Category Archives: health dangers

Battery-less pacemaker tests out

X-ray image of installed pacemaker showing wir...
X-ray image of installed traditional pacemaker showing wire routing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new pacemaker, designed without battery or wires, is implanted directly into the heart and gets its energy wirelessly from radio frequency radiation transmitted by an external battery pack. It can also control electrical signals to all four chambers of the heart. The prototype, developed by researchers from Rice University and others, was presented at the recent Texas Heart Institute (THI) at the IEEE’s International Microwave Symposium (IMS) in Honolulu. The wireless transmitter can be up to a few centimeters away.

Traditional pacemakers use electrical signals to keep the heart beating steadily, but they are planted in the upper side chest so that doctors can access them easily to replace the onboard batteries with minor surgery. The signals transmit to the heart via wires called leads, which are known sometimes to lead to bleeding or infection.

This new pacemaker can even act as a defibrillator when needed. Worked flawlessly on a pig.

It’s sure got a lot going for it. Only thing we worry about is: Even if the external transmitter is very small, how’s the patient going to keep it always within the required distance without wearing some kind of external pack – something that could be way too easy to damage or lose?

Further work underway. Read more here on the wireless, battery-less pacemaker.

Text messaging apps can improve diabetes self-care

Person using cell phone while driving.
Person using cell phone while driving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regardless of how you feel about texting as a main source of communication between people, you may be glad to learn that that method of reaching out to people with diabetes can significantly improve several aspects of self-care.

The tests so far have involved thousands of subjects, and researchers are planning an even bigger study – 1 million people in India where diabetes is even more rampant than in the U.S. So far the results are impressive – participants in the daily  messaging programs get friendly, not pushy, reminders to take medicine, check their glucose, eat salads, avoid too much bread/rice, etc. And the programs are making a real difference. Read more about text messaging apps for diabetics on

Transgenic salmon: Is the FDA qualified to say it’s safe?

EPA headquarters in Washington, DC Photo credit: Wikipedia
EPA headquarters in Washington, DC – Photo credit: Wikipedia

U.S. Federal regulators have approved a fast-growing transgenic salmon as the first genetically engineered animal raised for human consumption. But like so many dramatic advances in science, is it a historic breakthrough, or might we be putting the environment at risk because the approval process for the technology isn’t stringent enough?

Auburn University’s Conner Bailey thinks it’s open to debate, according to a press release from Routledge of Taylor and Francis. In a recent policy review in Society & Natural Resources, Bailey suggests the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may not be the appropriate agency to approve genetically engineered animals.

The article states the FDA was designated regulator for genetically engineered products in the U.S. only because of a Federal decision made in 1986 (updated in 1992) that established the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology. This framework was supposed to divide responsibilities over such products among the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the FDA.

While Bailey’s article was working its way through the peer review process, the Obama Administration ordered the agencies to reconsider how transgenic animals and plans are reviewed and subsequently approved, and gave them one year to do it. Despite this order, the FDA’s Nov. 19 decision to approve production and consumption of a transgenic salmon will stand.

Bailey contends the FDA should not be making such determinations alone. “The FDA is ill-equipped, on its own, to make a science-based decision on ecological impacts,” Bailey said. While their staff are experts on questions of food safety, they’re unqualified on issues associated with aquatic ecology and aquaculture. “The risk of releasing what is essentially an exotic species into the wild is real and potentially significant.” The agency’s recent action is precedent setting, said Bailey, and likely will lead to the adoption of genetic engineering in other fish species and possibly other animals as well.

Read a free copy of the review from Society & Natural Resources, Volume 28, Issue 11, 2015, Pages 1249-1260. Transgenic Salmon: Science, Politics and Flawed Policy. A link to a key resource used in preparation of this policy review can be found here.




Plant-based nanofibers don’t harm lungs – unlike carbon nanotubes

nanofiber (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plant-based cellulose nanofibers, as opposed to carbon nanotubes suitable for similar purposes, don’t pose a short-term danger to human lungs, particularly when the fibers are very short. So says a study done as part of National Research Programme “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64).

Rather than experimenting on animals, researchers used human lung tissue in test tubes to develop a simulated 3D lung system that mimics human lungs. They found short nanofibers were fairly easily eliminated, but lung cells were less efficient at getting rid of longer fibers, as is true of humans inhaling asbestos fibers.

The study issues a recommendation that, in order to best protect technicians working with nanomaterials, manufacturers should develop and use soft, pliable, short, plant-based nanofibers rather than longer, rigid tubes. Thankfully, some specific safety guidelines for workers in this burgeoning field of bioscience.

Sun exposure = nitric oxide = lower risk of obesity/diabetes

Well, I’m glad to read about this recent study saying sun exposure may play a role in preventing obesity and diabetes. They used mice, and those little guys are covered with fur and don’t spend a lot of time in the sun. But in many ways their bodies operate a lot like ours, so the study conclusions can reasonably be expected to apply to humans in some way. But a lot more study is needed to confirm the theory behind this experiment.

The mice were given a high-fat diet to trigger the beginnings of diabetes and obesity. One set of mice got vitamin D supplements, and the other set got a cream with nitric oxide rubbed on them. The vitamin D group did get fat and start developing diabetes, while the nitric oxide group did not.

Moderate sun exposure gives us a dose of good vitamin D, so maybe the sudden shortages of vitamin D everyone is having may be related to the no-sun policy. And vitamin D is also apparently not the only thing the sun does for us. It also gives us extra nitric oxide. By complying with the stern warnings about no sun, we might be denying ourselves – and our kids – the very real benefits of sunshine.

A little sun is good for you? Yep. Like that babies generally love sleeping on their stomachs – and aren’t meant to grow up with flat heads from sleeping on their backs all the time – this one just makes sense. I hope they’ll replicate these results soon and people can start throwing away those 35+ level sunscreens.


Promising new treatment for uncontrolled asthma

Asthma before-after
Asthma before-after (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your body produces nitric oxide (NO) as a way to fight inflammation, relax tight muscles and increase blood flow. High levels of exhaled nitric oxide in your breath can mean that your airways are inflamed — one sign of asthma.

Researchers have recently discovered a substance called anti-thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) that seems to aggravate inflammation and trigger response to allergens in adults with allergic asthma.

In  a small double-blind study asthma patients treated with AMG-157 (Amgen) over nearly a 3-month period reacted significantly less to asthmatic challenges than those not treated. Amgen is a human monoclonal antibody that inhibits TSLP activity by binding to it.

Study results reported  adults with allergic asthma were shown to have “reduced the fraction of exhaled nitric oxide and blood and sputum eosinophils,” both of which are markers for airway inflammation. Dramatic promise for patients whose asthma is not well-controlled by other means.

Air pollution linked to lung cancer and heart failure hospitalizations, death

Just as President Obama is making a public stand to combat global warming, scientists are proving that air pollution isn’t just an inconvenience. In fact, long-term exposure even to low levels of pollution – such as living in a big city all your life -increases your risk of lung cancer, according to a study published in The Lancet Oncology journal. The pollutants mentioned in this study included “nitrogen oxides and particulate matter (including traffic, industry, and domestic heating).”

Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor Air Pollution (Photo credit: SEDACMaps)

What’s more, another study found a “strong and consistent” relationship between exposure to pollution and hospitalizations or death from congestive heart failure. The risks increased with “exposure to air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide [a big contributor to smog].” This study concluded its findings by saying, “air pollution is a pervasive public health issue with major cardiovascular and health economic consequences, and it should remain a key target for global health policy.”

I read a news item about these studies the other day when the early morning temp was 80 degrees and the humidity was 81%. I have never been inclined to go out walking in weather like that, but now there’s a stronger reason beyond simple discomfort to stay home. For a person living with heart failure, taking a walk in those conditions could be considered suicidal.

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Statin drugs lead to memory loss, muscle pain and block benefits of exercise in obese

Cholesterol. It’s had an up-and-down history in terms of medical recommendations. I remember when my dad had his open-heart surgery and his doctor demanded that he eat only 1 or 2 eggs a week. This was killer for my father who adored his bacon-and-eggs breakfast. But he stuck to it… For six years. And then his doctor told him, well, it looks like dietary cholesterol doesn’t really contribute that much to the cholesterol levels in the blood. Can you imagine how angry my father felt?

The structure of Cholesterol
The structure of Cholesterol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes. Now here’s a man who’d religiously (pun intended) adhered to the Catholic Church’s ” no meat on Fridays” command – on pain of hell and damnation. And then, suddenly, it was no longer a mortal sin to eat meat on Friday? My dad stopped going to church for many years because of that one.

For many of us it’s becoming increasingly clear that statins can have novel types of negative side effects – with far-reaching consequences for the ingenuous patient who is following the doctor’s  insistence on taking this medicine. Here’s one about how statins disregulate the cholesterol balance and thus cause swelling in the brain that leads to memory loss (American College of Cardiology).

Here’s one about how statins are associated with unexplained muscle pain (American College of Cardiology). I actually knew a woman who was going through this – she could barely walk for the pain in her feet. Her doc took her off statins and the pain disappeared.

And my favorite today, a study that shows a pronounced connection between statin therapy and the reduced ability of the body to benefit from exercise (Disease Models and Mechanisms). Can you imagine the dilemma for docs here? On the one hand they’re insisting their patients take cholesterol medication and, on the other, they’re telling them to exercise. But oh, too bad, the exercise won’t do you any good because of the medicine.


Thank God they didn’t have cholesterol medicines around when my dad was alive.

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Finally – Official safety standard for nanotech workers

nanofiber (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve written about the similarities in asbestos and nanofibers before – and therefore the similar dangers of the two substances. Asbestos was in use – and slowly killing people – for many hundreds of years before the connection was made between breathing it and dying of asbestosis or mesothelioma decades later. Nanofibers are incredibly strong and tough fibers of microscopic width – like one-one thousandth the diameter of a human hair – that are used to make supertough and strong composite materials.

The problem is that nanofibers, like asbestos fibers, are so tiny that people can easily breathe them deep into their lungs or ingest them (say, when eating a sandwich on the job). Inside the human body these fibers eventually cause scarring and disease and death.

Now I’m happy to report that the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has finally published a safety standard for the length of nanofibers. Workers involved in manufacturing items that use nanofibers must now be protected from exposure to nanofibers. The standard is set “as low as we can measure” according to Andrew Maynard, chair of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In other words, they want literally no loose nanofibers to be allowed in the air of a plant that uses them.

It took centuries to stop companies from recklessly exposing workers to asbestos fibers. Now perhaps all the asbestos lawsuits now being filed all over the world are serving as a warning to companies – and nanotech training schools – that they can’t pretend there’s no danger to people working with nanofibers.

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Nanotechnology’s been around forever. And…?

Nanotechnology (Photo credit: podbay)

Nanotechnology has been around for thousands of years, says Nanofilm CEO Scott Rickert in an article for Virtual Strategy Magazine. He wonders how it got tagged as something new and unknown – and therefore, impliedly, worth being careful with.

Stating, as Mr. Rickert does, that nanoparticles have been around for four thousand years, and that humans have, for the most part completely unknowingly, been using nanotechnology for things like fighting bacteria, does not a defense make that using nanotechnology for any purpose is inherently and automatically safe.

After all, it’s well known that asbestos, which occurs naturally in pockets all over the world, has been being used by humans for thousands of years. Flame-proofing tablecloths was just one of the reasons ancient Romans used asbestos. And yet early history reports Roman  slaves who worked with the material as sickening and dying of respiratory problems. Yet science didn’t make the definitive connection between asbestos fibers and deadly diseases of the lungs until the early 20th century.

Asbestos fibres - a single fibre is believed t...
Asbestos fibres – a single fibre is believed to cause mesothelioma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you consider it can take 20, 30 or even 50 years for the effects of asbestos fibers to result in killer diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis and other cancers, it’s easy to see how companies that stand to make a mint from  manufacturing such a  material might be hesitant to publish any evidence that working with the material can eventually lead to disability and death.

It costs big money to put appropriate safety measures in place to protect workers from inhaling or ingesting the type of sub-microscopically tiny fibers that make up asbestos and nanotubes and fibers. And there’s plenty of evidence now that certain nanomaterials are indeed made up of the same-sized fibers as asbestos.

While no one wants to stop science from continuing to research what wonderful things we can do with nanomaterials, no one on the other hand needs to make a killing – financially or otherwise – by taking on such work and sacrificing workers’ health in order to make a bigger profit.

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