Artificial blood may soon be a tool in the future of medicine

Red Blood Cells Photo Courtesy of Shaskin

Artificial blood, a substitute for real blood needed for transfusions, has recently become the latest innovation that adds promise to the future of medicine.

This replacement is manufactured by taking fibroblasts that have been reprogrammed into mature blood cells and growing them into red blood cells. Fibroblasts are cells of connective tissue that are critical in the process of wound healing.

This blood was developed by researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service . They have been producing Type O negative blood, which is known as the universal donor blood and can be used in patients with any blood type.

Marc Turner, the principle researcher of the project, told The Telegraph  the plans are for the trial to be conducted by 2016 or 2017, which are likely going to be through the use of treating three patients with Thalassaemia, a genetic blood disorder that requires frequent transfusions.

“Although similar research has been conducted elsewhere, this is the first time anybody has manufactured blood to the appropriate quality and safety standards for transfusion into a human being,” Turner told The Telegraph.

Being able to produce blood on a large scale has plenty of good uses in medicine. Because the blood manufactured is Type 0, anyone can receive it. It would also cut down the need and costs associated for blood donations, which would most likely cut down costs of blood when it’s needed in medical situations.

Turner does say there might be some challenges to bringing this production, mainly because laboratory conditions are hard to replicate to an industrial scale.

Hopefully, they can find a way to do this and save some human lives as a result.

Pharmaceutical companies; are they helping us stay healthy, or are they selling sickness?

Recently, I read an article from NPR about how people in the United States are often rushing to get brain scans at the first sign of a headache to make sure they don’t have a brain tumor. Researchers at the University of Michigan have found people in the US spend around one billion dollars a year because they have a simple headache.

This made me think about the state of the medical system in the US. In my opinion, it seems we are moving to be a country of hypochondriacs because many people go straight to the emergency room at the sign of a sniffle.

A lot of this change in culture may be caused by the pharmaceutical business practices as a whole. Since the beginning of drug regulations in the mid 1900s, pharmaceutical companies have made the pharmaceutical industry more of a business of selling sickness, and less about finding the right drugs for actual sicknesses.

In fact, pharmaceutical companies spend about nineteen times more money on marketing than basic research. This marketing includes advertising, paying doctors to promote and prescribe certain drugs, and sending pharmaceutical representatives around the country.

While many people obviously have a sickness that can be aided by certain drugs, I think pharmaceutical companies are selling us sickness, and in turn causing people to look to take a pill for anything that might be wrong with them.

The fact that people are bombarded with ads about different diseases may also cause people to become paranoid, and assume they have a certain ailment. Many doctors complain about the “WebMD patient” who diagnoses themselves with a disease and only go to the doctors to get a prescription. This type of practice is putting healthcare in the hands of people who aren’t trained in medicine.

Many people agree this pharmaceutical marketing practice has some downfalls, and recently, GlaxoSmithKline announced they will stop paying doctors to promote their drugs.

What are your thoughts on the current pharmaceutical industry setup? Do you think it is fine the way it is, or should changes be made?

FDA changes nutrition labels to reflect current serving sizes

Photo Credit: Vanderbilt University

The Food and Drug Administration announced they will be making some changes to the nutrition labels we currently have on the food regulated and sold in the United States.

The changes proposed are not much different- they will still be in the same white rectangle, but the FDA hopes they will help reflect the way we eat today. This will be the first major update to nutrition labels since they were introduced in the early 90s.

Some of the changes include:

  • Calories being emphasized with a larger and bold type.
  • Added sugars will not be included, because Americans only get on average 16% of their daily calories from added sugars.
  • Updates to serving sizes that better reflect what people eat, rather than what they “should eat”
  • Updates to % Daily Values, which are also shifted to the left of the label.
  • Amounts of VItamin D and Potassium would be required on the label.

To read more about the changes, click here.

Jessica Leighton, Ph.D., senior nutrition science and policy advisor in FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine, said, “The goal is to make people aware of what they are eating and give them the tools to make healthy dietary choices throughout the day.”

changes to nutrition label

Courtesy of The New York TImes

These changes have come along after some complaints about nutrition labels and how we present different foods were brought up. In May 2013, the National Consumers League filed a formal complaint with the FDA, urging them to change the way we categorize food so people can make healthier food choices.

I think this is a good move on the FDA’s part. The fact is we don’t have the same dietary needs as we did in the 70s and 80s, which the original nutrition label was based off of. It will hopefully make it easier for Americans to make healthier choices in their diet.

3D Printing: Technology with some pros and cons

3D printing is a technique that has gained a lot of popularity over the past few years, but a lot of people aren’t really sure how it works or what the implications are.

After learning that Cornell had built a fully functional speaker using this 3D printing technique, I was interested in learning more.

3D printing is part of the additive manufacturing technology family. Additive manufacturing refers to the layering technique a machine uses to add layers to an object that it has the dimensions for. I like to compare it to using a scanner, if scanners had the capability to give us actual objects. Based on what the object is, different materials can go into the machine to make the object.

Here’s a good webpage if you want to learn more about the process.

The possibilities of what we are able to do with this technology are pretty much endless, and many scientists think 3D printers will be available for home use in a short time. All sorts of markets can make products fast and easy. People at home could possibly make things like fitted shelves with just a blueprint and the click of a button.

3D printing has many implications for medicine as well. For example, last March, a patient who had lost part of his skull was able to replace it with a piece of  prosthetic plastic that was custom made to fit his skull from a 3D printer.

But like many great technologies, there is also the possibility it can be used for things not so positive.

When blueprints for a 3D plastic gun were made, the gun was shot, and the plans were uploaded online in 2012, the US State Department quickly took them off of the internet. This move was made because they didn’t want to risk the wrong people getting their hands on the plans and making mass amount of non-trackable guns.

While this is a completely reasonable fear, I think there are so many advancements we can make in different parts of human living, 3D technology is something that should be researched and implemented with some regulation.

Ethical views behind genetic testing of embryos

Genetic testing can do wonders to help people understand what diseases and problems they may develop over the course of their lives, but applying this practice to embryos in their mother’s womb raises ethical questions among many groups.

Your genetic code is essentially a sequence of proteins that make up your unique DNA. By looking at your DNA, scientists can do a number of things, including confirming who your parents are, what color eyes you have, and what diseases you have a disposition to.

While many people agree there are plenty of health benefits to being able to do this genetic testing on humans, there is a lot of contention whether it is ethical to perform this procedure to an unborn embryo.

This article from The New York Times shows the situation of Amanda Kalinsky, a woman who carries the gene for Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker disease. GSS is a degenerative neurological disease that leads to a slow and often painful death.

When Kalinsky found this out, she thought she would never have children, in fear of passing the disease to them. But advancements that include a process of in vitro fertilization and testing the possible embryos for the disease changed this. Doctors look at the genetic codes of the embryos and only implant the ones that don’t have the code for the disease (This article does a good job explaining this process.)

Researchers are unsure if the child won’t ever develop the disease as they age, but most agree this is  very unlikely to happen.

Although this process is great in saving our future children from having to suffer from deadly diseases in their life, many people think this process may be misused and could lead to coming generations being selectively born.

For example, a couple looking to have children may use this to have a child with blue eyes who will be taller and disease-free and discard the other embryos altogether. This idea is known as ‘designer babies.’

After looking at the website for the National Human Genome Research Institute, I saw it seems there aren’t many regulations in the US put in place for these procedures. If regulations aren’t put in place, there is a higher possibility of people misusing this procedure.

Overall, I think this embryo genetic testing can be beneficial in preventing  can be dangerous disease, but there are plenty of ethical, class, legal, societal and religious problems that should be looked at before it can be used more commonly.