Would our deceased Presidents fare better today medically than they did in their respective eras? The answer might surprise you.

Of the thirty-eight United States’ presidents who have died, collectively, they surpassed life expectancies of their respective generations. (1) Did being in such a position of prominence afford them superior care to account for this windfall?

Unpacking their individual causes of death in parallel with medical advancement is one way to provoke greater understanding.

Being alive when we didn’t know how disease spread, sadly, sealed Washington’s fate.

Washington is a perfect example of how evolution of standard of care could have saved his life. Though well-intended, his physicians could not have known then what we...

Sepsis is an overwhelming infection that can lead to organ failure and death. It is a big problem.

In the U.S., 1.6 million patients are affected annually, with about 250,000 dying – far greater than the deaths from breast cancer, which garner much more publicity. Moreover, sepsis requires rapid diagnosis and treatment making it a priority in our Emergency Departments. For the economically minded, it is the most expensive care we provide. [1]

An article in the American Chemical Society Infectious Disease suggests we have overlooked a means of treating sepsis that our body already provides, bicarbonate. It is important to note that the research involves in vitro work only.

Of Bicarbonate and Bacteria

Bicarbonate acts in...

Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that causes a life-threatening infection. According to the CDC, it is responsible for about 500,000 infections and 15,000 to 29,000 deaths every year in the United States.

Though the bacterium can infect healthy individuals, it is of particular concern to those who are hospitalized or are taking antibiotics. Antibiotics can wipe out the normal flora of the gut, and C. difficile is happy to fill the vacuum. An infection with this pathogen can cause horrible cramping and 10 to 15 episodes of watery diarrhea per...

It's been one of those days where the truth is stranger than fiction.

House of Cards has been cancelled because of sexual assault allegations against Kevin Spacey. MSNBC fired journalist Mark Halperin for similarly bad behavior. The long-anticipated Russia investigation has resulted in its first charges. And a dog bit my dad in the butt.

In exchange for free golf, my retired dad volunteers at a Boise area golf course. As he was gathering golf balls out of a pond, a man with dementia and his German shepherd service/therapy dog were sitting nearby. My family has owned many German shepherds over the decades (some wonderful, some slightly unhinged), so he was quite comfortable with a big, strange dog in his vicinity.

"Hi boy, how ya doin'?" he shouted, as the...

When it comes to finding new antibiotics, no place is too weird to look.

Last week, we reported that two species of fungi, both isolated from an acidic, metal-rich lake, cooperate to synthesize an antibiotic that neither produces when grown alone. Now, three separate teams of researchers have identified potentially useful antibiotics from some of the strangest places imaginable: Sponges, sea snails, and marine worms. All reports were published in the Journal of Natural Products.

In the first study, a team of mostly Japanese scientists isolated a compound called Zamamidine D from a sponge named Amphimedon. The compound displayed...

Microbiologists often study microbes in isolation. In the scientific vernacular, this is called "pure culture." While this is necessary to understand how individual microbes work, the trouble with this approach is that microbes do not live by themselves in the natural environment. Instead, they live in communities with multiple other species, cooperating and competing in order to survive.

As a result, microbes can behave very differently in the environment compared to the artificial solitude of the laboratory. This insight has helped spur the field of microbial ecology, which studies microbial interactions with each other and the environment. One technique to do is "co-culture." Instead of growing...

When legislators and policymakers try to do just about anything to encourage innovation—especially in drug research—it rarely works. This is because, for the most part, they have absolutely no idea what it takes to discover a drug. None.

So, it should be of no surprise that H.R. 1776: Improving Access To Affordable Prescription Drugs Act, recently introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is a big mess. The bill is supposed to control drug prices, while at the same time, offering a cash prize for any individual or company that brings to market a new antibiotic that has certain properties.

If anyone knows about what it takes to discover and develop new antibiotics, it is Council advisor Dr. David Shlaes, a...

"Ew, what was that?" is perhaps the most common refrain uttered by people as they drive past roadkill. Most people find these carcasses repulsive, as they glide their cars carefully around the bloody remains. But a team of microbiologists and chemists from the University of Oklahoma hope that roadkill will prove to be a biomedical gold mine.

Because of widespread antibiotic resistance and a dwindling pipeline for new drugs, scientists are in a global hunt for new antibiotics. A potential source is the microbiome of humans. The bacteria that live in and on our bodies are adept at keeping pathogens away. One reason is competition for resources, but another likely reason is that they produce molecules that are poisonous to unfriendly bacteria. Some strains of E. coli...



Just another day at the office.

1. Go to Long Island off the coast of the Bahamas. Coordinates (23°41.12′ N, 75°22.18′ W) are included, in case you happen to be still using Apple Maps, because you are just as likely to end up here:








Apple Maps: Still not all that reliable




2. Get into one of these things.


Silkworm cocoon. (Krish Dulal/Wikipedia) Silkworm cocoon. (Krish Dulal/Wikipedia)


Unlike draping yourself in velvet, which is not socially acceptable, silk remains perfectly fashionable. In fact, it is all the rage at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University, where a research group led by David Kaplan is literally wrapping silk around everything it can get its hands on. In 2012, I reported on a...