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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Benefits of Chocolate, Part 2
January 4, 2016 10:23 AM by Lindsey Nolen

In other research, scientists have found that eating up to two bars of chocolate a day can also help prevent stroke. In a study at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, researchers analyzed the snacking habits of 21,000 people older than 12 and found that the odds of experiencing a stroke fell by 23% in patients who consumed up to 100 g of chocolate—the equivalent of about two classic Hershey's bars—each day in any form.

Cacao, the primary ingredient in chocolate, is the source of its stroke-preventing capability. This component of chocolate contains a reasonable amount of magnesium, which is a crucial macro mineral necessary for optimal health. This means at least 100 mg of magnesium is required per day to remain health by assisting in keeping blood pressure normal, cholesterol balanced and to naturally keep blood from thickening. Researchers in the Cochrane Hypertension Group found that flavanol-rich chocolate and cocoa products may have a small but statistically significant effect on lowering blood pressure by 2 mm Hg to 3 mm Hg in the short term (1).

Furthermore, Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet found that study subjects who ate the most chocolate, and therefore cacao, had a decreased report of stroke. Thus, experts believe that the more cacao in a chocolate product (30% in milk chocolate to 90% in dark chocolate), the more health benefits the chocolate product will deliver.

In addition, data from the American Academy of Neurology suggests that chocolate consumption is associated with an acute change in cerebral vasomotor reactivity, independent of metabolic and hemodynamic parameters. It also shows that this acute effect may contribute to the observed relationship between long-term chocolate consumption and stroke risk (2).

Cosmetic Uses
Aside from medical responses to chocolate ingestion, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Nutrition (3) found that cocoa flavanol supplementation reduces wrinkles and has a positive effect on the appearance of skin in older women. Korean women between the ages of 43 and 86 with visible facial wrinkles were recruited to participate in this double-blind, randomized and controlled trial.

During the study, the cocoa consuming group took a supplement containing 320 mg of cocoa flavanols, and the control group received a calorie-matched placebo. After 24 weeks, the women in the group consuming cocoa flavanols had a reduced appearance of facial wrinkles and improvements in their skin’s elasticity. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that cocoa flavanol supplementation may contribute to the prevention of the progression of photoaging.

Chocolate has also been suggested to reduce wrinkles through less collagen breakdown as a result of cocoa’s ability to reduce stress hormones. Flavanols also help by protecting skin from UV damage, fighting free radicals, increasing blood flow, and even by improving skin hydration and thickness.

Consume Carefully
While the medical and cosmetic benefits of chocolate are evident, it is still not recommended that people consume high amounts of chocolate. Researchers do not recommend that people start eating several chocolate bars a week to derive these benefits, for chocolate also possesses some unhealthy elements.

Regular chocolate bars can contain a fair amount of saturated fat and sugar—both of which can lead to obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and hypertension. Although there is no established serving size to guarantee health benefits, chocolate consumers should always choose chocolate with no extra ingredients or limited extra ingredients, to avoid unnecessary fat and calories.

“Ideally you want to get dark chocolate that is 85% to 90% cacao,” explains Jamie Logie, author of the book Taking Back Your Health. “But [this] can be an acquired taste. Starting with 70% helps you build up to that, and after a while you will learn to love the deep, rich, natural flavor and won't want to touch a candy bar again!”

 

References:

1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD008893.pub2/abstract

2. http://www.neurology.org/content/80/12/1173.2.full

3. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/early/2015/11/18/jn.115.217711.abstract

 

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Benefits of Chocolate, Part 1
December 2, 2015 9:36 AM by Lindsey Nolen

It’s officially the time of year when all types of treats begin to fill tables at holiday celebrations, office parties and family gatherings. While conventional wisdom holds that desserts can be detrimental to a person’s overall health, recent studies have reported some sweeter findings—perhaps justifying that extra piece of chocolate this holiday season.

Medical History
The medical uses of chocolate date back as early as 1900 B.C., when it was first consumed by pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica, such as the Olmec, and used as a tool for administering foul-tasting medicines. Initially mixed with spices, this form of chocolate was far from the sweet delicacy that is popular today. However, by the 16th century, a much sweeter form gained popularity in Europe. It later fell into question due to its assumed risks based on increased sugar intake.

According to data from Euro-Monitor, Americans will eat about $18 billion worth of chocolate in 2015—that is roughly 18% of the world's chocolate. Since so many people indulge in this sweet treat, much research has been conducted to identify the health effects of chocolate.

Cardiovascular Risk
Over the years, a number of studies have found that chocolate intake is correlated with a reduced risk of death by heart attack. High demand for methods to protect against cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, makes this correlation significant.

One study, published in 2015 in the journal Heart (http://heart.bmj.com/content/101/16/1279), examined the long-term effects of diet on human health and concluded that, in patients who ate 15 grams to 100 grams of chocolate a day, risk of heart disease dropped more than in patients who completely avoided consumption. Of the 25,000 study volunteers, more reported eating milk chocolate than dark chocolate, which has long been considered healthier. A primary reason why dark chocolate is regarded as healthier than milk chocolate is because it contains less milk and sugar and more flavonoid content.

“Research shows that organic [chocolate] has more nutritional value than conventional, and that milk chocolate does not provide the same benefits as dark chocolate. This is not only because of the low cacao content, but also because dairy in milk chocolate binds with the beneficial antioxidants,” explained Nichole Dandrea, MS, RD, owner of Nicobella Organics.

Chocolate is linked with reduced cardiovascular risk because it is full of flavonoid antioxidants, which improve function of the endothelium, or inner lining of the blood vessels. Chocolate can also improve arterial function, increasing high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol and decreasing low-density protein or “bad” cholesterol (1).

Cognitive Benefits
Chocolate has also been linked with improved cognition. Research shows that cocoa consumption significantly improves self-reported mental fatigue and performance. It contains theobromine and caffeine, which confer the positive responses and positively influence mood and alertness (2).

People with mild cognitive impairment benefit from the health effects of chocolate as well. Although flavonoids may have direct effects on neurons and neurodegenerative brain processes, it is really chocolate’s ability to heighten insulin sensitivity—affecting blood sugar and ultimately brain function—that fosters optimal brain health.

Other micronutrients found in chocolate, known as polyphenols, have prompted the development of a cocoa extract as a natural remedy to promote optimal brain health. The cocoa polyphenols are believed to reduce the production and buildup of beta-amyloid and tau proteins that have been linked to conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (3).

“While the overall goal of many chocolate manufacturers is to try to identify the best way to have polyphenols maintained in the chain of production, the work we have been doing is trying to identify mechanisms through certain polyphenols from different sources, including grape and cacao, to promote resilience to psychological stress and cognitive degeneration or impairment,” said Giulio Maria Pasinetti, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, in an interview with ADVANCE. Pasinetti is also the director of biomedical training at the J.J. Peters Bronx VA Medical Center in New York.

Approximately 20% of people older than 70 experience mild cognitive impairment, and each year 5% of them will progress to dementia, according to the University of California’s Berkeley Wellness blog. If chocolate can help deter cognitive impairment, midlife and older adults may want to consider increasing their chocolate intake.

“Our work in the next few years hopes to provide the opportunity for the development of a biological compound to deliver polyphenols orally and to thereby exert beneficial effects on cognitive function,” Pasinetti said.

 

References:

1. 
http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/nutrition/article/chocolate-brain

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3672386/

3. http://www.j-alz.com/content/researchers-explore-cocoa-novel-dietary-source-prevention-cognitive-deterioration-alzheimer


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MLP Workforce Report
October 29, 2015 6:09 PM by Chelsea Lacey-Mabe

The attrition of lab professionals due to aging and retirement will open ample opportunities for new technicians and technologists. The need for diagnostic lab services will continue to increase with the aging population.

Donning gloves, a protective mask and goggles, they operate microscopes, study blood samples and analyze tissue samples for normal or abnormal findings, some even analyzing cells for an indication of a cancerous growth. This is all in a day’s work for medical laboratory professionals.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth of 22 percent is expected between 2012 and 2022 for medical laboratory professionals, a rate that is much faster than the average growth for a career field. And that number could go even higher.

Jon Harol, laboratory recruiter for Lighthouse Recruiting, expects a vacancy rate of up to 40 percent in medical labs by 2018 because of older staff members retiring. Not only does this leave potential for new lab staff to enter the job field, it gives current laboratory professionals with a few years of experience under their belt to move up the career ladder as baby boomers exit the work force, leaving behind their career titles and higher pay scales.

Those same baby boomers are autonomously adding to the aging population, increasing the demand for medical lab procedures used to diagnose cancer and other diseases, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This will further strengthen job security for medical lab technicians and technologists who perform the procedures.

Launching a Lab Career
When considering this profession, it’s important to know that as with any job, new hires will likely have to pay their dues.

“Early on in your career you are probably going to end up working a lot of nights and holidays,” Harol said in an interview with ADVANCE. “However, if you stick with it you can usually work your way on to a day shift and be called on to work less holidays.

When employers are looking to hire, they’ll assess whether someone is right for the job. Similarly, people researching occupations should ask themselves whether they’re right for this line of work. Valuable qualities for medical laboratory professionals to possess are an ability to use technology, attention to detail, dexterity in order to work closely with needles and other lab equipment and physical stamina, since they may need to lift or turn a patient in order to collect a sample.

Most entry-level technologist jobs require a bachelor’s degree, usually in medical laboratory technology or life sciences. An associate’s degree is usually required to become a medical laboratory technician. Both types of programs typically include courses in chemistry, biology and mathematics.

Something else to take into account is that a number of schools and programs are accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), which assures quality, value and innovation for healthcare providers, according to its website.

Requirements & Earnings
After graduation, some states require a license or certification to secure employment in the field. Harol finds that states with these requirements, such as New York, California and Florida, are often most in need for medical laboratory technologists and technicians due to the added requirement to enter the workforce.

As a group, medical laboratory professionals make an average of $47,820 annually. Technologists command higher salaries in the range of $57,000 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Technicians educated at an associate’s degree level make slightly less. With job demand for these positions on the rise, salaries are expected to increase accordingly over the next few years.

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Patient-centered “Pre-analytics” in clinical laboratories
July 16, 2015 6:11 PM by Michael Jones

[*Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog post contributed by Biju Joseph, PhD, MT(ASCP), MB(ASCP).]

Patient-comfort oriented specimen collection techniques are vital for clinical laboratories for boosting customer base and revenue generation. The workflow could be less invasive, less painful blood collection devices and easy to use collection and transport kits. Multiple easy to use specimen collection devices and application specific protocols are available in the market. Pain-free, single use lancets for blood collection and mouth rinse specimen kits for DNA isolation in place of buccal swabs are typical examples.

Saliva testing has been suggested for several cancers that include breast cancer and prostate cancer. Clinical laboratories will be forced to allocate time for switching to much more patient-friendly devices and collection protocols as they are increasingly available due to the following reasons:

1. Home-based testing that was widely used for pregnancy tests is being adopted for self-monitoring of hemoglobin level.

2. In the near future, patients will be able to self-order a few tests to begin with, collect the results personally and could review the results with help from their physician

3. Precision medicine initiatives by the federal government. The general population will increasingly undergo genetic tests (on their own or directed by physician) that would help healthy lifestyles, and create awareness about susceptibility/resistance to specific genetic or infectious diseases. The revolutionary nature of these changes is evident when we compare this to the discovery of resistance of sickle red cells to malarial infection based on clinical symptoms in the past

4. Changes in regulations (i.e., blood glucose monitoring), re-classified as moderate complexity tests, necessitate use of devices that are comforting to the patient.

5. Liquid biopsies are entering molecular diagnostics for cancers due to inaccessibility or significant patient discomfort using the existing techniques.

In molecular testing, avoiding specimen processing for nucleic acid isolation, though not directly related to patient comfort, could contribute to guaranteed completion of test and report generation by direct sample-to-answer testing. This also has potential applications in infectious disease testing (limited nucleic acid material that could be lost during extraction), significant time reduction in the generation of results and the ability to detect multiple pathogens from a single specimen.

 

References:

1.            Elizabeth Franzmann. Saliva as a diagnostic tool. Special feature. MLO 2015: 47(7);24-25.

2.            https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/30/fact-sheet-president-obama-s-precision-medicine-initiative

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Distractingly Sexy
June 15, 2015 4:10 PM by Michael Jones

After winning the Nobel Prize1 in 2001 for his research in cell division, Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt recently made headlines for his attempt to prove the existence of foot-in-mouth disease while speaking at the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ). According to an article2 from the Guardian, Hunt’s “single-sex lab” comments were delivered while “addressing a convention of senior female scientists and science journalists.” The effects of the remarks (seen below) were immediate.

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” said Hunt at the WCSJ Conference. “Three things happen when they are in the lab… You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.”2

Hunt partially apologized,3 but his efforts were too little, too late -- as the comments had already gone viral. An ongoing social media campaign featuring women from many different fields in the sciences using the hashtag, “#distractinglysexy,” has become increasingly popular.4 Hunt has since resigned5 from his post at University College London (UCL) following the social media backlash.

The Guardian article2 mentioned that the statistics for women working in science, technology or engineering (STEM) are low -- just 13 percent. It also cited the gap in academia, in which 84 percent of full-time STEM professors are male. In the clinical laboratory environment, however, the ratio seems to be less severe -- albeit similarly troubling.  ADVANCE for Laboratory’s 2014 salary survey pointed to disparaging wage and career gaps when analyzed based on gender -- despite an overall female majority.

As laboratory professionals, what do you think about the perception of women in science-related careers? 

References:

1. http://www.theguardian.com/education/2001/oct/08/research.highereducation1

2. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jun/10/nobel-scientist-tim-hunt-female-scientists-cause-trouble-for-men-in-labs

3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/nobel-prize-winner-tim-hunt-partlyapologises-over-sexist-comments-and-says-he-was-just-being-honest-actually-10309577.html

4. http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/jun/11/distractinglysexy-twitter-campaign-mocks-tim-hunts-sexist-comments

5. http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jun/11/nobel-laureate-sir-tim-hunt-resigns-trouble-with-girls-comments

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"A Defining Moment"
June 2, 2015 1:04 PM by Michael Jones

The global fight against HIV has improved dramatically in the past decade, but the results of a recent study could lead to an enormous change in the way the virus is treated moving forward. An article from the New York Times noted how the study was stopped after just two months due to the drastic difference in outcomes. With those who received immediate treatment with antiretroviral drugs “53 percent less likely to die during the trial,” the impact of fast clinical action following a diagnosis was unprecedented. 

“This is a defining moment for social justice,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UN AIDS, in the New York Times article. “People will be scared, saying, ‘Oh, it will be a big number.’ But this puts an end to the false debate about whether to pay for treatment.”

While not necessarily in the budget, groups like The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have been pushing for better funding in an effort to start treatment more immediately for all patients internationally – a costly endeavor. According to the NY Times article, New York has recommended immediate treatment locally here in the Unites States since 2011, as the “several other studies have shown that people taking their drugs regularly are more than 90 percent less likely to infect others.” With that said, the story also noted that many patients are slow to start treatment while they are still healthy given the reputed harsh side effects of antiretroviral drugs from the 1990s. Fortunately, with the introduction of tenofovir in 2001, modern drugs have fewer side effects.

“The evidence for this has been building for quite some time,” said Susan P. Buchbinder, MD, director of HIV prevention at the San Francisco department of public health, in the story. “But now it’s clear that people should be offered treatment right away and told why it’s beneficial.”

Current international regulations vary depending on the respective nation. A normal CD4 count (CD4 cells per cubic millimeter) ranges between 500 and 1,200, but HIV patients routinely fall under 500 and “”full-blown AIDS” patients fall under 200. Although it is now being recommended that treatment starts at a 500 CD4 count, many nations simply don’t have the funding to start so soon. Due to the undeniable results of the recent study, there is potential for dramatic improvement of the standards for both local and international treatment. 

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Nanoparticles Assemble!
March 6, 2015 2:05 PM by Michael Jones

As a kid, the concept of humans using nanotechnology was something I assumed was reserved for science fiction, but apparently clinical research has already proved me wrong. According to a recent article from Dark Daily, not only do researcher possess the technology, but they have been studying the effect of nanoparticles in the diagnosis of cancer. The study, led by Nicholas J. Long, PhD, senior author and professor in the chemistry department at Imperial College London, utilizes nanoparticles manipulated to attach themselves to cancer cells in order to allow the presence of a tumor to appear more clearly in MRIs.

“Our aim is to help doctors spot something that might be cancerous much more quickly,” explained Long in the Dark Daily piece. “That would enable patients to receive effective treatments sooner, which would hopefully improve survival rates from cancer. ”

The story described the nanoparticles as coated in a protein that finds and adheres to cancer cells. Once these are found, they “self-assemble, aggregating into larger particles that show up well under MRI.” Despite the undeniable potential this technology has in the identification of cancers, however, there are still a lot of important questions to be answered. For example, scientists are unclear on the best size relative to their toxicity to the human body or how to improve the signals sent out by the tiny particles.

“We’re now looking at fine-tuning the size of the final nanoparticle, so that it is even smaller but still gives an enhanced MRI Image,” said Juan Gallo, PhD, of the department of surgery and cancer at Imperial College London, in the Dark Daily article. [“] If it is too small, the body will just secret it out before imaging. But too big, and it could be harmful to the body. Getting it just right is really important before moving to a human trial.”

Although the study is in its early phases, currently using mouse models, and the researchers still have a lot of work ahead of them, the plan is to be able to start human trials within three to five years. The article noted the study as an important example of multiple specialties working to improve cancer diagnostics in their own fields. The impact of success with the nanoparticles could have a substantial, long-term impact on the role of clinical laboratory professionals and pathologists, as well as radiologists and imaging professionals.

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Basket Cases
February 27, 2015 4:29 PM by Michael Jones

Thanks to the quick evolution of improved genetic sequencing capabilities, the concept personalized medicine has changed the way clinicians and physicians are thinking about patient treatment. Traditionally, the trial and testing period for clinical drugs going through the FDA approval process can be challenging, lengthy and exhausting for all parties involved – especially the patients. A recent article from the New York Times highlighted a new approach to drug prescriptions for cancer patients focused more on their individual genetic mutations than the specific type or origin of the cancer itself.

According to the article, Erika Hurwitz, a patient with a rare white blood cell cancer, was treated with a drug typically reserved for melanoma patients and somehow recovered despite the odds. The new technique, referred to as “basket studies,” involves screening patients for mutations and applying drugs that target those specific mutations regardless of the drug’s intended use or what part of the body the cancer has affected. Not only have these “blanket studies” been applied in individual healthcare facilities and networks, but the federal government has stepped in to continue the research with a screening program to be introduced in the spring.

Introduced fairly recently as the accessibility and price of genetic sequencing became reasonable, “Basket studies” are typically smaller and without control groups.  The studies have produced results in the extreme on either end of the spectrum, having both dramatically improved patients and shown no effect at all. Despite the black-and-white nature of the results, the article noted the drastically higher response percent of the new approach – a response rate of 50-60 percent as opposed to 10-20 percent in traditional studies, according to Richard Pazdur, MD, of the FDA in the NY Times story.

The NY Times story noted the Memorial Sloan Kettering study, which included Erika Hurwitz, saw several patients respond positively to the melanoma drug, but not everyone’s results were so successful. One stomach cancer patient, Eleni Vavas, entered the study, but didn’t respond to the drug. She passed away in July.

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Vaccination Perspectives
February 17, 2015 3:35 PM by Michael Jones

A combination of the continued national debate over the connection between autism and vaccines -- despite the hypothesized link having long-since been disproved -- and events like the measles outbreak spawning from Disneyland have led to a lot of vaccination-related headlines recently. Diseases like measles, which had been almost completely eliminated, have only resurfaced lately after movements in opposition of vaccinations became popularized. While many U.S. citizens consider vaccines to be perfectly safe and effective, there is also a growing population leaning the other way.

One particularly hard to digest piece of information, according to a piece from the Guardian, is that the millennial generation is actually the largest contributor to this expanding group -- specifically, “21% of people 18 and 29 believe in a link [to autism].” A different pole from TIME also had younger generations more inclined to support the idea that vaccines aren’t safe (though just 15 percent as opposed to 21 percent). Being a Millennial and having written about it somewhat extensively, I can certainly identify with the Guardian author’s similar situation and point-of-view.

A story noted above on the measles outbreak from the LA Times noted the importance of adult immunizations now more than ever, as “Adults pose a greater risk than children of passing on the disease because they travel and come into contact with more people.” It went on to note that some adults have not been fully vaccinated, due to a second dose only being recommended in 1989, and that there should be more “checkpoints between kindergarten and adulthood” in order to prevent these individuals from slipping through the cracks – this is especially relevant in educational organizations, where it’s important for both students and teachers to have been properly vaccinated.

Nonetheless, the TIME article brought up the interesting concept of “Herd immunization,” which relies on “92-95%” of a population to be vaccinated in order to safeguard the community. At present, “vaccination rates in the U.S. hover around 91%.” Although this isn’t necessarily a bad number, it could always be better and the recent upsurge in groups coming out against vaccinations could potentially lead to more troubling numbers.

As laboratory professionals, what are some of our readers’ thoughts on the subject? 

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Formaldehyde in E-Cigarettes
February 4, 2015 11:40 PM by Michael Jones

The electronic cigarette has been hailed as a significantly safer alternative to regular cigarettes, delivering nicotine through vapor rather than smoke, but little is known about their potential side long-term effects. An NPR article took a look into recently findings regarding formaldehyde in the “E-Cigs.” A form of the “known carcinogen” was discovered in the vapor by researchers.

“We found this form of formaldehyde at significantly higher concentrations than even regular cigarettes [contain] – between five[fold] and fifteenfold higher concentration of formaldehyde than in cigarettes,” explained David Peyton, PhD, a professor at Portland State University, in the NPR story.

Peyton went on to point out that formaldehyde contributes to the development of lung cancer. Although the chemical was observed at the highest voltage levels when using the electronic devices, it was also noted that, when used a lower levels, there was no presence of formaldehyde. In the article, George Conley, a representative from the American Vaping Association, reasoned that E-cigarettes are not typically used at these high levels. He continued, comparing it to the way steak can be overcooked cooked.

“If you hold the button down for 100 seconds, you could potentially produce 100 times more formaldehyde than you would ever get from a cigarette,” he said in the article. “But no human vaper would ever vape at that condition, because within one second their lungs would be very uncomfortable.”

The article noted that Peyton “hopes the government will tightly regulate the electronic devices,” but the FDA is still assessing the situation. Regardless of different positions surrounding the regulation of E-cigs, there seems to be a need for a better understanding and subsequent regulation of the devices. The extent to these regulations, however, could be up for debate.

 

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Vascular Damage and Alzheimer’s Disease
January 27, 2015 12:33 PM by Michael Jones

Between the attention attracted by the 2014 movie, “Still Alice,” and the release of new studies, Alzheimer’s disease has been a prominent topic of conversation lately. For patients and their families, the symptoms are all too familiar, and the origin is largely a mystery. An article from NPR recently discussed one possible cause of the disease.

In a study examining MRIs of patients “experiencing mild problems with thinking and memory,” researchers noticed the presence of leaky blood vessels in the Hippocampus. Upon further investigation, the researchers realized that the blood vessels in the hippocampus become “leakier in all people as they age,” but this is more evident in Alzheimer’s patients. Later studies on the autopsied brains of dementia patients confirmed “a breakdown in the blood-brain barrier,” which allows toxins to leak into the brain, damaging cells and tissue.

“This study gives patients and families hope for the future, hope that detecting leaky blood vessels early will provide the opportunity to stop dementia before it starts,” said Roderick Corriveau, PhD, program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, in the NPR article.

After focusing on the hippocampus, it was discovered that the blood-brain barrier in Alzheimer’s or Dementia patients was 50 percent more permeable that in those of the average, healthy brain.  These studies provided further evidence of the role of vascular damage in Alzheimer’s disease. The NPR article went on to note the use of pericyte cells, “which help prevent blood vessels in the brain from leaking,” as a potential treatment.

While this is not a cure for the disease, it is certainly a step in the right direction. By more fully understanding one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers, clinicians and physicians can be more aware of warning signs for Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia. As such, they can begin treatment earlier.

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Ebola Vaccines
January 23, 2015 4:37 PM by Michael Jones

While the Ebola outbreak continues to impact much of West Africa, it appears to be starting to fade at last. According to a recent article in the New York Times, healthcare companies GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Merck have will be introducing vaccines for the Ebola Virus for testing in Liberia. The estimated 18,000 volunteers predicted to take part in the trial in two weeks will receive either a vaccine from one of the two companies or a placebo.

“This has been an unprecedented effort for everyone involved,” commented Andrew Witty, GSK’s chief executive, in the NY Times story.

The article went on to discuss some of the potential obstacles facing the trial. Although the decreased occurrence of Ebola is great news overall, it could also impact the results regarding the effectiveness of the vaccines as the disease diminishes. In order to avoid compromised results, the need to introduce a greater number of participating volunteers to the trial, expanding its reach outside of Liberia to Sierra Leone, was mentioned.

Regardless of whether or not there are enough Ebola cases, the data provided from the study combined with existing data from animal testing “could be enough for the vaccines to win regulatory approval from the United States.” The article continued, noting that, even if the vaccines are available too late given the downwards trends of this particular outbreak, there will be others for which they will be available in the future. Additionally, a trial for ZMapp, “a drug for patients already infected with the virus,” will also apparently be starting soon.

The Ebola outbreak has ravaged West African countries as the rest of the world has frantically searched for effective testing, treatments and possible cures. The latest information on potential vaccines and drugs ready for human trials could be good news for the individuals in danger of being infected in current – and future -- Ebola outbreaks. 

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Reprogrammed Cells and Radiation
December 29, 2014 5:34 PM by Michael Jones

It’s no big secret that being exposed to radiation can cause cancer. As humans, we rely on  radioactigve materials and manufacture technologies to harness that power for our benefit, but that doesn’t keep accidents from happening. According to an article from Newswise, a recent study published in Stem Cells not only examined the effects of radiation on stem cells, but also hypothesized on how to “reprogram” the cells to prevent potentially negative repercussions like the development of cancer.

“It’s about evolution driven by natural selection,” said James DeGregori, PhD, investigator and molecular genetics professor at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and School of Medicine respectively, as well as senior author of the study. “In a healthy blood system, healthy stem cells out-compete stem cells that happen to have the C/EBPA mutation. But when radiation reduces the health and robustness (what we call ‘fitness’) of the stem cell population, the mutated cells that have been there all along are suddenly given the opportunity to take over.”

The C/EBPA mutation mentioned in DeGregori’s quote refers to potentially life-threatening result of radiation exposure. According to the article, radiation put hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) at risk of differentiating unless a mutation in the C/EBPA gene was present, allowing them to remain stem cells while the other MSCs would die off. With no competition from the unhealthy HSCs damaged by radiation, the C/EBPA cells would multiply rapidly causing cancer. Despite this risk, DeGregori went on to explain that “an infusion of healthy HSCs after radiation exposure would likely allow the healthy blood system to out-compete the radiation-exposed HSC with their ‘programmed mediocrity’ (increased differentiation) and even HSC with cancer-causing mutations,” essentially allowing the body recalibrate its levels of healthy HSCs to prevent the spread of the cancer.   

“If I were working in a situation in which I was likely to experience full-body radiation, I would freeze a bunch of my HSCs,” continued DeGregori in the Newswise story. “But there’s also hope that in the future, we could offer drugs that would restore the fitness of stem cells left over after radiation.”

The battle against cancer has seen a lot of progress as clinical scientists and researchers have uncovered the many impacts of molecular diagnostics. In the case of leukemias and other blood cancers, however, the possibility of reprogramming cells to prevent the spread of cancerous cells stands as an important step in fighting the disease.

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New NIH Genomic Data Sharing Policy
December 11, 2014 5:23 PM by Michael Jones

In the age of readily available genetic sequencing, the overabundance of data has been noted around the globe. As big data solutions become more common and diverse, the concept of data sharing has been a focal point of discussions regarding the future of research. A recent release from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the introduction of a final Genomic Data Sharing (GDS) policy. The GDS will replace the previous standard, the Genome-Wide Association Studies’ (GWAS) data sharing policy. 

“Advances in DNA sequencing technologies have enabled NIH to conduct and fund research that generates ever-greater volumes of GWAS and other types of genomic data,” said Eric Green, MD, PhD NHGRI director, report co-author and co-chair of the trans-NIH committee that developed the GDS policy, in the release. “Access to these data through dbGaP [Database for Genotypes and Phenotypes] and according to the data management practices laid out in the policy allows researchers to accelerate research by combining and comparing large and information-rich datasets.”

According to the NIH release, as well as another article from the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC), one of the major concerns facing the new policy was assurance of patient privacy. In order to alleviate these concerns, the new policy requires a two-tiered system to ensure both anonymity for the donors and a wide variety of use for the information available to researchers. The data must be de-identified, and researchers are expected to obtain informed content prior to releasing that information for further research. Additionally, scientists are encouraged to obtain the broadest possible permissions in the potential sharing of patient data.  

“Everyone is eager to see the incredible deluge of molecular discoveries about disease translated into prevention, diagnostics, and therapeutics for patients,” continued Kathy Hudson, PhD, NIH deputy director for science, outreach and policy, in the NIH release. “The collective knowledge achieved through data sharing benefits researchers and patients alike, but it must be done carefully. The GDS policy outlines the responsibilities of investigators and instruments that are using the date and also encourages researchers to get consent from participants for future unspecified use of their genomic data.”

Genomic data represents the future of medicine. With the NIH’s new data sharing policy, researchers will now be afforded less restricted access to data, while patients can rest assured that their individual privacy remains secure. By standardizing and increase the ability to share important genetic information, research can excel both locally and abroad, taking into account larger statistics for research and fostering collaboration between researchers. 

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Struck a Nerve
October 15, 2014 10:45 AM by Lynn

All of the phlebotomists are probably cringing at the term I used in the headline, but it seems germane considering the overwhelming number of comments the ADVANCE editorial staff has received since the launch of our 2014 Salary Survey.  (If you haven’t yet completed the survey, time is running out! Go to http://laboratory-manager.advanceweb.com/Web-Extras/Online-Extras/The-2014-Laboratory-Salary-Survey.aspx)

Although we haven’t yet tabulated or released results, I am saddened by many of the comments. In past surveys, many noted they felt the pay was not on par with the amount of responsibility and level of importance that clinical laboratory professionals of all levels have, and this year’s survey is no exception. What is different, however, is the number of individuals who noted they would not recommend the profession to others, or who wouldn’t have gone into the profession had they known what they know now.

“Techs are underpaid, overworked and underappreciated, and yet we are expected to be experts in all areas of lab medicine, serve as consultants, perform administrative work, train new hires, conduct competency assessment, etc. Although I love my work, if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't choose laboratory technology. Unfortunately, for all of the above mentioned reasons I cannot recommend the profession to young people,” writes one person.

And another notes: “I enjoy my job as a medical technologist, but I am planning to leave the field within the next few years. This is due to the fact that I have a high level of responsibility (antibody ID and selecting compatible units for patients) but still make less than an RN with a A.S. degree. We are also understaffed at my facility, with me being the only Blood Bank technologist on the nightshift. The position has become highly stressful and completely underappreciated in the healthcare setting. I am finishing my Masters of Science, then moving to a job that is less stressful and better paid.”

There are still a handful of you who do enjoy the work you do (thank you for those comments, too!), but it seems you are in the minority. So how do we change this? How can this profession rally together to positively change the perception and financial compensation for the critical role you play in healthcare?

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