Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Scheduling babies

News reported in the New York Times today says Caesarian births (C-sections) are at an all time high in the US and now comprise the most common surgical procedure over here.  I read the headline and had three questions on why this might be: 1) Are US pregnant mothers less healthy than other country counterparts (maybe due to lack of good healthcare?); 2) Do US mothers choose C-sections more often as elective surgeries?; 3) How does this affect the health of the baby?
The article answered these questions reasonably well and also gave me some surprises.  It seems that C-sections are going up in all countries but the US and China appear to be among the biggest fans. China's rate is approaching 50% (!) and there is a suggestion that a major driver is increased income for doctors who perform the surgeries. Here in the US it seems the causes of C-sections are many-fold. The main reasons however, appear to be elective procedures called for in the name of convenience, and fear of liability issues on the part of the doctors.  Caesarians are about twice as expensive as normal deliveries and, unless there is a specific risk to the mother and/or child, the babies are not healthier.  In addition the risks of the surgery include abnormalities of the placenta and as with any surgical procedure, the risk of infection.  The latter may be of particular concern as hospital acquired infections that are resistant to antibiotics seems to be on the rise too.
In other news it appears the trying to get weight under control in school aged children may be too late to off-set the increased risk of obesity later on.  Chubby babies may be cute, but so-called baby fat may not be as innocuous as once thought, leading to obesity in adults and increased incidence of type 2 diabetes.   An additional report from the LA Times suggests that women can prevent the normal 1-2lbs of body weight gain that occurs per year between the ages of 25 and 50 by simply exercising for 1 hour per day.  Sounds delightful--but who has time?  I think we probably all do if we prioritize the activity but then again....Those are also the child-bearing years and this factors in in more ways than one.  Pregnancy related weight gain and the the complete lack of time for anything but baby and work for working moms makes a whole 60 mins of me-time out of the question for most.  Still, its a nice ideal and something to aspire to.

Three snippets:
Cool position advertised:
Head of McGovern Family Center for Venture at Cornell.  Wish I loved closer to Ithaca, NY.

Cool organization found:
Bravewell consortium for integration medicine I would love to work with these guys somehow.

It's World Water Week!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Eyes, brains and sea squirts

In 2005 scientists discovered a way to predict who is at risk of Alzheimer's by looking at the lens inside their eye.  As we age our lenses get cloudy over time leading to the formation of cataracts which we can replace with an artificial lens when things get too murky.  There is another type of cloudiness, however, that is caused by the deposition of the same proteins that are believed to play a major role in the development of Alzheimer's disease (AZ). A special ophthalmoscope is needed to identify the amyloid deposits.  Yet another way to get a hint of the pain to come but what of potential new treatments?

Firstly, the humble sea squirt (Ciona intestinalis) offers a possible model for screening new compounds that might inhibit the formation of plaques and tangles that characterize AZ as we know it.  The marine creatures are likely our closest non-vertebrate relatives and share 80% of our genes  (don't get too excited - we share about 98% with chimps). Sea squirt tadpoles share all the known genes for the formation of plaques and tangles and can be stimulated, with the introduction of a mutant protein, to form not only plaques and tangles in one day, but also behavioral defects that can be reversed with an experimental anti-plaque forming drug.  This novel method, development by Bob Zeller and Mike Verata at the San Diego State University, is one of the most interesting and promising steps forward in the quest for AZ drugs.  I wonder if the little guys (the sea squirt tadpoles that is), can help model Lewy Body Disease too?

In other news, a potential new treatment for Alzheimer's made by Pfizer was nixed today by the FDA. The drug, Dimebon (that sounds  a bit like time-bomb if I am pronouncing it correctly) did not show improved cognition or overall functioning in early- to mid-stage AZ patients.  Analysts had been mixed on their expectations, with The Day article citing anticipated ROI ranging from $1.5 billion to zero. Pfizer was disappointed with the results but not as disappointed as all those folks with the inappropriately cloudy lenses that are now anxiously awaiting news of a cure for their impending AZ...