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How are medical discoveries made? In a previous post (“The Art of Scientific Discovery”), I looked at several models by which science has progressed A sharply focused, systematic pursuit led to the discovery of insulin. An accidental observation produced a drug to treat erectile disfunction. Those, and the other examples of medical advances described there involved more-or-less conventional approaches. But there’s an unconventional approach that appeals to people confronting difficult medical issues.… Read the rest “EXPERIMENTING ON YOURSELF”

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The virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is highly infectious, and can be spread by physical contact or by aerosols, sprays of tiny droplets we expel when we cough, sneeze, or even talk. We know now that surgical masks can block the transmission of the virus, but at the beginning of the pandemic, experts weren’t advising most people to wear them. The reasons for this were complicated, and included shortages that posed a danger to health care workers if there was a sudden run on the mask market.… Read the rest “Masks and soap”

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Three years ago I posted an article called “The Efficiency of the Human Body”, and it has proven to be popular. Then I posted an update last November. I’ve now learned more about the subject, and thought about it, and it’s time for another upgrade. Naturally, upgrades almost always involve an expansion, so there are two pieces now: This one, which explores the distribution of energy use in the resting body (our resting metabolic rate) and the next, which includes the material in the original post by describing energy distribution in the body in motion.… Read the rest “Human Energy Metabolism I: The Body at Rest”

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Nutritional scientists break down energy consumption into three components. The largest is Resting Energy Expenditure (REE), which I’ve examined in detail in the previous post. It accounts for 60-80% of our daily energy consumption. REE is the energy consumed at rest, when there’s no physical activity going on. Another 5-10% is used for digestion. The rest of our energy consumption is due to physical activity. These proportions can vary: if you’re a rider in the Tour de France, your daily physical activity will probably exceed your REE several times over.… Read the rest “Human Energy Metabolism II: The Body in motion”

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(Electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 from NIAID-RML)

It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. That aphorism has been attributed to a long list of prognosticators, including the legendary wordsmith and NY Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra. Yogi was eminently quotable, including such gems as, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” But he wasn’t the first people’s scholar to have that insight into the difficulty of making predictions. It was apparently spoken in the Danish parliament, in 1937 or 1938, in Danish.… Read the rest “The future of coronavirus”

As of March 4, 2020 the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, has spread to more than 77 countries. More than 93,000 cases have been reported, and just under 3,200 deaths. It’s thought that the virus infected its first human victim in the city of Wuhan in China, in November, 2019. That case was apparently caused by transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from an animal. Since then, it has spread by human-to-human contact. The virus probably originated in bats, and then likely passed through another animal before it found its human host.… Read the rest “The Drift of Coronavirus”

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A death in Minnesota

The young man arrived in the emergency room in Minneapolis, Minnesota in acute distress, with a fever, rapid deep breathing, and a racing heart. As reported in 2018, doctors couldn’t initially identify the cause of his problem (1). His breath had twice the normal level of carbon dioxide, and that level kept going up. His fever also kept increasing, despite the doctors’ frantic efforts to stabilize him. Forty-five minutes after admission the muscles in his body violently seized up, rigor mortis, but in a body not yet dead.… Read the rest “How DNP (dinitrophenol) kills you”

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Necora puber. Photograph: Hans Hillewaert

Cancer is one our most feared diseases, so it isn’t surprising that we notice when it is linked to other parts of our lives. And it’s also not surprising that stories which sound plausible, but which may or may not be supported by evidence, or which are misunderstood, become part of our culture. Three such stories are, that we are in an epidemic of cancer, that vitamin C is a useful anti-cancer agent, and that an abortion increases a woman’s risk of later breast cancer.… Read the rest “Three Cancer Myths”

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Samuel Hahnemann, father of homeopathic medicine.

A paper published in the June 30, 1988 issue of the high-profile scientific journal Nature shocked the biomedical research world. Its anodyne title, “Human Basophil Degranulation Triggered by Very Dilute Antiserum Against IgE”, probably didn’t cause any non-scientists to choke on their breakfast cereal. But in the eyes of the mainstream scientific world, the article made a radical claim: Pure water, admittedly with a special history, could generate an immune reaction in a test tube.… Read the rest “The Fading Memory of Water”

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In April 2017 I published a post titled “Why is there so much talk about Epigenetics?”. I think I did a pretty decent job explaining what Epigenetics is, and why it is such a critically important part of biology. The gist is, that the regulated output of our genomic information depends on Epigenetics. This is achieved by specific chemical groups and protein along the chromosomes that control their expression into the proteins and other products needed for the life of a particular cell.… Read the rest “Why there is so much talk about Epigenetics”