Stories tagged medicine


Join us for a lecture in the Deadly Medicine series: "Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to Present.

American blacks have long suffered from health adversities not shared by whites, and the problem persists even today, decades after the end of state-sanctioned racism. As Harriet A. Washington writes in her new book, Medical Apartheid, the "racial health divide confronts us everywhere we look, from doubled black-infant death rates to African-American life expectancies that fall years behind whites." To the question of how this disparity came to be, she provides a provocative answer.

Though slavery and segregation form the backdrop of her analysis, Washington believes that a very specific aspect of past discrimination against blacks explains the unequal levels of treatment and health that are still with us. Her focus is on the long history of medical experiments of which American blacks were the unwilling or unwitting subjects. These past injuries, Washington argues, have "played a pivotal role in forging the fear of medicine that helps perpetuate our nation's racial health gulf." Long after the events themselves, she believes, the memory of abuse has remained.

(Harriet A. Washington has been a fellow in ethics at the Harvard Medical School, a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, and a senior research scholar at the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University. As a journalist and editor, she has worked for USA Today and several other publications, been a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and has written for such academic forums as the Harvard Public Health Review and The New England Journal of Medicine. She is the recipient of several prestigious awards for her work.)

Thursday, February 28
7-8:30 PM
SMM Auditorium, Level 3

Presentations at the Science Museum are $12 per person ($8 for Science Museum members). Admission to Deadly Medicine is included in this ticket price. Purchase tickets to four of the lectures and get the fifth one free. For tickets, call (651) 221-9444.


Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century

Want to know what to do with your life. A diverse committee of experts from around the world, at the request of the U.S. National Science Foundation, identified 14 challenges that, if met, would improve how we live.

Here is their list in no particular order. You can learn more about each challenge by clicking on it.

You can vote for which is most important

The committee decided not to rank the challenges. NAE is offering the public an opportunity to vote on which one they think is most important and to provide comments at the Engineering Challenges website


Brain scan of an Alzheimer’s patient
Brain scan of an Alzheimer’s patientCourtesy NIH/National Institute on Aging

Doctors in California have developed a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, in which patients show tremendous improvement within minutes.

Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain which can severely impair memory, thinking and behavior. The researchers noticed that Alzheimer’s patients have very high levels of a protein called TNF, which is known to regulate brain activity. The treatment involves injecting an anti-TNF drug into the patient’s spinal fluid. The drug, Etanercept, has already been approved by the FDA for treatment of other diseases. The study involved only a small number of patients, but the strong positive results of this early test give hope that an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s could be on the horizon.

NOTE: As always when we discuss medical treatment on Science Buzz, it is important to point out – we are not doctors. We cannot give medical advice, nor should you take medical advice from anyone over the Internet. If you have questions about this treatment, you need to consult your physician.

Scientists in California are developing a way to tell cancer cells from normal cells, using nanotechnology to measure the cells’ softness.

Some microbes are resistant to antibiotics. Researchers in England have developed a way to change the molecular structure of antibiotics to make them more effective against these “superbugs.”

Medical researchers are developing nanorobots to deliver drugs directly where they are needed in the body.

Meanwhile, researchers in California are using bacteria to grow electronic circuits out of nanotubes.

A European study has found that women taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are at a higher risk for blood clots and heart disease.


Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria.: Photo courtesy NIH
Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria.: Photo courtesy NIH

Malaria is one of the most deadly diseases in the world. Spread by mosquitoes, each year it kills more than 1 million people, and makes 300 million seriously ill, mostly children, mostly in Africa.

For years researchers have tried to find a vaccine that will prevent people from contracting the disease. The problem is, the parasite enters the bloodstream at a particular phase in its life cycle. Collecting the parasite at that stage is tricky, because it lives in the salivary glands of the mosquito.

But now a research lab in suburban Maryland has figured out a way to collect the parasites. They breed their own highly infectious mosquitoes, which they keep locked behind five doors so none escape. Once the parasite has reached the proper stage, workers kill the mosquitoes and extract the parasite.

After they collect the parasite, they disable it and render it harmless. It can then be injected into a person. The body recognizes the parasite as a foreign body and produces antibodies to fight it. These antibodies stay in the bloodstream, protecting the person from any real parasites they may later pick up.

Early test indicate the vaccine could be up to 90% effective, and protect against malaria for 10 months or more. Human trials are to begin next year.

You can learn more about malaria in The Science Museum’s on-line exhibit.


A denrimer molceule: Image from Wikimedia Commons.
A denrimer molceule: Image from Wikimedia Commons.

New treatments for AIDS and cancer, based on nanoparticles, are about to go into human trials. Both treatments use dendrimers, molecules with multiple arms. Each arm can be designed to do different things. In the case of the AIDS treatment, the arms clasp onto docking sites on the virus’s coating, preventing it from attaching to and infecting healthy cells. In the cancer treatment, some of the arms hold folic acid, which cancer cells absorb; the other arms hold an anti-cancer drug, which is then released inside the cancerous cell.

Dendrimers were invented 30 years ago, but have had few practical applications, since they are difficult and expensive to make. But new processes promise to speed up production, perhaps unlocking the promise of these molecules.

To see images of dendrimers, go here.