H o r a c e M a n n’s P r e m i e r S c i e n c e P u b l i c a t i o n • J a n u a r y 2 0 1 2 1
Editor’s Note: Creatively Constructing Our Future
Usual Interstitial Pneumonia (UIP) is a lung disease known for its characteristicly unique scarring (or fibrosis) of lung tissue. A biopsy of the scarred tissue reveals the pattern seen above: a cluster of “honeycombs.” Most cases of UIP are of unknown origin, but commonly known causes include rheumatoid arthritis, asbtestosis, and systematic sclerosis. The general prognosis for patients with UIP is grim, though brighter when caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
At the beginning of the school year, I read an article about how a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had found a drug that could cure close to every viral infection, including the common cold, H1N1 influenza and a polio virus. The drug, DRACO was used effectively against 15 viruses it was tested on and as a result the findings were published in the medical journal PloS One. The drug targets a specific type of RNA that is made only in cells that have been infected by a virus. Just think about it. From this study we could potentially have a cure for so many viruses, including even the common cold. Everyday scientists come closer to finding therapies for such a wide spectrum of infections, disorders and even cancers. In this issue we present you with some of the biochemical and even technological advancements
in medicine. We also feature articles on the new biosurveillance technology that will change the way we approach the spread of disease, and on pancreatic cancer, which killed innovator and CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs. We hope you read about these topics and are inspired to find your own ways to positively impact the community around you. We build the future. Let’s make it fantastic. Ambika Acharya Editor-in-Chief
A Look into Cancer
Be watchful of your diet, as many foods increase your risk of developing cancer.
An alum’s reflection on viruses.
Technology Changing Health Care High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound: Sound Waves as the New Frontier in Cancer
Are these aglets the solution to creating immortal cells in our body?
Our mobile devices are basically our best friends. But can over usage and too much time with them take more than just our sanity? New research shows that overtime cell phone radiation can lead to cancer. So next time you question whether or not to spend an hour with your cellphone held close to your ear, think about the longterm effects it could have on your health.
Kuru’s disease, also known as the “laughing sickness,” is a disease which Americans do not need to worry about. The origin (and, to date, the only place where is it found) is the South Fore in New Guinea. There, many of the people practice cannibalism, which is thought to be the only method of passing the disease. It cannot be spread in utero or via human milk.
The field of genomics was created by Fred Sanger, who mapped the complete genomes of a virus and a mitochondrion in the 1970’s. In the past forty years, more complex genomes have been sequenced, including the human one. It is a popular and important science today because of its many applications, such as in pharmaceuticals, genetically modified foods, and gene therapy.
Our Mission: To encourage students to find topics in science that interest them and move them to explore these sparks. We believe that science is exciting, interesting and an intergral part of our futures. By diving into science we can only come out more knowledgable.
While we belive most fats to be detrimental, new fats found in babies, called brown fat, might just keep us healthier.
How accurate are media potrayals of the hardships of the medical profession?
Using the enzyme telemorase to create more telomeres, as found in a recent Nobel Prize winning study, may lead us to increasing the human lifespan.
In America, where obesity rates are extremely high and foods get unhealthier as time goes on, a topic such as cholesterol has to be focused on not only by the whole, but by the individual too. One day, glance at the Nutrition Facts for all of the foods you eat and add up the cholesterol.
Top: The five most common serious birth defects as of 2001 were congenital heart defects in over a million births, neural tube defects in over 300,000 births, the hemoglobin disorderss, thalassemia, and sickle cell disease also in over 300,000 births, Down syndrome in over 200,000 births, and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency in over 150,000 births. Altogether, these five deficiencies caused 25 percent of all of genetic birth defects. Today, more than 7,000 different genetic birth defects have been discovered. There are certain measures that may be taken to best prevent birth defects in oneâ€™s child. The first is eating balanced and nutritional meals and taking 400 mcg of folic acid daily in a multivitamin. One should avoid alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and other drugs. In addition, it is important to take genetic counseling and get a birth defect screening, especially in cases where one has a family history of a disease or is older than 35. Bottom: E. Chromi is an amazing example of how this new approach to genetic engineering opens the door to incredible possibilities. E. chromi was created by combining non-pathogenic E. coli bacteria, found naturally naturally found in the human colongut, with standardized sequences of DNA called BioBrick genetic partss.
Above(Left): Many consider nuclear weaponry the biggest threat to humanity, overlooking a more sinister threat that has been lurking in the shadows of society for centuries. Bioterrorism has threatened to unbalance the world in numerous ways, and can be hard to detect. However, the scientific community has been making advancements in the field of biosurrveillance, the method by which diseases are tracked.
4 Horace Mann Spectrum â– November 2010
Aramael Pena-Alcantara Production Director
Junior Layout Editor
Olivia El-Sadr Davis Copy Editor
Justin Bleuel Michael Herschorn Jay Palekar Deepti Raghavan David Zask Juliet Zou Junior Editors
Joanna Cho Amit Chowdhury Yang Fei Lauren Futter Kundan Guha Mihika Kapoor Alex Kissilenko Alex Posner Staff Writers
Dr. Jeff Weitz Faculty Advisor
Spectrum is a student publication. Its contents are the views and work of the students and do not necessarily represent those of the faculty or administration of the Horace Mann School. The Horace Mann School is not responsible for the accuracy and contents of Spectrum, and is not liable for any claims based on the contents or view expressed therein. The opinions represented are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the editorial board. The editorial represents the opinion of the majority of the Editorial Board. All photos not credited are from creativecommons.org. All editorial decisions regarding grammar, content, and layout are made by the Editorial Board. All queries and complaints should be directed to the Editor-In-Chief. Please address these comments by e-mail, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Spectrum recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small (even misspellings of names), promptly and in a prominent reserved space in the magazine. A complaint from any source should be relayed to a responsible editor and will be investigated quickly. If a correction is warranted, it will follow immediately.
Cancer Cancer. The last word anyone wants to hear. Close to everyone knows someone, whether it be a friend or family member, who has cancer, and yet we still donâ€™t know how it starts nor have we come up with a cure for all cancers. Radiation and targeted drug therapies are just two of the many approaches scientists have taken over the last few decades to combat cancer, but often patients relapse and thus a true cure hasnâ€™t been found. In this section you will read about foods that have been found to help prevent medical problems and why they lower the risk of getting some cancers. Also featured is pancreatic cancer, the cancer that killed Steve Jobs after a tireless fight, a personal response to viruses and new cancer radiation therapy. Lastly, an article on the correlation between cell phone usage and cancer will question whether or not we should get too attached to our mobile devices. Hopefully through reading and discussing these advancements in the medical world, we will come closer to understanding the potency of cancer.
6 Horace Mann Spectrum â– November 2010
Behind the Killer Understanding Pancreatic Cancer By Amit Chowdhury
efore he passed away on October 5, 2011, losing an uphill battle against pancreatic cancer that had lasted for over eight years, Steve Jobs was the co-founder and former CEO of Apple. Jobs was responsible for the success of Appleâ€™s many products and inspired changes in many consumer markets, from portable music devices to smartphones. A little over a month before his death, he resigned as CEO of Apple, citing health problems. The pancreas is an important organ located in the stomach that helps the digestive system funcIn the digestive system, the liver is locataed above the stomach and the pancreas as seen in the image at right. The liver secretes chemicals integral for digestion and also detoxifies the body and creates essential proteins. The pancreas is a gland that is essential to both the digestive system and the endocrine system, creating hormones and also secreting enzymes to help break down food. Patients who develop pancreatic cancer have tumors on the pancreas, preventing proper food break down. 8 Horace Mann Spectrum â– November 2010
tion. According to WebMD, the pancreas has two glands, the exocrine gland that creates juices to break down food, and the endocrine gland that creates hormones to control blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer can create tumors in either one of these glands. However, 95% of all cases of pancreatic cancer appear in the exocrine gland, the gland that breaks down food. According to the National Cancer Institute, pancreatic cancer can be difficult to diagnose before it is too late. It shows no symptoms while in the early stages. Even when it does start showing symptoms, symptoms are hard to spot because the pancreas is hidden behind
many other organs in the abdomen. The symptoms, even if they are discovered, are so general that they could fit many illnesses. Because of this, pancreatic cancer usually is not discovered until it has become very serious. Steve Jobs had a rare case, where the cancer developed in the endocrine gland, the gland that controls blood sugar levels. This is specifically called pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. It develops slower than regular pancreatic cancer and is less aggressive, according to The Boston Globe. It is possible for people with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer to live a normal life for many years, which is generally not the case with pancreatic cancer found in the exocrine gland. This is what allowed Steve Jobs to live for as long as he did. While there are many different Above are cancerous pancreatic cells in a patient with pancreatic types of neuroendocrine cancer, cancer. These cells donâ€™t function as normal pancreatic cells and donâ€™t there are general treatments that can prolong the life of the patient. allow the digestive and endocrine systems to carry through their respective functions. Thus, patients with pancreatic cancer canâ€™t properly According to Pancreatica, a pandigest food and absorb nutrients into their bloodstreams. creatic cancer awareness organization, the cancer usually causes without the cancerous organ parts. over-secretion of certain hormones, which can be Other than the usual surgeries, which Steve Jobs blocked immediately with drugs such as omeprazole and H2 antagonist receptors. These drugs slow delayed, he took some more experimental and cutting-edge treatments. According to the New York down the production of those hormones. A defining characteristic of all cancer cells is that they rap- Times, he was one of twenty people in the world idly divide. Chemotherapy, one of the most general to have his entire DNA sequenced, including those of the cancer tumors. Why? The sequencing cost treatments available for almost all types of cancer, $100,000, a price most are unable to pay. With his is used to kill cells that rapidly divide. Specific DNA sequenced, doctors were able to create drugs agents are used to help target the cancer cells and that would work specifically for his body. TIME unhealthy cells that happen to divide rapidly, but Magazine also reported that it is possible that Jobs damage to healthy cells occurs regardless. Accordwas on the Gonzalez Regimen. According to the ing to the Seena Magowitz Foundation, Whipple National Cancer Institute, the Gonzalez Regimen surgery is sometimes used as well. Whipple surincorporates the use of pancreatic enzymes that are gery is the removal of some of the pancreas, most believed to have anticancer activity. Diets and nuof the small intestine, as well as other organs. The tritional supplements are a part of the regimen as remaining part of the pancreas is then attached to well. The FDA has not yet approved this treatment. the remaining part of the small intestine, allowing the digestive system to continue to function, but 9
Harmful Cell Phones: Phone Radiation Causes Human Defects
ell phones are all around us. People on trains, in cars, and even in the “There
school hallway use cell phones. We take cell phones for granted as they allow us to connect with others, yet many fail to realize the danger associated with consistent cell phone use. When you speak into your phone a transmitter takes the sound of your voice and encodes it into a continuous wave. After locating the nearest cell phone tower, your phone will send out that encoded signal as a radio wave, which is made up of electromagnetic radiation. This specific type of radiation is called radio frequency energy (RF). Wavelengths and frequency are important to understanding RF radiation. A wavelength is the complete distance traveled by the cycle of an electromagnetic wave. Frequency, on the other hand, is the number of times an electromagnetic wave passes through a given point. We use the unit Hertz (Hz) to measure the frequency of a specific RF signal with a single Hz equaling one cycle per second. When measuring the effect of radiation on the body we use the specific absorption rate (SAR). It is usually either expressed as watts per kilogram (W/kg) or milliwatts per gram (mW/g). What’s important about this information is that the Federal Communications Commission sets a SAR standard. However many argue that such standards are loose and therefore ineffective. As defined by the Federal Communications Division, electromagnetic radiation is “made up of waves of electric and magnetic energy moving at the speed of light.” There are two distinct types of electromagnetic radiation: ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation. X-rays and gamma rays both fall under the category of ionizing radiation and are considered to pose significant harm to humans as they contain 10 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ November 2010
By Alex Posner
have been an increasing number of studies linking cell phone use to health problems, such as cancer”
enough electromagnetic energy to strip atoms and molecules from the tissue and alter chemical reactions in the body. On the other hand, non-ionizing radiation, which includes radio waves, is not considered to pose significant harm to cells. Radio and television broadcasting, radio communications for police and fire departments, and amateur radios all maximize RF energy. So why then are cell phones potentially dangerous? We use cell phones on a consistent basis, usually for extended periods of time. Having this consistent exposure to radiation, especially so close to your body, is where the real danger lies as the SAR increases. In recent years, there have been an increasing number of studies linking cell phone use to health problems, such as cancer. Studies looking at the effect of cell phone radiation on use for less than 10 years have found no clear connections to cancer. However studies looking at the danger posed for users of periods of time longer than 10 years have clearly displayed an increased risk. In 2008 the World Health Organization released its ten-year study called Interphone. As part of an international collaboration, the 13 different countries involved (Germany, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Norway, New-Zealand, United- Kingdom and Sweden) all used the same protocols in order to examine the possible connection between tumors and radiation. What they found was astonishing: “among long term users (for
TOP TEN RADIATING CELL PHONES IN THE UNITED STATES
more than 10 years) there was a 80% higher risk of developing the tumor at the same side of the brain where they held the phone, in comparison to non-users.” Interphone also found that specifically glioma, the most common type of brain tumor, had 39% greater chance of occurring in cell phone users. The information on coustic neurinoma, a benign tumor of a nerve between the ear and brain, was the most revealing because it occurs directly where you place your cell phone during calls. The study found that your risk for this tumor was 3.9 times higher if you used a cell phone on a regular basis. Another related area of concern relates to the safety of cell phone towers. Because these towers are consistently receiving radio waves, they emit much more radiation than a single cell phone. A French study in 2002 found that people who lived within a close proximity to a cell phone tower experienced symptoms such as fatigue, headache, sleep disruption, and loss of memory. What’s even worse is that if you live in cities or other urban areas, you are likely to be living and working close to a large numbers of cell towers. Therefore these urban dwellers are consistently exposed to dangerous electromagnetic radiation. The dangers of cell phone use for children and young adults are greater as their brains are less developed and their skulls are thinner. Unfortunately, students and young people are among the greatest users of cell phones and thus that must be changed. In France, for example, there have been efforts to ban cell phones in elementary schools. Texting has become more prominent than actual phone calls, which is fortunate. Keeping cell phones away from the head is the single best tool for combating the dangers of radiation and therefore texting is a remedy to the various risks. There are many things that average consumers
can do to better protect themselves from cell phone radiatiomn, including using headsets. Cell phones also continue to give off radiation even when you are not on a call, as your phone must automatically communicate with the tower to see if you have text messages. More recently, however, through a study done in Denmark, and published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found no correlation between cell phone use of 360,000 people and brain tumors. Thus, the issue is still up for debate but researchers in Denmark say that the correlation “cannot be ruled out.” The dangers associated with cell phones are real and a growing threat. In fact throughout the world an estimated 4 billion people own cell phones. It is predicted that more people will die from cell phone use than smoking in the coming years. This is truly the next major health challenge of our time and we must be conscious of the negative repercussions we may experience through consistent cell phone use. 11
Food and Cancer:
A Look Into the Most and Least Healthy Treats By Joanna Cho
id you know that you could control the likelihood of getting cancer with your eating habits? Although cancer is a disease caused by genetic mutations, eating healthy can lower your chances of getting cancer, especially stomach and colon cancer, according to The Cancer Cure Foundation. Unfortunately, some of the tastiest and most commonly eaten foods make up the list of the top five worst foods for the prevention of cancer. For example, the hot dog, the sausage in particular, contains sodium nitrate. In general, the consumption of nitrates causes oneâ€™s likelihood for cancer to increase because nitrates combine with amines and create carcinogens when cooked. These carcinogens can be harmful to the mouth, bladder and especially the stomach. The Cancer Prevention Coalition has advised children to eat no more than twelve hot dogs per month in order to prevent a high risk of cancer. Another item that makes meat-lovers salivate, processed meats and bacon, also contain sodium nitrate. Bacon, in particular, has lots of saturated fats, which may also increase the risk of cancers. French fries are also made of both types of fat: saturated and trans fats, which clog your arteries and may cause ar-
teriosclerosis, the hardening of arteries that hinders blood flow. While lowering your consumption of the preceding foods may lower your chances of getting cancer, eating others may also help. Yogurt, for example, has probiotics, healthy bacteria that our bodies need to help digest foods. It is thought to prevent, in particular, colon cancer. Free radicals and carcinogens are attacked by flutathione, an antioxidant found in avocados. Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower have a chemical called indole-3-carbinol that turns estrogen from a form that supports cancer to a form that fights cancer, in particular breast cancer. Broccoli additionally has sulforaphane, a chemical related to glucoraphanin, which helps prevent colon and rectal cancers. Carrots are not only good for improving eyesight, but also for providing beta carotene that helps prevent lung, mouth, throat, stomach, intestine, bladder, prostate, and breast cancers. Carrots are even an effective anticancer food when un-cooked. Peppers and jalapeĂąos may be hot and spicy, but they have the chemical capsaicin that neutralizes nitrosamines and carcinogens, and thus help prevent stomach cancer. Garlic, with its bitter taste, slows the rate of cancer development and supports immune system cells that fight cancer. Onions too can help prevent stomach and colon cancers.
12 Horace Mann Spectrum â– November 2010
Citrus fruits, such as grapefruits, have monoterpenes that get rid of carcinogens within the body and prevent cancers this way. Oranges and lemons in particular encourage lymphocytes to be more active and fight against cancer and carcinogens. Many different types of mushrooms fight cancer using their protein lectin and stimulate immune cells to fight also using their polysaccharide Lentinan. Raspberries have vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help the fight against cancer. Soy products, such as tofu, have phytoestrogens, which are weak forms of estrogen that prevent breast and prostate cancer by inhibiting of changes caused by cancer. Tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene that fights against free radicals and carcinogens. Lycopene can help prevent mouth, breast, prostate, pancreas, and colorectal cancers. Some oil is needed with lycopene for most effective results. The more cooked the tomatoes are, the more lycopene the tomatoes produce. Thus, cooked tomatoes are very healthy. You should note, however, that eating one of the worst foods will not necessarily trigger cancer; similarly, eating one of the recommended anti-cancer foods will not necessarily prevent cancer. The relationship is more subtle, and one’s long-term eating habits are much more important than what one occasionally eats. So the next time you feel tempted to eat a hotdog with ketchup for lunch, try getting a salad full of healthy anticancer veggies and fruits instead! Remember, eating differently can make a difference. The National Cancer Institute has noted, “Roughly one-third of all cancer deaths may be diet related.” prevent, in particular, colon cancer. Free radicals and carcinogens are attacked by flutathione, an antioxidant found in avocados. Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower have a chemical called indole-3-carbinol that turns estrogen from a form that supports cancer to a form that fights cancer, in particular breast cancer. Broccoli additionally has sulforaphane, a chemical related to glucoraphanin, which helps prevent colon and rectal cancers. Carrots are not only good for improving eyesight, but also
for providing beta carotene that helps prevent lung, mouth, throat, stomach, intestine, bladder, prostate, and breast cancers. Carrots are even an effective anti-cancer food when un-cooked. Peppers and jalapeños may be hot and spicy, but they have the chemical capsaicin that neutralizes nitrosamines and carcinogens, and thus help prevent stomach cancer. Garlic, with its bitter taste, slows the rate of cancer development and supports immune system cells that fight cancer. Onions too can help prevent stomach and colon cancers. Citrus fruits, such as grapefruits, have monoterpenes that get rid of carcinogens within the body and prevent cancers this way. Oranges and lemons in particular encourage lymphocytes to be more active and fight against cancer and carcinogens. Many different types of mushrooms fight cancer using their protein lectin and stimulate immune cells to fight also using their polysaccharide Lentinan. Raspberries have vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help the fight against cancer. Soy products, such as tofu, have phytoestrogens, which are weak forms of estrogen that prevent breast and prostate cancer by inhibiting of changes caused by cancer. Tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene that fights against free radicals and carcinogens. Lycopene can help prevent mouth, breast, prostate, pancreas, and colorectal cancers. Some oil is needed with lycopene for most effective results. The more cooked the tomatoes are, the more lycopene the tomatoes produce. Thus, cooked tomatoes are very healthy. You should note, however, that eating one of the worst foods will not necessarily trigger cancer; similarly, eating one of the recommended anti-cancer foods will not necessarily prevent cancer. The relationship is more subtle, and one’s long-term eating habits are much more important than what one occasionally eats. So the next time you feel tempted to eat a hotdog with ketchup for lunch, try getting a salad full of healthy anticancer veggies and fruits instead! Remember, eating differently can make a difference. The National Cancer Institute has noted, “Roughly one-third of all cancer deaths may be diet related.” 13
High-Intensity Focused Ultrasou By Kundan Guha
ltrasound waves are sound waves that move at a frequency beyond the limit of human hearing. Used in various ways depending on their specific frequency, they play an important role in the biomedical field, often aiding in both imaging and in various forms of physical therapy. High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) is a specific form of therapeutic ultrasound that operates at very high frequencies. Due to this high frequency, atoms bump into each other at great speeds, transferring energy that then is then transformed into mechanical energy in the form of molecular vibration and heat energy. Doctors use the heat energy produced to heat up and noninvasively kill cancer cells. How exactly does cell death occur? Heating cells causes thermal ablation and instantaneous cell death in a process called coagulative necrosis, in which surface material is removed as a result of heat exposure. Furthermore, heat induces the 14 Horace Mann Spectrum â– November 2010
protein unfolding necessary to break down tumor cells. Proteins are typically synthesized in ribosomes, where amino acids are linked together. Heat shock proteins (HSPs) act as a quality control for the folded proteins, binding to any misfolded or unfolded proteins and refolding them so that they can function properly. Every cell in the body expresses special proteins called Class I major histocompatibility molecules on their cell surface. These molecules present a sample of all the peptides that are derived from synthesized proteins inside the cell, as if they are a restaurant menu pasted on the cell membrane giving the list of proteins that particular cell is making. If a virus infects a cell, the Class I major histocompatibility molecules present vital peptides that alert the bodyâ€™s defense cells, lymphocytes. T lymphocytes are especially important in that they can be activated to kill these cells invaded by alien pathogens. Doctors can use forms of ultrasound, such
By Kundan Guha
as HIFU, to cause protein misfolding on cancer cells. Low-energy ultrasound is focally delivered to tumors with image guidance, increasing the burden of misfolded proteins and inducing protein breakdown in tumor cells. Ultrasoundactivated peptides are then presented to the cell surface by Class I major histocompatibility molecules. Since cancer cells express defective proteins synthesized from mutated genes that drive the cancer process, the peptides generated from these defective proteins that are only expressed in cancer cells and therefore can activate T cells as cancer vaccines. “Killer” T cells act as hired assassins that specifically target the cancer cells as a foreign threat because of the irregular mutated peptides present in them and eliminate them. Thus, the purpose of ultrasound therapy is to produce a kind of tumor vaccine that activates the body’s own immune system to target the “rogue” tumor cells for T cell-mediated killing. HIFU has been used to treat several diseas-
es, including primary forms of prostate, liver, and bone cancers. This treatment allows oncologists to treat cancer without surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, therefore avoiding the side effects associated with those treatments. Because cancer is a disease in which regular cells from the body go out of control, the immune system fails to recognize them as threats and cannot mount an attack against them. However, with HIFU this weakness can be eliminated, as the immune system can now associate cancer cells with danger and can proceed to kill them. Though innovative, this treatment does not yet provide a definitive cure for all cancers. For example, it cannot be used against cancers that have spread systematically; for these cases doctors must still use other treatments. HIFU may not be the cure to cancer, but it is one giant step forward in the fight against the disease, and with further research it may one day lead to an effective cure. 15
Medical Technology Two worlds: Medicine and Technology. Recently, they have come together to do some magnificent things for our health care system. With medical records online, efficient MRI machines and even robotic surgeries being conducted every day, technology has become an integral part of how we view health care. Even so, there are constantly new developments in this field. In this section, youâ€™ll be introduced to telomeres and telomerase and their potential impact in the medical world. Also, new bio-surveillance technology might prove to be very useful in understanding of many diseases, and genomics studies are possibly the future of medicine as we know it.
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Nobel Prize-Winning Research May Hold the Cure to Aging
he 2009 Nobel Prize went to Carol Greider, Elizabeth Blackburn, and Jack Szostak for their research on telomeres and their nature. They worked on this project from 1975 to 1978, when their work was published. When chromosomes replicate there are two strands, a 5 prime strand and a 3 prime strand. When they are separated, an enzyme called polymerase makes up the lacking DNA, but the 3 prime strand lags and therefore the polymerase cannot fill up the gaps, so it fills up the gaps with RNA primers. These primers cannot fill up all the gaps, which leads to the tips of the chromosomes shortening. The problem with this is that when the telomeres are gone the chromosomes cannot continue to reproduce. This happens because when the telomeres are not protecting the tips, the base pairs become shortened and the cell cannot allow itself to do that. Thus, it stops reproducing. The lengths of our telomeres are the lengths of our lives. While researching about telomeres the scientists found an enzyme called telomerase, which makes more telomeres during the chromosome reproduction to help fill any extra gaps. Unfortunately, our bodies do not use the enzyme
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By David Zask very much, so our cells continue to die. Many people have tried to use telomerase to elongate cell life spans.TA-65, found in the astragalus plant, makes the body produce the enzyme telomerase, leading scientists to believe that it could possibly be used as a drug. It has yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Making telomerase seems like an ideal way to extend a life span, but it can cause many malignant cancers. Due to its constant replenishing of telomeres at the ends of the cells, cells stay intact and never die. This knowledge can help treat cancer. Making an inhibitor for telomerase in the cancer cells is an ideal solution since it is barely made in somatic (body) cells and only produced in gamete (sperm and egg) cells. This treatment would probably only minutely affect one’s life span and would most likely lower one’s sperm count or fertility. Since most cancer treatments are detrimental to one’s life span, this would truly be a breakthrough. They are the miracle caps. They could possibly treat cancers and even extend lifespans. Research into telomeres and telomerase has the potential to change the world.
of telomeres Are Scientists Close to Finding the Path to Human Immortality?
he population has seen superior growth in life expectancies, quadrupling in the past two hundred years. Dr. Ronald Klatz of the American Academy of Anti-Aging says, “Over half the baby boomers here in America are going to see their hundredth birthday and beyond in excellent health. We’re looking at life spans for the baby boomers and the generation after the baby boomers of 120 to 150 years of age.” There are now scientists tinkering with our biological mechanics by attempting to double standard life expectancies. To fix a human body so it becomes perfect and immortal, tiny, microscopic aglets might be the key. These aglets, called telomeres, are in every cell’s nucleus and are attached to the ends of each grouping of DNA double helices. You can imagine them as aglets for shoelaces on the end of each chromosome to seal the strands together. Their existence is to protect individual genetic code from scrambling and fraying, and to allow cells to go through mitosis, or cell division. Telomeres exist as DNA fragments and are made from the same bases, ranging from 3000 to 8000 pairs out of the 150 million of each chromosome. Though this number may sound large, it is truly a tremendously insignificant fraction. With each division these telomeres break off 30 to 200 base pairs from damage by free radicals and oxides. This means that a cell can only go through about 60 divisions until it reaches the Hayflick limit where it cannot reproduce any further and must commit apoptosis or cell suicide, or be at risk for cancer. It’s amazing that scientists do not focus all of their energy to allowing humans to live indefinitely. Putting aside the
By Yang Fei views of over-population and morals, another scientific answer is acting as a wall in this research. There is a reason we are not meant to live forever. Our very cells are programmed specifically to die in order to protect the unit as a whole. When a cell begins multiplying repeatedly, errors are going to be made through the copying over millions of DNA bases. These mistakes are what cause cancer. Cancer itself is seen as the immortal cell due to the overproduction of telomerase that it produces causing the telomeres inside to never die and passing on this trait each time it divides. Dr. John Langmore of the University of Michigan’s department of Biology summarizes, “The telomere hypothesis of cancer is that the function of telomere shortening is to cause cells that have lost normal control over growth to senesce (i.e. stop growing) before being able to replicate enough times to become a tumor.” This wall is why scientists are more focused on trying to solve the “unattainable” cure for cancer by trying to block telomere production than by trying to extend it. The goal of some researchers is to use the proven fact that telomeres are associated with aging and the immortality of a cancerous cell to engineer a normal cell that can duplicate forever. Geneticist Richard Cawthon at the University of Utah states that if all processes of aging and oxidative stress damage could be removed “people could live 1,000 years.” On the other hand, these cells could individually, or in small groups, be used to endlessly produce insulinproducing cells for diabetes patients, provide cartilage to cure arthritis, and allow people to live well past 200, and much more.
Protecting the Population:
Using Biosurveillance to Combat the Spread of Disease by Lauren Futter Many consider nuclear weaponry the biggest threat to humanity, overlooking a more sinister threat that has been lurking in the shadows of society for centuries. Bioterrorism has threatened to unbalance the world in numerous ways, and can be hard to detect. However, the scientific community has been making advancements in the field of biosurrveillance, the method by which diseases are tracked, and are making improvements to the current systems daily. Such improvements include using web databases such as Google Flu Trends and even governmental organizations such as the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) of Canada. While these improvements appear to be simple, complex algorithms are commonly used in all of these systems, and statistical knowledge is required to understand these systems. Most of these systems are based off of Bayes theory, a statistical theory of probability. The most simplified mathematical notation of Bayes theory is P(A|B) = [P(B|A) * P(A)]/ P(B), which means that the probability of A given B is equivalent to the probability of B given A multiplied by the probability of A divided by the probability of B. A variation of this formula is used in a research article entitled “A SpaceTime Permutation Scan Statistic for Disease Outbreak Detection” by, Martin Kuldorff et. al. The study theorizes that the most efficient way to calculate the boundaries of a possible outbreak is by using a spacetime permutation scan, which studies the change of geographical data over periods of time. To do this, the author utilized an algorithm that read: ( Czd )(C Czd )
P(CA ) =
Z A CA
20 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ November 2010
Where C represents Case and A is expected number of cases, z represents zip code and d represents day. So, the first part of this equation shows the probability of expected cases is equal to the population of the area specified incrementing in accordance with the number of cases per population and day. The second part of the equation shows the multiplication of the first part of the equation by the number of cases already in existence subtracted by the number of affected cases per area and day. This part of the equation is represented by . Finally, the number of expected cases based on the day and area divides the previous two parts of the equation. What can be gathered from this complex equation is that the number of expected cases is directly related to the area of that which the space algorithm is looking, the number of people living in this area of space, and also the number of days that pass since the first infection or reported case. Especially when dealing with highly infectious viruses such as anthrax, which can cause the number of people infected
to double every day, it is vital for a quick and reliable estimate to be made. This algorithm and other algorithms like this hold the key to fast responses on the part of the local and federal government. While this algorithm, however, would yield a reliable result from a statistical standpoint, it cannot reveal the actual severity of the cases from the standpoint of the people. Google Flu Trends is software developed by Google to help track the number of people infected with the flu by monitoring searches for the symptoms of flu and other associated phrases. Upon accessing the website, one notices the world map that appears on the first page accompanied by a bar with colors ranging from red to green denoting the higher concentration of flu related searches per country. When a link entitled “compare flu trends across regions in Public Data Explorer” is clicked, a page appears in which the user can select different countries and see how their “flu trends” data compares with the baseline and other countries. Flu Trends has enormous potential to allow average people quick data based on a widely used source.
Since Google is a website that many people search and can be affected by media hype, Google Flu Trends is not necessarily the most reliable source. Google Flu Trends’ data come from counting the number of times flu related symptoms are searched using Google. So, if a large outbreak occurs and is covered by the media, more people are likely to search Google for symptoms even if they do not have the flu, themselves. Algorithms based on public data and data mining (discovering and compiling data) using search engines have both important pros and cons, and thus scientists and economists are now tasked with trying to find a medium at which both manners of tracking diseases are used to their best advantage. Recently, the government’s response system to possible bioterrorism attacks has been reevaluated, so it can be expected that more programs will begin to appear as researchers try to quickly improve systems.
22 Horace Mann Spectrum â– November 2010
Alex Falk ‘10 discusses her view of infectious agents
iruses scare the hell out of me. I think of myself as a pretty fearless person. I’m not afraid of things I can deal with, like boogeymen, bees, the darkness, lightning, or close spaces. (I actually kind of enjoy close spaces.) Of course I have a stable of standard, reasonable phobias: I get vertigo when I’m high up, I worry about not getting a job, I’d rather not confront an angry grizzly bear, I’m sure it would bother me if someone were shooting at me. But the only things that really scare me are little things that I can’t confront. Leeches, ticks, parasites, super powered bacteria (and that’s a whole other kettle of anxieties), and now viruses. Let’s talk about viruses. Viruses are not alive. They’re not born, they don’t grow, they don’t metabolize anything, and they can’t reproduce on their own. They are robots, self-executing programs that were causing devastation long before some clever guys decided to make silicon think. They are deceptively simple and wickedly good at what they do. Assembled whole, they consist of genetic material—DNA or RNA—and a neat protein package, which contains the machinery required to hijack a cell in a way that would make terrorists squeamish. Viruses infect cells and take over their natural replicating machinery. Then, instead of working toward its intended purpose of making new cells, the equipment is turned toward virus production, putting each part together like underpaid workers in a factory assembly line. Once the product (the virus) is complete in large number, the unfortunate host cell either bursts, releasing scores of new viruses eager to repeat the process, or dispatches the newly-minted viruses in bubbles, while continuing to manufacture another wave. We have antibiotics for bacteria. They kill the bacteria to help our immune systems out, but don’t have drugs that kill viruses, partially because you can’t kill what isn’t alive and mostly because we can’t target the viruses with chemicals. The best we have are antivirals, drugs with heavy consequences that inhibit the rate of viral reproduction, leaving the rest to our immune systems. And our immune systems? They’re pretty great. We don’t keel over when people sneeze on us, for the most part. Formed of several lines of defense and an army of specialized cells, our immune systems have a brutal but effective method of reacting to infection: kill everything. Natural born killer cells eliminate infected cells with little
trepidation, working on the logic ‘guilty until proven innocent’.Other cells can be trained to recognize specific invaders from either past encounters or vaccinations, but they too can be fooled. Imagine if you trained a dog to attack anyone with long hair. It would do pretty well at keeping that hippie couple next door away from your garden, as well as preventing that unshaven dirt bag who lives across the street from stealing your newspaper. But what if the hippies decided to get real jobs complete with real-job haircuts and the jerk face’s girlfriend finally said enough is enough, lose the hair or I’m breaking up with you, and they no longer fit the long-hair criteria? Your dog would be like, “lol, okay, do whatever.” And you’d be like, “God dammit, get the hell out of my yard!” The point is that viruses change it up all the time. They’re sneaky little buggers, and they swap receptors (surface proteins that help the virus latch onto unsuspecting host cells) back and forth like joints at a liberal arts college. Viruses are very, very good at not messing up the rotation. Some viruses change, but are still recognizable that our immune system can handle multiple versions. These are the viruses we can vaccinate for, like polio, smallpox, mumps, measles, and rubella. Then there are the viruses that would have entire file cabinets devoted to them in the FBI’s dossier room. These are the ones that we can’t vaccinate against, because they’re too deadly, mutate too rapidly, and/or can’t be weakened or killed in a way that would make a vaccine possible. You’ve heard of them. They’re the viruses that keep me up at night. There’s HIV, which destroys your immune system, leaving you open to attacks from lightweights like rhinovirus (the common cold). There are the dozen or so zoonotic (courtesy of other animals) encephalitises, which attack the central nervous system—the spine and the brain. Then there are the hemorrhagic fevers. Ebola! It’s transmissible by touch. There is no treatment, and there’s not enough time to make a victim comfortable before they are destroyed from within. It works incredibly fast, eviscerating all the membranes inside your body, liquefying you from the inside out. You bleed freely through your skin and into your eyeballs, which turn pink and then dull maroon. The fever cooks your brain but leaves some of your basic instincts, turning you into a shambling bag filled with dark blood and black bile. A dead man walking. A ticking time bomb.
For the Fore tribe in New Guinea, laughter isn’t the best medicine - it’s the disease.
By Sarah Sicular ‘11
K uru’s disease, also known as the “laughing sickness,” is a disease which Americans do not need to worry about. The origin (and, to date, the only place where is it found) is the South Fore in New Guinea. There, many of the people practice cannibalism, which is thought to be the only method of passing the disease. A small group of doctors that has studied the disease has determined that the disease cannot be spread in utero or via human milk. In fact, people who had been infected with Kuru’s were regarded as a delicacy. The 1960’s are considered the height of the epidemic; between 1957 and 1968, over 1,100 in the South Fore died from Kuru’s. Since women in the South Fore were responsible for “dismemberment of corpses,” they ate much or what they stripped from the body, and thus the ratio of infected women to men was 8:1 during this period. Children and the elderly were also afflicted, because the women would pass on much of what they gleaned to their young and old. When it was first discovered, scientists were
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not even aware of the cannibalism through which it was passed, much less the bacteria or protein that caused it. At first, they believed it to be a genetic disorder, as mother and child would both be affected (little did they know that mother did pass it on to child, albeit not the way that the phrase generally connotes). Scientists eventually discredited this theory because a disorder as lethal as this one would eventually die out. The symptoms that these scientists and doctors observed included three main stages called the ambulant, sedentary, and terminal stages. Those entering the first stage experience unsteadiness of stance, gait, voice, hands, and eyes; deterioration of speech; tremor; shivering; loss of coordination in lower extremities that moves slowly upward; and dysarthria (slurring of speech). The second stage renders patients unable to walk without support, causes tremors and ataxia (loss of coordination of the muscles), muscle spasms, emotional mercuriality, random and often inappropriate laughing bouts (hence the nickname), severe depres-
A form of the prion protein. sion, and mental slowing. Patients transitioning to the final stage experience the inability to sit up without support, more severe ataxia, tremor, and dysarthria, urinary and fecal incontinence, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), and ulcers. All of these symptoms are attributed to a dysfunction of the cerebellum, the lobe at the base of the brain that controls motor function. Desperate for answers, researchers searched for diseases with symptoms similar to those they had seen in patients with Kuru’s. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) causes tremor, inappropriate laughter, and a depression similar to that experienced in the sedentary phase of Kuru’s. Similarly, dysarthria emerged in those with CJD, albeit much later than it did in those with Kuru’s, and patients of both suffered from urinary incontinence. From here, scholar SB Prusiner identified and defined a group of diseases referred to as prion diseases, a group that comprises of neurodegenerative diseases that are all fatal. These ailments are collectively called spongiform encephalies because they cause the brain to become spongy and riddled with holes. Well-known prion diseases include CJD and Kuru’s, mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), and scrapie, which affects only sheep and goats. Out of the whole collection of the diseases, only the former three, Gertsmann-Straussler-Scheinker syn-
drome, and fatal familial insomnia, affect humans. The prion protein (PrP) is a fascinating molecule. One form, referred to as PrP-sen because it can be degraded by the immune system, has an alpha-helical secondary structure. The configuration, resistant to protease (a protein-degrading enzyme), has betapleated sheets as a secondary structure. PrP-sen can be transformed into PrP-res, which has rendered the diseases virtually untreatable. The PrP-res congregates in the central nervous system, causing a buildup of amyloids, or insoluble fibrous proteins, that cause the neurological symptoms such as tremor, incontinence, uncontrollable laughter, and dysarthria. Kuru’s disease has largely died out thanks to the cessation of cannibalism in New Guinea, but the information uncovered in studies of the disease has proven valuable to researchers. For example, thanks to the information found about the prion protein, the mad-cow epidemic of the 21st century was quelled quickly. The field of treatments for prion diseases is still relatively unsullied, but with any luck scientists will be able to alleviate or even eradicate these maladies.
Thanks to information found in the prion protein, scientists were able to quickly tackle the mad-cow epidemic of the 21st century.
GENOMICS Can we select for natural selection?
by Katie Bartel
enomics, a branch of genetics, is the study of an organism’s genome, the cell’s genetic material. Genomics differs from genetics because it does not focus on one individual gene at a time, but on how genes work together as a system. The field of genomics was created by Fred Sanger, who mapped the complete genomes of a virus and a mitochondrion in the 1970’s. In the past forty years, more complex genomes have been sequenced, including the human one. It is a popular and important science today because of its many applications, such as in pharmaceuticals, genetically modified foods, and gene therapy. Genomics can be used to improve the production of drugs and medicines, a study known as pharmacogenomics. Developments in pharmacogenomics would allow drug companies to custom tailor their 26 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ November 2010
drugs for an individual, making them more efficient and more effective. Pharmacogenomics could also reduce, if not eliminate, the risks a patient takes when beginning to take a new drug. Instead of using trialand-error to match an individual with an effective drug, doctors could choose the best drug based on the patient’s genetic profile. Genome mapping could also be used to screen for an individual’s predisposition for a genetic disease, allowing earlier treatment. Especially today, since we are in the midst of heated health care debates and an economic recession, pharmacogenomics would reduce the number of failed drug trials, the amount of time a patient takes the medication, and the number of medications a patient tries before finding the correct one. This would ultimately cut down the costs of drug production and health care. Genetically modified, also called “transgenic”, foods are another result of genomics. Plants and animals are modified by combining genes from other
“Alba” the transgenic bunny glows neon green under a black light because proteins from the fluorescent Pacific Northwest Jellyfish were injected into her embryo.
Researchers are studying the possibility of using genetically modified bananas to create vaccines against hepatitis B.
organisms, a method also known as recombinant DNA technology. Plants are often modified to make them insect resistance or more nutritious. This branch of genomics is widely studied and applied today. In Africa, sweet potatoes are altered be resistant to a virus that would potentially destroy a majority of the harvest. In many Asian countries, rice is revised to contain an increase of iron and other vitamins, to improve widespread malnutrition. However, transgenic foods are controversial. They pose unknown risks to the health of humans and ecosystems. A few transgenic food companies could also come to dominate world food production, causing developing nations to depend more on industrialized countries in the process. Also, many people simply believe it is immoral to change an organism’s intrinsic nature. When genetic defects occur, a cell does not produce proteins correctly, resulting in genetic disorders. Genomics, when applied to fix these disorders, is known as “gene therapy.” Gene therapy takes on several approaches to correcting damaged genes. Two ways that repairing genes are inserting a normal gene into a nonspecific location to replace a nonfunctional gene, or replacing an abnormal gene with a normal gene. Of course, inserting a gene into a cell is more complicated than simply giving someone a shot. Viruses are engineered to carry human DNA and deliver it to specific cells. There are methods other than using a virus, but they can be less cost-effective. In the future, researchers hope to develop an artificial and autonomous 47th chromosome, which would not affect the other 46, but simply introduce normal genetic material to them. The bottom line: although genomics poses ethical questions, its uses could help solve many global problems.
28 Horace Mann Spectrum â– November 2010
Health Can some fats actually make you thinner? Here, youâ€™ll read about brown fat and how it can possibly help people lose weight, the good and bad sides of cholesterol as well as new E. Coli technology. Birth defects are also featured, learning about the risks of newborns getting them and how environmental factors affect these disorders. Lastly, medical TV shows, ranging from Scrubs to Grayâ€™s Anatomy are captivating. But how realistically do they portray the medical world? Moreover, how much do we really know about our health care system?
Can Certain Fats Make You Thin? Brown fat has been thought to exist only in infants, but a new scientific discovery reveals its importance to metabolism in adults. by Justin Bleuel
rown fat has long been known to exist in infants and animals such as mice, but until recently scientists thought it disappeared before human adulthood, leaving only the white fat that’s associated with weight gain. Unlike white fat, which stores energy, chestnutcolored brown fat burns it. Brown fat cells contain a large supply of energy synthesizing organelles called mitochondria, and contain an enzyme which allows them to release the energy from food calories directly as heat. This spring, multiple studies in The New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that not only is brown fat common in adults, it’s also important to their metabolism: Younger, thinner people have more detectable brown fat than their older, pudgier counterparts. While scientists have a long way to go before completing their understanding of how fat works, a lot of knowledge about the organic molecule has already been obtained. Rather than just a blubbery, lifeless mass, fat is now considered to be a sophisticated and scientifically complex biological organ, as important to the body as the liver or the kidneys. Scientists believe that fat secretes hormones and signaling molecules that coordinate behavior and health. White fat also plays a significant role in the immune system. A study published in August 2008 in the journal Immunity concluded that fat droplets
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help protect the body against immune-system invaders. Another 2008 study published in Cell Metabolism found that the fat that accumulates around the thighs and hips, called subcutaneous fat, actually lowers risk of diabetes. Despite this new perspective, doctors agree that most people have a lot more white fat than they need. With the obesity rate among U.S. citizens above the age of 10 reaching 34 percent, the discovery of brown fat provides scientists with a glimmer of hope. While much of the fat that accumulates on an obese body is visceral, meaning it surrounds vital organs and increases the risk of diabetes, cancer and strokes, brown is mostly concentrated in the neck and chest regions. Scientists have now begun to think about fat as a potential treatment for conditions such as obesity, rather than just a cause. Current research has also shown that women are twice as likely as men to have significant amounts of active brown fat. Some scientists speculate that because women anatomy tends to have less muscle mass, they need brown fat to stay warm. Temperature has been found to be an important controller of brown fat activity. A team led by Sven Enerbäck, a medical geneticist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, found that when subjects spent two hours in a cold room wearing thin clothing and intermittently
soak their feet in ice water, their brown fat burned 15 times more energy than it did at room temperature. One subject had enough brown fat to lose eight to nine pounds per year. Dutch researchers found active brown fat in 23 out of 24 subjects when they were cold, but not when they were warm. Research at the University of Nottingham in England revealed brown fat activity was closely associated with seasonal decreases in daylight as well. Further studies, such as in animals, suggest brown fat increases weight loss, for it not only stores fat but burns it. Last year, Stockholm University scientists found that mice that could not make brown fat gained weight 50 percent faster than mice that could. In a 2008 study, mice that fed a high-fat diet and kept at room temperature ended up nearly four times heavier than mice fed the same diet and housed at 39 F. Researchers estimate that just 2 ounces of active brown fat could burn 300 to 500 calories a day. Even little adjustments are able to have a profound effect on your body’s metabolism. So how does one activate brown fat without having to soak his feet in ice water? As a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Patrick Seale identified a protein called PRDM-16 that is present in every brown fat cell but absent from white fat cells. When he turned off PRDM-16 activity in young brown fat cells, they changed into muscle cells. Now Seale is working on identifying genes that may turn PRDM-16 on. Seale’s adviser at the lab, Bruce Spiegelman, is testing a therapy that involves removing white fat precursor cells from animals, inserting active PRDM-16 and then transplanting the cells back into the animals to see if they lose weight. Scientists have expressed their concerns that this concept seems too far fetched; however, there is no proof or work that proves the theory to be false. Cypess and his colleagues are focusing on different proteins, including one called BMP-7 that aids bone growth, since bone cells communicate regularly with fat. Recently one researcher found that BMP-7 increases the production of brown fat and protects
against obesity in mice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved a BMP-7 drug for use in spinal surgery, so Cypess is testing the drug’s effects on surgical patients to see if it boosts brown fat as well. If it works, researchers would ultimately leapfrog past several years of research. Scientists have said they ultimately envision a “brown fat pill”—a drug that boosts the activity of brown fat through molecular means. He believes that especially for his obese patients, he needs to find a way to help his obese patients out. Scientists realize such a drug won’t provide a quick fix for obesity, but brown fat could help people achieve weight loss goals by burning an extra 500 calories a day.
Brown fat contains more mitochondria than white fat does. Until a pill becomes available, there are ways for people to rev up their brown fat activity. Though patients do not usually like to put up with cold therapy, it could help to turn down your home’s central heating and to spend some time outside in the fall and winter. Studies suggest that people who work outdoors have higher brown fat activity than average, so it’s not an unreasonable assumption to think that walking to work on a brisk day could boost your metabolism. As scientists continue to study fat in a new light, as an important organ in the body’s endocrine system, they are bound to find more opportunities. Though now, an “exercise pill” may seem out of reach, but the concept and science to conceive such a pill is not too far out of hand. But given the weight of the situation, there may not be any harm in being imaginative. Researchers and scientists are definitely looking for creative new ways of thinking about combating the obesity epidemic. 31
TV: FANTASY OR REALITY?
by Tessa Bellone
Popular medical dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy (pictured above) affect viewer’s expectations of health care.
edical Dramas have been around since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the last 20 years that they became a television phenomenon. Emmy award nominated and winning shows such as ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and House have taken over prime time viewing and have millions of avid fans tuning in every week to watch as their favorite doctors courageously battle infections and diseases. But how accurately does this dramatized portrayal of medicine on television reflect the lives and abilities of real life doctors? The truth is that although all these shows strive for medical
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accuracy to the point of hiring actual doctors to write and proofread scripts, entertainment will always be their first priority- something that is having a serious impact on the real life medical profession. Many people have begun to have unrealistic expectations of modern health care, based on what they see portrayed in the media. Most methods used on medical dramas are thought to be too aggressive and unreliable to actually be used in real life, and are not usually recommended by doctors due to how dangerous they are- and also how expensive. Health care officials estimate that one of the test sequences shown on House, which there are normally several of during a single episode, would run over $9,000 dollars. Despite the high prices, patients
sometimes demand that they receive a test that may not even be effective at all, simply because they heard it mentioned of TV. High costs and risky side effects are pushed to the back of the show, while miraculous recoveries from the brink of death are almost every time shown center stage. Patients are encouraged to believe that all the newest drugs and latest treatments will be available to them, and that having numerous tests and examinations are normal, whereas this is simply not the case. Too many episodes have depicted people with a hopeless case and no chance of recovery suddenly and magically getting better because of a phenomenal one-ina-million cure. While this makes for great television, it falsely raises the hopes of actual people suffering from the same or similar diseases, giving them inaccurate perceptions of the ability of medicine. “People have the belief that if you search hard enough, if you spend
enough money, if you find the right doctor, you can get that rescue, that breakthrough, and those things just don’t really happen in the real world,” Andrew Holtz, a medical journalist wrote on the subject. But it’s not just the patients who are being affected by media portrayal of medicine. Some doctors who watch intently even find that it has compromised their abilities to properly perform medical tasks. A study showed that shortly after medical dramas started appearing on TV, a number of medical students began inaccurately performing CPR by improperly positioning their patients’ heads to insert a tube down their throat, something, which they claim, they picked up from watching too many episodes of ER. However, although it can cause serious problems for both doctors and patients, not all medical information that viewers absorb from television is necessarily bad. The medical establishment also utilizes these shows as a means to educate millions of Americans on certain diseases and even act as public health messages. In 2008, a case study of Grey’s Anatomy was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation to assess how effective these public health messages were. A survey was conducted about the causes and proper treatment of AIDS a week before an episode of Grey’s Anatomy strongly featuring the subject was aired. A week following, the same survey was conducted again. The case study concluded that the audience’s awareness on the subject of AIDS had quadrupled after the viewing of the episode. Since this study, shows have been to incorporating important medical information on topics such as emergency contraceptive, Chlamydia, cervical cancer, and breast cancer to educate the public viewers. While a reputation for accuracy is one of the key things most science-based television shows strive for, medical dramas always have and always will put entertainment as their first priority. Whether it be for the better or the worse, average people will continue to absorb most, if not all, of their medical understanding and expectations from the way it is portrayed in the media today.
Clearing Up Cholesterol
holesterol is always a hot topic among adults, but as kids, do we really know enough about this medical phenomenon? Most people think that cholesterol is just a substance found in foods that is detrimental to our health and that high-cholesterol is bad and low-cholesterol is good. Both assumptions are incorrect. So, let’s get down to the basics. Cholesterol is a lipid found in your body that is found in foods, usually in meat. While meat and dairy products contain lots of cholesterol, foods such as vegetables, grains, and fruits contain none. Something that you probably don’t know is that our bodies do produce cholesterol. In fact, our bodies produce a significant amount of 34 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ November 2010
by David Yassky
more cholesterol than we get from foods. An average person’s liver produces 1000 milligrams of cholesterol a day, and most people intake about 200 milligrams from their food daily. Cholesterol is extremely important in maintaining regular bodily function. The body needs it to build and maintain cell membranes, to help produce sex hormones, to help make bile, and to help the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins. Cholesterol cannot travel alone in the bloodstream, and so it combines with certain proteins and relies on the protein to transport it throughout the body. This bond between the cholesterol and the protein is called a lipoprotein. There are two important types of lipoproteins called HDL (high-density lipoproteins) and LDL (low-density lipoproteins). Three
other types of lipoproteins exist but are less important: VLDL (very low-density lipoproteins), IDL (intermediate-density lipoproteins) and Chlyomicrons. LDL is often characterized as the “bad” cholesterol because of its ability to cause heart complications when high amounts are found in the body. Most cholesterol found in the body is as LDL. If high amounts are present in the body, LDL is able to clog one’s blood
High amounts of cholesterol can clog bood vessels. vessels and raises his or her blood pressure. LDL’s function is to carry cholesterol from the liver, where it is made, to the tissue. About 30% of cholesterol is HDL; this is the “good” lipoprotein that carries cholesterol back to the liver to be synthesized. Many call it “good” because it is denser, thus carrying the same amount of cholesterol in a much smaller package than LDL’s do. Thus, high amounts of HDL do not clog arteries, nor do they cause the complications of LDL. Many young people may ask why they should care, as they are young and have strong bodies. If one
has a healthy diet and isn’t eating McDonald’s every day, how will he or she be affected by cholesterol? Well, levels of cholesterol aren’t only affected by eating patterns, but also by exercise and genetics. Some may follow all of the guidelines of having healthy cholesterol levels but may still experience health problems and vice versa. High amounts of cholesterol, known as Hypercholesterolemia, can clog blood vessels, causing stroke and heart attack and low amounts of cholesterol, known as Hypocholesterolemia, can halt the healthy production of sex hormones and cell membranes. Therefore it is important to have moderate levels of cholesterol in one’s body. In America, where obesity rates are extremely high and foods get unhealthier as time goes on, a topic such as cholesterol has to be focused on not only by the whole, but by the individual too. Chances are, as young adults, we won’t have to take any drugs to maintain good cholesterol levels as our levels are normal, but building up good habits and having a good foundation for the rest of your life isn’t a bad idea. This just includes eating healthily and doing a moderate amount of exercise. One day, glance at the Nutrition Facts for all of the foods you eat and add up the cholesterol. Make sure you aren’t surpassing the high 200’s and you’re alright.
Doing a moderate amount of exercise can help keep cholesterol levels down. 35
By Mihika Kapoor very year, approximately 7.9 million children, six percent of total births, are born with a serious genetic birth defect. Thousands are born with birth defects caused by their mother’s exposure to things like alcohol, syphilis, rubella and iodine deficiency. Birth defects are present all around the world, but are much more abundant in poor countries According to the March of Dimes Global Report on Birth Defects, 3.3 million children, under the age of five die from birth defects and 3.2 million (who live) will be disabled for the rest of the life. There are two main types of birth defects, structural defects and functional or developmental birth defects. Common structural defects include cleft lip or cleft palate, misshaped heart valves, abnormal limbs, and neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, that may impede the growth and development of the central nervous system. Brain defects, such as autism and Down’s syndrome, cause learning disabilities, difficulties with speech, retardation, and movement problems. Also present are metabolic disorders such as hypothyroidism and sensory problems, such as deafness and blindness of cataracts. In America, the rate of birth defects is around one in every thirty-three children born and 150,000 babies are born each year with one or more defects. Cleft lips are present in approximately 1 in every 500 births. The Utah Birth Defect Network from 1999 to 2003 conducted a study that showed that 18% of defects present in approximately 5000 affected chil-
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dren had identifiable genetic basis and 0.4% had an environmental basis, which includes maternal conditions. The Utah Birth Defect Network is now trying to prevent severe birth defects by further educating women through campaigns and health care providers advocating the use of B-vitamin folic acid, to prevent neural tube defects. In Beijing, China, the rate of birth defects jumped from 90 per 10,000 births in 1997 to 170 per 10,000 births in 2008. China has a high birth defect rate of 4 to 6 percent of the 20 million births. It is speculated that this is due to increased pollution and also the delays in having children, which demonstrates the importance of a clean environment. There are certain measures that may be taken to best prevent birth defects in one’s child. The first is eating balanced and nutritional meals and taking 400 mcg of folic acid daily in a multivitamin. One should avoid alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and other drugs. In addition, it is important to take genetic counseling and get a birth defect screening, especially in cases where one has a family history of a disease or is older than 35. Many poor countries do not have the ability to provide better medical screenings and improved diets for mothers and it is for this reason that the rates of birth defects are so high in developing regions. In Africa and the Middle East, the rate of birth defects jumps from the worldwide 6 percent to 7 or 8 percent. The two countries with the highest birth defect rates are Sudan and Saudi Arabia, each with over 80 defects per 1000 live births. Due to the high infant mortality rates in such countries, the deaths caused by birth defects are often underestimated, according to Christopher Howson, March of Dimes vice president. He speculates that the main causes of these high rates are lack of nutrition, increased marriages with in families, older mothers and more genetic carriers of certain diseases. Howson estimates that 70 percent of these deaths and defects can be prevented or made less severe, although it will require a great additional cost. To study chromosomes, scientists often create a karyotype, which displays the 23 pairs of chromosomes in the body, as seen at left. Scientists often look for muations in this karyotype and often many birth defects, as outlined above, are caused from the chromosomal mutations. Cri-du-chat syndrome is only one of many defects and is caused by a mutation in the 5th pair of chromosomes.
What’s The Diagnosis? By Alex Kissilenko
olorful? Check. Lifesaving? Check. 21st century? Check. According to seven Cambridge University undergraduates, E. chromi is the next big thing in medicine, a 21st century cross between technology and design. The Talk To Me exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City introduces us to this revolutionary bacterium, which won the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) in 2009. IGEM is an annual contest held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, between undergraduate student teams from different colleges studying synthetic biology - an area of scientific research focused on designing and constructing entirely new biological systems. E. chromi is an example of how this new approach to genetic engineering opens the door to incredible possibilities. E. chromi was created by combining non-pathogenic E. coli bacteria, found naturally in the human colon, with standardized sequences of DNA called BioBrick genetic parts. The BioBrick parts code for proteins that change color when exposed to different chemicals released by the body in response to pathogens. When spliced with the BioBricks, the E. coli bacteria change color and thus indicate what pathogens are present in the body. This can enable doctors to diagnose a patient’s condition by simply
“...E. chromi is the next big thing in medicine.” offering him or her an E. chromi probiotic shake. The ingested E. chromi would react with the chemicals in the gastrointestinal tract, change color depending on what is present, and alter the color of the patient’s feces. By examining this output the doctor can provide an accurate early diagnosis. Different colors indicate a different pathogen. For example: red feces indicate salmonella, green - stomach ulcer, purple – cancer, etc. These color samples can be viewed in a briefcase called the Scatalog, which is exhibited at the MoMA’s Talk To Me. The seven Cambridge University undergraduate students who worked with designers Alexandra Daisy Ginsburg and James King, suggested some astounding possible applications of this novel creation. They hope that E. Chromi will become a reality within the next few decades. Beyond a tool of personalized medicine, E. Chromi can be helpful in detecting pollutants in drinking water and air: red clouds may mean that a factory released a dangerous gas in the air, orange water – that there is arsenic, etc. As such a versatile and potentially beneficial invention, it is apparent that E. chromi can shape the future, and we can expect to hear much more about this revolutionary bacterium soon.
In order to grow up bacteria, many laboratories use petri dishes as seen above to culture these bacterias. Common regiments include an overnight harvest and in the case of E.Coli bacterium, the same regiment is used as it grows very quickly in culture. New E. Chromi technology harnesses the power of E.Coli in the digestive system to help diagnose infections and disease early on.
38 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ November 2010
We invite you to...
The Horace Mann Schoolâ€™s second annual Science and Technology Fair, SciTech, will be held on Saturday, February 11th 2011. We are expanding to the greater community this year and encourage any student from any school with a project or invention in science, math, social science, and technology to come share and showcase his or her work. Visit us at scitech.horacemann.org to register and learn more.
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40 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ November 2010
The second issue of the Horace Mann publication. The theme is healthcare and medicine.