Cell Lab

BOSTON (Reuters) Aug 27 - FBI agents are helping investigate an explosion at a Boston-area laboratory specializing in stem-cell research, and a newspaper said on Friday the blast was caused by a pipe bomb.

Gail Marcinkiewicz, an FBI spokeswoman in Boston, said on Friday it was among law enforcement agencies that responded to the early Thursday morning explosion at Amaranth Bio. She declined further comment on the blast, in which no one was injured.

The Boston Herald reported that a pipe bomb caused the explosion, although a source close to the investigation told the newspaper that authorities do not suspect terrorism.

Watertown, Massachusetts-based Amaranth Bio says on its Web site that its technology is focused on organ regeneration, and that it is working on cures for diabetes and liver disorders.

No officials from the company or Watertown police were immediately available for comment.

Stem-cell research has become the subject of nationwide debate ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November. President George W. Bush has banned federal funding for research on new embryonic stem-cell lines but Democratic candidate John Kerry has said he would rescind the ban.

...of denying the obvious, because of a political agenda.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

How World War III Will Start...and Where.

Mr. Esmay  calls our attention to the fact that oil prices are high, and that there are some indications that the great oil field in Saudi Arabia, the Ghawar -- may be drying up.  He expresses doubt that there will be a catastrophic impact on the AMerican economy from high oil prices.  That is debatable, although I would rather not get into that debate right now. 

Mr. Esmay opines, though, that high oil prices could result in considerable turmoil in the Middle East, if a higher degree of political stability is not attained.  No debate there.  However, there has been turmoil in that regoin for a long time.  The people there are used to it.  Therefore, I am not too worried about it.  That is not where the next World War will start.

The next World War will start in the Caspian region. Read the rest at The Rest of the Story.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Vote Goss in 2003!

United States Representative Porter Goss has been nominated to serve as the next director of the CIA. There has been a little bit of controversy about this, but not much. Senate Democrats have stated that they do not intend to block the nomination. Some non-mainstream sources have come up with allegations, such as saying that he may have been an assassin in Mexico black ops. This may sound shocking, but it would not exactly be shocking to have a CIA director who used to be an assassin. Another site claims that he has blocked the investigation of the Plame outing. Well, the investigation is going ahead.

Pundits do not seem to have picked up on this, though:

In an Oct. 3, 2003 interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Goss declared he had no evidence that the uproar over the Plame leak was anything more than a product of "wild and unsubstantiated allegations, which are being obviously piled on by partisan politics during an election year."

Hey Porter, 2003 was not an election year.

Iran-Iraq Connection?

There was an interesting talk show -- The Connection -- on NPR tonight (link to audio stream). Dick Gordon hosted the show, entertaining the premise that perhaps the government of Iran is backing the insurgency led by Moqtada al-Sadr. Several callers agreed with this notion, including some who identified themselves as having come from Iran or Iraq. Everyone was careful to say that there is no solid evidence for this, but they seemed to agree that the notion is plausible.

One caller, a gentleman from Iran, mentioned his theory that Iran is worried that they may be the next target of American aggression. Therefore, he reasoned, in would be in their interest to pin down the coalition forces in Iraq. This would effectively prevent an invasion of Iran.

How plausible is this? Recall that the leaders of the USSR, facing President Reagan, felt that there was a significant possibility that the USA could launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the USSR. At the time, there was some pretty good evidence that the USSR did in fact possess weapons of mass destruction. The evidence then was stronger than the evidence for WMD's in Iraq. And Iran has publicized their nuclear ambitions. And there is some evidence linking Iran to 9/11. Thus, one could argue, we have more of a reason to invade Iran than we ever had for invading Iraq.

As far as facts go, there aren't very many to be had.  One Iraqi official says there is evidence for a connection; the other says that there is no evidence.  The US State Department says they refuse to rule out the possibility.

Via Command Post, we learn what was reported about this by the Australian Broadcasting Company:

Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Jafari says he has no evidence of Iranian support for an uprising by Shiite militia led by rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf.
“I have not learnt … of any Iranian support, military or otherwise, for Moqtada Sadr… If I find documents (proving) armed support for Sadr, from Iran or any other country, I will say so … and I will consider it a red line,” Mr Jafari told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya television.

Mr Jafari said he believed the crisis in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, where heavy fighting is taking place, could be solved politically.

“In my opinion, this question could be resolved politically if it had been raised in a political way,” he said during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
The US State Department said on Thursday it also has no conclusive evidence that Sadr has received arms from Iran, but refused to rule out the possibility.

On August 10, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the US was concerned by suggestions that Iran is involved in deadly unrest in Najaf and maintained it was not in Tehran’s interest to foment instability in its neighbour.

He declined to confirm Iraqi Defence Minister Hazem Shaalan’s claim that militiamen loyal to Sadr were receiving weapons from Iran.

Iran does not have as much oil, true, but it shares borders with Afghanistan and Iraq, where we already have substantial military assets. Logistically, it would not be difficult. In order for an invasion of Iran to be workable, though, one of three things would have to happen. Either we would have to be able to leave a minimal military presence in Iraq; or we would have to enlarge the military; or we would have to get a larger coalition together. Forget the coalition idea. We have squandered whatever political chips we once had for such an enterprise. We could not enlarge the military sufficiently, unless we gave up on the all-volunteer Army. We would have to reinstate the draft.

A military draft is highly unlikely, unless there are more major terrorist attacks AND if a skeptical American public could be convinced that we really know who was behind the attacks. Since that is not likely, all Iran really has to worry about is the possibility that our forces could quell the disturbance in Iraq.

Viewed in that light, it would make sense for Iran to incite smoldering violence in Iraq. Oh, and remember that Iran has a history of trying to influence American elections. It is possible that Jimmy Carter would have one reelection if the American hostages in Iran had been released before the election. In fact, though, they were held until after the election.

Does Iran have any reason to try to influence the next American election? Sure they do. Of course, they are not alone in that respect. Probably every country on the planet -- including the United States of America -- would be better off with a different person in the White House.

Monday, August 23, 2004

FDA Smackdown

Recently I wrote a post citing an editorial from the journal, The Lancet. In that post, I commented that The Lancet  is a fairly conservative journal, as most medical journals are. Yet, in that same issue, there was a blistering critique of the Bush Administration, in a different editorial, about a different topic:

Ejecting the FDA from the courtroom
The Lancet, Volume 364, Number 9435, 21 August 2004

Despite a traditional Republican belief in limited government, the administration of US President George Bush seems curiously tilted towards increasing governmental intrusion into health affairs. Its fixation on the doctrine of separation of powers among the three branches of government (witness the White House's initial refusal to allow the National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, to testify before the 9/11 commission; it argued that the legislative branch cannot coerce the executive) is apparently a flexible one. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a part of the executive branch, is now taking an activist role in judicial matters. [...]

Their use of the term "activist," in this context, contains a certain understated irony; it's a good example of classic British humor. It's a serious matter, though. If, indeed, the Administration wants to reserve the right to be critical of the judicial branch, on account of alleged "activism," then they need to clean their own (glass) house first. Of course, if they had their way entirely, it would not be a glass house: transparency would be a thing of the past.

Rant tangents aside, what is the beef that they are getting on about?  Read the rest at The Rest of the Story

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Good Advice on a Military Blog

Found at Doc in the Box:
If you feel like you’re about to wig out or really mad, give your weapon to somebody else to hold, sometimes having a loaded weapon isn’t the best thing to have when you think the world is out to get you. Step back and remember the most important thing about being out here, getting home.


UPDATE: I forgot to provide the attribution for the graphic: tBLOG - An Atheist Soldier.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

An Invitation for Military Physicians to Speak Out

George D. Lundberg, MD, the Editor-in-Chief of the Internal Medicine section of Medscape, happens to be a former military physician.  He served for 11 years, during the Viet Nam era.  Yesterday, he posted a Quicktime video editorial  and an invitation for any military physician to submit confidential testimonials regarding prisioner abuse, or any violation of medical ethics.  Note that Medscape requires free registration to view their content.  Use this link  to view the print editorial without having to register.

I know it is hazardous to challenge line authority in the Army; serious penalties await. Thus, I offer these pages of Medscape General Medicine as an opportunity for military physicians, who may remain nameless on request, to report any violations in accepted medical ethics that they have observed or participated in. We also welcome good news stories. Truth is right. That's my opinion. I'm Dr. George Lundberg, Editor of MedGenMed.

The Wall Street Journal Is Wrong

I know, it is a bold statement to make, for someone who hasn't taken a single course in economics.  But, on the other hand, economics is merely a form of psychology, applied to greedy and hungry masses of flesh.  Psychology is something I know about. 

I noticed this snippet on Brad DeLong's blog.  I stated to leave a comment, but decided not to.  What I had to say, while related to the article he quoted, was not related to the point he was trying to make.  So it belongs in my own blog. 

The WSJ article is available by subscription only, but Dr. DeLong kindly quoted a snippet:

WSJ.com - Political Capital: The big economic-policy challenge facing the next president isn't how to boost job growth -- that will happen in time -- or how to boost wages -- they will inevitably rise with productivity. The big challenge is how to survive the retirement of the baby boomers, which begins in just five years, without dramatically altering the nature of American society. Left untouched, Social Security and Medicare could cause the U.S. government to swell to 30% or more of the economy from 20%. The welfare state that the U.S. held at bay through the final quarter of the 20th century would expand with a fury. And make no mistake about it: Social Security and Medicare, as now constituted, are a form of welfare.

I am bothered by the comment about how social security and Medicare are "a form of welfare."  While this is true, it is an unnecessary political jibe: it does not contribute to the substance of the article.  Such snide asides are OK for bloggers, but do not belong in a serious newspaper.  Anyway, my real point is this: the author states that wages "will inevitably rise with productivity."  This is false.  It is not inevitable.  Wages will rise with productivity if workers are paid fairly.  Increased productivity may be inevitable; the fairness of pay is anything but inevitable.  This was illustrated by a recent piece on NPR:

New Overtime Rules Take Effect Monday

Aug. 19, 2004 -- Americans spend more time on the job than workers in any other industrialized country. Most who put in more than 40 hours per week are supposed to be paid overtime -- time and a half.

Some labor studies indicate that as many as 30 percent of employees are working off the clock. But complaints filed with the Labor Department are increasing; back pay awards jumped 30 percent last year.

No snide comments about liberal bias at NPR will be accepted.  The statistics they cited about unfair denial of overtime pay come from the Department of Labor.  Right now, the DOL is decidedly pro-business.  They found that 100% of garment-industry companies were guilty of unlawful denial of overtime pay.  The numbers were around 75% for a couple of other industries: poultry and something else.

The implication of the new overtime regulations are hotly controverted, but only by hotheads.  Cooler individuals  know that there will be a huge decrease in the amount of overtime pay that companies will have to put out.  Therefore, rising wages are not  inevitable.  Certain persons will do all they can to keep wages down.  Indeed, since the minimum wage is not indexed to inflation, (the new overtime rules also are not) if nothing is done, real wages will inevitably fall.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Abu Ghraib: its legacy for military medicine

The Corpus Callosum was shocked into a state of total dysfunction today.  This resulted in complete loss of communication between the left and right hemispheres.  CC has noticed that the two sides have not been getting along lately.  Perhaps there are no Red States or Blue States, but there are abusers in the military along with their accomplices; and then there is the rest of humanity.  It was not just "a few bad apples." 

I really can't convey how upsetting this is.  I turned the background here all black.  I am not going to get to sleep at night.  I was in a pretty good mood when I got home from work.  My wife told me about her father's recent experience at the VA hospital.  We had a nice talk.  I felt inspired to blog about my support for a national health care service.  Then I spent part of the evening setting up a two-monitor configuration. 

The idea is that I can edit blog entries on one screen, and have the sources (news articles, etc.) on the other.  I couldn't get it to show two separate screens under Linux; all I could do was get it to echo one screen on both monitors.  That was irritating, but not really a big deal.  The two-monitor configuration works fine under Windows XP. 

So I sit down, fire up my browser.  My home page is Google News.  Immediately, I see the headline:

US Army Doctors Had Role in Abu Ghraib Abuse -Lancet
Reuters - 5 minutes ago
LONDON (Reuters) - US military doctors working in Iraq collaborated with interrogators in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, an article in the British medical journal The Lancet said on Friday.

Gasp.  I scan the Reuters article, then go to the source at The Lancet.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, The Lancet  is a medical journal published in the UK.  It arguably is the most prestigious -- not to mention conservative -- medical journal in the world.  Read the rest at The Rest of the Story.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

A Few Comments About Viet Nam,
And A Cautionary Note

There has been a lot written about Kerry's Vietnam experience, the credibility his service record, and the credibility of his critics. In particular, one group of Swiftboat veterans has been rather outspoken. The details probably are familiar to anyone interested enough to read this far (the third sentence) in this post.

I have only a few things to add. First, not everyone is a great observer when under fire. Therefore, I would expect there to be substantial differences in eyewitness acounts of any military action. Second, not all of what the US military did in southeast asia was in Viet Nam. Much of what happened in other countries was not strictly legal. Regarding the controversy about whether Kerry was actually in Cambodia: I don't think we could look at Kerry's passport to see if he had a visa to enter Cambodia legally. Third, when illegal activities were involved, there is a high probablity of some kind of coverup.

Although I cannot prove it, I have been told by reliable sources that the military sometimes would "debrief" soldiers using methods that would obscure and confuse their memories of what actually happened. I suspect that it happened, more than once, that official records were either altered, or deliberately sanitized, if not overtly falsified.

Therefore, I do not think it would help much if Kerry were to authorize release of his records. Probably, it would only generate more controversy. It also would have the potential to reopen old wounds, psychologically speaking, for many vets who were traumatized in the war.

There has been a lot of talk about how damaging it was for our vets to return home from the war, and receive so much criticism and invalidation from some members of the general public. What is less publicized, but perhaps more important, is the fact that many vets were traumatized by our own governement's refusal to own up to what they had done.

Probably Mr. Kerry's records will come out, sooner or later, one way or another. When that happens, it is quite likely that it will open up vitriolic debate about what actually happened over there. There will be official denials. Vets who were involved in operations that are/were disavowed will hear about it. If that comes to pass, I can pretty much guarantee that some vets will suffer reactivation, or exacerbation, of their posttraumatic stress disorder.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Gene Therapy With Behavioral Consequences...(?)

...In monkeys, anyway, sort of.  Recently, news@nature.com reported on a study, in which the behavior of monkeys was altered by injecting DNA into their brains.  The original article is available, open access, at PNAS.  The title of the Nature news report got my attention: Gene therapy cures monkeys of laziness.  Did the scientists find a way to alter the genetic makeup of monkeys, such that they were better workers?  Could this work for humans?  Could we actually make people into better workers?  Maybe then we could all get a little injection into our skulls and boost the GDP!  Maybe no child will be left behind, for real.  Just get them all to stand in a line, before they take the SAT or whatever, give them a little needle in the skull, hand out some sharp #2 pencils, and let 'em at it!

Read the rest at The Rest of the Story.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Prions Speed Evolution

Usually, we think of prions as nasty little things, which do only harm.  They cause Mad Cow disease, and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).  Now we find that they serve a useful purpose, in at least one instance; this is reported in today's news@Nature.com:

Prions speed evolution
Published online: 16 August 2004;  | doi:10.1038/news040816-1
Helen Pearson
Sloppy proteins may help organisms adapt.

Prions, the twisted proteins usually linked to disease, could help organisms adapt to tough situations by subtly altering the proteins manufactured by a cell. The discovery backs the idea that proteins as well as DNA are vital in driving evolution. [...]

But scientists studying yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) have found that, in some cases, infectious prions may have an important role. In a colony of yeast cells, some cells carry the 'normal' type of the protein, whereas others harbour the infectious form, which accumulates into clumps and is passed from one cell to another.

But scientists studying yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) have found that, in some cases, infectious prions may have an important role. In a colony of yeast cells, some cells carry the 'normal' type of the protein, whereas others harbour the infectious form, which accumulates into clumps and is passed from one cell to another.

Four years ago, Susan Lindquist and Heather True of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed that this yeast prion can change the way that cells behave. In their infectious form, the prions sometimes helped the yeast to adapt, changing their rates of survival when they were grown in various nutrients or temperatures.

Now Lindquist and her colleagues have worked out how the prions do this. In its non-infectious form, the protein normally helps to read and convert the DNA code into other proteins. But in its infectious form, the prion stops working. This means that many proteins are manufactured slightly sloppily.

The team believes that prions may therefore offer a speedy way for yeast to evolve, because those cells with the infectious prion churn out a whole range of slightly altered proteins. Normally this is bad news for the yeast, but when the cells find themselves in a tough spot, one or two of them may grow better in the new conditions as a result, and so help the colony to survive.

The significance of this is more theoretical than practical at this point, since no one really cares about yeast.  But, anything that advances our knowledge of prions is welcome.  Although it is not yet obvious that there could be a clinical application for this discovery, it is possible that a better understanding of the behavior of prions could lead to some kind of treatment. 

In addition, anything that advances our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of evolution is welcome.  In this case, we see a way that an organism can speed up the process of evolution in times of duress.  This is another example of a new discovery that simply reinforces the overall Theory of Evolution.  There are those who are waiting for that one great discovery that will blow the Theory apart.  I guess they simply will have to keep waiting. 

If the Nature article does not satiate your curiosity about this subject, there is a little more detail available here, at Eureka Alert.  More information about Dr. Lindquist's work with prions and yeast is available here (Are We as Crazy as Mad Cows?), at MITworld

The Two Truths

The first truth:

President Outlines Path for Lasting Prosperity in Wednesday Speech
Remarks by the President at the Newspaper Association of America Annual Convention Omni Shoreham Hotel
Washington, D.C.
April 21, 2004

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, all. Burl, thank you very much. I kind of like ducking those questions. (Laughter.) I appreciate you having me. I hope this toast business becomes a habit -- (laughter) -- if you know what I mean. (Laughter.)

[...] Homeownership is at the highest rate ever, which is really positive for America. The more people who own something, the better off the country is. Inflation is low. Interest rates are low. And the economy is growing, which is good news.

The second truth:

Voices of the Lost and Forgotten-Part One
by Jay Shaft Friday, Aug. 13, 2004 at 8:56 AM

Since the beginning of this year, there has been yet another shocking increase in the number of homeless families. The National Coalition for the Homeless is tracking 20-40% increases across the country, in every state and local area. From all recent reports from provider agencies, approximately 50-80% of new requests for shelter are going unmet.

These are some of the voices of the families lost in a world of poverty, homelessness, and despair. Many can not get any kind of help, no matter where the go.

This series of articles is an outlet for the people who are living through an overwhelming crisis. They want to tell everyone how bad it really is out there on the streets. Their voices will reveal the true depth of despair that many working class and low income families are living with on a daily basis.

I have spoken to over 300 families that have lost permanent housing. They tell horrifying tales of not being able to find emergency shelter for weeks or months at a time. They tell of the long housing list waits of two years or more, and how in many circumstances they don’t even qualify by HUD’s definition of homelessness. [...]

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Olympic Lighting

NASA's IMAGE spacecraft has sent back some spectacular photos, showing the effects of a coronal mass ejection from the Sun.  This resulted in abnormally large aurorae.  In this picture, you can see the aurora borealis and the aurora australis:

In this picture, you see the aurora auatralis:

The original story is here

Just in Time for Olympic Lighting, Sun Lights Up the Skies


On Friday, the Olympic flame in Athens will be lit after a global torch relay covering 27 countries and traveling a distance of about 48,000 miles (78,000 km) total. Particles from the Sun had to travel a little further - 93 million miles - to light up the skies in states like Iowa, Michigan, California, and New York. The bright auroras were the result of elevated activity on the Sun and some unusually large sunspots rotating toward Earth.

The coronal mass ejection (CME) blast that triggered the aurora took place around 10:45 am ET on July 25, traveling at roughly 1300 km per second. It took a day and a half to reach Earth, allowing NOAA to issue warnings to satellite and power grid operators. At 20 times the size of Earth, the originating sunspot was the largest seen since the fall solar storm onslaught.

The NASA site (link above) contains links for high-resolution versions of these pictures.  More eye candy  is seen courtesy of weather satellites:

ISS, SeaWiFS images of tropical weather

With the Atlantic Hurricane season off to a busy start, we're watching the stormy weather as only NASA can. Tropical Storm Bonnie, top, churns away in the Gulf of Mexico, as viewed from the International Space Station about 230 miles above the Earth. In the bottom image, both Bonnie and Hurricane Charley in the Caribbean Sea can be seen in a true color image from the The SeaWiFS instrument onboard the OrbView-2 satellite. Both photos were taken on Wednesday, August 11.

Research Reactors at Universities: Safety Questions

Today's New York Times has an article, in which criticisms are levels against the government of the United States of America.  The problem, they report, is that six universities in the country have nuclear research reactors that use highly enriched uranium.  There used to be more, but the Department of Energy began a process about twenty years ago to convert them all to low enriched (<20%) uranium.  The article states that the remaining reactors could be converted at a cost of five to ten million dollars each. 

Uranium Reactors on Campus Raise Security Concerns
August 15, 2004

[...] But since 1978, out of concern that the uranium might be turned into bomb fuel, the Department of Energy has spent millions of dollars to develop lower-grade fuel and convert scores of reactors to run on it. As of July 30, according to the Government Accountability Office (formerly the General Accounting Office), 39 of 105 research reactors worldwide had converted or were in the process. But the six campus reactors in this country are not among them.

 "It's outrageous that they're still doing this," said Victor Gilinsky, who was an early advocate for switching to low-enriched fuel as a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1975 to 1984. There may not be quite enough on hand at Wisconsin to make a bomb, he said in a telephone interview, but "who says that somebody has to get enough in one shot?"

 Campus reactors have far less security than places where the government keeps bomb-grade uranium, and they may have foreign students of unknown political sympathies, Mr. Gilinsky said. And he pointed out that the United States is seeking to persuade countries all over the world to stop civilian use of bomb-grade uranium.

 "It's a bad example," he said. "How can we go around the world asking people to shift over if we're not shifting over ourselves?"

Asked why the research reactors had not been converted, Anson Franklin, a spokesman for the department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which is in charge of nonproliferation, was blunt. "There hasn't been enough funding," he said. He noted that in May, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham promised to seek conversion of all the reactors by 2014. But he said he could not give a schedule for the campus reactors.

Mr. Franklin also acknowledged that his department does not know just what the cost would be. The Energy Department told the accountability office that it had converted 11 research reactors at universities for a total of $10 million, but that the remaining ones would cost $5 million to $10 million each. That drew a sharp rejoinder from the State Department, which wants the reactors converted. [...]

The concern is that the highly-enriched uranium might be stolen.  Although the amount of uranium at any one reactor would not be enough to make a fission bomb, it would be a good start.  Stealing the uranium would be difficult.  The article points out some of the difficulties, although the author did not detail the most feasible theft scenarios.  The Corpus Callosum will not comment further.  Unlike the NYT, I do not like to publish information that could serve as a roadmap for terrorists. 

The point here is this: it would cost $30 to $60 million to eliminate this potential threat.  The State Department wants it to happen.  The Department of energy wants it to happen.  But is has not happened.   Why not?

What about the situation here in Ann Arbor, Michigan?  The research reactor on campus was converted  to low enriched uranium in 1984, then shut down in 2003.  This closing resulted from a decision made by the Regents in 2000, shortly after the accomplishments made possible by the reactor were lauded in their 50th anniversary celebration.  The shutdown was controversial, as mentioned in this article  for the Michigan Daily.  Apparently, budget problems played a role:

[...] Because the reactor was principally used by parties outside the University, its $1.2 million annual expenditure made it difficult for the University to justify keeping it running, Francis said.

At the time of the decision, the reactor was in need of substantial repair — such as the replacement of building and electrical systems — a third of which was urgent or high priority. Similarly, increased security since the Sept. 11 attacks has raised the costs of operating the reactor, Francis said. [...]

"The reactor was in need of substantial repair ... a third of which was urgent or high priority"?  How in the world did it get to that point?  The NYT article does not mention any of this.  It does make me curious to know what kind of repairs the remaining research reactors need, and how much of that is urgent. 

Thanks For Clearing That Up

Some of the news programs -- even Fox -- have been critical of the President for distorting Mr. Kerry's position on the authorization for the use of military for in Iraq.  I found this information on the weblog, Amygdala

The quote is from a speech Kerry made in October, 2002.  Notice that it is entirely congruent with his more recent statements.  The text block to the left can be seen in its original context by clicking on it.  Yesterday, Mr. Bush stated that he wants to thank Mr. Kerry for clarifying his position.  A nice gesture, to be sure, although as the original text shows, Mr. Kerry did not really need to clarify anything; his position was quite clear already. 

If, indeed, any clarification was needed, it was to clear up the distortions disseminated by the Republican Party.  So I suppose it was appropriate for Mr. Bush to thank Mr. Kerry -- even if all Kerry did was to correct Mr. Bush's own lies.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Antidepressant Suicidality Data Review

The Food and Drug Administration will be holding a two-day conference to review data on the incidence of suicidality in children and adolescents who take antidepressant medication in research studies.  The meetings will take place on Sept. 13 and 14, at an Holiday Inn in Bethesda, MD.  According to FDAAdvisorycommittee.com:

The meeting is being held as a follow-up to a Feb. 2 meeting where advisory committee members expressed concern about the high degree of variability and lack of categorization of events believed to be suicide related.

FDA’s preliminary review of over 4,000 pediatric patients from clinical trials of several antidepressants identified 109 cases as “possibly suicide related.”

Since the Feb. 2 meeting, “experts in pediatric suicidality, assembled by Columbia University, have independently classified these reported events, and FDA has conducted an analysis of these data,” a Federal Register notice slated for publication Aug. 4 states.

The Columbia group employed a standardized methodology to categorize events into “suicidal,” “non-suicidal,” and “indeterminate.” The suicidal category has three subdivisions: “suicide attempt,” “suicidal ideation,” and “suicidal behavior without injury.”

“The committees will consider the results of FDA’s analysis of these independently classified events and will consider what further regulatory action may be needed with regard to the clinical use of these products in pediatric patients,” the Federal Register notice reports.

Interested persons can view the meeting via webcast, but it costs $145 per day for the privilege.  I will be curious to see what they say.  Whatever the conclusion, it will be controversial.  The methodology used is reminiscent of the 2000 Florida recount, with "indeterminate" events playing the role of pregnant chads. 

The Role of Contrast in a Political Campaign

This morning I was making coffee, and the cat, Squeaker, was trying to get my attention. Squeaker is called Squeaker because she does not meow; she squeaks. Early morning sunshine was coming through the east window in the kitchen, casting a spot of bright sunlight on the maple floorboards. Squeaker, being a black cat, went to the sunny spot. Squeaker, wanting to get petted, started writhing in the sunlight, squeaking. Looking at Squeaker, I started thinking about the topic of contrast; first, with regard to photography, second, with regard to politics. There is a lesson here. Read the rest at The Rest of the Story.

Friday, August 13, 2004

An Activist Congressman Blocks Hearing...
But At Least We Have Moral Clarity

Here at The Corpus Callosum, I've written previously about the various compliants voiced by scientists about the current Administration's abuses, distortions, and misuses of science, as well as the political obstacles to research.  Much of what has been written about the subject lately has been a rehash of old news.  Today, though, I ran across something I had not known before.  In this post, I expand upon the lengthy list of criticism that can be directed against our President, and comment on his moral clarity.  Read the rest at The Rest of the Story

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Missed Opportunities in Embryonic Stem-Cell Research

The New England Journal of Medicine put out an early release editorial today: Missed Opportunities in Embryonic Stem-Cell Research, by  George Q. Daley, M.D., Ph.D.  Dr. Daley is a professor at the Harvard Medical School, Boston.  The editorial providers authoritative rebuttal agianst many of the arguments that have been leveled against human ebryonic stem cell research. 

New England Journal of Medicine
Volume 351:627-628  Number 7
August 12, 2004
Missed Opportunities in Embryonic Stem-Cell Research
George Q. Daley, M.D., Ph.D.

[...] Some 128 new human embryonic stem-cell lines have been produced worldwide since the President's announcement.1 Douglas Melton et al. of Harvard University published in the Journal a thorough description of 17 new lines that can be cultured with less cumbersome techniques than those previously used.2 In Singapore, Bongso and colleagues have cultured new lines uncontaminated by nonhuman animal products, such as serum or mouse feeder cells, that are therefore preferable for applications in human patients.  At the recent meetings of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, a group from the Reproductive Genetics Institute of Chicago described nearly 50 novel lines, at least 10 of them derived from embryos carrying genetic diseases identified through preimplantation diagnosis-including neurofibromatosis type 1, Marfan's syndrome, the fragile X syndrome, myotonic dystrophy, and Fanconi's anemia. Such conditions constitute a minute fraction of the disorders that can be investigated with new embryonic stem cells. Though the federal government is the principal patron of peer-reviewed biomedical research, U.S. scientists studying these cell lines cannot obtain grant support through the National Institutes of Health (NIH); they must find funding from private foundations or philanthropic sources that seldom provide predictable, long-term support. [...]

Many opportunities are being missed, most obviously those pertaining to the diseases listed above. In my laboratory, for example, we are eager to obtain the line carrying the gene defect responsible for Fanconi's anemia. With it, we could investigate how this mutation influences blood development during the differentiation of embryonic stem cells, study the characteristic genetic and chromosomal instability of these cells, test methods for gene repair, and screen for drugs that ameliorate the abnormality. Such investigations would provide new insights into disease pathophysiology and might lead to treatments. But the President's policy prohibits us from using our federal grants to pursue these avenues.

[...] Although the pre-2001 lines facilitate these basic studies, they have limited potential for use in clinical therapies. All were cultured in contact with mouse cells and bovine serum, which renders them inferior to newer lines, derived under pristine conditions, for potential therapeutic applications. Moreover, given the limited genetic diversity of the lines, transplantation of their products would face the same immune barrier as organ transplantation. More important questions can be addressed only by means of the lines modeling specific diseases, and therapies may best be pursued with lines genetically matched to specific patients through somatic-cell nuclear transfer. Such approaches are precluded by current policy.

As Dr. Daley points out, the cell lines that are usable for federally-funded research in the United States of America are limited in number, have been raised in contact with other cells, and do not carry genes for known diseases.  Those who try to argue that adult stem cells should be used instead are not well informed about the applicable research methodology.  They also fail to appreciate the fact that stem cell research has many purposes.  The ultimate purpose, of course, is to cure disease.  But another purpose is basic reasearch.  This is research that is devoted mainly to the pursuit of knoweldge.  This, of course, often leads to practical applications.  The point is that, in any kind of research, it is desirable to minimize the number of variables.  This is especially important in basic research, when fundamental hypotheses are generated and tested. 

Adult stem cells have been subjected to any number of variables, most of which cannot be known.  As people go through their lives, they are exposed to toxins, ageing takes place, viruses come and go, and so forth.  Thus, it is likely that adult stem cells will not behave exactly like their embryonic counterparts.  It also is possible that they could carry disease.  Therefore, it simply is not valid to argue that adult stem cells can be used in place of embryonic stem cells.

Important research opportunities are being missed, because of the political limitations on research using embryonic stem cells.  Dr. Daley points out in his editorial that president Bush is partly to blame.  He adds one point that often is overlooked:

An even more restrictive element of government policy prohibits the use of funds for "the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or ... research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death." Proposed in 1996 by Representative Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) as a rider on the appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services and renewed every year since, the Dickey Amendment prohibits federal engagement in a field of research pertaining to the nature of the human embryo, its disorders of development, and the derivation of new human embryonic stem-cell lines. Although most embryos created in vitro during fertility procedures are deemed unsuitable for pregnancy and are discarded, federal funds may not be used to ascertain what went wrong. Such studies, beyond improving the efficacy of fertility treatments, offer promise for understanding many chromosomal and developmental disorders that originate in the early embryo.

The Dickey Amendment prohibits federally funded scientists from deriving lines that model human disease. The use of somatic-cell nuclear transfer to generate pluripotent lines from patients with disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and diabetes offers new strategies for unraveling the pathophysiology of these conditions, and the derivation of lines from patients with genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia and immune deficiency hold promise for combining gene therapy with autologous cell-replacement therapy. Such studies have an immediate, compelling medical rationale, yet they cannot be pursued with federal grants.

Thus, as admirable as it is for presidential candidate John Kerry to announce that he will reverse Mr. Bush's opposition to the research, action in Congress will be necessary as well.  Dr. Daley concludes:

As research struggles forward in the absence of federal funding, the number of embryonic stem-cell lines will continue to grow, creating ever more valuable tools that are out of reach for U.S. scientists. Biomedical scientists are inherently innovators, drawn to new technologies, and these missed opportunities are difficult to accept. The science of human embryonic stem cells is in its infancy, and the current policies threaten to starve the field at a critical stage. The explosive growth of research that followed the isolation of mouse embryonic stem cells in 1981 ushered in a revolution in developmental biology. It will be discouraging if studies of human embryonic stem cells, which have such profound implications for human health, are unable to keep pace.

Dr. Daley's editorial lays out, in clear, understandable language, why human embryonic stem cell research is necessary.  He points out that the obstacles to such research include the prohibition by Mr. Bush, and the Dickey Amendment.  Furthermore, he adds that the Dickey Amendment alos prohibits federal funding for research involving somatic-cell nuclear transfer.  For these reasons, electing a new president will not suffice.  We also must pressure Congress to stop renewing the Dickey amendment if we are to make progress in this crucial area of medicine. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Virtual-Reality Therapy in the News

The August 2004 issue of Scientific American contains an article on Virtual-Reality Therapy.  Although the method is not ready for widespread use, it does appear that some practitioners are finding ways to make it useful.  Some of the applications are not what one might expect.  Sure, helping people get over fear of heights, or spiders, or public speaking -- those are fairly obvious.  But the researchers have found some success in treatment of pain and PTSD. 

Virtual-Reality Therapy
Patients can get relief from pain or overcome their phobias by immersing themselves in computer-generated worlds
By Hunter G. Hoffman

[...] This cardinal virtue of virtual reality--the ability to give users the sense that they are "somewhere else"--can be of great value in a medical setting. Researchers are finding that some of the best applications of the software focus on therapy rather than entertainment. In essence, virtual reality can ease pain, both physical and psychological.

For the past several years, I have worked with David R. Patterson, a pain expert at the University of Washington School of Medicine, to determine whether severely burned patients, who often face unbearable pain, can relieve their discomfort by engaging in a virtual-reality program during wound treatment. The results have been so promising that a few hospitals are now preparing to explore the use of virtual reality as a tool for pain control. In other projects, my colleagues and I are using virtual-reality applications to help phobic patients overcome their irrational fear of spiders and to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in survivors of terrorist attacks.

[...] Working with the staff at Harborview Burn Center in Seattle, Patterson and I set out in 1996 to determine whether immersive virtual-reality techniques could be used to distract patients from their pain. The team members include Sam R. Sharar, Mark Jensen and Rob Sweet of the University of Washington School of Medicine, Gretchen J. Carrougher of Harborview Burn Center and Thomas Furness of the University of Washington Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HITLab).

University of Washington © HUNTER G. HOFFMAN
Click for full-size image

[...] Introducing a distraction -- for example, by having the patient listen to music--has long been known to help reduce pain for some people. Because virtual reality is a uniquely effective new form of distraction, it makes an ideal candidate for pain control. To test this notion, we studied two teenage boys who had suffered gasoline burns.

[...] Both teenagers reported severe to excruciating pain while they were playing the Nintendo games but noted large drops in pain while immersed in SpiderWorld. (They rated the pain on a zero to 100 scale immediately after each treatment session.) Although Nintendo can hold a healthy player's attention for a long time, the illusion of going inside the two-dimensional video game was found to be much weaker than the illusion of going into virtual reality. A follow-up study involving 12 patients at Harborview Burn Center confirmed the results: patients using traditional pain control (opioids alone) said the pain was more than twice as severe compared with when they were inside SpiderWorld.

I took out a lot of the details of the treatment.  To explain, SpiderWorld is a virtual-reality space that originally had been developed to help people undergo desensitization to fear of spiders.  At first glance, it seems odd to use a virtual spider world to treat pain.  But it appears that the crucial therapeutic element is the immersiveness of the virtual reality world,  The content may not be as important as the verisimilitude.  THe researchers then created SnowWorld, thinking that perhaps the simulation of a frigid environment would be more effective that an ordinary house with spiders in it.  Oddly, the article does not tell us if SnowWorld turned out to be more effective than SpiderWorld.  They do inform us that the quality of the reproduction of virtual reality is important.  Highly realistic images and sounds are better than Commodore-64 style AV effects.  

Of interest to neuroscientists, the researchers then conducted fMRI studies to visualize activity of various parts of the brain.  They found that the subject reports of pain relief were correlated with objective changes in brain functioning:

[...] Creating virtual-reality goggles that could be placed inside the fMRI machine was a challenge. We had to develop a fiber-optic headset constructed of nonferrous, nonconducting materials that would not be affected by the powerful magnetic fields inside the fMRI tube. But the payoff was gratifying: we found that when the volunteers engaged in SnowWorld during the thermal stimuli, the pain-related activity in their brains decreased significantly (and they also reported large reductions in subjective pain ratings). The fMRI results suggest that virtual reality is not just changing the way patients interpret incoming pain signals; the programs actually reduce the amount of pain-related brain activity. [...]

(See the prior CC  post for background information about fMRI)

Personally, I find the notion of using computers to do psychotherapy to be a little odd.  I suspect, though, that a more details study would find that the mature of the relationship between therapist and patient still would be important.  That is, I do not think it will be possible for people to go down to Best Buy, get a computer DVD, and start curing themselves.  Maybe a simple phobia could be treated like that, but not something serious, like pain, or PTSD.  Certainly, there would be some serious ethical issues involved in making and marketing such a product. 

The reason is that desensitization seems like an obvious way to treat a phobia.  In actual practice, though, the apparent simplicity is deceptive.  Performed incorrectly, a clumsy attempt at desensitization actually can make the problem worse.  The take home message: don't try this at home.

This is especially true in the case of PTSD.  In the final part of the Sciam article, they review some early -- and encouraging -- studies of the use of virtual-reality therapy to treat persons with PTSD.  The patients they selected were victims of single, extreme traumatic events.  In the average therapy office, though, it is much more common to se patients would have sustained multiple such events over a period of years.  It is doubtful that the results for the first patient group could be generalized to imply that the second group would benefit.  Indeed, the treatment could pose much greater risks with the survivors of multiple traumata.  

Even with these cautions in mind, it is exciting to see that progress is being made in this area.  PTSD remains a common, serious problem;  the current treatment options are too limited. 

(see prior CC post  for background on PTSD.)

Monday, August 09, 2004

Those Scientists just won't let up on Mr. Bush...

Published online: 04 August 2004; | doi:10.1038/430595a

Nobel laureates spearhead effort to put Kerry in the White House
Geoff Brumfiel & Emma Marris

Researchers hit the campaign trail for the US presidential election

Washington - 
A group of high-profile researchers is to hit the campaign trail on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Planners hope that the group, known as Scientists and Engineers for Kerry, will turn researchers' anger over the Bush administration's treatment of science into a major political force. In the run-up to the election, they will attempt to recruit scientists across the country to deliver speeches on Kerry's behalf and to campaign for his election.

"It's very hard to anticipate, but I think we're going to get a very strong response," says Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, who is working independently from that organization to spearhead the group. Kelly, who helped put together a recent letter from 48 Nobel prizewinners endorsing the Kerry campaign (see Nature 430, 4; 2004), believes that the group of researchers will be far larger than any ever brought together on behalf of a presidential candidate. [...]

It is difficult impossible to tell how much of an effect this will have, but with an election as close as this one promises to be, any effect at all could make a difference. 

China Pictures

I uploaded the first of the pictures from Kevin's trip to China here. More to come.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Review of Issues Regarding Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Part II

First, let me apologize to my (few though they may be) regular readers for the hiatus.  I've been tuning my Linux installation, getting it to work with my PDA and memory stick.  Still can't get the Via 6410 driver to work, so I'll have to limp along with 4 IDE devices for now.

It occurs to me that, perhaps, the technical difficulties involved in getting Linux to work are in some way similar to the technical hurdles that await stem cell researchers. I'll have to think about that some more. 

Anyway, on to the subject: human embryonic stem cell research.  This is turning into a big issue in the presidential election.  It appears that the Democratic Party is making an issue out of this.  From my reading of the headlines, I have the impression that the Republican Party would rather not argue this issue. In this post, I look at the political issue that is brewing, and also examine the viabiity of the argument that human embryonic stem cell reaearch should not be done, because it is an affront to human dignity. Read the rest at The Rest of the Story.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Review of Issues Regarding Embryonic Stem Research, Part I

I have begun to review some of the ethical issues regarding embryonic stem cell research. Because of the length of this, the first section, I posted it on The Rest of the Story.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Direct from Hidustan Times:
Breakthrough in stem cell storage

Breakthrough in stem cell storage
Singapore, August 2

In a new research, stem-cell expert Ariff Bongso and his team at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have created so-called xeno, or animal-free storage systems, which allow stem cells nourished with human protein to be  frozen long-term without the danger of being contaminated.

According to Straits Times, Bongso's team was the first in the world to succeed in growing 'animal nutrient-free' stem cells two  years ago. The latest breakthrough details how the cells are stored in straws, nourished with human protein and sealed at both ends.

“Ultimately, this will be a boon to stem cell banks that  I believe will be set up to  further research in this area,” Bongso said.  Almost nine in 10 cells survive intact in this state  and have been shown to react in the same way as 'fresh' stem cells. Also, as  liquid nitrogen is an enviro-nment in which some viruses like HIV and hepatitis can thrive, the team chose to keep the cells safe by sealing the straws and preserving them in the vapour above the liquid nitrogen.   ES Cell, which supported the new research, plans to become one of the first companies in the world to provide these 'gold standard' cells for  clinical trials.  According to Robert Klupacs of ES Cell, which supported the new research, said the  data from Bongso's laboratory was 'extremely important' for the company in its efforts to develop new xeno-free human embryonic stem cells for use in the production of islet cells for diabetics and heart cells as therapeutic products.

Capitol Hill Blue Critique

Inteeliseek's Blogpulse  lists this the most-linked-to article: Bush Using Drugs to Control Depression, Erratic Behavior.   I checked on the citations at Blogpulse, and they mostly just echo the article.  I did not see any thoughtful commentary.  Since this is a subject I happen to know something about, and I did not find any other informed commentary, I decided to chime in.   Although I tend to be critical of Mr. Bush, and do not think he should be re-elected, I hate to see incorrect information about any important topic.  This critique is not so much a defense of Mr. Bush, but an effort to clarify certain aspects of the two articles reported by Capitol Hill Blue.  Read the rest at The Rest of the Story