Given the overindulgence that usually accompanies Thanksgiving, I thought I’d do a health-related news post for Black Friday.
First, a bit of hope in the war against “superbugs”–the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that exist because government has made creating new classes of antibiotics unprofitable. (Read more in this story that I discussed in the first News Sandwich.)
Scientists in Australia have discovered, via studying the bactericidal properties of the wings of two different species of insect, a germ-killing surface: black silicon. It feels smooth to the human touch, but at the nano level is covered in tiny spikes that skewer bacteria, killing them at an amazing rate. Reports France24.com (HT Jack Lovell via the News Sandwich FB page),
Smooth to the human touch, the surfaces [dragonfly wings and black silicon] destroyed two categories of bacteria, called Gram-negative and Gram-positive, as well as spores, the protective shell that coats certain types of dormant germs.
The three targeted bugs comprised P. aeruginosa, the notorious Staphylococcus aureus and the ultra-tough spore of Bacillus subtilis, a wide-ranging soil germ that is a cousin of anthrax.
The killing rate was 450,000 bacterial cells per square centimetre per minute over the first three hours of exposure.
This is 810 times the minimum dose needed to infect a person with S. aureus, and a whopping 77,400 times that of P. aeruginosa.
While black silicon is expensive to manufacture (it’s currently used in solar panels), the scientists are optimistic about being able manufacture either it or a substitute more cheaply in the future. The France24 article lists, as possible applications for this bactericidal surface, “a hospital room, door handle or kitchen countertop,” but there are numerous more possibilities, including computer keyboards, refrigerators, as well as nursing homes, schools and daycares, all notorious for being incubators for bacteria.
Government should get out of the way of the pharmaceutical companies, so that they can profitably create a new class of antibiotics that we can have in reserve. Nonetheless, killing the bacteria before they ever have the chance to infect human beings seems like the optimal first line of defense.
Any company that manufactures this “bactericidal” surface will have to be careful not to market the product in such a way that it runs afoul of the FDA. Earlier this week the FDA ordered the genetic screening service 23andMe to stop marketing its service to customers. (You can read the letter in full here.) The FDA says it’s concerned about the accuracy of the screening and about the consequences of either a false positive or false negative report. Quoting from the agency’s letter:
For instance, if the BRCA-related risk assessment for breast or ovarian cancer reports a false positive, it could lead a patient to undergo prophylactic surgery, chemoprevention, intensive screening, or other morbidity-inducing actions, while a false negative could result in a failure to recognize an actual risk that may exist.
First, if you were told by 23andMe that you were at increased risk for breast or ovarian cancer, would you just go get surgery without getting additional screening done first? Moreover, who would perform the surgery for you, without first doing the additional screening? Conversely, if you were told that you were at decreased risk for these diseases, would you skip the routine screenings for them? I wouldn’t.
The explanation that makes the most sense to me (besides the FDA simply wanting to control everything having anything remotely to do with food or drugs) is that the federal government wants to prevent our access to information that might make us want further medical testing. In the era of Obamacare, any medical testing deemed “unnecessary” by an appointed panel of “experts” (read: friends of Obama or other top Democrats) should not be performed. The government wants to show that Obamacare will decrease the total amount spent, nationwide, on medical care, even if it kills us in the process. And 23andMe keeps mucking up their plans.
What’s even more depressing than the FDA’s letter, to me anyway, is that the CEO of 23andMe appears to be rolling over already. In a letter sent to customers, she refers to the FDA as “an important partner.” How in the world is a government agency which is threatening you with “actions includ[ing], but…not limited to, seizure, injunction, and civil money penalties,” when there has been no proof of fraud, considered an “important partner”?
You may have seen a video circulating on the Internet saying that doctors in the UK had injected the HIV virus into a 6-year-old girl dying of cancer, and that this had saved her life. While that’s not exactly true, I learned via this article that a few trials have been done in which a cancer patient’s T-cells have been removed, then modified by exposure to a virus–in the girl’s case, likely a virus similar to HIV–and then injected back into the patient. In some of these cases, the result has been complete remission. Scientists don’t yet know why this type of therapy has cured some patients while, in others, the cancer quickly returns after a brief remission. Still, this research is very exciting as it may one day provide a less invasive, less damaging and more effective alternative for those who are at risk of dying from cancer, whether they learn about it well in advance via a screening service like 23andMe, or later after already contracting the disease.