Archive for the ‘Medical Innovation’ Category

Medical Innovation Turns to Snake Venom

Posted by on June 23rd, 2017


Snakes are a major phobia to a lot of people, even when they’re they largely harmless variety. But there are groups of people who enjoy and appreciate them and it’s a good thing these people exist. Otherwise some big medical advancement might have been overlooked. Nature is the greatest repository of medical advancement. Many drugs we now take for granted and use every day are derived from natural sources of all varieties; from plants and bark to venom. It’s this last substance that may be the genesis of a new type of heart drug.

Researchers in Taiwan have isolated a molecule from the venom of the Wagler’s Pit Viper. The molecule essentially prevents blood platelets from sticking together. This prevents clots from forming in the blood and reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Medications already exist to do this. The side-effect from these medications tends to be increased risk of bleeding which can be a big problem. Wounds will bleed more because the blood is thinner and is medicated not to clot. This new molecule seems to solve this problem. It has the desired effect of reducing blood clots. But if there is bleeding, it lasts no longer than it would in a person not taking the medication. That’s a big step in the right direction.

New drugs based on this research are far off down the road. Medical innovation is fascinating but slow. Researchers have to determine if there are any long term negative side effects. It would have to be formulated to last in the body rather than breaking down too quickly. It could take years for this to move from small scale experimentation to human trials and regulatory approval. Nonetheless it could revolutionize heart medications by making them safer. No doubt nature contains many more breakthrough drugs that have yet to be discovered; even if it means dealing with snakes.


Antibiotic Re-Engineered to Overcome Resistance

Posted by on June 8th, 2017

Antibiotic resistance is an emerging problem that has been brewing for some time. Antibiotics are everywhere in our society and everyone could probably name a few. Yet they’re relatively new. The most famous, and first true, antibiotic was penicillin. It was discovered accidentally by Alexander

Fleming in 1928. It wasn’t produced in stable or large quantities until World War Two.  Since then it has become one of the most recognizable medications in the world. Penicillin’s ability to treat all sorts of bacterial infections which would otherwise prove fatal or permanently debilitating was extraordinary.

Antibiotics have revolutionized medicine but their use comes with a price. They’re designed to treat infections and disease caused by bacteria. Bacteria are living organisms and have the ability to evolve to suit their environment. As antibiotic use became more common, bacteria began to develop defenses and grew more resistant to them. This is the major problem today. Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs. Yet the CDC estimates that in up to 50% of cases, they are not optimally prescribed. That is, they are prescribed when not needed, or the dosage is incorrect, or the duration of therapy is inappropriate.

This is an emerging public health issue with no immediately available solution. Developing new antibiotics is easier said than done, but it can be done. Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute in California have made a step towards a new generation of antibiotic drugs. They took a last stand antibiotic called vancomycin and tweaked it. Their re-engineering of the drug led to a potentcy 25,000-50,000 times greater than the original drug. The drug works by killing bacteria in three different ways, overwhelming its defenses. This is a positive step towards new generations of antibiotics that work by multiple means to kill harmful bacteria, hopefully ending antibiotic resistance. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose. It could mean medical progress being set back by a century. That’s something no one wants to see.


Gene Therapy Breakthroughs

Posted by on March 23rd, 2017

Typos…we all make them; there might be one in this blog post right now. But they aren’t just limited to newspapers, books, blogs and millions of social media posts. They can happen inside you too; and when they do they can cause a lot of problems. Sickle cell disease is an illness that dis-proportionally affects people of African descent. It is caused by a small typo in the gene for hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Instead of forming normal round red blood cells, they come out in the shape of a crescent. The crescent shaped cells clog small blood vessels which results in periods of extreme pain. This misshaping not only affects the cell’s ability to carry oxygen but can cause organ damage, joint damage and strokes as well. About 90,000 people in the US have the illness and about 275,000 babies worldwide are born with it each year.

Sickle cell disease is one of the first to have been discovered to have a genetic cause. Pain related to the illness is treated with drugs and blood transfusions. However an experimental gene therapy in France may offer long term relief. Researchers took stem cells from the bone marrow of a patient and modified the genetic instructions to force them to make normal hemoglobin. After eliminating diseased stem cells from the body via chemotherapy they put the modified stem cells back into the patient’s bloodstream. The therapy took place over the course of 15 months. The patient has not experienced any symptoms of sickle cell disease since.

Researchers are now looking to expand clinical trials. If the procedure proves consistently successful it could provide relief for thousands of people with this debilitating illness. Gene therapy offers many promising treatments for a variety of illnesses. Recently an experimental gene therapy was used to treat lymphoma. This treatment, called CAR-T cell therapy, modifies immune cells, called T-cells, to target and kill cancer. The treatment had promising results. Of the 101 people in the study 41% saw their cancers shrink by half while 36% went into complete remission. However two participants died due to the treatment. So, as in all medical treatments, there is some risk. But gene therapy has the potential to revolutionize medical treatment and make previously untreatable illnesses almost curable.