Tag Archives: medicine

Sniffing out Parkinson’s

Even if you have not been personally affected by Parkinson’s, this terrible disease affects all Canadians. Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disease (after Alzheimer’s disease), affecting voluntary movement and leading to common symptoms of tremor, slowed movements, and muscle rigidity. Nearly 100,000 Canadians have Parkinson’s and no cure. The economic burden of Parkinson’s in Canada is huge. The total cost of Parkinson’s is estimated to be $558.1 million, equating to an average cost per capita in Canada for the disease to be $23/year.

The onset of Parkinson’s may not be apparent at first, leading to a lengthy diagnosis, relying on the process developed by Dr. James Parkinson in 1817. Diagnosis depends on a complete neurological examination to confirm two out of the three common symptoms and to rule out any similar disorders. No tests, blood or diagnostic, exist to definitively confirm the disease. However, one woman has recently astounded researchers by her ability to detect the disease with shocking accuracy – through her sense of smell.

Joy Milne with her late husband. Credit: CBC News

Joy Milne with her late husband.
Credit: CBC News

Joy Milne of Perth, Scotland, noticed her husband’s scent changed six years before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. She describes it as a distinct, musky smell, but didn’t make the connection between the smell and the disease until she joined a charity for Parkinson’s and encountered other Parkinson’s patients emitting the same distinct smell. Intrigued, researchers at Edinburgh University tested her claim by subjecting her to a blind “smell” test. Researchers gathered six healthy people and six who were diagnosed with Parkinson’s and asked them to wear a t-shirt for a day, and collected the t-shirts for Joy to smell. Joy’s accuracy was remarkable, scoring 11 out of 12. However, she was adamant that one of the healthy subjects had Parkinson’s. Eight months later, she was proved correct – the subject informed researchers that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, meaning Joy’s accuracy was actually 100%.

Scientists are thrilled by this phenomenon, and are trying to use Joy’s ability to develop a definitive test for diagnosing Parkinson’s. They believe that the disease causes a change in the skin of Parkinson’s patients early on, causing the distinct odour detected by Joy. A simple test, such as swabbing a subject’s skin to detect the change, would allow for much faster diagnosis and much earlier treatment. While this discovery may have been accidental, it definitely has many implications and consequences in the way this disease is treated.

– Peggy Hung

New AIDS vaccine trials to be performed on Humans for the first time in history

In 1984, Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was discovered by a team led by Dr. Roberto Gallo, which opened the gates for mankind in order to gain more knowledge about this deadly incurable disease which was the reason for the deaths of millions of people. As the director of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV), Dr. Roberto Gallo is now launching the institute’s first clinical trial of a vaccine for AIDS – a project that has been 15 years in the making.

HIV is one of a group of atypical viruses called retroviruses that maintain their genetic information in the form of ribonucleic acid (RNA). HIV virus has an enzyme known as reverse transcriptase, which makes it capable of producing deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from RNA, whereas most cells carry out the opposite process, transcribing RNA from DNA. The activity of the enzyme enables the genetic information of HIV to become integrated permanently into the genome (chromosomes) of a host cell. Since HIV virus controls the genetic information of the cell, it makes the cell produce more HIV virus using the host machinery, thus replicating at a fast rate. With HIV’s inherent ability to rapidly mutate and escape the immune system, conceiving an effective vaccine against it has been a seemingly difficult challenge.
Mechanism of HIV virus invading a human cell

Mechanism of HIV virus invading a human cell

It is found that when HIV infects a person, its surface protein called gp120 attached itself to another protein called the CD4 receptor, which is found in the white blood cells. When it binds to CD4 cell, it can change shape to avoid recognition from neutralizing antibodies which is the usual immune response form the body. This conformational change allows it to bind to a second receptor called a co-receptor, on CD4 cell surface. Once it has a grip on both HIV envelope protein fuses with the cell membrane, thus once within the cell, HIV is safe from attacks from antibodies. 
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The experimental AIDS vaccine, called as “Full length single chain” vaccine contains an HIV surface protein gp120, engineered to link to a few portions of the CD4 receptor. The main aim is to trigger antibodies against gp120 surface protein when it’s already attached to CD4 and the transitional state in which the protein envelope is present is vulnerable to be attacked, thus effectively stopping it from attaching to the second site of co-factor attachment.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), AIDS has been held responsible for over 1.2 million people in the year 2014, if this vaccine turns out to be effective, it could change the world.
-Rikul Thapar

Depressing News: Antidepressants are not Always Effective

What is depression? Depression is a medical condition which affects a person’s emotional and physical states. It is something that can be dangerous and deadly. Some common symptoms of depression are feeling hopeless, fatigue, difficulty with concentration, change of appetite, and there are many more.  Depression or mental illness often has a stigma surrounding it. However, depression is very common and antidepressant medication is often prescribed. Here is a quick video explaining what depression is:

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The Science of Depression
Credit: Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown

Recently, there has been reports  that pharmaceutical companies have been “selectively publishing” clinical data from their clinical trials of antidepressants. However, it is fundamental that findings from evidence-based medicine are unbiased and complete,  otherwise the effectiveness of any drugs become unrealistic. Through selectively publishing, companies have deceived many people to believe that antidepressants do more than the drug actually does by only publishing the studies with positive outcomes.

Currently, the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medications increase the levels of serotonin and they are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) or serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). In recent literature, the usefulness of the SSRI antidepressants have been disputed that they are only as effective as the placebos given during the clinical trials for treating minor depression.

SSRIs block the reuptake of serotonin which in theory will improve mood. Credit: Thomas Splettstoesser

SSRIs block the reuptake of serotonin which in theory will improve mood. Credit: Thomas Splettstoesser

Moreover, in The New England Journal of Medicine, a group of researchers reviewed the studies of 12 antidepressant drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and they found that studies with negative or questionable outcomes were not published. They discovered that in published literature, the public is provided information that shows only the positives of the medication.  For example, if the public is informed that 94% of trials conducted had positive outcomes, then in reality only about 51% had positive outcomes.  These numbers arose out of analyses of both published and unpublished clinical trials.

Through further studies by other researchers, it was discovered that in 2012 GlaxoSmithKline was fined $3 billion for “selectively publishing” and fraudulently promoting drugs, including drugs for mental illness such as Aropax. They admitted that they promoted the use of an unproven antidepressant.

Those affected with depression should first turn towards natural treatments, many of which that can be easily found on reliable sites on the internet.  There are many self-help websites that can aid a person coping with depression and it is vital that these people get the support they need.  Here is a video that shows the perspective of a person suffering depression:

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What It’s Like Living with Depression
Credit: BuzzFeedYellow

– Maureen Lai