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Bits and Pieces-Back in the Saddle Edition

Posted Aug 04 2010 7:49pm

A big thank you goes out to all who have sent well wishes to me since I got sick a couple of weeks ago. Happy to report that I'm on the mend, and feeling a bit better every day. So, I'm climbing back onto the "Bits and Pieces" saddle, with another post featuring various items of interest that have piqued my curiosity, amused me, or left me infuriated. I hope they get a rise out of you, too...

  • A recent Newsweek article ( click here ) explores the reasons why, despite billions of dollars being spent on medical research, very few new drugs actually come to market, and why the ones that do don't cure anything. In a nutshell, the article outlines the Byzantine process into which our medical research model has evolved, and the many ways that process has become completely dysfunctional. We throw plenty of money at basic research, such as the discovery of new proteins, compounds, and molecules that show promise for the treatment of disease, but the gap between these basic discoveries and their development into real-world applications has become a growing chasm, so much so that it's been named the "Valley of Death" by the medical research community.

    Among the diseases mentioned in the article, for which basic research has yielded promising leads that have seen no follow-up, are metastatic cancers, genetic illnesses, Huntington's disease, and osteoporosis. A molecule has even been discovered shows promise in increasing blood flow through impaired blood vessels (ring any CCSVI bells for anyone?), but all of these discoveries have been left to wither on the vine, for a variety of reasons. It seems that researchers are drawn to the sexy arena of making new discoveries, but not to the more mundane work of shepherding those discoveries through the various testing phases needed to turn them into workable drugs. Funding goes primarily to initial academic research, with precious few resources available to take the discoveries made by that research to fruition. Licensing and patenting hurdles abound, keeping many discoveries from becoming financially viable enough to arouse the interest of the pharmaceutical companies, whose cash is desperately needed to take a newly found compound or molecule across the "Valley of Death".

    There are some organizations dedicated to addressing these problems, such as the Myelin Repair Foundation ( click here ) and Where Are the Cures? ( click here ), but the problem is so widespread and endemic that it will take a major overhaul in the most basic ways we conduct medical research to turn the situation around. It's time for a revolution, but as I wrote in my piece about the Medical Industrial Complex ( click here ), the targets seem to be everywhere and nowhere. Here's a video produced by Where Are the Cures? that nicely sums up this massive and enraging problem ...

  • There's a fascinating theory as to why so-called autoimmune diseases such as MS, lupus, and Crohn's disease are on the rise, called the "Hygiene Hypothesis" ( click here ). This hypothesis states that the super hygienic ways of first world countries has eradicated the parasites that were mankind's constant companion throughout evolution, and that this lack of parasites is the cause of many of the diseases that seem to have their roots in an immune system gone haywire.

    According to this disease model, the human immune system evolved in the presence of various parasitic organisms, and these organisms produced substances that modulated the immune system to protect themselves from attack. Since most of the citizens of developed nations grow up parasite free, they also grow up without the immunomodulating substances that these parasites secrete, thereby giving their immune systems free reign to attack the body's own cells. Though at first glance this hypothesis may seem far-fetched, the geographic distribution of autoimmune diseases seems to bear it out; less developed countries, where parasites are still rampant in the human population, exhibit far less autoimmune disease than do more developed nations with their much higher standards of personal hygiene and public sanitation.

    The answer to this dilemma? Well, to put it bluntly, the reintroduction of parasites into human beings, namely intestinal nasties such as hookworms (part of a family of intestinal parasites called helminths). As is illustrated by a recent article in the UK's Guardian newspaper ( click here ), researchers have been infecting autoimmune disease sufferers (and, in some cases, themselves) with hookworms in an attempt to alleviate their illnesses, often to surprisingly good effect ( click here ).

    So, anybody up for a nice parasite cocktail? Hell, if it would stop the progression of my disease, I'd bathe in the stuff. As an MS friend of mine once said, I'd climb up the ass of a fat man if I thought it would help my MS...

  • In my last post about my sudden fever and resultant hospital stay, I mentioned that my normal body temperature since I was diagnosed with MS is much lower than it was before the disease reared its ugly head. Last night, I took my temperature, and found it to be 96.5°. Many readers have commented that they, too, have normal body temperatures much lower than the traditional 98.6°. Over the years, this subject has come up numerous times on various Internet MS forums, and the general consensus always seems to be that the vast majority of MS patients do have body temperatures well below normal. Yet I've never come across a single scrap of research investigating why this might be, and when I've asked various MS physicians about it, they've had no suitable answer to the question. It seems to me that this phenomenon might be quite significant, and at the very least deserves some attention from MS researchers. Certainly, there might be a connection between low body temperatures and heat sensitivity, and investigations into this subject would be time much better spent than yet more research aimed at finding new and more expensive ways to suppress our immune systems. The fact that the majority of MS patients have low body temperatures seems like something that should have raised the curiosity of MS docs a long time ago. Just another one of those MS things that make you go hmmmm.
  • Since I've touched upon the maddening lack of any disease cures during the last 50 years, I thought I'd leave you with this classic bit of comedic truth, provided by the brilliant Chris Rock...
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