Category Archives: In The Lab

CORONAVIRUS: “HOW WE CAN REACH HERD IMMUNITY”

Scientists are working at breakneck speed to develop an effective vaccine for the coronavirus. Their ultimate goal: to immunize enough of the world’s population to reach herd immunity. WSJ explains. 

Illustration: Jacob Reynolds

HEALTH VIDEOS: “HOW CORONAVIRUSES WORK”

It’s one of the tiniest machines on the planet — about a hundred times smaller than the average cell. It’s so small that no scientist can spot it through a typical light microscope. Only with an electron microscope can we see its spiky surface. It’s not alive, and it’s not what most of us would think of as “dead.” This teensy machine seems to survive in a kind of purgatory state, yet it has traveled across continents and oceans from host to host, and brought hundreds of nations to a standstill. Despite its diminutive size, the novel coronavirus, dubbed SARS-CoV-2, has seemingly taken the world by surprise with its virulence.

HEALTH: “MAKING SENSE OF CORONAVIRUS DATA” (VIDEO)

Public health organizations track the spread of coronavirus and use graphs and charts to visualize the data. WSJ’s Brianna Abbott explains what to look for in the data to understand how the virus is impacting your community.

Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann/WSJ

BLOOD TESTS: THE BENEFITS THAT “COMPREHENSIVE METABOLIC PANELS” REVEAL

One of my nurses who was usually in good health developed chronic complaints. She felt tired all the time and had a variety of aches and pains. She has been going through menopause for a long time but this set of problems seem different. Then she broke her arm after sustaining a minor fall. An investigation was in order. I should order some tests, but which ones?

Anemia would explain the fatigue so a CBC was a no brainer. With the surprise fracture, I wanted to cast the net wider, so I ordered a comprehensive metabolic panel.

This is an automated test that was a good value for the amount of information provided, I thought.

Nobody was more surprised than I when the test provided results that were the key to her very rare diagnosis. Her serum CALCIUM was very high, and her alkaline phosphatase was also elevated.

Further evaluation showed her diagnosis to be PRIMARY HYPERPARATHYROIDISM.

Removal of her abnormal parathyroid gland was curative. I have been a big fan of the Comprehensive Metabolic  Panel ever since.

The Panel of 14 tests includes:

  • Glucose – an essential test to check in Diabetes, Seizures and Coma.
  • Sodium, Potassium, Chloride, and CO2 and the associated Anion Gap – can be abnormal in a variety of accidents, and other conditions.
  • BUN and Creatinine – cleared by the kidneys, and become elevated in Renal, or Kidney conditions.
  • Calcium and alkaline phosphatase – reflect bone metabolism, and are sensitive to Vitamin D and parathyroid hormone, as in my nurses case.
  • Albumin and Globulin – important blood proteins. Globulins contain the   important immunoglobulins. A variety of conditions will influence their values.
  • AST (SGOT) and ALT – elevated in liver disease

Type in “Comprehensive Metabolic Panel” in google, and choose from the variety of “hits” to get more information about this “ Sherlock Holmes’ Magnifying Glass” for Physicians.

Medicine would be hard pressed to do without it!

Dr. C.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: SMART BANDAGES – “A HEALING REVOLUTION” (TUFTS VIDEO)

On the 100th anniversary of the Band-Aid, Tufts engineer Sameer Sonkusale is working to make “smart” bandages.

COMMENTARY

The Tuft’s video talks about transforming the Band-Aid into a detector that can warn of infection, or even exude the proper antibiotic. This would certainly be Applicable to Convalescent homes where people can’t monitor their own healing.

I am Looking forward to the time when the bandage will provide a matrix for the body’s regenerative cells to spread out and cover the wound more rapidly. Possibly someday the regenerative cells themselves can be applied.

—Dr. C.

IN THE LAB: TESTS FOR AND DIAGNOSING “aNEMIA”

I should have known something was wrong.

I was getting short of breath with a third of a 45-minute exercise I had done for years, but I rationalized it away. I reasoned that I hadn’t been sleeping well, I am getting old. And my heart isn’t working as well because of the Atrial Fibrillation.

Physicians have a big armamentarium of excuses they can generate, and besides it is their Karma to GIVE Medical care rather than to RECEIVE it.

The AHA moment came when I bumped my leg, and peeled back some skin. My skin is old and fragile, and I’m always tearing it in small areas.

This time, I got to see the blood run all the way down my leg like a drop of grape juice, not the thick blood I’m used to. If anything, my blood should be thicker, more viscous, since my average Hemoglobin is 16 gm., on the high side of normal.

I got my blood drawn, and ordered a CBC and a ferritin. The CBC shows the Hemoglobin level, and a number of other measurements bearing on anemia, and the ferritin gives a measure of IRON STORES.

I can’t remember the first time my ferritin was ordered, or why, but it has for years been borderline, just barely in the normal range, dipping down as low as 18, and rising as high as 35.

Since a common cause of low iron stores with a good diet is colon cancer, I had about 3 colonoscopies to rule out cancer over a period of 6 years; lucky me.

At least they were all negative, and without polyps.

This time the ferritin was 12, well into the abnormal range, and the Hemoglobin was 8.6 gm. little more than half my usual.

I had been fibrillating for 5 months, and been on 5 mg. Eliquis ( an anticoagulant/blood thinner) for the same period. Having a recent normal colonoscopy, the most likely diagnosis was AVMs (arteriovenous malformations) of the small bowel, with bleeding accelerated by the Eliquis,

Since small bowel surgery contraindicated a diagnostic videocapsule, this diagnosis would have to remain an assumption.

I reduced the Eliquis by 25%, calculated my blood loss rate and started 2 capsules of feosol alternating with 3 capsules daily. Over a period of 4 months, my Hemoglobin came back up to 15 gm., and my ferritin came up to 50. I am due another test as soon as I get enough nerve to brave the Covid and go to the lab.

This story is a good illustration of treating one illness, and thereby creating another in this world awash with medication. How much better it is to stay as healthy as possible.

However, I am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that Health is not often the top priority in most peoples lives.

As an illustration, I refer to todays’ Sunday New York Times, which reviewed 2 books on walking, one written to praise its’ health benefits. To quote the reviewer, “

The issue with ‘ in praise of walking’ is Mr. O’Mara’s assumption that how good an activity may be for us is the most essential measure of its worth”. Praising health raises an issue?

Personally, my main exercise is walking, and I do it expressly for health. That doesn’t mean that I don”t enjoy walking and have other motivations. I would not be walking as FAST, however, it it were not so healthy.

–Dr.C.

CORONAVIRUS: CONFUSING HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE STUDIES (NATURE PODCAST)

President Trump’s preferred coronavirus treatment is the focus of a new study suggesting it could cause more harm than good, but not everybody agrees. We discuss the fallout as trials around the world are paused and countries diverge over policy advice.

12:12 Are we rushing science?

Coronavirus papers are being published extremely quickly, while normally healthy scientific debate is being blown up in the world’s press. Is there a balancing act between timely research and accurate messaging?

18:49 One good thing

Our hosts pick out things that have made them smile in the last week, including hedgerow brews and a trip into the past using AI.

Recipe: Elderflower ‘Champagne’

Video: Denis Shiryaev restores historic footage with AI

22:30 The latest coronavirus research papers

Noah Baker takes a look through some of the key coronavirus papers of the last few weeks.

News: Coronavirus research updates

medRxiv: Full genome viral sequences inform patterns of SARS-CoV-2 spread into and within Israel

Harvard Library: Reductions in commuting mobility predict geographic differences in SARS-CoV-2 prevalence in New York City

Science: DNA vaccine protection against SARS-CoV-2 in rhesus macaques

Coronavirus : The Race To Expand Antibody Testing, Public Health Investment

Benjamin Thompson, Noah Baker, and Amy Maxmen discuss the role of antibody tests in controlling the pandemic, and how public-health spending could curtail an economic crisis. Also on the show, the open hardware community’s efforts to produce medical equipment.

In this episode:

02:08 Betting on antibodies

Antibody tests could play a key role in understanding how the virus has spread through populations, and in ending lockdowns. We discuss concerns over their reliability, how they could be used, and the tantalising possibility of immunity.

News: The researchers taking a gamble with antibody tests for coronavirus

10:25 Economy vs public health, a false dichotomy

Jim Yong Kim, former president of the World Bank, argues that strong investment in public health is crucial to halt the ongoing pandemic and to prevent a global financial crisis. We discuss his work with US governors to massively increase contact tracing, and his thoughts on how researchers can help steer political thinking.

News Q&A: Why the World Bank ex-chief is on a mission to end coronavirus transmission

19:00 One good thing this week

Our hosts talk about staying positive, and pick a few things that have made them smile in the last 7 days, including a tiny addition to the team, a newspaper produced by children in lockdown, and a gardening update.

Six Feet of Separation, the newspaper staffed by kids

22:51 Open hardware

Researchers are stepping up efforts to design and produce ventilators and personal protective equipment for frontline medical staff. We hear how the open hardware movement is aiding these efforts, and the regulations that teams need to consider if their designs are to make it into use.

Technology Feature: Open science takes on the coronavirus pandemic

COMMENTARY

Coronavirus Testing and Tracking (1) are the two pillars of surveillance which will hopefully replace the “shotgun” method of universal distancing that America has tried so far. Quarantining only those who are contagious makes much more social and economic sense than quarantining everybody, and it seemed to work in South Korea (2) and Taiwan (3).

There are problems both with testing-accuracy and availability- and tracking, which is in tension with individuality and freedom.
Still we have no choice but to try, because people and businesses need to socialize and make some money.

Some epidemiologists predict that Covid 19 will smolder on, hopefully not overtaxing our health system, until “herd immunity” gets to 60-70 percent of the population.

As a highly susceptible octogenarian, I plan to keep my distance and become one of the minority protected by herd. And maybe an effective immunization or drug will come along.

—Dr. C.