Disease

The body's organs are fed by blood, which provides nutrients in exchange for waste products from cells. This free exchange of goods and services, however, is dangerous for the brain, primarily for two reasons.

First, the brain is under tight metabolic control. If ions and other substances had easy access to the brain, neurons would not work properly. Second, if there wasn't an extra layer of protection, nasty microbes could gain access. To prevent both of these unpleasant outcomes, the brain is protected by a special wall, called the blood-brain barrier (BBB), that tightly regulates what goes in and out of the brain. 

Despite this extra security, some pathogens still get in. One of them is called Cryptococcus neoformans, a fungus that can be found in the...

The HPV vaccine has been the subject of some controversy in the United States. Some public health officials (and pharmaceutical companies) would like the vaccine to be mandatory, but since the recommended age is pre-teen, some parents fear this sends a bad message about sexual activity in an already over-sexualized culture.

Both sides make flawed arguments. The bottom line is the vaccine prevents cancer.

Human papillomavirus is definitely a scourge. It causes 99% of cervical cancers in women, and it is also behind an increase in head and neck cancers, mostly in younger white people (i.e., those in their 40s and 50s). While...

Part One: Going Back to Neanderthals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The antibiotic chloramphenicol (Chloromycetin) was isolated from a culture of Streptomyces venezuelae in 1947. During a large typhus fever outbreak in Bolivia in December 1947, Doctor Eugene Payne from the pharmaceutical firm, Parke, Davis & Company, arrived at La Paz General Hospital carrying a small supply of a new drug. Four patients who were sick with typhus and presenting signs and symptoms of probable death were chosen to receive the limited supply of drug.

A death...

"Every night on the television news now is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation," lamented Al Gore in his opening remarks for the Climate & Health Meeting. After all these years, he still has a demented penchant for apocalyptic exaggeration. Though it can occasionally rain frogs and fish (and even golf balls), the oceans have not yet turned to blood and and no one needs to remove any wax seals from that scroll just yet.

Studies have shown that temperatures have increased...

Few things are more exciting than saving the world. James Bond and Superman have done it. Now, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan want to do it, too. It's a sufficiently sizable goal for a couple with a sufficiently sizable ego. And their goal will be best accomplished by spending their money on boring stuff.

The duo (Z-Chan? Chuckerberg?) recently announced their intention to "cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children's lifetime." But according to Nature News, the first grants will...

Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer. B-cells, immune cells that play a crucial role in adaptive immunity, differentiate into plasma cells that secrete the antibodies we need to fight infections and other foreign invaders. Multiple myeloma is a cancer of these plasma cells.

A common treatment for multiple myeloma is itself an antibody called daratumumab. (Pro tip: A drug name that contains the suffix -mab indicates the drug is an antibody.) The antibody targets a cell membrane protein called CD38, which is highly expressed on malignant plasma cells. This triggers an immune response against the malignant cells, resulting in their death.

B-cells and plasma cells also play a role in allergies....

I recently returned from spending two weeks on a college campus in upstate New York. While there, I was surprised to see, in every building that I entered, signs posted with health information about mumps. Mumps... the same viral infection that was predicted to be eliminated from the United States by 2010.

Before the mumps vaccine was available in 1967, there were an estimated 150,000 - 200,000 cases reported each year. Since then, the number of cases of mumps has decreased by 99% in the United States. That being said, there remains a lot of fluctuation from year to year, easily seen in the graph below. To this point, there is an outbreak of mumps currently in Washington state, with nearly 300 cases reported - a large number compared to the normal ebb and flow of mumps from year...

The Washington Post has reported that, without explanation, the CDC abruptly canceled a conference on how climate change will impact human health. Good.

There's little doubt why the CDC canceled it. The Trump Administration is skeptical of anthropogenic climate change, so somebody -- perhaps President Trump himself -- likely made a single phone call and that was that. Journalists and the Twitterverse will surely go berserk, but they should not. Climate change falls well outside the CDC's area of expertise.

Founded in 1946, the CDC's...

You may have noticed a number of headlines referencing the “Tree Man” from Bangladesh with claims he is “cured” after 16 operations for his rare genetic disorder that transformed his hands and feet into bark-like warts and cutaneous horns.  

Also called Epidermodysplasia Verruciformis (EV), this debilitating, heritable condition is often referred to as “Tree Man Illness” or “Tree Man Syndrome.” Though it manifests throughout the body via innumerable abnormal growths on the skin, it is considered to be caused by a genetic impairment that triggers a defect in a person’s cell-mediated immunity.  

More than 200 cases have been reported since it was first described in 1922 by two dermatologists, hence, its other name “Lewandowsky Lutz Dysplasia.” (1) Most present in childhood...

Joe Schwarcz ("Dr. Joe" to his students), an award-winning chemistry professor, and the director of the McGill's Office for Science & Society at McGill University in Montreal is a well known lecturer, book author, columnist, and host of a weekly radio show. Joe's specialty is demystifying science to the public, which he does with a flair. Schwarcz also hosts "The Dr. Joe Show" on Montreal's CJAD and has appeared hundreds of times on The Discovery Channel, CTV, CBC, TV Ontario and Global Television.

Joe, a long time friend of the Council, read about my harrowing experience as a...