laurie-breen

Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.

Influential Women in Medicine: Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. She graduated from Geneva Medical College in New York in 1849 and later co-founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.   Image: Source   Originally from Gloucestershire, England, Elizabeth grew up in a large family. Her father had a liberal view of education and believed that all his children, including the girls, should be well educated and so Elizabeth grew up with a governess and private tutors. After her family moved to Cincinnati, Elizabeth became a teacher herself, got involved in local politics and began to advocate for women’s rights.   Eventually, Elizabeth grew weary of teaching positions and resolved to save enough money for medical school, around $3,000. She even moved to Philadelphia in hopes of getting into a medical school there, but was unable to find one that would accept her. She was told over and over that her “inferior” female brain wasn’t up to the job, but, on the off chance she would be able to do it, the male physicians didn’t want the competition. One sympathetic physician suggested that she should disguise herself as a man to try to get in.   Image: Source Geneva Medical College, c. 1848   Finally, Hobart College in upstate New York, which was then called Geneva Medical College, decided to give her...

The Hidden Killer: Salt

Food fads and trends are an unavoidable nuisance – one day Gwyneth bakes kale chips on Ellen and suddenly everyone is eating kale until we are all totally and completely sick of kale – kale ice cream, anyone? With today’s focus on low fat and low sugar options, we have learned to check the labels for all different kinds of sugars (glucose, sucrose, sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, rice syrup, etc.) and we can compare saturated, unsaturated and trans fats in our sleep. But in response, food manufacturers have been racing to provide tasty foods that fit those diet criteria, and in some cases, that means LOTS of salt – even in foods we don’t usually think of as “salty.”   It’s well known that sodium intake is a factor in many health problems, raising blood pressure and contributing to kidney and cardiovascular disease. Other studies have linked salt to cancer, asthma, Meniere’s disease, osteoarthritis and obesity. The American Heart Association recommends “no more than 2,300 mg per day and an ideal limit of 1,500 mg per day for most adults.” It’s not enough to avoid the saltshaker, as more than 75% of sodium intake comes from prepackaged, processed or restaurant foods.   Image: Source   Recent analysis in Australia has found that one of the biggest culprits of hidden sodium is, surprisingly, bread. Even what is...

Influential Women in Medicine: Metrodora

Although women have long been considered the caregivers to their family members and communities, women weren’t formally allowed to become physicians until pretty recently. But throughout history there have been women who fought the tides of tradition and became influential physicians in their own right.   Image: Source   Metrodora was a Greek physician somewhere between 200-400 CE. Although a few rare women physicians are known from this time period, such as Aspasia, also from Greece, Metrodora is the author of the oldest surviving medical text written by a women, called On the Diseases and Cures of Women. In keeping with the ancient traditions of midwifery, it was common at the time for women to assist with childbirth and some aspects of gynecology.  However, Metrodora’s book was unusual because it covered many other areas of medicine, but not obstetrics, at least not in the surviving manuscripts. Rather than focusing on obstetrics, she was clearly most interested in pathology and was greatly influenced by Hippocrates. Her manuscript made clear that medicine wasn’t just a scholarly interest for Metrodora, but that she took an active hands-on approach to treatment and she discusses her own observations from examinations. She was one of the first to suggest surgical treatment for both breast and uterine cancers.   Image: Source   Her manuscript was translated into Latin somewhere between the 3rd and 5th centuries, and was...

Supplement or Superfluous?

Whether you’re watching TV, listening to the radio or surfing the internet, it’s almost impossible to escape multiple ads for dietary supplements that claim to make you feel healthier, be stronger and have more energy.   90s kids are sure to remember this vitamins jingle Video: Source   But how do you know if they work? And what exactly is a supplement anyway? According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, a supplement is “a product intended to supplement the diet that contains one of the following ingredients: vitamins, minerals, herb or botanical, and/or amino acid.”  However, dietary supplements are not intended to “treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent or cure disease.” The FTC has ruled that advertising for supplements that claim health benefits must be “truthful, not misleading and substantiated.”   Why does it matter? Recent data estimates that Americans spend over $21 billion a year on supplements, with an estimated 1 in 5 Americans taking some sort of supplement. The makers of supplements must abide by the FDA’s good manufacturing guidelines and accurately identify what their products contain – but that doesn’t always happen. Manufacturers are supposed to report serious adverse effects, and the FDA can pull products found to be unsafe.   What’s the evidence? Daily Multivitamins – If you have a healthy, well balanced diet, there is little evidence that a multivitamin can prevent...

Treatment Devices for Migraines

This month the FDA updated their consumer information on migraines to include 2 devices approved for the treatment of migraines:   – the Cefaly transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device, and – the Cerena Transcranial Magnetic Stimulator.   Those who suffer from migraines know the intense throbbing or pulsing pain that can last up to 72 hours, and is often accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and/or vomiting. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 37 million Americans suffer from migraines, and women are three times more likely than men to have migraines.     These devices are great news for migraine suffers because the currently approved migraine medications can often have serious side effects that vary from patient to patient. “Although these migraine drugs are quite effective, they are not for everyone. Some can make you tired, drowsy or dizzy. Some can affect your thinking. And some migraine drugs can cause birth defects, so pregnant women can’t use them,” says Eric Bastings, M.D., an FDA neurologist.   Although TENS treatment for pain has been around for a while, Cefaly was the first TENS device to be approved for use as a preventative measure, before the onset of a migraine. It can be used daily and studies have shown that it reduces the number of days that patients have experienced migraines.   Video: Source   According to...

Video Game Therapy

It’s crazy to think that almost 91% of kids in the U.S. play video games, but today video games are an important part of our culture and lifestyle. Shared gaming experiences like Pokémon Go bring together people from all around the globe. Game developers work hard to make their games appealing and accessible to as broad an audience as possible, but what about kids with a medical condition that prevents them from playing most games? And what if accessible games could include a learning and therapeutic component?   Researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide are working on video games specifically for children with cerebral palsy and limited hand function. Cerebral palsy affects more than 17 million people around the world. There is no cure for CP and it is the most common childhood disability. Targeted interventions for children often involve therapeutic exercises aimed at improving or maintaining function with the goal of helping children achieve independence in daily activities. However, just as with adult physical therapy, compliance can be a struggle as the exercises are seen as work and not play. David Hobbs and his team set out to change that by making an accessible video game system that may also help children with CP improve sensory function, bilateral hand functionality and coordination.   Image: Source   Known as “serious games,” their work is part of a growing sector...

Fighting Allergies Without Injections?

Where I live in Texas it’s cedar season, which means it’s allergy season. Texas is notorious for its large number of pollen-producing plants including ash, mountain cedar, ragweed, grass and oak… the list goes on and on. When pollination comes around each year, it seems like everyone is coughing, sneezing and congested, with an itchy throat and watery eyes.   Image: Source   To cope with allergies, I’ve heard some pretty creative (though NOT doctor recommended nor evidence-based) solutions including sleeping with a wet washcloth over the face, eating “local” honey to expose the body to pollens or drinking apple cider vinegar. With my friends going to such extremes to fight allergies, you can imagine how excited I was to see a new paper in JAMA reporting on a 3-year study of sublingual immunotherapy for grass pollen allergy sufferers.   Image: Source   Sublingual immunotherapy is being explored as an alternative to injection therapies (or subcutaneous immunotherapy), where small amounts of allergens are injected into patients over the course of months and years to build immunity and prevent the allergic reaction. Allergy shots have been used for nearly 100 years and evidence shows that they are highly effective, especially against many pollen species. It is also more cost-effective than simply treating allergic symptoms. With sublingual immunotherapy, instead of injections, the patient takes either a drop solution or tablet under...