Saturday, February 17, 2007

Medical News

Today's WorldNetDaily has links to several news articles about recent developments in medicine.

Heart Repair:

The Independent (UK) reported today about new research in repairing damaged hearts.

Millions of people suffering from heart disease have been given new hope by research which shows that damaged organs may be capable of healing themselves.

The discovery could lead to injections being given into the bloodstream or, in emergency cases, directly into the heart muscle itself. So far the technique has only been tested on rats and mice but, if it is proved to work in humans, it could be developed into a treatment in "years rather than decades", according to Paul Riley, who led the study.

Treating a damaged heart following a heart attack is difficult because a section of heart muscle dies and the tissue has a limited ability to respond. The team have found that cells in the outer layer of the heart are similar to stem cells, and have the capacity to develop into any kind of new tissue or structure in the heart. Called progenitor cells, they can be stimulated by a protein, Thymosin-beta4, to move into the heart muscle and form new blood vessels. With new blood vessels to carry oxygen and nutrients, the damaged heart muscle can grow new tissue and repair itself.

This is good news to a lot of people, and "years rather than decades" makes the news even better.

Brain Repair:

BBC News (UK) reported yesterday on a new discovery in human brains that may hold hope for people with Alzheimer's.

Researchers have discovered a type of brain cell that continuously regenerates in humans.

A pool of "resting cells" migrate to create new nerve cells in the part of the brain which deals with smell.

In many species, it was known that a tube filled with brain fluid enabled these cells to travel to the olfactory bulb - the region of the brain that registers smells - turning into nerve cells as they went.

But until now, this system had not been shown in humans.

Using several techniques, including a powerful electron microscope, the team identified the tube, and showed it contained stem cells as well as cells which were gradually turning into nerve cells as they travelled along.

Dr Mark Baxter, Wellcome Trust senior research fellow at Oxford University, said: "This study is exciting because it reveals a group of brain cells in the adult human brain that are continuously regenerating.

"This opens another direction by which we may discover ways to repair human brains that are damaged from injury or diseases, and underscores the importance of animal research in guiding biomedical research in humans."

This is more great news, especially since, like the heart repair, it doesn't involve embryonic stem cells or even transplants from other people.

Bionic Eye:

The Telegraph (UK) reported today on a bionic eye device being developed in America.

A bionic eye that can restore sight to the blind could be on the market within two years, scientists said yesterday.

The first six patients to try the revolutionary devices have learnt how to detect light, distinguish between objects and perceive direction of motion.

American scientists were given approval this week to test a more advanced version of the electronic retinal implant on up to 75 subjects.

"We have successfully implanted six patients in the trial," he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Francisco. "We expected that all they would be able to do would be to differentiate between light and dark.

"But we were amazed to find that they can tell the difference between objects such as a plate, a knife and a cup, and tell which way people are moving. If the new trial hits its milestones, the second generation implant could be commercially available in two years."

The device, manufactured by the California-based company Second Sight Medical Products, comes in two parts. A tiny camera in the lens or on the bridge of a pair of lightweight glasses captures images in real time.

This information is transmitted to a radio receiver implanted behind the patient's ear which converts it to electrical signals that are sent to a grid of electrodes implanted in the retina.

These electrodes stimulate retinal nerve cells to produce electrical impulses which send signals to the brain so that the patient can see spots of light occurring in different patterns.

A couple years ago I was at the wedding of a couple from church. During the reception, one of the women at our table, who had macular degeneration but could still see tolerably well, suddenly went completely blind. As fast as that. Her husband took her right away to the doctor, who told here there was nothing that could be done.

Maybe soon that doctor's message will be different. It will be pricey for a while ($25,000 - $30,000), but like all things technological, the price may come down over time.

A Final Question:

Why is all the interesting medical news--even about American advances--coming to us from the UK?

Maybe the US news outlets are too busy reporting on Anna Nicole Smith to look at medical developments that might actually help their readers...

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