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Adult Asthma? – Why It’s Worthwhile to Re-Evaluate

By Laurie Breen Asthma is a chronic condition with no known cure that can be diagnosed at any age. In the United States alone there are over 25 million people with diagnosed asthma, and 7 million are children. Children with asthma typically have intermittent asthma attacks, but asthma symptoms in adults are usually persistent and require treatment with daily medication.   Image: Source   Children with chronic asthma have been shown to outgrow their condition about 75% of the time, but what about adults? A new study published in JAMA by authors Aaron, Vandemheen & FitzGerald suggests that potentially up to one-third of adults diagnosed with asthma don’t show symptoms a year later.   Image: Source   The study gathered over 700 participants who had been diagnosed with asthma at some point over the past five years and weaned them off their asthma medications. Then, for over 12 months, researchers followed up with a series of bronchial challenge tests to determine if the patients were still showing asthmatic reactions. By the end of 12 months, 613 participants had completed the study and researchers could rule out an asthma diagnosis in 203 of the participants – a recovery rate of 33%.   Image: Source   Another interesting finding during this study was that 2% of participants were found to have had a serious condition that had been misdiagnosed as asthma....

Disease Diagnosis Via Breathalyzers?

By Janet Taylor A new instrument has recently been developed to diagnose disease in a non-invasive, cost effective manner. Based on the idea of the breathalyzers used to identify and quantify alcohol consumption, this device would allow for specific programmable disease detection in still healthy individuals. Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that are expressed by the body when pathologic processes occur.   By linking the exhalation of these chemicals to specific diseases, physicians will be able to diagnose disease in the early stages based on both presence and quantities exhaled and possibly identify individuals who are at high risk for development of specific diseases.   Figure 1. Schematic representation of the concept and design of the study. It involved collection of breath samples from 1404 subjects in 14 departments in nine clinical centers in five different countries (Israel, France, USA, Latvia, and China). The population included 591 healthy controls and 813 patients diagnosed with one of 17 different diseases: lung cancer, colorectal cancer, head and neck cancer, ovarian cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, gastric cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, idiopathic Parkinson’s, atypical Parkinsonism, multiple sclerosis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and chronic kidney disease. One breath sample obtained from each subject was analyzed with the artificially intelligent nanoarray for disease diagnosis and classification, and a second was analyzed with GC-MS for exploring its chemical composition....

Medical Researchers Raise the Red Flag on Gun Violence Research Funding

By Laurie Breen   In a JAMA Research Letter likely intended to draw political attention, authors David E. Stark and Nigam H. Shah compared data on gun violence with other leading causes of death and questioned whether adequate funding was being given to research on gun violence, considering the high rates of death from gun violence in the U.S.     Although research into gun violence is not directly banned, a congressional appropriations bill from 1996 stated that no funding allocated for injury prevention or control at the CDC “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Supporters argued that a gun is not a disease and therefore falls outside the realm of the CDC, ignoring the fact that the CDC already has an Injury Prevention & Control Center. The authors argue that this ban has had a knock-on effect for all funding of gun violence research, as government agencies and institutes seeking funding will steer clear of the subject, from fear of running afoul of the appropriations ban and risking the loss of funding.   Image: Source   The letter’s authors reviewed CDC mortality statistics from 2004 – 2014. They identified the top 30 causes of death and allocated each to a Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) term. Then, for each MeSH term, the authors queried the number of Medline publications from 2004-2015 and also turned to the...

U.S. Rate of Birth Defects from Women with Zika

By Laurie Breen   In early 2016, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the creation of the National Zika Pregnancy Registry to track and collect information in the United States and its territories on women who tested positive for possible Zika virus. By June of that year the CDC was reporting 265 pregnant women were being monitored in U.S. States and 216 in U.S. territories.   Image: Source   As these pregnancies progress, researchers are carefully monitoring the birthing outcomes for these women to identify the rate of birth defects. Reports from other countries have varied, showing risk rates from 1% up to 13%. Published in JAMA, Honein, Dawson & Peterson reviewed 442 completed pregnancies who had lab results showing possible Zika infection, and found that 6% of the fetuses and infants had birth defects potentially related to Zika infection, with similar overall results when comparing symptomatic and asymptomatic women. The most common birth defect was microcephaly with brain abnormalities, and a few had various brain abnormalities without microcephaly.   Image: Source   However, there were no reported birth defects among infants or fetuses whose only exposure to Zika virus occurred in the 2nd or 3rd Trimester, but when women presented symptoms and were infected in the first trimester, the risk of birth defects rose to 11%.   The researchers concluded that this evidence strongly...

Preventing Burnout in Medical Students

By Janet Taylor Image: Source Medical school is an incredibly stressful endeavor with high stress levels and burnout among even first year students. The psychologist Herbert Freudenberge brought the term burnout to light in 1974 and describes it as “the loss of motivation, growing sense of emotional depletion, and cynicism” (Michel, 2016).   Students may prepare for the transition from undergraduate or graduate studies, but many find that the massive amount of material is difficult to take in in such a short time while the demand for success is always lingering. This leads to frustration, feeling incompetent and emotional exhaustion.   The problem here is that not being able to get a handle on these issues will have a psychological, social and emotional impact both short and long term. Personal relationships and physical health may suffer, as well as academics initially, but in the long term, patient care will also be affected.   Also, continuously stressed students run the risk of reworking the wiring of their brains, stressing the heart and jacking up their neuroendocrine systems. The Maslach Burnout Inventory is a tool used to measure burnout risk. As many as twenty percent of clinical year students in a study by Bugaj et al. ranked high enough to be marked at risk for burnout. “The scale evaluates burnout based on three key stress responses: an overwhelming sense of exhaustion,...

Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Science

By Laurie Breen   We’re now in the first week of the New Year, so how are those resolutions coming along? These life hacks, based in behavioral research, can help you reach and maintain your goals to succeed in 2017.     Plan Ahead Avoid unhealthy, impulsive decisions by planning ahead whenever possible. Researchers at Harvard Business School found that if consumers ordered their groceries 5 or more days in advance, they tended to spend less and order more healthy foods. Similar effects were found among students who were asked to order their lunches a week in advance versus ordering them at the time of consumption.   Read More: “A behavioral decision theory perspective on hedonic and utilitarian choice”   Image: Source   Keep Good Company The influence of peers on the behavior of individuals has been well documented, but it’s important to find peers who are going to help you succeed – not enable you to fail. Researchers Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton looked at co-workers who were given treadmill desks, and found that if employees were given access to the usage statistics of their co-workers, they tended to perform only as well as their least successful co-worker.   Similar results were found in a study that looked at savings habits – when employees were given information as to how much their peers were putting away...

Alternative Combination Treatments For Combatting Cancer Cells

By Janet Taylor   Illustration demonstrating the anti-cancer effect of the drug combination. Credit: Evi Bieler, NanoImaging Lab, University of Basel   Metformin is a commonly prescribed drug for type two diabetes. It reduces serum glucose levels by inhibiting hepatic gluconeogenesis, decreasing absorption of glucose from the GI tract and increasing peripheral utilization of glucose by both adipose tissue and skeletal muscle. Its anticancer properties stem from its combination of systemic and cellular effects.   Systemically, lower serum glucose levels means that glucose availability to cancer cells is decreased. At the cellular level, it disrupts oxidative phosphorylation and thereby inhibits mitochondrial respiration. This is important because the cancer cells are already lacking necessary glucose for energy production and a decrease in cellular respiration leaves the cells with decreased ATP levels necessary for DNA translation and cell growth. While this drug has many benefits, in order to exert these effects, the dose must be very high.   The goal of current research was to find drugs that could work synergistically with metformin to kill cells without the lethal effects that each drug used alone would cause. When searching for a second compound, only those that are cytotoxic when combined with metformin were studied. The antihypertensive syrosingopine was found to be synthetically lethal with metformin. Syrosingopine acts by inhibiting the degradation of sugars and depleting cells of catecholamine stores. Syrosingopine was...