science and health

Maggot Therapy

 

Paul was 12 years old. The wound from his broken and splintered elbow was not healing. He was very sick. The infection from the wound was starting to spread throughout his body. It was 1926 and the father had taken Paul to the best military hospital in Poland. The doctors wanted to amputate Paul’s arm to save his life. But Paul’s father did not want a cripple for a son and was ready to let him die. One of the young doctors suggested a “new alternative” treatment. Paul was placed outside in the sun and his wound was exposed. Flies came and settled in his wound. After some time the wound was bandaged up again. Paul made a remarkable recovery. When the bandages were removed, there were maggots in his wound, but the wound was pink and completely healed. Paul was my father.

Used in Napoleon’s army and in the Civil War in the United States to treat soldiers’ injuries, wound treatment with maggots was common in the 1930’s until antibiotics became available in the 1940’s. The medicinal use of maggots for treating chronic wounds is experiencing a rebirth. The treatment is effective, safe, simple, and inexpensive. The development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the popularity of “biotherapeutics” contribute to its come-back. Medicinal maggots are approved by the FDA. Only live organisms are marketed in the United States according to FDA regulation. The come-back in the United States is largely due to the research and efforts of Dr. Ronald A. Sherman at the University of California, Irvine, CA. Sherman manages the “Maggot Therapy Project” website (www.ucihs.uci.edu/som/pathology/sherman/home_pg.htm).

Maggots are fly larvae. When used in wound cleaning, they operate like tiny surgeons removing every bit of diseased and dead tissue. They also secrete substances that kill bacteria. Maggots only eat dead tissue, leaving healthy tissue alone. The process of wound cleaning is called debridement. During debridement, maggots release proteolytic enzymes that liquify the necrotic tissue so that they can feed upon it. They may also promote wound healing by secreting substances that stimulate the development of new blood vessels. Formation of blood vessels helps to grow new tissue.

When is maggot therapy appropriate? Medicinal maggots can be used to treat wounds that don’t heal such as diabetic foot ulcers or other types of infected and gangrenous wounds, and wounds that contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Maggot therapy is cheaper than conventional therapy and is a drug-free wound treatment. It can dramatically reduce wound treatment time. Medicinal maggots may also be a weapon in the battle against meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), important to consider given the rise in MRSA infections.

How does maggot therapy work and where can you get it? Medicinal maggots are grown in the laboratory from eggs laid by a specific species of flies. They are disinfected with antibiotics and shipped stuffed in vials to physicians that request them. In the United States, healthcare providers can obtain maggots from Monarch Labs (www.MonarchLabs.com). Maggots are applied to wounds for about 2 days and then removed. Generally, new maggots are applied several times during the course of wound debridement. The maggots are well confined by nylon netting and bandages and cannot get loose. When they are finished eating, they are killed by dropping them into a jar of alcohol. Patients have to overcome the “yuck” factor, but people have no trouble accepting this therapy when it is a choice between maggots and chronic pain or losing a limb.

 

Why Quitting Smoking Makes You Fat 

 

Do you ever wonder why most smokers are skinny and why your friends who stopped smoking gain weight? Until recently, scientists didn’t know how smoking controls weight; they assumed weight loss was caused by the same nicotine-nicotine receptor interaction in the brain as was addiction to cigarettes. Researchers at Yale University, New Haven, CT, show for the first time that addiction and appetite control are mediated by different nicotine receptors. This suggests that weight6 loss could be achieved even in non-smokers by targeting the right nicotine receptor.

The nicotine receptor

The nicotine receptor in the brain has 15 different parts, which can combine in various ways to form special types of nicotine receptors. When nicotine enters the brain, it can increase blood pressure, make you feel calm, or make you crave more cigarettes, depending on how the receptor parts have combined. Until now, scientists believed that appetite suppression was mediated by the same type of nicotine receptor as addiction.

Researchers at Yale University wanted to find new drugs to treat depression by studying anti-depressive effects of nicotine in mice. To their surprise, they found that the nicotine-like drugs, directed against a specific nicotine receptor, caused the mice to eat less and lose weight (1).

Nicotine does not cause cancer

The nicotine in cigarettes causes addiction to smoking, but it is the tars and carbon monoxide in smoke that cause lung disease and cancer. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (2) found that mice, treated with doses of nicotine found in nicotine replacement therapies, did not cause or promote lung cancer. European studies on nicotine replacement therapy also showed that there was no increase in lung cancer when people stopped smoking and used nicotine replacement therapy for as long as several years.

Quitting smoking

Many smokers find it difficult to stop smoking and often go back after stopping for a while. Nicotine replacement can help, but nicotine patches or lozenges are often insufficient. The e (electronic)-cigarette has become a popular device for delivering nicotine. The e-cigarette looks like a cigarette, has a battery, heating element, and contains propylene glycol and nicotine. The nicotine quality and content of e-cigarettes varies widely.

Losing weight

The Yale researchers write about their recent study: ”This study demonstrates that nicotine decreases food intake and body weight by influencing the hypothalamic melanocortin system and identifies critical molecular and synaptic mechanisms involved in nicotine-induced decreases in appetite.” (1). An overdose of nicotine or high doses of nicotine can have serious side effects, but other nicotinic drugs may be safer in helping smokers quit or in avoiding weight gain after stopping smoking. Because the researchers showed that appetite control and weight loss are mediated by a specific nicotine receptor and pathway, the right kind of nicotinic drugs could also help control obesity and other metabolic disorders in non-smokers without causing adverse health effects.

Sources

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3113664/
  2. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110404084316.htm

 

 

Making False Memories

 

I have falsely remembered birthday dates and addresses. Trustworthy eyewitnesses may recall incidents or experiences that never happened and contradict DNA evidence in criminal cases. It is difficult to study human brains, but animal models can help elucidate how memory is created and recalled. In a recent study, researchers at the Riken-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics and MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory managed to install false memories in mice, shedding light on how false memories are created (https://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6144/387).

Short-term memory

We use short-term memory to hold information temporally in our minds, like when we plan to accomplish a task or add up some numbers. The prefrontal lobe of our brain, right behind our forehead, becomes activated during short-term memory tasks. Short-term memory is also called “working” memory.

Long-term memory

Long-term memory forms when information from short-term memory is transferred to the hippocampus, a curved structure within the brain. All kinds of information from other sensory parts of the brain also end up in the hippocampus, which sorts it and forms associations between sensory information. All the steps in building long term memory are not known, but may involve the production of neurotransmitters and new proteins. Recalling long-term memories may also involve the synthesis of new neuronal proteins and this process may alter memories. Some studies suggest that factors in the environment, when memories are recalled, may change the original memory.

False memories

Researchers placed mice in a pleasant, safe environment (box A) and then moved the mice to a different environment (box B) and activated the neurons in the hippocampus that encoded the memory of box A. Then they gave the mice a mild foot shock, which the mice disliked and feared. When the mice were put back into box A, they froze, exhibiting a fear response. The mice associated the shock with box A, although it only happened in box B. Mice that were shocked in box B without having their memory of box A activated, showed no fear response in box A.

Considerations

Researchers found that the parts of the brain that were involved in the false memory in mice were exactly the same as the ones used in creating a real memory. Understanding how memories are altered is not just important in the courtroom, but could help people suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other traumatic experiences. Recalling bad memories in a different environment or while taking an appropriate drug could mute or alter these memories, although recalling the memories at first can be painful. Psychologist Alain Brunet headed a clinical study where PTSD patients were given a drug, called propranolol, while recalling their traumatic event. The procedure reduced PSD symptoms by as much as 50 percent (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23182304).