Posts Tagged ‘medicine’

Canada used indigenous children to “study” malnutrition

July 28, 2013

Yet another depressing story of how, in the name of “science”, the “establishment” made use of less “worthy” populations to carry out medical experiments.

This time in Canada from 1942 -1952.

There was no difference of principle and only one of degree between the medical experiments carried out in Nazi Germany and those carried out on native or disadvantaged populations in Australia, Canada, and the USA (among many other countries).

We may like to think that it does not happen any more. I am not so sure. The real story of Haiti and its cholera and the use of cheap, untested vaccines is yet to be told Similarly, some of the stories about the intentional “creation” of new strains of influenza and the subsequent discovery and dissemination of new vaccines for their cure may never ever become public.

Mosby, I. Social History 46, 145–172 (2013). Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942–1952

Abstract: Between 1942 and 1952, some of Canada’s leading nutrition experts, in cooperation with various federal departments, conducted an unprecedented series of nutritional studies of Aboriginal communities and residential schools. The most ambitious and perhaps best known of these was the 1947–1948 James Bay Survey of the Attawapiskat and Rupert’s House Cree First Nations. Less well known were two separate long-term studies that went so far as to include controlled experiments conducted, apparently without the subjects’ informed consent or knowledge, on malnourished Aboriginal populations in Northern Manitoba and, later, in six Indian residential schools. This article explores these studies and experiments, in part to provide a narrative record of a largely unexamined episode of exploitation and neglect by the Canadian government. At the same time, it situates these studies within the context of broader federal policies governing the lives of Aboriginal peoples, a shifting Canadian consensus concerning the science of nutrition, and changing attitudes towards the ethics of biomedical experimentation on human beings during a period that encompassed, among other things, the establishment of the Nuremberg Code of experimental research ethics.

Nature also reports:

Canadian government scientists used malnourished native populations as unwitting subjects in experiments conducted in the 1940s and 1950s to test nutritional interventions. The tests, many of which involved children at state-funded residential schools, had been largely forgotten until they were described earlier this month in the journal Social History by Ian Mosby, who studies the history of food and nutrition at the University of Guelph in Canada.

The work began in 1942, when government scientists visited several native communities in northern Manitoba and discovered widespread hunger and malnutrition. “Their immediate response was to study the problem by testing nutritional supplements,” says Mosby. From a group of 300 malnourished people selected for the tests, 125 were given vitamin supplements, and the rest served as ‘untreated’ controls. ….

Nancy Walton, a medical ethicist at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, and former chairwoman of the university’s research-ethics board, says that such a project would never be allowed today, “but in the context of that time, it’s unfortunately not surprising”. Awareness of the need for informed consent in human studies was growing — informed consent was a central tenet of the Nuremberg Code, developed in the late 1940s — but the idea had not yet been adopted around the world.

“It’s not just bad ethics, it’s bad science,” Walton says of the Canadian government research. “They didn’t appear to try and prove or disprove any hypothesis that I can see, or make any statistical correlations.”

Indeed, says Mosby, very little of value came out of the research. He found no evidence that the northern Manitoba study was completed or published. The school experiments were presented at conferences and published, but they led to no important advances in nutritional science or improvements in conditions at the schools. “They mostly just confirmed what they already knew,” Mosby says. ….


Skin cells made to behave like nerve cells without the use of stem cells

June 7, 2011

A new paper by researchers at Lund University in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America describes how they have managed to develop nerve cells from human skin cells without using stem cells – a development described as an ethical and medical breakthrough.

Direct conversion of human fibroblasts to dopaminergic neurons

by Ulrich Pfisterer, Agnete Kirkeby, Olof Torper, James Wood, Jenny Nelander, Audrey Dufour, Anders Björklund, Olle Lindvall,Johan Jakobsson, and Malin Parmar

doi:10.1073/pnas.1105135108 PNAS June 6, 2011

Abstract: Recent reports demonstrate that somatic mouse cells can be directly converted to other mature cell types by using combined expression of defined factors. Here we show that the same strategy can be applied to human embryonic and postnatal fibroblasts. By overexpression of the transcription factors Ascl1, Brn2, and Myt1l, human fibroblasts were efficiently converted to functional neurons. We also demonstrate that the converted neurons can be directed toward distinct functional neurotransmitter phenotypes when the appropriate transcriptional cues are provided together with the three conversion factors. By combining expression of the three conversion factors with expression of two genes involved in dopamine neuron generation, Lmx1a and FoxA2, we could direct the phenotype of the converted cells toward dopaminergic neurons. Such subtype-specific induced neurons derived from human somatic cells could be valuable for disease modeling and cell replacement therapy.

The Local reports:



Swedish team turns skin into nerve cells

Swedish team turns skin into nerve cells

A team of researchers at Lund University in southern Sweden have managed to develop nerve cells from human skin cells without using stem cells – a development described as an ethical and medical breakthrough.

“This fundamentally changes how we look at mature cells and their capacity. Previously a skin cell was thought to always remain a skin cell, but we have shown that it can be any cell,” said Malin Parmar, the Lund University researcher leading the study, to The Local on Tuesday.

The new technique works by reprogramming connective tissue cells, so-called human fibroblasts, directly into nerve cells, opening up a new field with the potential to “take research around cell transplantation to the next level”.

Parmar explained that members of the research team were surprised at how receptive the fibroblasts were for new instructions.

“From the beginning this was mostly an experiment that was fun to try out. But fairly quickly it was shown that the cells were unexpectedly receptive to instructions,” she said.


Stem Cells turn injured rodents into Mighty Mice

November 11, 2010

The implications for the possible treatment of wasted muscles – and perhaps even for aged, wasted muscles – is immense.

(Reuters) – Injecting stem cells into injured mice made their muscles grow back twice as big in a matter of days, creating mighty mice with bulky muscles that stayed big and strong for the rest of their lives, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

Mighty Mouse

If the same applies to humans, the findings could lead to new treatments for diseases that cause muscles to deteriorate, such as muscular dystrophy.

It may even help people resist the gradual erosion of muscle strength that comes with age, Bradley Olwin, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and colleagues reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine. “This was a very exciting and unexpected result,” Olwin, who worked on the study, said in a statement.

“We found that the transplanted stem cells are permanently altered and reduce the aging of the transplanted muscle, maintaining strength and mass.” Olwin’s team experimented on young mice with leg injuries, injecting them with muscle stem cells taken from young donor mice. Stem cells are unique in that they can constantly renew themselves, and form the basis of other specialized cells. These cells not only repaired the injury, but they caused the treated muscle to increase in size by 170 percent. Olwin’s team had thought the changes would be temporary, but they lasted through the lifetime of the mice, which was about two years.

“When the muscles were examined two years later, we found the procedure permanently changed the transplanted cells, making them resistant to the aging process in the muscle,” Olwin said in a statement.

Olwin and colleagues said when they injected the cells into a healthy leg, they did not get the same effect, suggesting there is something important about injecting the cells into an injured muscle that triggers growth.

“The environment that the stem cells are injected into is very important, because when it tells the cells there is an injury, they respond in a unique way,” he said.

The team hopes eventually to find drugs or combinations of drugs that mimic the behavior of transplanted cells,” Olwin said. The findings are encouraging for human research, but Olwin cautions that putting stem cells from young mice into other young mice is not the same thing as making old muscles young again.

And the study is in mice, not people.

The paper is

Prevention of Muscle Aging by Myofiber-Associated Satellite Cell Transplantation by John K. Hall, Glen B. Banks, Jeffrey S. Chamberlain and Bradley B. Olwin. Sci Transl Med 10 November 2010: Vol. 2, Issue 57, p. 57ra83
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001081


Skeletal muscle is dynamic, adapting to environmental needs, continuously maintained, and capable of extensive regeneration. These hallmarks diminish with age, resulting in a loss of muscle mass, reduced regenerative capacity, and decreased functionality. Although the mechanisms responsible for this decline are unclear, complex changes within the local and systemic environment that lead to a reduction in regenerative capacity of skeletal muscle stem cells, termed satellite cells, are believed to be responsible. We demonstrate that engraftment of myofiber-associated satellite cells, coupled with an induced muscle injury, markedly alters the environment of young adult host muscle, eliciting a near-lifelong enhancement in muscle mass, stem cell number, and force generation. The abrogation of age-related atrophy appears to arise from an increased regenerative capacity of the donor stem cells, which expand to occupy both myonuclei in myofibers and the satellite cell niche. Further, these cells have extensive self-renewal capabilities, as demonstrated by serial transplantation. These near-lifelong, physiological changes suggest an approach for the amelioration of muscle atrophy and diminished function that arise with aging through myofiber-associated satellite cell transplantation.

Next week is Nobel week: My layman forecasts

October 1, 2010

This week I won a $10 prize in a lottery and my belief in my crystal ball is high (but I ignore the fact that the lottery tickets cost me $30).

Nobel Prize® medal - registered trademark of the Nobel Foundation

Nobel prize medal

Next week is Nobel week and the winners for Medicine will be announced on Monday 4th, for Physics on Tuesday 5th and for Chemistry on Wednesday 6th. I pass over the Literature, Economics and Peace prizes in silence but address my crystal ball as to the areas of research that will be honoured.

Medicine: The 2 areas that spring to mind are stem cells and genetic cancer research. To choose one I go for stem cells with Dr. Yamanaka included in there somewhere.

Physics: The 2 areas I see as most likely are either quantum physics or the expanding universe. To choose one I plump for the universe and Prof. Perlmutter among the recipients.

Chemistry: I am fascinated by new materials and with graphene being the flavour of the decade I choose work related to graphene as being the winner. To name a name it would be just if the first person to discover graphene received recognition and so I hope that Hanns-Peter Boehm is on the list.

In spite of my lottery win, I put the probability of being right on one count at no more than 1%, on two counts at 0.1% and being right on all 3 at 0.01%.

Add your favourites if you have any.

Update: Two more papers retracted by Mount Sinai

September 24, 2010
Mount Sinai School of Medicine logo.png

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There is an epidemic of retractions.

Retraction Watch reports that Gene therapy researcher Savio Woo has retracted two more papers in addition to the 4 retracted earlier.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine researcher Savio Woo, whom Retraction Watch reported last week has already retracted four papers from major journals as two postdocs have been fired from his lab, has retracted two more from Molecular Therapy: The Journal of the American Society of Gene Therapy.

The two papers, both from 2007, were “Metabolic Basis of Sexual Dimorphism in PKU Mice After Genome-targeted PAH Gene Therapy” and “Correction in Female PKU Mice by Repeated Administration of mPAH cDNA Using phiBT1 Integration System.” As Nature noted in its coverage of the other retractions, the papers apparently followed from a now-retracted paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that, as we noted in a previous post, “claimed to have discovered a possible cure for phenylketonuria, or PKU, in mice.”

Li Chen and Zhiyu Li were the pot-docs implicated.

After Harvard’s Hausergate, now misconduct at Mount Sinai

September 21, 2010
Mount Sinai School of Medicine logo.png

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Earlier this week, the blog Retraction Watch called attention to four recent paper retractions by noted gene therapy researcher Savio Woo of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Today, the school said in a statement that two of Woo’s postdoctoral fellows have been fired for research misconduct and that an internal investigation has cleared Woo of any wrongdoing.

Two of Woo’s post-doctoral fellows at Mount Sinai School of Medicine were dismissed for “research misconduct,” said Ian Michaels, a spokesman for the institution. According to Michaels:

When Dr. Savio L C Woo came to suspect that two post-doctoral fellows in his laboratory may have engaged in research misconduct he notified the Mount Sinai Research Integrity Office. Mount Sinai immediately initiated institutional reviews that resulted in both post-doctoral fellows being dismissed for research misconduct. At no time were there allegations that Dr. Woo had engaged in research misconduct. As part of its review, the investigation committee looked into this possibility and confirmed that no research misconduct could be attributed to Dr. Woo, who voluntarily retracted the papers regarding the research in question. Mount Sinai reported the results of its investigations to the appropriate government agencies and continues to cooperate with them as part of its commitment to adhere to the highest standards for research integrity.


Wikipedia: A twelfth-century Byzantine manuscript of the Hippocratic Oath.

According to ScienceInsider, the names of postdocs Li Chen and Zhiyu Li were recently removed from Mount Sinai’s directory. Chen and Li were listed as first authors on the retracted papers. Three  major journals — Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesHuman Gene Therapy, and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute — recently retracted papers authored by Woo and others.

In a retraction notice issued this month, Woo wrote that:

It was discovered that some of the micrographs in two papers we published [figure 4 in J Natl Cancer Inst 2008;100:1389-1400 (1), and figure 3 in Hum Gene Ther 2009;20:751-758 (2)] are apparently duplicated. This has been reported to the institutional research integrity committee by the authors and while the outcome of an investigation is pending, the undersigned co-authors respectfully request a retraction of both papers and sincerely apologize to our colleagues.

The four papers in question focus on two different areas of gene therapy research. One pair, published in 2008 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and in 2009 in Human Gene Therapy, investigate genetically engineered bacteria as a weapon against cancer. The other two papers describe a method for using bacterial enzymes to introduce therapeutic genes. A 2005 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports experiments in which mice with the metabolic disorder phenylketonuria appeared to be cured using this method. As a demonstration of the promise of gene therapy, that work garnered some media coverage, includingthis article in Science. A 2008 paper in Human Gene Therapy described the use of the technique in human cells.


Indian superbug now in 14 countries

September 14, 2010

The widespread and indiscriminate use of antibiotics in India has probably helped in making the superbug NDM1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1) resistant to virtually every known antibiotic. The defensive attitude taken by the medical profession in India when the Lancet report was first published is less apparent now and the Government has been forced to address the issue of the use of antibiotics.

Three cases have been found in the US. Three people returned to the US from India earlier this year infected with the newly described “superbugs” that are highly resistant to antibiotics, according to media reports. All three confirmed cases – one each in California, Illinois and Massachusetts – involved people who got medical care in India. The Illinois patient recovered, and there is no evidence the infection was transmitted to other people. Another person was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital and isolated, a measure that prevented the germ from spreading, said David Hooper, chief of the hospital’s infection control unit, the Boston Herald said. The Massachusetts patient too survived. The daily said the superbug seems to have been contained. All three patients developed urinary tract infections that carried a genetic feature that made their cases harder to treat.

Taiwan on Thursday decided to declare it a category-four communicable disease. According to Taiwan’s Centre for Disease Control, NDM-1 has the potential to become a serious public health problem as the superbug is extremely virulent and resistant to almost all antibiotics, even the most powerful ones.

Sify comments that:

The Government of India has constituted a committee to formulate a policy for the rational use of antibiotics. The 13-member task force, chaired by the Director-General of Health Services, is expected to submit a report within two months.

The task ahead is Herculean, because it requires a change of culture both on the part of doctors and patients. In a country where a significant portion of the people cannot afford most useful medicines, doctors routinely over-prescribe antibiotics to those who consult them. What is worse, patients are often dissatisfied with a doctor who may advise that, say, a viral infection should be roughed out if it does not get serious and not be pointlessly treated with antibiotics. This is, of course, just a little better than in China where many patients are not satisfied unless a doctor prescribes an injectable. Poor and uninformed patients in India also routinely use an older prescription to treat a new ailment whose symptoms appear similar, and then do not complete a course once undertaken. Further, although antibiotics are to be sold only against prescriptions, chemists routinely sell them over the counter, acting as makeshift doctors in response to patients’ narration of symptoms and request for some tablets.

It is also necessary to examine what can be done to counter the depredations (there is no other word for it) of drug companies and their armies of medical representatives at whose request most doctors do their prescribing. The best long-term weapon is right public awareness on these issues. Civil society has a larger role to play in this regard than government.

Indian “superbug” report is a scare to hurt medical tourism?

August 12, 2010

The Times of India is not impressed by the report in The Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal which claims that “India also provides cosmetic surgery for Europeans and Americans, and it is likely the bacteria will spread worldwide.”

cartoon from

Scientists have tracked down a drug-resistant superbug that infects patients and causes multiple organ failure to Indian hospitals but doctors here see in it the germ of a move to damage the country’s booming medical tourism industry. While the study has the medical world turning its focus on infection control policies in Indian hospitals, the Indian Council of Medical Research has alleged a bias in the report and said it is an attempt to hurt medical tourism in the country that is taking away huge custom from hospitals in the West. “Such infections can flow in from any part of the world. It’s unfair to say it originated from India,” said ICMR director Dr VM Katoch. The superbug NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase) is named after the national capital, where a Swedish patient was reportedly infected after undergoing a surgery in 2008.

Senior doctors working in infection control said India lacks policies on antibiotics, infection control and registries for hospital-acquired infections. By the ICMR director’s own admission, India cannot scientifically fight back allegations of being the source of such superbugs, as the country does not have a registry of such hospital-acquired infections.

“Two in every five patients admitted to hospitals acquire infections. This extends the patient’s stay in the hospital, increases the expenses and causes side-effects,” said Dr Dilip Mathai, head of the department of internal medicine, Christian Medical College, Vellore.

The Lancet report  is causing some alarm within the medical tourism fraternity in India and doctors are rushing to defend the business.

But doctors in India said there was little chance this bacteria would infect overseas “health tourism” visitors. “Most of these bacteria are mostly transmitted to ICU patients, those in ventilators or critically ill patients. Since overseas patients come for selective surgeries, chances of them getting these bugs are negligible,” said Dr Monica Mahajan, senior consultant at Delhi-based Max Healthcare. Dr Amit Verma, director of critical care medicine at Fortis said he did not anticipate any major impact to medical tourism in India. The sample size of the study was very small to arrive at a conclusion, he said, adding that the chances of the bacteria becoming a global epidemic was negligible due to the restricted transmission capability of the bacteria.

Somehow the glib statement that Most of these bacteria are mostly transmitted to ICU patients, those in ventilators or critically ill patients. Since overseas patients come for selective surgeries, chances of them getting these bugs are negligible” does not inspire much confidence!

The pandemic is over but 300 million vaccines were sold for a small fortune

August 11, 2010

The world is no longer in the middle of an H1N1 pandemic, the World Health Organisation has announced. We are now in the “post pandemic period”, Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, has announced.

But as reported by the The  Star in Toronto,

Three members of the emergency committee that advised Director General Dr. Margaret Chan on the H1N1 pandemic work at public health agencies in the United States and United Kingdom that have received research funding from pharmaceutical companies or their industry associations, and a fourth member had previously worked as a paid consultant for five different vaccine manufacturers.

The international health authority came under fire in June when a prominent medical journal alleged scientists with undisclosed financial ties to drug manufacturers had helped develop its pandemic strategies.

The article noted that guidelines published in 2004 urged countries to stockpile antiviral medication in advance to avoid scrambling for supplies when an outbreak occurred, but the WHO failed to disclose that three of the committee members who contributed to the document had at one point received funding from companies that manufacture antiviral drugs.

The joint investigation by the BMJ (formerly called the British Medical Journal) and the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism also spoke out against the WHO for keeping the lid on the names of its 15-member H1N1 emergency committee.

Over 300 Million vaccines were sold during this alarmist nonsense.

Sounds like fraud.

American gets an Indian heart

August 7, 2010

I wish the recipient a long and useful life.

But the headlines in The Hindu newspaper and the , no doubt justified, pride in the accomplishments of the medical fraternity is a little disturbing.

Nearly 25 years ago, Prathap C. Reddy, a cardiologist set up a hospital in Chennai after he lost a patient who could not afford to go to the United States for surgery. At Apollo Hospitals, things have come full circle since, with a 65-year old American undergoing a heart transplant here.

In the process, two records were also created. The patient was not only the first U.S. citizen to undergo a heart transplant in India, but he was also the oldest person to undergo a heart transplant in the country, Paul Ramesh, primary consultant cardiac surgeon who performed the surgery said.

The recipients heart function was about 28 per cent and in January, doctors back home in Minneapolis told him that he required a heart transplant within a year, failing which he would die, T. Sunder, consultant cardiac surgeon, Apollo Hospitals, explained.

However, the American recounted in a press conference on Thursday, it could have taken him a year and a half to get a heart back home. He had meanwhile, read of the facilities for heart transplant in India, checked with some friends and decided to make the trip to India to get a new heart.

On the night of July 21, the American got really lucky. A brain dead donor’s 36-year old heart was available but there were no other takers. M.R. Girinath, chief cardio vascular surgeon, called up the State co-ordinator for the Cadaver Transplant Programme seeking a go-ahead to use the heart on the foreigner. Once the sanction came, the hospital performed the transplant, working eight hours to put an Indian heart into an American.

But there is a dark side to this kind of “medical tourism”. The transplant and organ donor business in India is already a growing and lucrative business for many medical institutions and practitioners. There is now a thriving “black market” in kidneys for transplantation preying on the poor on India’s slums .  ( After the Tsunami struck this was the only way out for many poor women in some villages in Southern India).

The grapevine tells me that the kidney “donor” is paid around 25,000 Indian Rupees (about $500) while the recipient is charged around 100,000 – 200,000 Indian Rupees (about $2,000 – 4,000) for the kidney and the paperwork to legitimise the organ. A foreign buyer is usually charged more (as much as $30,000) but kidney brokers are available to try and “minimise” the cost. The medical charges for transplantation are of course extra. The organ business is not caused by medical tourism but the money-flows are the key driving force and tourism adds hugely to the money flows.

If the organ trade now targets hearts ………..

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