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A Disappearing Fingerprint June 10, 2009

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Brain Power, Diseases, Drugs, Easy As Pie, Human Body.
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3 comments

Most of us probably don’t give much thought to our fingerprints. Generally, you won’t need to be fingerprinted unless you’ve committed a crime (I hope none of my readers are in that group!) or you’re having it taken for data purposes when you travel into a country such as the United States.

Where Did My Fingerprint Go?

But what happens if you’re all packed up to travel, you get to the border and you simply don’t have a fingerprint. It’s…gone! For people who have certain kinds of cancer, a side effect of a drug they may be taking can mean that they suffer from severe inflammation on their fingers. This leads to peeling, blistering and bleeding. Ouch! The ultimate result is they don’t have fingerprints.

Let Me Enter – I’m Harmless!

If that isn’t troublesome enough, the lack of a fingerprint can make traveling across country borders a tough task when fingerprinting is a requirement. In fact, when one man recently tried to enter the US, he was delayed for four hours because officials were really confused about why he didn’t have any fingerprints. Fortunately, once they figured out that he didn’t pose a threat, he was allowed to pass through.

Prescription Drugs Are Powerful

The drug that triggers this unusual side effect is called capecitabine. It’s a common anti-cancer drug and is used to treat head and neck cancer as well as breast, colorectal and stomach cancers. So, what should these patients do if they need to travel? It’s usually advised that they bring a letter from their doctor, which explains their cancer treatment and the lack of fingerprints.

It just goes to show how powerful side effects can be when it comes to prescription drugs. And, how a medicine can have such an unexpected effect on something like travel. While the case of the missing fingerprint sounds like something out of a forensics novel, we at least know that the culprit here is the drug capecitabine!

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Sex, Birth Control And Religion Are A Complicated Mix November 3, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Drugs, Human Body, Psychology and Behavior, Science and Politics, Tough Stuff.
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7 comments

Last week, the Pope spoke during an international conference in the Vatican City, where he stated that pharmacists should have the right not to sell medications that they personally believe could block pregnancy or trigger an abortion. The response? Some politicians and pharmacists were outraged at the Pope’s comments. You might be wondering what medications the Pope was talking about? Well, one medication that would be affected is the morning-after pill.

Morning After Pill

Morning-After Pill

You’ve maybe heard about this pill already – either from the Internet, friends, your parents or sexual education classes at school. It can best be summarized as a pill that aims to stop you from becoming pregnant if contraception wasn’t used or if it failed. Actually, the term ‘morning-after’ isn’t totally accurate because the pill can be taken up to 72 hours after sex, although the sooner you take it, the better it works. There are also several myths around the morning-after pill – one of which is that it causes an abortion. If you are already pregnant, the pill won’t cause an abortion. It works prior to pregnancy occurring by preventing your ovaries from releasing an egg and it also works by changing the lining of the womb, which means a fertilized egg can’t be embedded.

When Religion Joins In

Teen Girls The Pope’s comments caused a lot of controversy, in part, because they were taken as an attempt to cut off access to important health services. Livia Turco – the Health Minister – explained how the Pope had the right to encourage young people to be sexually responsible, but that he couldn’t tell professionals such as pharmacists what they could or could not do. By law, a pharmacist must provide a medication that has been prescribed by a doctor.

The Church’s Stance

The Church, however, feels that birth control and abortion are morally wrong and that nothing should stop the occurrence of life, which begins at conception and ends when natural death occurs. What about working professionals who are Catholic? Pharmacists who are practicing Catholics sometimes have asked a colleague to provide the medication. Other times, they find they have to put aside their personal beliefs when they dispense the morning-after pill.

The main controversy with the Pope’s recent comments isn’t even so much that he has his opinion, but more so that he is making statements to health professionals about how to conduct themselves at work. Still, some politicians support the Pope’s right to speak his mind whereas others believe that the Pope is meddling in politics and healthcare – areas he shouldn’t be meddling in at all!

Elsewhere In The World

In places like the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, the morning-after pill is available without a prescription. There are, however, parameters around the availability – such as a person being over 18 in the United States. On top of all that, there is still a lot of controversy around the morning-after pill in countries that allow it to be obtained over the counter. Even though it is currently available without a prescription, that doesn’t mean the law will never change to revert it back to prescription status. The Pope’s influence is significant in terms of the public perception towards contraception as well as how politicians view access to this important form of emergency contraception. This means that his influence isn’t limited just to the Vatican City, but it also spreads to other corners of the world and could, in part, shape laws around the morning-after pill’s availability in your country. What do you think? Is the Pope meddling and should he keep quiet, or do you think he has the right to share his message with the world?

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Oven Cleaner For Eyes June 25, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Diseases, Drugs, Human Body, Tough Stuff.
2 comments

Before you totally cringe at the title, let me explain. Believe me, I cringed myself when I first heard about this new research. It sounded like something out of a very icky horror movie. The new treatment for glaucoma, however, really does use a substance that is also found in oven cleaners to remove grease. But first, let’s talk a little bit about what glaucoma is and then we’ll see how oven cleaners come into the picture.

Glaucoma

Is Glaucoma A Name For One Of Those Diseases I’ll Never Get?

Actually, glaucoma affects a lot of people. Younger people can get it but it is more common in people over 50. That may seem like a long way off, but think about your parents or grandparents-they will be at a higher risk for glaucoma. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that result in the loss of sight. The vision loss happens from damage to your eye’s optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting images from your eye to the brain.

No Cure

According to the World Health Organization, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. Is that because people just don’t treat it? Partly, yep. A lot of people don’t know they have glaucoma, so they don’t get treatment. In fact, even if everyone gets treatment, it’s estimated that around 10% will still become blind. A scary thought. Also, treatment can help but there is no cure. So, it makes sense that scientists are researching ways to help people who have glaucoma. That’s where the oven cleaner bit comes in.

Nanoceria

The name is almost like something from outer space, but it’s a really neat concept. Sudipta Seal, a researcher from the University of Central Florida, was testing nanoceria, or cerium oxide nanoparticles if you want the full geeky name, to use as a catalyst (something that speeds up a chemical reaction) for removing the gunky debris on oven walls. He suddenly realized, however, that there might be a way to apply the concept medically. You may be wondering: Isn’t that really dangerous? Well, any medical concept potentially could be so they have to check for toxicity and this is done with laboratory animals. Oddly enough, the nanoceria didn’t irritate the animals’ eyes and that’s when the researchers realized that nanoceria might be an effective new way to transport drugs into a person’s eyes.

Eye Drops What Makes Nanoceria Better Though?

Well we have to compare them to the current treatments. The current eye treatments for glaucoma involve eye drops. These eye drops are meant to treat the abnormal fluid build-up that happens in the eye of a person who has glaucoma. To do so, they need to first get through the cornea. The cornea sits in front of the colored part of the eye and helps your eye to focus as light travels through. It’s sort of like a nice, clear window that houses important bits and pieces that provide you with healthy vision. The problem is that the chemicals in the eye drops have a hard time getting through the cornea.

The Power Of Nanoceria

The nanoceria can get through the cornea. Unlike the bigger, often abrasive polymers used in current eye drops, the tiny nanoparticles can safely get through the cornea. Remember that scientist I mentioned called Sudipta Seal? Well, along with his colleague Sanku Mallik, they both combined the nanoceria with a compound that blocks the hCAII enzyme. The hCAII enzyme produces fluid build-up, causing optic nerve damage and leading to glaucoma. This means that finding a way to successfully get the compound that blocks it past the cornea is really important for treating glaucoma. So, although the nanoceria themselves don’t treat glaucoma, they help by transporting the compound that can help.

Eye

Clear, Healthy Vision

It’s easy to take our vision for granted and assume that it will always be there. Still, even if you never suffer from glaucoma or at least not anytime soon, an older member of your family might. Try to imagine what it would be like if they couldn’t see. Now after you finish reading this, I want you to close your eyes for just a minute, and imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t see.

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You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide June 7, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Drugs, Forensic Science, Think About It.
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I’m talking about criminals. With a new forensic technique developed by researchers at the University of East Anglia along with King’s College in London, it’s going to be a lot easier to catch criminals.

Fingerprints

New Technique? Tell Me About The Old One First

You’re probably familiar with the idea of fingerprinting right? Fingerprints have typically been used to identify people who commit crimes. They can even be used to rule out people who are innocent of crimes.

Traditionally, an investigator would start by taking fingerprints from a crime scene and then trying to either match them up to an immediate suspect or instead, they would check to see if they matched someone already in a database. Unfortunately, fingerprints couldn’t tell investigators much else about the suspect.

Not Anymore

With this new technique, a fingerprint can now tell investigators lots more about a person- like whether they smoke, use drugs or even what kinds of health conditions they have or medications they are taking.

Something To Make Criminals Sweat With Fear

It’s all in their sweat. A fingerprint leaves teeny tiny traces of sweat on a surface and people who do things like smoke have different metabolites in their sweat. These metabolites are the products leftover after your body is done breaking down all of the stuff you are exposed to plus the foods and drinks you consume.

More Meddling Scientists

Here’s where forensic scientists come in. They wash the prints with a nifty solution that only sticks to certain metabolites. For a smoker, cigarettes cause the body to produce a metabolite called cotinine.

Fingerprint-Neon

Credit: Wiley. The fingerprints first get prepped with a sequence of solutions filled with nanoparticles, antibodies and fluorescent dye. After exposure to light, fingerprints show vivid colors that no criminal can hide! Busted!

Nanotechnology

To detect cotinine in this recent study, researchers used a solution with gold nanoparticles attached to antibodies. The antibodies latched onto the cotinine and then researchers marked a second antibody with a fluorescent dye and added this to the fingerprint. The second antibody got cosy with the new cotinine antibody and after shining a light on the fingerprint, it gave off a super bright glow. Neon red, green, or yellow fingerprints? I think it’s really cool but then again, I have a feeling criminals won’t be too pleased about it.

Prison

The Ultimate Goal

If researchers can have it their way, they eventually hope to develop a solution that can detect a huge range of substances and will show a different color for each one. It’s like a printout of a person’s lifestyle habits and health simply from a fingerprint. A little fingerprint in a crime scene can now tell investigators all about the suspect’s health as well as offering a lifestyle profile. It might just be the last of this lifestyle a criminal gets before being captured and thrown into a brand new lifestyle. One with some big metal bars.

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Drugs For Moody Mutts June 3, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Animals, Dogs, Drugs, Psychology and Behavior, Think About It.
9 comments

Reconcile-Dogs

If you didn’t already know, dogs sometimes need drugs too – just like us humans. In fact, a new drug has just been approved for dogs. It’s an antidepressant called Reconcile. If you’re not familiar with antidepressants for humans, these are drugs that work for conditions like depression or severe mood swings. Pills for a sad pooch? It seems a little far fetched but it’s true.

The drug itself is called fluoxetine and Reconcile is just the brand name that it’s sold under. You might have even heard of another brand name drug for treating depression in us humans – it’s called Prozac. Fluoxetine is the active drug in Prozac as well.

Off-Label Use

If you already know about a friend with an antidepressant-treated dog, you might be wondering: What is Miss Weird Scientist talking about? It’s not a new drug! This all comes down to something called off-label use, which veterinarians and our own doctors can and often do. Basically, a drug gets approved for one or more different health conditions. A vet can, however, still prescribe it for a condition other than the one it was approved for initially. It’s a legal practice although not everyone agrees with it and not all doctors or vets will practice it. The approval of Reconcile to be used specifically for dogs with behavioral problems means that it will get prescribed more often. So even though vets have been prescribing dogs antidepressants made to treat human depression for years, they now get to give specially dosed and yummy flavored treats to your family pet.

Um Ok..So How Does It Work?

The whole idea behind Reconcile is that it treats behavioral problems in dogs. Dogs (and humans too) have neurotransmitters in the brain that release chemicals like serotonin to keep our moods stable and also regulate things like appetite and sleep. Antidepressants are thought to correct abnormal brain chemistry and so they alter how these chemicals are regulated. This means that if a dog seems shy, nervous, aggressive or barks a lot – basically what we call antisocial behavior – he or she would probably be a candidate for Reconcile.

Having Loads Of Options

While options are good, it’s even better if they include non-drug ones too! The thing that really ruffles my feathers is I can see the potential for lots of owners who don’t look after their dogs to just stuff their hounds with drugs when the problem itself is easily corrected without pills. How about taking your dog for regular walks and fresh air? Maybe cuddles and kindness each day as well? For those who love and care for their pets but still find that there are issues, Reconcile may then be appropriate.

I will admit that dogs can get depressed, although it’s not the same as depression in humans. Perhaps a small percentage of these dogs will benefit from Reconcile. But there definitely needs to be a strict set of standards to actually assess whether your furry friend needs an antidepressant and other non-drug stuff should be tried first to treat behavioral problems.

I’ve thrown in a rather sad picture of my dog. He’s actually really happy and I think he’s just pouting so I can give him a few of his favorite liver treats. At least his treat will be real food and not the beef flavored antidepressant Reconcile.

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