When your DNA says you aren’t you, not from anywhere around here


Tiffany Brown Anderson/NY Times

” Three months after his bone marrow transplant, Chris Long of Reno, Nev., learned that the DNA in his blood had changed. It had all been replaced by the DNA of his donor, a German man he had exchanged just a handful of messages with…

But four years after his lifesaving procedure, it was not only Mr. Long’s blood that was affected. Swabs of his lips and cheeks contained his DNA — but also that of his donor. Even more surprising to Mr. Long and other colleagues at the crime lab, all of the DNA in his semen belonged to his donor. “I thought that it was pretty incredible that I can disappear and someone else can appear,” he said.

” Mr. Long had become a chimera, the technical term for the rare person with two sets of DNA. The word takes its name from a fire-breathing creature in Greek mythology composed of lion, goat and serpent parts. Doctors and forensic scientists have long known that certain medical procedures turn people into chimeras, but where exactly a donor’s DNA shows up — beyond blood — has rarely been studied with criminal applications in mind.

I can see a B-Movie already glazing over the eyes of someone in Hollywood.

Transforming cancer cells into healthy cells

For almost thirty years, William Kuhens worked on Staten Island as a basketball referee for the Catholic Youth Organization and other amateur leagues. At seventy, he was physically fit, taking part in twenty games a month. But in July of 2013 he began to lose weight and feel exhausted; his wife told him he looked pale. He saw his doctor, and tests revealed that his blood contained below-normal numbers of platelets and red and white blood cells; these are critical for, respectively, preventing bleeding, supplying oxygen, and combatting infection.

Kuhens was sent to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in Manhattan, to meet with Eytan Stein, an expert in blood disorders. Stein found that as much as fifteen per cent of Kuhens’s bone marrow was made up of primitive, cancerous blood cells. “Mr. Kuhens was on the cusp of leukemia,” Stein told me recently. “It seemed that his disease was rapidly advancing…”

The only options were experimental. Stein had sent a sample of Kuhens’s bone marrow to be analyzed for the presence of thirty or so gene mutations that are known to be associated with blood cancers. The tests revealed one notable mutation, in a gene that produces an enzyme called IDH-2. Normally, the enzyme helps to break down nutrients and generate energy for cells. When mutated, it creates a molecule that alters the cells’ genetic programming. Instead of maturing, the cells remain primitive, proliferate wildly, and wreak havoc…

This past spring, Kuhens entered the AG-221 drug trial and received his first dose. Within weeks, the leukemic-cell count in his bone marrow had fallen from fifteen per cent to four per cent, and his counts of healthy blood cells improved markedly; he has been in complete remission for four months. The most noticeable side effect has been a metallic taste in his mouth. “For some reason, I can’t stand mayonnaise,” Kuhens told me recently. He just celebrated his fiftieth wedding anniversary. “I want to be around for a while,” he said, “and I don’t know how long this drug will last…”

The Agios drug, instead of killing the leukemic cells—immature blood cells gone haywire—coaxes them into maturing into functioning blood cells. Cancerous cells traditionally have been viewed as a lost cause, fit only for destruction. The emerging research on A.M.L. suggests that at least some cancer cells might be redeemable: they still carry their original programming and can be pressed back onto a pathway to health.

Most cancers, once they spread, are incurable. Cancer researchers are desperate to raise the number of patients who go into remission, to prolong those remissions, and to ultimately prevent relapse. So when a new way of attacking cancer comes along, it is often greeted with incautious euphoria and an assumption that the new paradigm can be quickly converted into a cure for all cancers…

Cancer does not have one fatal flaw. It advances along many paths, sometimes incrementally, often unpredictably, like the science arrayed against it. Nonetheless, these latest findings offer an unanticipated opportunity for scientists to reëxamine what many of us took for granted: that cancer cells must be destroyed if the patient is to improve. These discoveries could enable researchers to target cancers that were previously beyond treatment. For patients, they offer evidence that it is possible to live longer, and better, with cancer—and they provide hope that scientists are advancing on a cure.

The big CA scares all of us. Shuffling off this mortal coil is nothing any sentient rational human being looks forward to. Adding all the negatives of death by cancer increases anxiety and fear by an order of magnitude.

RTFA for an analysis of the treatment and research involved in this particular approach. Someday, it may help you through a difficult time.

Thanks, Mike

The growing black market for body parts in Europe

Belgrade, Serbia — Facing grinding poverty, some Europeans are seeking to sell their kidneys, lungs, bone marrow or corneas…This phenomenon is relatively new in Serbia, a nation that has been battered by war and is grappling with the financial crisis that has swept the Continent. The spread of illegal organ sales into Europe, where they are gaining momentum, has been abetted by the Internet, a global shortage of organs for transplants and, in some cases, unscrupulous traffickers ready to exploit the economic misery.

In Spain, Italy, Greece and Russia, advertisements by people peddling organs — as well as hair, sperm and breast milk — have turned up on the Internet, with asking prices for lungs as high as $250,000…

Organ trafficking is a growth industry,” said Jonathan Ratel, a European Union special prosecutor who is leading a case against seven people accused of luring poor victims from Turkey and former communist countries to Kosovo to sell their kidneys with false promises of payments of up to $20,000. “Organized criminal groups are preying upon the vulnerable on both sides of the supply chain: people suffering from chronic poverty, and desperate and wealthy patients who will do anything to survive.”

The main supply countries have traditionally been China, India, Brazil and the Philippines. But experts say Europeans are increasingly vulnerable.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 kidneys are illegally sold globally each year, according to Organs Watch, a human rights group in Berkeley, Calif., that tracks the illegal organ trade. The World Health Organization estimates that only 10 percent of global needs for organ transplantation are being met…

RTFA. Anecdotal evidence is offered that puts the lie to officials who say this couldn’t possibly be happening in their nation.

History would agree. There is a market for poor people selling their blood in practically every nation in the world. Why act surprised over newer technology, tidier methods enabling the sale of sought-after, more valuable bits of the human body?

The numbers of poor people ain’t exactly diminishing in Europe – or elsewhere in the Industrial West for that matter.

Arizona’s death panels challenged by survivors

First, it was distraught patients awaiting organ transplants who protested Arizona’s decision to no longer cover such operations under its Medicaid program.

Now, Arizonans who received such transplants, and are alive and well as a result of them, are questioning the data that lawmakers relied on to make their controversial benefit cuts

When Arizona lawmakers voted last spring to cut some state-financed transplant coverage, they relied on data provided by state health officials showing that the procedures were rarely successful. But transplant experts and some patients who have undergone the now-discontinued procedures question the state’s numbers…

The cure rate for bone marrow transplants cited in the report to the Legislature was either zero or 7 percent, depending on whether that unidentified 14th patient lived. But transplant experts put the actual survival rate, based on national studies, at over 40 percent.

Dr. Jeffrey R. Schriber, medical director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, has written to Gov. Jan Brewer and state lawmakers telling them that their decisions were based on incomplete data that gave the wrong picture. His data show the success rate for bone marrow transplants covered by Arizona’s Medicaid program at slightly higher than the national average. Of 20 operations performed at Banner in recent years, 9 patients have survived, he said…

Bone marrow transplants are not the only ones in which legislators used questionable data to make their decision, transplant experts say. The American Society of Transplant Surgeons called Arizona’s transplant cuts “decisions with no medical justification.”

Liver transplants for those with hepatitis C, which the state also discontinued, have a survival rate exceeding 80 percent after one year and 60 percent after five years, the transplant group said. Arizona’s study of such procedures was far more pessimistic, saying such transplants “do not significantly affect the diseases they are intended to cure.”

The same liars who invented “death panels” to prop up their opposition to extended healthcare – now, use their own version of death panels to cut off essential medical procedures to stiffen their lame beancounter backbone.

RTFA. Corrupt policies, deceitful, in line with neocon ideology all the way.

Making blood from human skin

A new technique that allows blood to be made directly from skin cells has been discovered. The pioneering approach by Canadian researchers uses human skin stem cells to create blood stem cells without an intermediate step that previously was thought necessary.

Until now to make blood stem cells, the building blocks for a variety human cells (called pluripotent stem cells) have been used as a steppingstone a process. This has proven largely inefficient, but research led by Mick Bhatia…has shown that making blood from skin can be achieved in a one step process.

Cynthia Dunbar…said: “Bhatia’s approach detours around the pluripotent stem cell stage and thus avoids many safety issues, increases efficiency, and also has the major benefit of producing adult-type l blood cells instead of fetal blood cells, a major advantage compared to the thus far disappointing attempts to produce blood cells from human embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells.”

The discovery was replicated several times over two years using human skin from both the young and the elderly to prove it works for any age of person.

The approach could be used for creating blood for surgery or treating conditions like anemia from a patch of the patient’s skin. Other potential applications include generating bone marrow and improved treatment of leukaemia and other types of cancer, including solid tumors.

Bravo!

Using bone marrow transplants to cure mental illness?

Scientists in the US claim to have used a bone marrow transplant to cure mental illness in a study that could have profound implications for patients with psychiatric problems.

Bone marrow transplants are routinely used to treat leukaemia and other life-threatening diseases, but have never been used to treat mental health problems.

The team, led by a Nobel prizewinning geneticist, found that experimental transplants in mice cured them of a disorder in which they groom themselves so excessively they develop bare patches of skin. The condition is similar to a disorder in which people pull their hair out, called trichotillomania.

A lot of people are going to find it amazing,” said Mario Capecchi at the University of Utah, who won the Nobel prize for medicine in 2007 for his work on mouse genetics. “That’s the surprise: bone marrow can correct a behavioural defect.”

The team said their work is the first to reveal a direct link between a psychiatric disorder and faulty immune cells, which grow in bone marrow before moving to the brain to protect nerve cells from damage.

Capecchi said the condition the animals develop is comparable to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and could shed fresh light on the roots of the disorder. Other illnesses including depression, schizophrenia and autism might also be linked to problems with the immune system, he added…

“This is immensely important and incredibly exciting. It’s definitely something people will want to follow up,” said Douglas Blackwood, professor of psychiatric genetics at Edinburgh University. “Current treatments for these kinds of conditions are not incredibly effective and there’s a massive need for alternatives.”

Other researchers were more cautious about the work. Paul Salkovskis, clinical director of the Maudsley Hospital Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma in London, said it was impossible to draw strong conclusions about the role of the immune system in human mental illnesses from the study. “Excessive grooming in mice is not a good model for obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans, a condition that can be treated effectively with cognitive behavioural therapy,” he said.

RTFA. The analyses parallel my first reactions – in that I wondered if the behavior related to allergies and immune systems?

Dogs can develop a behavioral reaction to allergies that looks like OCD, compulsively licking their forelegs and paws. While humans – well, humans make the definition.