Friday, February 29, 2008

Does Music Mend the Minds of Stroke Patients?

news you may not knowYeah - It's Good For You...

Strokes are complicated. One minute you're running around planning the weekend, and the next you're struggling to speak and to walk. Because of the complex issues involved, treatments are also both complex and evolving. Did you know that one form of treatment advocates tying up the patient's good arm, and forcing them to use the weakened arm? It's called Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT). Sure, the name is impressive, but it still means being tied up.

Aren't there any easier stroke therapies?

You're in luck. Researchers from the University of Helsinki say stroke therapy may be as easy as a lazy afternoon with a bit of background music. They looked at 60 stroke patients and assessed the impact of listening to music. Not a music lover? Well, if you've had a stroke, you should be.

The scientists separated the stroke patients into two groups: one group listened to music, or to audio books, while the second group listened to no music. Three months later, the researchers measured improvements in verbal memory and ability to focus attention.

The music lovers were the big winners.

Those patients who listened to music each day showed a 60% improvement in verbal memory, compared to 29% for the non-listeners. Oddly, the audio book group showed the least improvement, at only 18%. The music lovers also showed a 17% improvement in their ability to focus.

The scientists are unsure whether the music activates the damaged portions of the brain as they recover, or activate more general areas of the brain that allow the neural networks to be repaired. Further study will be needed.

If you're a stroke victim, add a little music therapy to your day. You'll not only find the time passes more quickly, but it may actually help you get back into your dancing shoes a little sooner than you expected.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about strokes, see this from the National Stroke Association.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Gecko Bandage is Super Sticky, Waterproof

tidbits that tantalizeThe Amazing Gecko Grip...
(Photo / David Clements, via Wikimedia)

Seems we may have underestimated the little guy. After all, it was quite a big deal for a gecko to start a car insurance company in the first place. Everyone assumed that was the end of it. Thought he'd be content to be a huge success, staring in his own commercials for Geico, sharing his rambling assessments of life and cars. But, we were wrong.

Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have teamed with the gecko to create a super-sticky, super-strong, super-flexible, super bandage. Yes, indeed - it's super.

The bandage is inspired by the gecko's feet, which have amazing gripping capabilities. The secret appears to be in the tiny hills and valleys found on the gecko's feet. These ridges allow the gecko to easily traverse smooth, vertical surfaces, including glass.

Inspired by the gecko, the MIT team created an adhesive with nanoscale hills and valleys. This addressed, as have other similar adhesives, the need to adhere to dry surfaces. But the MIT team took it to the next level. They wanted to develop an adhesive that would be effective when wet. This would be a huge advantage, as it would allow it to be used in surgical applications, especially to help supplement internal sutures and staples.

The final step? Sugar, of course. Well, a thin layer of sugar-based glue. The final layer allows the bandage to adhere to wet surfaces, making it perfect for surgery. And, the material is biodegradable. Surgeons can apply the bandage to an internal organ or vessel, then simply close up and walk away. Over time the bandage, which is also non-inflammatory, will simply dissolve.

Remarkable - even for a gecko.

To read more about the new adhesive, see this from Reuters. To learn more about the inspirational gecko, see this from Wikipedia.

Monday, February 25, 2008

PSA Predicts Cancer 25 Years in Advance

news you may not knowTomorrow Will be Sunny and Mild...

It's quite remarkable. After all, the local weatherman can't predict how much snow we'll get tomorrow. Strike that. Though a mere handful of hours away, the weatherman can't predict if we'll get snow tomorrow or have an unseasonably bright and sunny spring like day. (It's not a profession to be envied.)

So, can scientists really predict prostate cancer 25 years into the future?

Yes. According to new research a single test before age 50 accurately predicts which men are most at risk in the future. OK, so that's not an exact, person-by-person prediction. True. But, it does open the door for determining which men should be most aggressively screened as they age. That's a huge advantage over the current willy-nilly methodology.

A team of researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and Sweden's Lund University found that a single prostate specific antigen (PSA) test is highly predictive. The test measures the amount of a specific protein that is produced by the prostate. The team found that a high PSA level before the age of 50 has a high correlation with the development of aggressive prostate cancer later in life.

"We have found that a single PSA test taken at or before age 50 is a very strong predictor of advanced prostate cancer diagnosed up to 25 years later. This suggests the possibility of using an early PSA test to determine which men should be the focus of the most intensive screening efforts," said Hans Lilja, MD, PhD, the study's lead.

So, men - Go ahead and schedule that doctor's appointment to have a PSA screening. You'll still have no idea about tomorrow's weather, but you'll have a much better feel for your health over the next 25 years or so.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about the PSA screening, see this from the National Cancer Institute.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Vitamin D a Powerhouse in Fighting Cancer

news you may not knowThe Big D...

A little pill, a little sunshine, a longer life. It all sounds quite reasonable. But, is it too much to ask a single vitamin to fight cancer, prevent multiple sclerosis, ward off winter depression, boost the immune system, maximize calcium utilization, and lower blood pressure? Well, maybe not.

Vitamin D is the new star in the galaxy of simple medical miracles.

Dr. Louise Parker, of Dalhousie University, says Vitamin D is most certainly up to the task. She is an epidemiologist specializing in environmental causes of cancer. Her interest in Vitamin D was partially sparked by the lack of winter sunshine she and fellow Canadians receive.

Exposure to sunshine causes the skin to produce Vitamin D. But, what happens when the sun goes away? Well, not only do people suffer from conditions like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), they're also more likely to develop cancer and other diseases. Studies have indicated people with lung and colon cancer are deficient in Vitamin D. It's also been shown to be a factor in osteoporosis.

Dr. Parker recommends a daily supplement of 1,000 units of the powerhouse vitamin. Though there are food sources, including fatty fish and egg yolks, it's not feasible to obtain that level through the diet alone. The sun won't get you there either.

"If you were to lie naked on a beach in the Bahamas, and I don't recommend that because of skin cancer, you cannot get up to the equivalent of 1,000 units of Vitamin D a day," says Dr. Parker.

Ah, a tough choice. Laying on the beach naked or a tiny little pill once each day. Well, to each his own.

To read more about the research, see this from ScienceDaily. For a thorough discussion of Vitamin D, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Heart Disease Has Little Impact on Lifestyle

news you may not knowCareful - It's One of a Kind...

Consider the possibilities. You're whisked off to the emergency room, gasping for air, struggling to survive a heart attack. Fortunately, you survive. Of the 1.2 million heart attack victims each year, about 400,000 die before they reach the ER. In all, 13 million Americans have survived heart attacks or have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD causes more deaths each year than any other medical condition.

So, what will you do now that you've survived? Odds are, not much.

A study released by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School reveals that CHD patients often make few changes. Though they're counseled to make positive diet and exercise changes, it appears their lives typically remain on a downward path toward further debility.

The results are disturbing. One year after receiving CHD diagnoses only 12.4% were eating the recommended five servings of vegetables each day. Only 7.8% were eating four servings of fruit, and fewer than 8% were consuming the recommended amount of cereal fiber.

But, it gets worse.

50% - 20 minutes - 3 months.

Translation? Only 50% of those surveyed had exercised at least one time for 20 minutes in the previous 3 months. Further, only about 20% of patients attend the cardiac rehabilitation programs following diagnoses. It's truly a sad set of statistics.

According to study co-author Barbara Olendzki, RD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at UMMS, "Physicians and health care providers should consider placing more of an emphasis on dietary counseling, along with exercise, for CHD patients. Nutrition counseling and patient dietary changes can lead to significant improvements in subsequent CHD risk and better quality of life."

These are sobering details. If you've been fortunate enough to survive a heart attack, or you've been diagnosed with CHD, your future begins today. Take a look around. Life is good - so, take the steps necessary to ensure you'll be here for a good long time.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about living a heart healthy lifestyle, see this from the American Heart Association.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Small Steps Yield Big Gains

tidbits that tantalizeHealth - One Step at a Time...

Ah, politics... Yes, it's inescapable. At least if you live in the United States. So, which side are you on? The "throw the bums out" side - or, the "they might be bums, but they're my bums" side? Either way, with congressional approval hovering around 25%, there seems to be widespread agreement that the government is filled with bums.


Is it possible, even in the midst of significant failings, that the U.S. government actually has some good things going on? Of course. That's the essential nature of things. Even when beset by failures, shortcomings, and excesses, the government will now and then surprise us with a terrific little program.

Such a program is Smallstep. The website, set up by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), is a fabulous, and free, resource. The concept is centered on taking small steps to achieve a healthy lifestyle. HHS recognized that people often fail when attempting to make major lifestyle changes. So, they encourage us to take healthy living one simple step at a time.

For example, Health Tip of the Day #33 is, "More carrots, less cake." Now, no one said easy - the word was simple. Tip #121 is, "Eat before grocery shopping." Excellent. That way you'll shop with your head instead of your hunger. Tip #3: "Do sit-ups in front of the TV." There you go - seems like a reasonable compromise. A little pain with a bit of entertainment thrown in and, by the first commercial, you're already on the road to healthy living.

The site is a great resource, filled with facts sheets on diet and exercise, links to local resources, tools to help you set goals and track activity, and additional reading links. And, it's all free.

So, go ahead and gripe about the bums. But, remember Tip #17b: "Walk at a brisk pace while you gripe."

To learn more, visit the HHS website at

Friday, February 15, 2008

New Tool Assesses Cancer Risks

news you may not knowI Can Use Deodorant?

Sure, you'd love a cup of coffee. It would help rev up the old engine and jump-start your day. Deodorant would be nice too. It's getting old walking around with your arms tightly folded across your chest. And that gray in your hair has got to go. But, sadly, you're a bit of news junky, so you know the truth: Everything causes cancer.


Well, according to Professor Bernard Stewart, of the University of New South Wales, it's not true. He's developed a new procedure to assess the cancer-inducing risk of various carcinogens. Previously, only mathematical models of prediction were available. These fell short in their ability to assess risk in varying sets of circumstances.

Professor Stewart's method addresses this issue. For example, arsenic is a known carcinogen. But, the manner of exposure is also important. Professor Stewart explained, "For instance, smelter workers who are exposed to arsenic emissions are much more likely to develop cancer than children who have played on climbing frames constructed from arsenic-treated timber - but the carcinogen is the same."

On a practical basis, the study served to debunk some common concerns, while reinforcing the danger of other substances. Smoking? Definitely still at the top of the list of cancer-causing activities. Exposure to sunlight is also high on the list. But, drinking coffee, using deodorant or hair dyes, talking on cell phones, and using artificial sweeteners are not as dangerous as many have believed. In fairness, further study is needed on the long-term effect of cell phone use.

So, go ahead. Have that cup of coffee. And, while you're at it, dye your hair and, for everyone's sake, dig around in the medicine cabinet and find that old stick of deodorant...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about protecting yourself from excessive sun exposure, see this from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Smoking While Pregnant Increases SIDS Risk

news you may not knowGood Choice...

Admittedly, nine months is a long time. Especially if you're a smoker - and pregnant. When could you possibly more want a cigarette then when your entire body is absolutely out of control? Not to mention your husband's odd behavior, the in-law's persistent pestering, and the total lack of creativity within the ice cream industry. Who says Black Olive Kosher Dill Mocha Cherry Crunch wouldn't fly off the store shelves?

Yes - you NEED a smoke. But...

That little guy, or gal, you're toting about inside apparently feels quite differently about the situation. Researchers at McMaster University say smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). They also found a link to exposure to second-hand smoke and SIDS. So, fresh air seems to be the prescription.

The researchers found the culprit to be nicotine. Fetuses exposed to nicotine are born lacking a critical defense mechanism. Healthy newborns rely on a group of hormones, known as catecholamines, to respond appropriately to oxygen deprivation. These hormones are released by the adrenal glands, and help arouse the baby when its oxygen levels drop, such as when its breathing is impaired when lying face down.

But, exposure to nicotine stifles the production of the catecholamines. So, when an infant's breathing is impaired, it lacks the critical response necessary to protect itself. The result is an increased risk of death due to SIDS.

How do you get through pregnancy without smoking? Hmm... Maybe distracting yourself by building a new ice cream empire would help...

To read more about the research, see this from ScienceDaily. To find resources to help you quit smoking, see this from

Monday, February 11, 2008

Do Active People Live Longer?

tidbits that tantalizeGo Ahead - Get Off The Couch...

The choice is quite clear. It's 7pm on a beautiful spring evening (yes, it is still winter - you'll have to use a bit of imagination here...) and you've finished dinner. Now, all that's left is to settle into that easy chair, grab the trusty remote and prepare for a fabulous evening of moderately entertaining reruns. Or...

You could open the door and go for a walk.

But, does it really matter? According to researchers at King's College London it certainly does. They find people who maintain an active lifestyle during their free time are biologically younger than those who are slouches. As much as ten years younger - yikes!

The difference appeared between those who were at opposite ends of the activity scale. The most active were those who exercised an average of 199 minutes per week. For the math challenged among us, that's 3 hours and 19 minutes. The slouches, on the other hand, exercised only 16 minutes per week. That's an average of 2 minutes and 17 seconds each day. Wow - where do they find the time to cram in that extra 17 seconds?

For the technophobes, it all has to do with the length of telomeres, repeated sequences at the end of chromosomes, which shorten as we age. By comparing the length of telomeres in sets of twins with differing lifestyles, researchers were able to assess the impact of physical activity.

What does it all mean? Well, you can continue to watch mediocre television reruns as your life slips away, or you can mount a revolution of sorts. Ditch the vicarious glimpse into life's grand adventures and set out on your own journey. Go ahead, give it a try. All it takes to set your new lifestyle in motion is a single step...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about exercise, see this from How Stuff Works.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Is Medical Marijuana A Medical Menace?

tidbits that tantalize Really - This Can Hurt Me?

Leave it to Los Angeles. This week they become the first city to provide access to medical marijuana via an ATM. A cannabis co-op, the Herbal Nutrition Center, has installed an Anytime Vending Machine. The ATM-like machine will dispense marijuana 24/7 to patients with a medical marijuana prescription. Each patient receives a "pre-paid" ATM card, which allows weekly prescriptions to be withdrawn at their convenience.

Is this a good thing? Well...

Research from New Zealand says no. Remember the old adage, "First, do no harm"? It seems in the rush to alleviate pain, some quite important side effects were given short shrift. Cancer. Yes, the same lung cancer associated with smoking cigarettes is linked to smoking marijuana. But...

The risk of lung cancer from smoking marijuana is 5 times greater than from smoking cigarettes. Actually, the risk is 5.7 times greater. Now we're talking real pain.

The researchers found that a single joint holds the cancer risk of an entire pack of smokes. One joint, twenty cigarettes. Think of it. We see extensive, and aggressive, health campaigns waged against cigarette smoking. But, in our zeal to allow people the freedom to use medical marijuana, we blew right by the greatest hazard of all.

The danger stems from the level of carcinogens in the marijuana - twice that of cigarettes. In addition, marijuana smokers inhale more deeply, and then hold their breath. This forces more of the carcinogens to be deposited in the lungs. Finally, unlike most cigarettes, joints have no filters and they are smoked down to the absolute end. While this ensures no pot goes to waste, it also ensures every trace of cancer-causing carcinogens is ingested.

So, think twice before you make a late night run to the marijuana ATM. You just may be getting more than you bargained for.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To find help to quit smoking (cigarettes), see this from

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Can Infrared Helmet Reverse Alzheimer's?

news you may not knowGo Ahead - Give it a Try...
(Prototype Helmet - Courtesy of University of Sunderland)

It's sounds like something from Star Trek. A geeky looking guy with odd hair, and really strange cloths, listens intently as you talk about your dad's mental decline. Forgetfulness, disorientation, problems completing ordinary tasks. You share your fear it's the beginning of Alzheimer's. He nods, then opens a cabinet and removes a bizarre looking black helmet that appears to have been hastily constructed - in his garage. "Here," he says. "Have your dad wear this for ten minutes each morning. He should be fine in a month or so."

Yes, it sounds far fetched. But...

Researchers at the University of Sunderland, in England, have developed just such a helmet. The prototype helmet uses infrared light to treat patients with dementia. Infrared light is the invisible spectrum of sunlight we experience as heat, and is totally safe at the administered levels. The idea began to take shape following the use of infrared light to treat cold sores. The infrared light boosts the body's ability to produce cells that fight the cold sore virus.

The scientists thought it may also work with brain cells.

Dr. Gordon Dougal, a director of a medical research company working in conjunction with Sunderland, said, "As we get older, cells stop repairing themselves and we age because our cells lose the desire to regenerate and repair themselves. But what if there was a technology that told the cells to repair themselves and that technology was something as simple as a specific wavelength of light? Near infrared light penetrates human tissues relatively well, even penetrating the human skull, just as sunlight passes through frosted glass."

So, the future of dementia treatment looks quite bright. Except, of course, for the geeky looking guy with the odd hair...

To read more about the research, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about Alzheimer's, and to find education and treatment resources, see this from the Alzheimer's Association.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Esophageal Camera in the Works

news you may not knowLet's Get a Closer Look...
(Image courtesy of the University of Washington)

Lights, Camera - Swallow?

Well, researchers at the University of Washington have developed a sophisticated camera for detecting esophageal cancer. The camera, so small in fits inside a standard pill capsule, is swallowed by the patient. It then takes a series of rapid-fire images as it passes through the esophagus. While not the first pill-like imaging device, it's by far the smallest. And, the least expensive.

"Our technology is completely different from what's available now. This could be the foundation for the future of endoscopy," said lead author Eric Seibel, a University of Washington research associate professor of mechanical engineering.

Most diagnostic procedures utilize a traditional endoscope. This is a long, flexible tube, equipped with a camera, which is passed down the patient's throat. The procedure is highly accurate, and the image quality is terrific. But, because patients must be sedated, it's also quite expensive.

The new device is so small it requires no sedation. As a result, the cost of the procedure is affordable, even when utilized on a wide scale basis. And, the procedure is quite simple.

"The procedure is so easy I could imagine it being done in a shopping mall," Seibel said.

The new device also offers the advantage of second looks. Because the device is tethered to the diagnostic equipment by a thin cord, the physician can move the camera up and down over areas of interest. Sound a bit uncomfortable? Well, Seibel wanted to find out for himself. After volunteering to be the first human test subject, he reported the procedure was no worse than swallowing a normal pill.

The research team hopes to make the device available to the general public in the not too distant future. Until then, you may want to stay current with your teeth cleaning, so you'll be ready for your medical imaging debut.

To read more about the research, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about esophageal cancer, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Virtual Biopsy Detects Skin Cancer Quickly, Painlessly

news you may not knowIt's Really Quite Simple...
(Image courtesy of Queensland University of Technology)

Welcome to the new reality. Or, the new virtual reality. Or, to something other than what you knew just yesterday.

The wave of all-things-virtual has once again knocked on diagnostic medicine's door. Previous advances brought about the Virtual Colonoscopy, in which x-ray imaging is used in lieu of the more invasive traditional method. Also, broadband connections and webcam technology allow patients in remote areas to have a "doctor's visit" with a specialist in New York.

Now, a researcher at Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) School of Physical and Chemical Sciences has introduced a virtual biopsy to detect skin cancer. It makes sense this breakthrough would come from down under, as Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world.

Jye Smith developed a technique that relies on bioimpedance spectroscopy. This technique measures the flow of electrical currents through the body's tissues. Differences can be used to assess the amount of lean and fat body tissue. Or, as developed by Mr. Smith, to detect cancerous tissue within the body.

"It offers the possibility of a simple device that can be run over the surface of the skin or internal organ that can quickly, cheaply and accurately record changes in cellular structure that point to cancerous changes," said Mr. Smith. "By running the currents through a surface it can identify the boundaries of a lesion."

The technique identifies changes within the cells, thus allowing the type of cancer to be determined. Best of all, the procedure is non-invasive. Traditional techniques involve removing a piece of the suspect tissue and forwarding it for lab analysis.

"The beauty of this technique is that the patient doesn't need an anaesthetic, the data is immediate, and it has the potential to be as accurate as more time-consuming, expensive techniques," said Mr. Smith.

Welcome to the virtual world. Now, if they could only develop virtual dentistry...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about bioimpedance, see this from Wikipedia.