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Archive for October, 2009

Here is a “dog bites man” story from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital.

It is no secret that anabolic steroids have all sorts of nasty side effects.

Anabolic steroids can cause many adverse effects. Most of these side effects are dose-dependent, the most common being elevated blood pressure, especially in those with pre-existing hypertension, and harmful changes in cholesterol levels: some steroids cause an increase in LDL cholesterol and a decrease in HDL cholesterol. Anabolic steroids have been shown to alter fasting blood sugar and glucose tolerance tests. Anabolic steroids such as testosterone also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or coronary artery disease. Acne is fairly common among anabolic steroid users, mostly due to stimulation of the sebaceous glands by increased testosterone levels. Conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) can accelerate the rate of premature baldness for males who are genetically predisposed, but testosterone itself can produce baldness in females.

There is a whole bunch more (we left out some of the nastier bits) where that came from. Now we can include damage to kidneys as a side effect of abusing anabolic steroids too. In fact, the damage incurred is worse than what is seen in the kidneys of morbidly obese individuals.

The investigators studied a group of 10 bodybuilders who used steroids for many years and developed protein leakage into the urine and severe reductions in kidney function. Kidney tests revealed that nine of the ten bodybuilders developed a condition called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a type of scarring within the kidneys. This disease typically occurs when the kidneys are overworked. The kidney damage in the bodybuilders has similarities to that seen in morbidly obese patients, but appears to be even more severe.

However, some good news also comes from this study:

When the bodybuilders discontinued steroid use their kidney abnormalities improved, with the exception of one individual with advanced kidney disease who developed end-stage kidney failure and required dialysis. Also, one of the bodybuilders started taking steroids again and suffered a relapse of severe kidney dysfunction.

If stopped in time, kidney function can improve enough for daily functioning. Kidneys in particular are so vulnerable to the effects of anabolic steroids because they are affected both directly and indirectly:

The researchers propose that extreme increases in muscle mass require the kidneys to increase their filtration rate, placing harmful levels of stress on these organs. It’s also likely that steroids have direct toxic effects on the kidneys. “Athletes who use anabolic steroids and the doctors caring for them need to be aware of the potentially serious risks to the kidney,” said Dr. Herlitz.

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Our headline is not in the least bit misleading. Stick around for an intriguing tale from the annals of modern medicine.

Michael LeBalanc, 40, was an healthy man who fainted one day. He began to get weaker and weaker as time passed and occasionally blacked out. It became obvious to doctors that something was wrong with his heart and they theorized that a virus may have caused his heart to weaken. One potential cause of a heart attack is a malfunctioning sinoatrial node, the heart’s natural pacemaker.

Brief biology lesson: The sinoatrial node is a clump of cells in the right atrium of the heart which generate the impulse controlling the heartbeat. Interestingly, these cells in the sinoatrial node are modified version of cardiac myocytes (human muscle cells), yet they do not contract.

Mr. LeBlanc had an internal pacemaker implanted which would give his heart a brief jolt to correct any abnormality in its rhythm, thereby preventing a heart attack. That type of pacemaker is formally called an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD). Dr. Helen, a Knoxville based psychologist, suffered a heart attack at the tender age of 37 and an ICD is responsible for keeping her alive today. However, her heart problem was not properly diagnosed right away:

Despite the fact that I was short of breath and shaking like a leaf, the doctor decided I was allergic to something in the gym and gave me a shot of benadryl. Actually, I later learned that shortness of breath and a sense of impending doom or death were signs (especially in women) of heart problems. I felt ok once I left the hospital and even for a week or two later. I was on vacation in Charleston, South Carolina when I again got short of breath and could not walk. I was so dizzy, scared and light-headed that I spent the day in bed until finally that night, I went to an emergency room.

There is a whole lot more to the story, so go read the whole thing. Fortunately, it has a happy ending and is a strong endorsement for the effectiveness of ICDs.

Unfortunately for Mr. LeBlanc, his ICD was working a little too well because his heart was deteriorating too quickly:

To keep me going, I qualified for a defibrillator, which basically shocked me if my heart rhythm started to get worse,” Mr. LeBlanc said. “But as I got sicker, the defibrillator kept going off, and it was awful.”

Even with the defibrillator, Mr. LeBlanc suffered a heart attack in April, followed by a stroke in July. Luckily, he was able to get to an emergency room before the stroke did too much damage.

Since Mr. LeBlanc was in otherwise good health and relatively young, UT Southwestern Medical Center in Texas decided he would be a great candidate for the newest generation of implantable heart saving devices, the Left-Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD).

“Mr. LeBlanc has cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart to dilate. The muscle becomes weaker, and it can’t pump efficiently,” said Dr. Dan Meyer, professor of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at UT Southwestern and Mr. LeBlanc’s surgeon. “UT Southwestern has always had a presence in studying new mechanical assist devices, so we were honored to be only one of two sites in the state selected to implant the HeartWare LVAD as part of a national clinical trial.”

The pump is designed to rest inside the patient’s chest. A small cable attached to the device exits the body and connects to an externally worn controller. The controller is powered by a battery pack. The HeartWare LVAD has only one moving part, which contributes to its diminutive size. The lack of mechanical bearings is expected to lead both to longer-term device reliability and to a reduced risk of physical damage to blood cells as they pass through the pump, said Dr. Meyer, also director of the mechanical support program at UT Southwestern.

“The size of the device means the incision is also smaller. The entire implantation surgery takes about four hours,” Dr. Meyer said. “Mr. LeBlanc is a really great patient. He’s otherwise very healthy, and we believe he will do very well with the LVAD until he can get a new heart.”

Ok, as promised, here is where the story takes a left turn into “unusual land”:

He’s still adjusting to some of the stranger side effects of his new device, including no pulse. The LVAD keeps blood moving continually with no pulsation, so he no longer has a palpable heart beat or traditionally measurable blood pressure.

Think of all the mischief you could get into with an LVAD. Apparently, the infamous castle of Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula) is up for sale. With the right outfit and a bit of makeup you could show up and simply claim ownership.

Habsburg: I own it.

You: No, I do.

Habsburg: Not unless you’re some kind of vampire.

You: Check my pulse.

Habsburg: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Habsburg: ::: runs away :::


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Gene therapy has been successfully used to restore vision in patients suffering from a rare genetic disorder. The nature of this disorder means that the therapy is much more successful in children than adults.

Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA) causes sight to deteriorate beginning at birth and and resulting in complete blindness before the age of forty.

Children born with one form, LCA2, have defects in a gene called RPE65 that helps the retina’s light-sensing cells make rhodopsin, a pigment needed to absorb light. Without rhodopsin, the photoreceptor cells gradually die.

Gene therapy works by using a modified virus as a delivery system to get specific genes into specific areas. (Take a look at our article Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Caused By A Virus? for some background about how viruses work explained in plain English). Researchers first tested the therapy on dogs and found they could partially restore sight by using a virus loaded with the RPE65 gene. Then the researchers conducted a limited study on six young adult humans, which also resulted in sight improvements.

But the Penn researchers knew from their studies in animals that children should improve even more because they have more intact retinal tissue than adults do. Today in an online paper in The Lancet, their team and collaborators in Europe report full study results for three of the adults they treated earlier and nine more patients, including four children ages 8 to 11. The children gained more light sensitivity than the adults did–their light sensitivity increased as much as four orders of magnitude, versus one–and they made far fewer mistakes in an obstacle course.

This is one of those good news/bad news stories.

The bad news:

  • Older individuals with this disorder have lost more tissue, and therefore the therapy can be significantly less effective.
  • This therapy only applies to blindness caused by a specific defective gene, and will not benefit someone suffering from any other type of blindness.

Now, the good news:

  • Gene therapy sounds great in theory but has had few successes in real life applications. The success of this study will serve as boost to continue research into gene therapy.
  • Other vision diseases are caused by genetic defects. In the near future it may be possible to do a simple blood test to determine which defective gene a child has and then apply the appropriate therapy to prevent a loss of vision from occurring in the first place.

There is a lot of excitement in the air because of the successful results. Take a look here to see a video of one of the patients, Cory Haas, breezing through an obstacle course a mere three months after therapy.

The LCA2 trials are a rare success for the field of gene therapy, which has also cured children with the immune disorder known as bubble boy disease. And they should pave the way for treating more vision disorders. “It’s an incredible launching pad to be able to target other diseases,” says Penn gene therapy researcher Jean Bennett, who led the study.

Showing that the LCA2 gene therapy treatment works best in children is “a big step” for inherited blindness, says geneticist Frans Cremers of Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center in the Netherlands, who wrote an accompanying commentary in The Lancet. He notes that eight other vision diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa, have now been treated in mice and are ready to be tested in people. The challenge, he says, will be to expand genetic testing of people with blindness so as to find enough eligible patients for clinical trials of these rare disorders.

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Eva Redei, the David Lawrence Stein Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern’s Feinberg School has published new research which explains why antidepressants don’t work for so many people.

There are two prevailing theories about the causes of depression. One is that depression can be caused by stressful life events and the second is that depression results from an imbalance in neurotransmitters. However, medications based on those theories are treating effects, not causes.

Most animal models that are used by scientists to test antidepressants are based on the hypothesis that stress causes depression. “They stress the animals and look at their behavior,” she said. “Then they manipulate the animals’ behavior with drugs and say, ‘OK, these are going to be good anti-depressants.’ But they are not treating depression; they are treating stress.”

That is one key reason why current antidepressants aren’t doing a great job, Redei noted. She is now looking at the genes that differ in the depressed rat to narrow down targets for drug development.

She said another reason current antidepressants are often ineffective is that they aim to boost neurotransmitters based on the popular molecular explanation of depression, which is that it’s the result of decreased levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. But that’s wrong, Redei said.

Redei examined the genes involved in both stress and depression. Of the 254 genes related to stress and the 1275 genes related to depression there is an overlap of only 5 genes.

“This overlap is insignificant, a very small percentage,” Redei said. “This finding is clear evidence that at least in an animal model, chronic stress does not cause the same molecular changes as depression does.”

If current medications are only treating effects then research should be focused on finding and treating the causes.

In the second part of the study, Redei found strong indications that depression actually begins further up in the chain of events in the brain. The biochemical events that ultimately result in depression actually start in the development and functioning of neurons.

“The medications have been focusing on the effect, not the cause,” she said. “That’s why it takes so long for them to work and why they aren’t effective for so many people.”

Her animal model of depression did not show dramatic differences in the levels of genes controlling neurotransmitters functions. “If depression was related to neurotransmitter activity, we would have seen that,” she said.

Unfortunately, although we now know those theories are wrong, we still do not have a theory that is right.

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Eat, Drink & Be Merry

We recently discussed the apparent contradiction between the facts that America is fatter than ever and people are living longer than ever. BMI is the determining factor in declaring Americans overweight.

However, the theory which says America should be suffering health problems and increased mortality because of increased obesity is quite wrong.

So why are death rates dropping and people living longer? Something must be wrong with the model — it’s pretty hard to quarrel with the data as being inadequate. Certainly the increased incidence of obesity should have produced something by this time (it started 30 years ago).

In case you have been living in a cave or something, there are several serious flaws with the BMI which make it unsuitable for determining health. A new German study by Matthias Lenz of the Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Natural Sciences of the University of Hamburg and his co-authors present these and other results in the current issue of Deutsches Ärtzeblatt International:

The Süddeutsche Zeitung published an advance notice of the report (http://www.sueddeutsche.de/gesundheit/140/489526/text/), which shows that overweight does not increase death rates, although obesity does increase them by 20%. As people grow older, obesity makes less and less difference.

For coronary heart disease, overweight increases risk by about 20% and obesity increases it by about 50%. On the other hand, a larger BMI is associated with a lower risk of bone and hip fracture.

In relation to cancer, the overall death rate among extremely obese men (BMI above 40) is no higher than among those of normal weight. Men who are overweight even have a 7% lower death rate. No significant association was found in women.

According to the authors’ analysis, overall mortality is unchanged by overweight, but increased by 20% by obesity, while extreme obesity raises it by up to 200%.

Futurepundit raises a few interesting points:

What I’m expecting: Genetic testing might show us what our relative risks are for a large variety of diseases and this knowledge could push us toward different ideal weights depending on which diseases we have the greater risks for. Also, some people are probably genetically better adapted to carrying more weight.

Note that you have other options for slowing bone decay aside from carrying more weight around. Exercise, better food, and a combination of vitamin D and vitamin K might cut bone fracture risks with age.

Weight studies are problematic because weight can vary due to muscle mass as well (albeit less often). Also, people can lose weight during the early stages of an illness before they even know they are sick. How well did the researchers adjust for these factors?

According to the CDC:

BMI is a fairly reliable indicator of body fatness for most people.

In light of this new study, will the CDC change it stance on using BMI data as a way of reliably gauging the health of Americans?

If the BMI chart is based on an illogical formula concocted over 200 years ago and can only give a general assessment of obesity in a population while failing on an individual level, why is it still in use by the government?

The answer is because government loves to create problems for which it is the solution. Pay close attention to what is happening here because this is a pattern that repeats over and over again.

We would not bet on it because it is not the first time nanny staters in the government have used bogus data to justify their agendas regardless of scientific truth, nor will it be the last. Rather than letting those busybodies get you down, learn how to eat your way to happiness. Being drunk and gassy is one recent formula for living a long life, although can easily be a life of bachelorhood if you are not careful to find the right wine/broccoli balance.

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Pets, Turtles, Salmonella & Children

From The New York Daily News:

Two girls who swam with pet turtles in a backyard pool were among 107 people sickened in the largest salmonella outbreak blamed on turtles in the U.S., researchers report.The 2007-08 outbreak involved mostly children in 34 states; one-third of all patients had to be hospitalized. In many cases, parents didn’t know that turtles can carry salmonella.

Despite a 1975 ban on selling small turtles as pets, they continue to be sold illegally.

Pets can be great for kids. However, many species of small turtles are endangered and do not make ideal pets for small children. It becomes difficult to discuss something like caring for the environment or conservation when an illegally acquired endangered species is sitting nearby in a glass aquarium.

Children need to be taught from a young age to wash their hands properly before eating or touching their mouth or eyes. A parent can be negligent and allow a pet turtle to wander on a kitchen counter which is also used to prepare food… unfortunately a pill has not yet been invented to cure that kind of stupid. Proper hygiene could have prevented this outbreak of salmonella.

If you want to get a pet for your child we recommend visiting and checking with a local animal sanctuary like Pets Alive first:

Our mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and place animals in need. Victims of neglect, abuse, and violence, many of them have special needs and have been rejected by other organizations.

Animals at the sanctuary range from dogs and cats to farm animals, exotic birds, and many others. Many of the animals at Pets Alive are older, have special needs or require special care.

Actually, it is possible to help out an awesome place like Pets Alive without leaving your computer or spending even a nickel.

The Animal Rescue Site is hosting a special challenge for shelter and rescue groups. The grand prize is a $20,000 grant, and they will be awarding many other grants to rescue groups with the most votes. Think how many animals we could help for $20,000! Help us win! All you have to do is click this link, and then vote. Enter Pets Alive (two words) and NY for the state and then click VOTE! There is no cost to vote and no registration required. But you need to vote once a day, every day, from September 14th through December 20th, 2009.

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Medical Marijuana & The Justice Department

Perhaps someone in the Justice Department read our article Drug Prohibition Is A Failure. Perhaps a bit of pragmatism is at work since as more states establish laws permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes the Justice Department has to use increasingly limited resources without the help and cooperation of local law enforcement agencies.

“It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement accompanying the memo. “But we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal.”

The Attorney General seems to still be confused on an important fact born out by this unfolding drama:

In emphasizing that it would continue to pursue those who use the concept of medical marijuana as a ruse, the department said, “Marijuana distribution in the United States remains the single largest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels.” Going after the makers and sellers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, will remain a “core priority.”

It is a fact that the single greatest destructive force on the profits from the sale of marijuana lining the pockets of Mexican drug cartels are the mom and pop operation now in business in 14 states. If something as simple as decriminalization for medical purposes can have such a profound impact on such a reliable source of profit for murderously violent criminal gangs, it stands to reason that full nationwide legalization of would eliminate marijuana as a source of income entirely.

Current small operation in states with medical marijuana laws have increased the nationwide supply of marijuana which is both high quality and cheap. Since the overall scale of operations is still small, Mexican drug cartels take advantage of breaks in crop cycles when supplies are low to flood the market with their product. Such lulls would not exist if marijuana was grown in a large scale corporate fashion, the way we do with other crops, like wheat and corn.

There is another factor at work here. Many states are now facing tremendous amounts of debt coming due at a time when the economy is depressed and tax receipts are at an all time low. Although prohibition has proven to be a failure, full legalization has not yet happened because states have had a perverse incentive to continue fighting this futile war. Congress allocates money to the states based on their efforts in combating illegal drug use. If those funds were to dry up because of the bad economy, states desperate for revenue may do the one thing they have been fighting so hard against – legalize it and tax it.

Here is a list of the states which have laws permitting marijuana for medical purposes:

  1. Alaska
  2. California
  3. Colorado
  4. Hawaii
  5. Maine
  6. Maryland
  7. Michigan
  8. Montana
  9. Nevada
  10. New Mexico
  11. Oregon
  12. Rhode Island
  13. Vermont
  14. Washington

This story is far from over. A memorandum is a suggestion, nothing more, and prosecutors ultimately have discretion over which cases they choose to take on. Prosecutorial misconduct along with laws which make everyone a felon is the real problem. Someone should write a book about it or something.

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It is a well known phenomenon that when people are in pain, the hustlers and quacks come crawling out from under their rocks to take advantage of the situation. They take advantage of the associative principle, which is that if Y happens after X it is plausible that X caused Y. Since many sufferers of arthritis have pain that comes and goes, a non-scientist may credit the copper bracelet or magnetic wrist wrap with having played a role in reducing the pain in their aching joints.

We refuse to link to any web sites promoting such nonsense, but a quick Google search can turn up many examples of sites selling those items. Some of them babble at length with pages and pages of pseudoscience interwoven with endorsements from satisfied customers.

Here is what they do not tell you: there is no scientific basis for making the claim that a copper bracelet or magnetic wrist strap can cure arthritis or even relieve the pain temporarily. A theoretical framework does not even exist to explain how such a phenomenon can work.

If you have not already done so, we recommend reading The Power of Imagination for a good background on placebos and the placebo effect.

Stewart Richmond, a Research Fellow in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York led a randomized, placebo controlled study on the effects copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps have on pain management.

The trial involved 45 people aged 50 or over, who were all diagnosed as suffering from osteoarthritis. Each participant wore four devices in a random order over a 16-week period – two wrist straps with differing levels of magnetism, a demagnetised wrist strap and a copper bracelet.

We guarantee none of the web sites selling this nonsense make any reference to the results of the study:

“This is the first randomised controlled trial to indicate that copper bracelets are ineffective for relieving arthritis pain.”“It appears that any perceived benefit obtained from wearing a magnetic or copper bracelet can be attributed to psychological placebo effects. People tend to buy them when they are in a lot of pain, then when the pain eases off over time they attribute this to the device. However, our findings suggest that such devices have no real advantage over placebo wrist straps that are not magnetic and do not contain copper.

“Although their use is generally harmless, people with osteoarthritis should be especially cautious about spending large sums of money on magnet therapy. Magnets removed from disused speakers are much cheaper, but you would first have to believe that they could work.”

We consider swindling old and sick people out of a big chunk of their hard earned money to be a cause of harm. This may be complete quackery but it is also big business.

Magnet therapy is a rapidly growing industry, with annual worldwide sales of therapeutic devices incorporating permanent magnets worth up to $4 billion US.

Conclusion: Copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps do not work for relieving pain.

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A major question rested heavily on the minds of certain people in the scientific community: can you taste carbonation?

One way to answer that question would be to consume a carbonated beverage in an environment which prevents the bubbles from bursting.

Ryba added that the taste of carbonation is quite deceptive. “When people drink soft drinks, they think that they are detecting the bubbles bursting on their tongue,” he said. “But if you drink a carbonated drink in a pressure chamber, which prevents the bubbles from bursting, it turns out the sensation is actually the same. What people taste when they detect the fizz and tingle on their tongue is a combination of the activation of the taste receptor and the somatosensory cells. That’s what gives carbonation its characteristic sensation.”

Perhaps some of you are interested in a little bit of history. What on Earth prompted people to indulge in fizzy beverages? Hint: it predates Coca-Cola.

In 1767, chemist Joseph Priestley stood in his laboratory one day with an idea to help English mariners stay healthy on long ocean voyages. He infused water with carbon dioxide to create an effervescent liquid that mimicked the finest mineral waters consumed at European health spas. Priestley’s man-made tonic, which he urged his benefactors to test aboard His Majesty’s ships, never prevented a scurvy outbreak. But, as the decades passed, his carbonated water became popular in cities and towns for its enjoyable taste and later as the main ingredient of sodas, sparkling wines, and all variety of carbonated drinks.

Other research has been conducted on our sense of taste for sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory. Jayaram Chandrashekar, Ph.D., David Yarmolinsky Ph.D. and Lars von Buchholtz, Ph.D. teamed up to find the source responsible for detecting the taste of carbonation.

Here is the science of what they found:

Carbonic anhydrase 4, or CA-IV, is one of a family of enzymes that catalyzes the conversion carbon dioxide to carbonic acid, which rapidly ionizes to release a proton (acid ion) and a bicarbonate ion (weak base). By so doing, carbonic anhydrases help to provide cells and tissues with a buffer that helps prevent excessive changes in pH, a measure of acidity.

The scientists found that if they eliminated CA-IV from the sour-sensing cells or inhibited the enzyme’s activity, they severely reduced a mouse’s sense of taste for carbon dioxide. Thus CA-IV activity provides the primary signal detected by the taste system. As CA-IV is expressed on the surface of sour cells, Chandrashekar and co-workers concluded that the enzyme is ideally poised to generate an acid stimulus for detection by these cells when presented with carbon dioxide.

They worked with mice, which have a sense of taste similar to human. The question remains, why do mammals taste carbonation at all?

The scientists are still not sure if carbon dioxide detection itself serves an important role or is just a consequence of the presence of CA-IV on the surface of the sour cells, where it may be located to help maintain the pH balance in taste buds. As Ryba says, “That question remains very much open and is a good one to pursue in the future.”

Thanks to their hard work you can rest assured it is not merely your imagination.

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With all the effort being put into breast cancer awareness, there are bound to be myths and misconceptions about the nature of breast cancer and how it affects people.

Here is a list of seven such myths:

  1. Myth: A lump in the breast always means cancer.
  2. Myth: Mammograms may cause cancer to spread.
  3. Myth: There’s no history of breast cancer in my family, so I won’t get it.
  4. Myth: Having a mastectomy is the best way to cure breast cancer and prevent it from coming back.
  5. Myth: Young women are just as likely to get breast cancer as older women.
  6. Myth: Breast cancer is fatal.
  7. Myth: Men don’t get breast cancer.

For every one of these myths is a truth, but you will have to go check out the source to get those answers.

Remember, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

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There are many sad tales appearing on the internet which present people who are angry because they feel mistreated by their insurance company. Those personal anecdotes are designed to raise an individual’s ire and natural desire to do something about it. The reader may notice that conveniently attached to such stories are mentions of a solution to the problem: healthcare reform as being debated into law by Congress.

The setup seems almost too easy. David, the little man (or woman, or child, or family) gets beaten on by a Goliath (big insurance company) who treats them as mere numbers in a soulless quest for ever increasing profit, only to have Congress and others swoop in to save the day. Someone should create a comic book about that story because it would be entertaining – and fictional.

Yes, we are cynical and skeptical at heart and are willing to wager that many of our readers who come across such saccharine tales of heartache also immediately think “what are they selling?“. Being cynical and skeptical to a degree one notch below annoying is a trait commonly found in scientists because it is an important part of the scientific process. Not all of you are like that (yet), so for those of you who are new to all this, buckle up and hang on for an interesting ride.

Why would insurance companies do silly things, like deny coverage to an unusually heavy baby, if the bad publicity is so damaging to their reputation?

The answer is because insurance companies use statistical tables to make decisions, and anyone caught at the tail end will have a rough time. Here is the most interesting quote from the story of baby Alex Lange:

The frustrated parents said their child was the odd infant out in a cruel numbers game. A chart by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used by insurers puts Alex in the 99th percentile for weight and height for babies his age.

The BMI chart is an example of flawed statistics being used, but it is also not entirely inaccurate for a population wide assessment. In general, someone who has a BMI above 30 is far more likely to be unhealthy than to be an athlete. The problem is for those in the middle, in between normal and obese, who are merely considered overweight.

One flaw in the system is that while most people in the obese range are unhealthy, the same cannot be said for those in the overweight range. Pay close attention the next time you are at the park or the gym to those chunky guys who can outrun you. In fact, someone with low body fat who is athletic in that range between casual Frisbee player and professional athlete can often be classified as overweight.

Insurance companies can get away with using the BMI to classify people into broad categories, which then affects their premiums or if they are eligible for insurance at all because the government continues to use it, even though it is flawed. According to the CDC:

BMI is a fairly reliable indicator of body fatness for most people.

If the BMI chart is based on an illogical formula concocted over 200 years ago and can only give a general assessment of obesity in a population while failing on an individual level, why is it still in use by the government?

The answer is because government loves to create problems for which it is the solution. Pay close attention to what is happening here because this is a pattern that repeats over and over again.

First, the CDC called more than one million people between 2006 and 2008 and collected their information. The fact that the data are suspect because people routinely lie about their height and weight should be obvious even to a non-scientist. Second, after the data was gathered and processed, a conclusion was reached:

Experts believe there are several reasons for the differences. People with lower incomes often have less access to medical care, exercise facilities and more expensive, healthier food. In many places, minorities are disproportionately poor.

“Poverty is a very strong driver of obesity,” said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

The differences being referred to are the differences between the African-American communities and other communities in terms of obesity. We already know the reason for those differences, and it is the reason the BMI chart is racist. So, where does that conclusion lead to?

The only way to deal with our “obesity epidemic” is to address the “poverty epidemic” — of course, as measured by yet another government psuedo-science statistic called the “poverty line”. And how do we deal with that? You guessed it, create more entitlement programs, programs to be run by the very same government that is funding the study, a study based on a statistical measure that is meaningless, where the statistics are unreliable and unverifiable but all point to the same convenient conclusion — the government needs more of your money.

And the media will now happily play along, running b-roll footage of some fat dude at Disney shoving ice cream in his pie hole or a fat mother and her fat kids waddling along through Frontierland, their butts bouncing up and down, as they stroll through the theme park in too-tight shorts and too-short t-shirts.

Laugh if you want but this is the same government that wants to ration your health care. Guess what? Fat people move to the back of the line under such a government-run health care system. Still laughing?

Although baby Alex Lange’s story inspires outrage, it is the insurance company taking all the heat, rather than the government. If the government banned the use of the BMI chart because of its flaws the insurance companies would be forced to evaluate everyone on an individual basis leading to fairer premiums. Individualized healthcare is one result of a market based system because a fair market needs to distinguish between a healthy 200 lb. person and a 200 lb. couch potato. Currently, they are both considered equally risky to insure and such a system does not foster individual responsibility.

People are even angrier today according to newspapers because a report which concluded that the healthcare reform bill recently approved by the senate finance committee would end up costing everyone more money is false – at least according to certain members of Congress and economist from MIT.

After an insurance industry report said that premiums would rise sharply with the passage of comprehensive health care legislation, Jon Gruber, a health care economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he evaluated the report Monday at the request of Senate Democrats and found it deeply flawed.

Coming from a prestigious academic institution does not guarantee that Jon Gruber is telling the truth but it does lend him a lot of credibility, so he will be taken seriously. We are skeptics and our site is geared towards teaching non-scientists, so how can a non-expert determine if someone with fancy credentials is telling the truth when what they are saying goes against logic and common sense?

In this instance the answer is amazingly simple.

Mr. Gruber, who helped Massachusetts with its effort to provide universal health insurance coverage, said that the industry report failed to take into account administrative overhead costs that he said will “fall enormously” once insurance polices are sold through new government-regulated marketplaces, or exchanges.

We need to examine the situation in Massachusetts since they implemented universal health insurance in a way very similar to the proposals in the Baucus bill. Depending on how the situation turned out, it will either serve as a model for the current bills in Congress or a dire warning against them and will establish the reader establish Mr. Gruber’s real level of credibility.

The Wall Street Journal talks about the situation in Massachusetts (and other states, so go read the whole thing):

Guaranteed issue alone, the argument goes, results in slightly more expensive premiums, which drives healthier individuals out of the risk pool, which in turn further drives up premiums. The end result is that many healthy people opt out, leaving a small pool of sick individuals with very high premiums. An individual mandate, however, would spread those premium costs across a larger, healthier population, thus keeping premium costs down.

The experience of Massachusetts, which implemented an individual mandate in 2007, suggests otherwise. Health-insurance premiums in the Bay State have risen significantly faster than the national average, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health foundation. At an average of $13,788, the state’s family plans are now the nation’s most expensive. Meanwhile, insurance companies are planning additional double-digit hikes, “prompting many employers to reduce benefits and shift additional costs to workers” according to the Boston Globe.

And health-care costs have continued to grow rapidly. According to a Rand Corporation study this year, the growth now exceeds state GDP by 8%. The Boston Globe recently reported that state health-insurance commissioners are now worried that medical spending could push both employers and patients into bankruptcy, and may even threaten the system’s continued existence.

That certainly paints a cheery picture. There is more wonderful news from The Boston Globe:

The state’s major health insurers plan to raise premiums by about 10 percent next year, prompting many employers to reduce benefits and shift additional costs to workers.

Increases will range from 7 to 12 percent, capping a decade of consecutive double-digit premium increases, according to a Globe survey of the state’s top health insurers. Actual rates for 2010 will depend on the size of the employer and the type of coverage, with small businesses and individuals expected to be hit hardest. Overall, premiums are more than twice as high as they were 10 years ago.

The higher insurance costs undermine a key tenet of the state’s landmark health care law passed two years ago, as well as President Obama’s effort to overhaul health care. In addition to mandating insurance for most residents, the Massachusetts bill sought to rein in health care costs.

The failure of the Massachusetts system is far from hidden. Who is Jon Gruber hoping to fool by flashing his academic pedigree? Is the general population reading the news so incapable of examining the issues in any depth such that Mr. Gruber can brag about the wonderful state of universal health insurance in Massachusetts without the rubes bothering to check and see how things actually turned out?

Many newspapers and other outlets reporting on this situation are in favor of universal healthcare becoming law, damn the facts, and so reports on the subject tend to be biased by omission of key details which would entirely change the outcome of the story. The real anger is by citizens who are frustrated at being ignored by their elected officials and maligned by some members of the media.

When a layperson expounds about a subject in a way that it is clear they are out of their depth, we excuse the ignorance or quickly sniff out the agenda. However, we must hang our heads in shame when a fellow scientist abuses their position of trust and respect to mislead the general public. Jonathan Gruber’s motivation for lying is not important, simply because such lying is unacceptable. Studying science is about shedding light on the world’s mysteries, and so we have fulfilled our responsibility by illuminating this situation with sunlight, the best disinfectant.

Exit question: What are you going to do about it?

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UPDATE: See below, at the end of the article.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Senate finance committee has approved a healthcare reform bill today.

The vote was 14-9, with Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine the only Republican to join the 13 Democrats on the panel. Ms. Snowe indicated earlier in the day that she would support the measure.

The Senate Finance panel, led by Chairman Max Baucus, becomes the last of five congressional panels to act on a health-overhaul bill, and it marks the biggest step forward yet for President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority. The Baucus-proposed 10-year, $829 billion plan would require all Americans to purchase insurance and aims to hold down spiraling medical costs over the long term.

The legislation that passed the other House and Senate committees did so without a single Republican vote.

Unfortunately for Congress, a non-partisan report has come to the conclusion that costs will go up if the proposed legislation is made into law.

On Monday, insurers ratcheted up concerns about the sweeping Finance Commitee bill. A report released Monday by America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, said the Finance bill would impose stiff costs on consumers. Among other things, the report said a family health-insurance policy that costs $12,300 today would increase to $25,900 on average by 2019 under the bill, more than under current law.

The analysis in the report was conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, certainly not a slacker, no-name entity without a reputation for accuracy on the line. Even though they did not release the underlying statistical data with the report, it does not take an advanced degree to understand the logical problems inherent in the bill’s design.

PWC is stating the issue politely, to say the least. What is meant by a “weak mandate” is that, in the current version of the Baucus bill, there is no requirement to buy health insurance at all until after 2013, and by 2017 the penalty for failing to buy health insurance still amounts to only about 15% of the cost of the insurance. Now, think about it: if you know that you don’t have to buy health insurance when you are young and healthy, but if you should get sick, or just get older, you can apply for health insurance at any time and it will be illegal for the insurance company to turn you down, what would you do? Obviously, you would defer buying insurance unless and until you get sick. This means that the pool of those who are insured will be lower quality, and the cost therefore higher for everyone who buys insurance. It is as though you could wait until you die, and then your heirs can buy life insurance on you.

This isn’t reform, it is stupidity.

Trying to force everyone to have health insurance in the manner proposed by this bill may technically solve the problem of millions of Americans being uninsured. It is also logically impossible to do so without lowering quality, increasing costs, or both.

Some people are skeptical, so we will present a current example to prove the point. In this case we will examine the healthcare system in Massachusetts.

So let’s look at the closest model we have for this system in the United States:  the state of Massachusetts.  Massachusetts has all the goodies in the Baucus bill:  subsidies, guaranteed issue, community rating, an individual mandate, and employer penalties.  Indeed, the Massachusetts program is probably to the left of where we’re going to end up, on things like empowering the exchanges to negotiate with insurance companies and the size of the penalties for failing to procure insurance, two measures which are supposed to be critical for holding costs down.

Instead, costs have exploded.

Go take a look, they have a few charts up and detailed analysis of the cost increases. This whole sordid affair raises plenty of good questions:

So I’ll turn it around on reformers:  why do you think that we can control costs, given that we couldn’t at the state level?  Massachusetts is a very liberal state, a very rich state, and it started out with a relatively low proportion of its citizenry uninsured.  Proponents of reform often say it has to be done at a national level because states can’t borrow money in downturns, but this doesn’t explain why the spending side is headed through the roof.

Some people would say that Congress is choosing the complicated and expensive way versus the simple and cheap way because the former presents opportunities for graft, unlike the latter. Here is one such simple reform idea:

All we have to do is allow insurance companies to compete nationally instead of state-by-state and eliminate all mandates that limit consumer choice. It has been estimated that these simple reforms–which are not part of any of the Democrats’ “reform” bills, for obvious reasons–would reduce health care costs by one-quarter to one-third. Instead of such common-sense reforms, the Dems are proposing Rube Goldberg measures that will make health care more expensive. Instead of eliminating mandates, their measures, including the Baucus bill, increase them–in effect making cheaper health insurance illegal.Once more: this isn’t reform, it is stupidity.

Thanks to the power of the internet you can now fax senators about the healthcare reform bill and let them know what you think. Now is a great time to let your voice be heard.

It’s important that this blast fax campaign reaches every citizen who is opposed to this irresponsible legislation, especially in the states of MT, IN, AK, CO, PA, ND, NC, SD, AR, FL, PA, VA, MO, UT, IA, NH, ME and OH. Our best chance to stop this government healthcare takeover is to let our legislators know, whether they are home or in Washington, we are watching closely.

The Washington Examiner has an interesting two part op-ed discussing The Truth About The Baucus Bill (Part one, part two):

There is another reason why the CBO’s preliminary analysis should be taken with a grain of salt, though this one wasn’t mentioned in the report. Whatever the content of the Baucus bill once it is voted out of the finance committee, it will disappear into a legislative black hole as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and their key aides do what they did on the economic stimulus package back in February — huddle together behind closed doors to write the final bill, which will then be presented as a fait accompli in the form of a conference report.

Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) clearly shows that the bill being brought forth is strange because there are good ideas for reform being ignored. He also lays to rest the popular misconception that there are no good ideas for healthcare reform being suggested other than what is present in the current bill:

There are many bipartisan ideas that would actually cut health care costs, like medical liability reform, allowing employees to keep their insurance when they switch jobs, standardizing health information technology, and allowing consumers to purchase insurance across state lines.  In Minnesota, we’ve passed reforms that made price and quality more transparent for patients, moving the health care system towards paying for and achieving better health care outcomes, and empowering patients themselves to help drive down costs.

You can read here how Governor Pawlenty is implementing those ideas for healthcare reform right now in Minnesota. Although we are proud of Governor Pawlenty putting his money where his mouth is on healthcare reform, we are not comfortable with him promoting creationism in public schools.

MR. BROKAW: In the vast scientific community, do you think that Creationism has the same weight as evolution, and at a time in American education when we are in a crisis when it comes to science, that there ought to be parallel tracks for Creationism versus evolution in the teaching?

GOV. PAWLENTY: In the scientific community, it seems like intelligent design is dismissed — not entirely, there are a lot of scientists who would make the case that it is appropriate to be taught and appropriate to be demonstrated, but in terms of the curriculum in the schools in Minnesota, we’ve taken the approach that that’s a local decision. I know Senator Palin — or Governor Palin — has said intelligent design is something that she thinks should be taught along with evolution in the schools, and I think that’s appropriate. My personal view is that’s a local decision —

MR. BROKAW: Given equal weight.

GOV. PAWLENTY: — of the local school board.

MR. BROKAW: And you would recommend it be given equal weight?

GOV. PAWLENTY: We’ve said in Minnesota, in my view, this is a local decision. Intelligent design is something that, in my view, is plausible and credible and something that I personally believe in but, more importantly, from an educational and scientific standpoint, it should be decided by local school boards at the local school district level.

In conclusion, as we have discussed here before at length, there are many very good ideas for healthcare reform which should be given a chance to succeed, especially because mandatory government healthcare runs contrary to American principles of liberty. As always, when it comes to Congress (or any government officials for that matter) judge them based on their actions, not their words. Ok, sometimes by their words.

UPDATE: Recent news reports are publicizing claims by MIT economist Jon Gruber that the PWC report is false. Unfortunately, Mr. Gruber is lying. We discuss the issue at length here.

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The Power Of Imagination

The placebo effect is well recognized in medical research and is taken into account in legitimate studies.

For the uninitiated, here is a brief rundown of placebos and the placebo effect:

A placebo is a sham medical intervention. In one common placebo procedure, a patient is given an inert sugar pill, told that it may improve his/her condition, but not told that it is in fact inert. Such an intervention may cause the patient to believe the treatment will change his/her condition; and this belief does indeed sometimes have a therapeutic effect, causing the patient’s condition to improve. This phenomenon is known as the placebo effect.

When an inert substance makes a patient better, that effect is called the placebo effect. The phenomenon is related to the perception and expectation which the patient has; if the substance is viewed as helpful, it can heal, but if it is viewed as harmful, it can cause negative effects, which is known as the nocebo effect. Placebo effects are a scientific mystery.

A distinguishing characteristic of legitimate scientific research is having  control group to gauge how much of any positive effect shown is real and how much can be ascribed to the placebo effect.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University Medical Center.

For this study, 34 children ages 6 to 15 years old who had been diagnosed with functional abdominal pain by a physician were recruited to participate by pediatric gastroenterologists at UNC Hospitals and Duke University Medical Center. All received standard medical care and 19 were randomized to receive eight weeks of guided imagery treatment. A total of 29 children finished the study; 15 in the guided imagery plus medical treatment group and 14 in the medical treatment alone group.

Randomization also lends credibility to any study’s results since it removes a potential source bias and accusations of stacking the deck to achieve preselected results.

When we then heard that children were able to reduce abdominal pain by up to half through the power of their imagination we were skeptical but not entirely disbelieving. Other studies have shown similar results:

Prior studies have found that behavioral therapy and guided imagery (a treatment method similar to self-hypnosis) are effective, when combined with regular medical care, to reduce pain and improve quality of life. But for many children behavioral therapy is not available because it is costly, takes a lot of time and requires a highly trained therapist.

This study was different because the guided imagery material was prepared for the children to use on their own, independently of therapists.

The guided imagery sessions, developed jointly by van Tilburg, co-investigator Olafur Palsson, Psy.D. and Marsha Turner, the study coordinator, were recorded on CDs and given to children in the study to use at home.

The treatment consisted of a series of four biweekly, 20-minute sessions and shorter 10-minute daily sessions. In session one, for example, the CD directs children to imagine floating on a cloud and relaxing progressively. The session then gives them therapeutic suggestions and imagery for reducing discomfort, such as letting a special shiny object melt into their hand and then placing their hand on their belly, spreading warmth and light from the hand inside the tummy to make a protective barrier inside that prevents anything from irritating the belly.

The results are incredible:

In the group that used guided imagery, the children reported that the CDs were easy and enjoyable to use. In that group, 73.3 percent reported that their abdominal pain was reduced by half or more by the end of the treatment course. Only 26.7 percent in the standard medical care only group achieved the same level of improvement. This increased to 58.3 percent when guided imagery treatment was offered later to the standard medical care only group. In both groups combined, these benefits persisted for six months in 62.5 percent of the children.

The study concluded that guided imagery treatment plus medical care was superior to standard medical care alone for the treatment of functional abdominal pain, and that treatment effects were sustained over a long period.

Video games can have powerful and positive effect in developing and strengthening a child’s mind. Of course, there are plenty of other things to do which can develop a child’s imagination in that mystical land referred to as “not in front of the TV”.

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Happy Columbus Day!

From Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus:

At the end of 1492 most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, well-meaning people were growing cynical or desperate, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through studying the pagan past. . . .

Yet, even as the chroniclers of Nuremberg were correcting their proofs from Koberger’s press, a Spanish caravel named Nina scudded before a winter gale into Lisbon with news of a discovery that was to give old Europe another chance. In a few years we find the mental picture completely changed. Strong monarchs are stamping out privy conspiracy and rebellion; the Church, purged and chastened by the Protestant Reformation, puts her house in order; new ideas flare up throughout Italy, France, Germany and the northern nations; faith in God revives and the human spirit is renewed. The change is complete and startling: “A new envisagement of the world has begun, and men are no longer sighing after the imaginary golden age that lay in the distant past, but speculating as to the golden age that might possibly lie in the oncoming future.”

Christopher Columbus belonged to an age that was past, yet he became the sign and symbol of this new age of hope, glory and accomplishment. His medieval faith impelled him to a modern solution: Expansion.

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As with many scientific discoveries, there is an interesting back story here.

The story begins with a biologist, Robert Silverman of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, investigating if prostate cancer is caused by a virus.

Actually, the story begins a bit earlier than that. Scientists have known that viruses can cause cancer since the early 20th century.

In 1909 Peyton Rous discovered that a virus could cause sarcomas in chickens. For discovering the Rous Sarcoma Virus, Dr. Rous was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1966. This discovery led directly to the discovery of cellular oncogenes (genes that cause cancer) by Bishop and Varmus, which also was rewarded with a Nobel Prize.

Subsequently, numerous other human cancers have been associated with viral infections. The most important of these is Burkitt’s lymphoma. Burkitt’s lymphoma comes in three varieties: one form is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and is most likely caused in large part by infection with a virus called Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV, which also causes mono), one form is sporadic (as opposed to endemic), and one form is associated with immunodeficiencies such as AIDS. The endemic form of Burkitt’s lymphoma typically causes a large, painful jaw mass, while the sporadic form more commonly involved the intestines. Interestingly, another name for EBV is Human Herpesvirus-4 (HHV-4). EBV, or HHV-4, also causes nasopharyngeal carcinoma in southeast Asia (and elsewhere). It is clear that there is a real connection between viruses and cancer.

Now back to Robert Silverman, who discovered a new retrovirus called XMRV.

The retrovirus was very similar to MLV, a group of viruses that can cause cancer and neurological and immunological diseases in mice. Silverman found XMRV in a subset of prostate tumours, and more recent research found a stronger correlation between XMRV and aggressive prostate tumours.

We should pause for a moment and explain the difference between a virus and a retrovirus. A virus is a very simple organism – basically a protein shell containing a little DNA. Viruses need to find hosts because they lack the tools to multiply on their own.

Cells also contain DNA, but cells (especially those of complex organisms such as humans) have ridiculous amounts of DNA. Most of the instructions in DNA used by cells on a daily basis are for creating proteins. Since mistakes are most likely to occur proportionally to how often DNA is copied, a system using RNA minimizes copying by only duplicating the specific section of DNA needed to build a specific protein. RNA is slightly different than DNA on a molecular level, so cellular machinery can respond to it but not to DNA. A cell which needs a particular protein manufactured goes through the following (simplified) steps:

  1. A portion of DNA is translated into RNA.
  2. RNA is sent to the endoplasmic reticulum.
  3. The specified protein is built.

A standard virus hijacks the cell’s machinery by inserting DNA, which gets translated into RNA, which is then made into the specified protein; only in that case the protein is the virus.

Retroviruses are more insidious. They contain RNA rather than DNA. When a retrovirus attacks a cell, the RNA gets translated into DNA, which then gets incorporated into the cell’s own genome. Rather than hijacking the cellular machinery for their own nefarious plans, they Borg the cell. From then on, every time the cell multiplies it is bringing the virus along with it. Our genome is littered with scars from ancient battles with retroviruses which may have fundamentally shaped us into what we are today.

Alright, enough with the interruptions already.

Judy Mikovits of the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease in Reno, Nevada, asked Silverman to see if there was a connection to chronic fatigue syndrome.

Mikovits asked Silverman to analyze the blood samples of 101 CFS patients and 218 healthy controls. The authors detected XMRV DNA in the immune cells of 67% of the CFS patients but in only 3.7% of healthy controls. The authors also showed that the virus was able to spread from infected immune cells to cultured prostate cancer cells and that the virus’s DNA sequence was more than 99% similar to the sequence of the virus associated with prostate cancer. The findings were published in Science.

So far, although the results are encouraging, there has only been one pilot study completed. The magic which makes science work is verification and duplication of results.

William Reeves, principal investigator for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s CFS public health research programme, says the findings are “unexpected and surprising” and that it is “almost unheard of to find an association of this magnitude between an infectious agent and a well-defined chronic disease, much less an illness like CFS”.

But Reeves is cautious. “Until the work is independently verified, the report represents a single pilot study,” he says. According to Reeves, the CDC is already trying to replicate these findings. He also notes that CFS is a heterogeneous disease and likely arises from a combination of many factors.

The Wall Street Journal has a heartbreaking example of the suffering caused by CFS:

Ms. Whittemore-Goad says she was a regular school girl, playing sports and involved in school activities, until the age of 10, when she became ill with a monolike virus that she couldn’t shake. She said doctors first told her parents that the illness was psychological, that she had school phobia and was under stress from her parents. “We kept searching for an answer,” says Ms. Whittemore-Goad, who says lymph nodes in her groin were so painful that her brothers and sisters used to have to carry her upstairs. She was diagnosed at age 12 with chronic-fatigue syndrome.

Over the years, doctors have treated her symptoms, like intense headaches and severe pain, but the illness persists. She has had her gallbladder, spleen, and appendix removed because they became infected. She tried an experimental drug that she says gave her relief for years, but she then started experiencing side effects and had to stop taking it. Recently the illness has become worse; she began suffering seizures and can no longer drive.

Go read the whole thing.

If this virus is the cause of CFS, diagnosis and detection can be done with a simple blood test. Antiretroviral therapies designed in the fight against HIV are under investigation as a potential cure. The story is not yet over but we remain hopeful that this breakthrough represents the real deal for sufferers of CFS.

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