Category Archives: Medicine

A Healthful, Post-Turkey-Day News Sandwich

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.

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Thanksgiving Messages Past and Present

We didn’t know how good we had it. Ronald Reagan’s 1985 Thanksgiving Day address focused on the importance of liberty, of freedom of speech, of limited government. While atheists like me might prefer that a President not invoke God on such occasions, we can all agree that it is important to keep this holiday “sacred” and focused on the values that make our country great.

Contrast this with our current President’s attempt to dictate the conversation around Americans’ Thanksgiving dinner table in 2014:

Notice the lack of dignity in the types of jokes included. Reagan would never have done such a thing. Not to mention that the whole campaign (read more about it here) is focused on getting Americans — particularly young, healthy Americans — to purchase health “insurance,”* which we no longer have the liberty not to purchase anyway. I don’t know about you, but I find it offensive that we are being forced to purchase something, and that Obama is going around pretending that he is selling us a product. And I assume this campaign is being financed by our tax dollars (or health “insurance” premiums, same difference).

Perhaps the best Thanksgiving Day message will see this year is this one, in which a group of Americans got together to thank Ted Cruz, currently the most promising politician in Washington, for his efforts to save us from the destructive effects of Obamacare:

That this commercial was made shows that the American sense of life is alive and well and that we may one day again have a President who shares it.

*True health insurance is no longer legal. Now we are forced to buy health care “plans,” which are, essentially, pre-paid healthcare.

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Good News/Bad News/Good News for November 23, 2013

It’s easy to find–and focus on–bad news. The purpose of News Sandwich is to help readers tip the balance a bit, by sandwiching an item of bad news between two items of good news. Readers are not encouraged to ignore reality, but simply to remember that good things are happening as well, even in today’s world.

With present and future damage to the health care industry due to Obamacare on everyone’s minds, I thought it best to start with a medical-themed post.

According to a story published this week by Wired UK, a team of cardiovascular scientists have said that it will be possible, using 3D printing technology, to create a transplantable human heart within ten years. “Bioprinted” hearts are expected to be made using a patient’s own cells, with the printing process taking only a few hours, followed by a “maturation” process taking about a week. While the technology will initially be very expensive, the rapid decrease in cost to produce consumer-ready 3D printers bodes well for Wired’s Liat Clark’s speculation that “One day, the bioprinter might be as ubiquiotus in hospitals as an X-ray machine.”

To read more about the technology that may soon extend and improve the quality of human life, check out the full article (and links within) at Wired UK.

Of course the development of life-saving bioprinting technology depends on, as the article states, having adequate financial resources available. And, if Obamacare continues to be implemented, dramatically increasing government control over the health care industry over the next several years, funds to explore new medical technology will be scarce. As I discussed in this week’s “Don’t Let It Go…Unheard,” I was surprised to learn via this story in The Independent that the antibiotic-resistant “superbug” scare of recent years is due to the fact that there has not been a new class of antibiotics created since 1987! What is not surprising, unfortunately, is the reason for the lack of innovation in this industry: creating new antibiotics is no longer profitable. The reason it is no longer profitable is that governments don’t allow drug companies to charge prices high enough to make it profitable. And this is due to the widespread idea that it is considered immoral to make a profit from services and products that save human lives. As a result, we must worry that a routine operation could cause us to contract an infection resulting in major illness or death. More here.

It’s frustrating that government intervention in the pharmaceutical, biotech and health care industries threatens to deprive us of the benefit of medical advances, both past and future. There is hope for reversing this destructive trend, however: According to a recent Gallup poll, a majority in the United States say that healthcare is not the government’s responsibility. When asked, “Do you think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage, or that it is not the responsibility of the federal government?” 56% of respondents said no. Let’s hope that the reason for this reversal is not just frustration with the failed Obamacare rollout, or a belief that the state governments would do it better. I like to think that Obamacare is helping many to understand both that government intervention hinders progress and that health care is not a right.

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