Category: Science (page 2 of 17)

Keep Calm and Know Your Fever (Before You Reach for That Medicine)

Growing up in the Eastern part of India, I was subject to a most peculiar cultural phenomenon known as “ThanDa lege jaabe” (ঠাণ্ডা লেগে যাবে in the vernacular, translated as: You’ll catch a cold). This odd concept, most beloved of the mothers in that region and handed down generations after generations, would teach them that any vagary of the sub-tropical weather — sun, rain, autumnal zephyrs, wet and foggy riparian winters, and everything in between — was liable to cause acute upper respiratory tract infections (uRTIs), characterized by runny nose, cough and sneeze, perhaps even progressing to pharyngitis, laryngitis or tracheobronchitis. And the most feared symptom was elevated body temperature, or fever.

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Of Serious Concern: Drug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii in Treated Wastewater

Currently one of the most common disease-causing bacterium in the world, Acinetobacter baumannii, for sure, is a nasty bug — an emerging nosocomial (hospital-associated) pathogen, being increasingly observed in serious conditions requiring intensive care (including ventilator-associated pneumonia, sepsis, meningitis, wound infection and urinary tract infection). Unfortunately for patients, particularly immune-suppressed ones, this bug is now known to be extensively drug resistant (XDR; resistant to most antibiotics including carbapenems, with the exception of two drugs of last resort, colistin and tigecycline), with a smaller proportion resistant to even these two (known as pan-drug resistant, PDR, which are therefore virtually untreatable with the current crop of FDA-approved medications).

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PLOS ONE Meta-analysis on Acupuncture in Pain Management Spins Out Undue Recommendations

Science communicators are no strangers to spin in the reporting of scientific studies, especially in Press Releases. This is a favorite tactic of aficionados and researchers alike in the so-called ‘complementary and alternative medicine’ (CAM), which includes acupuncture — a pre-scientific therapeutic modality originating in ancient China with roots in medical astrology and ignorance of human anatomy and physiology. I have earlier written several times on an issue that I continue to find rather perplexing: when it comes to publishing studies on CAM research, the usually-high publication standards of the premier open access journal PLOS ONE appear to be ignored, in the context of both primary research and systemic, quantitative and analytical reviews.

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Failure as a Necessary Step in Drug Development (Tip of My Hat to David Kroll)

The Forbes magazine has an impressive line-up of columnists; I follow many of those who write on the sciences and healthcare-related topics. One of them is Dr. David Kroll, a pharmacologist by profession and passionate, long-time science communicator. His column yesterday had especial interest for me; in it, David took the example of Dr. Derek Lowe—a pharmaceutical industry scientist who’s also a prolific and erudite blogger—who was apparently his inspiration for starting his own blog, and mentioned an intriguing thing Dr. Lowe had said during a Question and Answer session with Karen Weintraub for STAT News (quoting from David’s column including original links, below):

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Communicating Science via Images: Power and Responsibility

There is no denying the fact that visual representations —photos, graphics, and video— play a significant role in telling a story and conveying a concept. Even if the adage from early twentieth century, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, may have lost its charm a bit in this age of easy digital image/video manipulation, it’s not difficult to imagine why images and illustrations would have a tremendous impact in the communication of complex content, such as science communication. As James Balm (@JustBalmy), blogger and Social Media Assistant for BioMed Central, explained in an informative 2014 post:

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Bovine Blackguards, A Profound Potboiler

Having been born and growing up in India, the land of the sacred cow, I am no stranger to this domesticated, quadrupedal ungulate of the subfamily Bovinae, genus Bos. It’s difficult not to have respect for an animal whose scientific name already proclaims it to be the boss, and I am culturally well-conditioned (‘well-done’, one might say) to accord an immediate reverence to this multi-faceted (not to mention, delectable) animal. After all, Gau-mata, or Cow the Mother, is an enduring socio-religious meme in India, stemming from simpler, more agrarian times — possibly a testament to the species’ intimate association with human history ever since it was domesticated about 10,500 years ago (archaeological and genetic evidence suggests that cows in Southeast Asia, Bos indicus, a different lineage from cows in Europe, were domesticated about 7000 years ago in the Harappan civilization).

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Nanoparticles in Homeopathic Dilutions? More Like, Wishful Thinking. Or Magic Pixie Dust.

Those who read my regular posts (Yes, that rare breed of people…) are amply aware that I am no fan of pseudoscience and quackery, as well as the relentless invasion of quackery into academia, leading invariably to scientifically implausible, nonsensical “research”, for which Dr. Harriet Hall had aptly coined the term “Tooth Fairy Science” several years ago over at Science Based Medicine.

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Sympathetic Practitioner, the Secret Weapon of Homeopathy and Other Alt-Med Modalities

ResearchBlogging.org

Last month, PLOS One published a study which held significant interest for me; as a long time sufferer from acid reflux (which is currently reasonably controlled by regular use of a PPI – Proton-pump inhibitor – class of prescription antacid), I was curious to dive into this Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) study from Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston, in which the investigators observed that Patient-Provider Interactions Affect Symptoms in Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) as well as dyspepsia and other acid-reflux related issues, which affect 2-4 out of every 10 people in Western world (similar statistics were observed in the Northern part of India). The name of the study medication, Acidil, wasn’t immediately familiar to me, but it turned out to be a ‘homeopathic preparation’, which – along with the placebo-controlled designed – piqued my interest further. Although the severity of GERD symptoms may fluctuate due to different reasons, it is usually not one of those self-correcting conditions in which homeopaths often claim beneficial effect. So, sufficiently interested, I delved deeper.

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Perception of Effectiveness of Homeopathy and Other Alternative Medicine Relies on Placebo Effect

The world of alternative medicine – nowadays more fashionably known as complementary and integrative medicine (CIM), replacing the erstwhile CAM (A = alternative) – encompasses a wide range of practices. Some of these practices involve physical motion of parts or whole of the body, such as massage, Yoga, and Tai Chi; if one subtracts the dollops of mysticism, especially of Eastern origin, that have come to be associated with these practices, one finds that they perform much of the same functions as any other regular exercise regimen, providing similar benefits. A few practices employ dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, various salts, et cetera) and folk-remedies based on herbal medicine (Traditional Chinese Medicine/TCM, Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Amachi, and so forth) – some of which may and do contain biologically active substances, but the evidence for those being functional, safe, and effective therapeutic modalities in actual clinical situations is extremely scant, and the wide-ranging claims made by the practitioners are mostly never backed up by solid, scientific empirical methods. (Further reading: 1. Veteran ScienceBlogger Orac explains how the multi-billion dollar Supplements Industry takes their adoring clients for a ride; 2. I argue how the recent accolades for work stemming from the use of herbal medicine as a resource is not a context-less validation that herbalism works.)

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2015 Nobel to Traditional Chinese Medicine Expert is a Win for Evidence-based Pharmacognosy

Yesterday, on October 5, 2015, one half of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to scientist and pharmaceutical chemist Tu Youyou (alternatively, Tu Yo Yo, 屠呦呦 in Chinese), for her discovery of the anti-malarial Artemisinin. (The other half went jointly to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura, for their discovery of a novel therapy for roundworm infection.)

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