Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, November 30, 2018

The One-Note Diet

"[The carnivore diet includes] only foods that either walked, swam, or flew. It has become trendy but] eating only meat is not sexy. It’s not colorful, and it’s not fun."
Kelly Schmidt, RD, holistic dietitian, Columbus, Ohio

"[The carnivore diet represents an extreme extension of low-carbohydrate diets...] This is the keto diet on testosterone."
"Long-term research on the carnivore diet is simply absent -- and no, that one-year study of two men in 1930 [Vilhjalmur Stefansson and a fellow explorer eating like the Inuit] doesn't count."
Jonathan Jarry, Office for Science and Society, McGill University 

"[While people can experience gas or stomach upset if they eat beans or other high-lectin foods such as seeds, grains, rinds and leaves] there is no research to suggest that we should avoid all of these nutrient-rich foods."
Heidi Bates, director, Integrated Dietetic Internship, University of Alberta

"It takes time for scurvy to present -- you won't notice this in a few weeks [in the absence of vitamin C intake from fresh fruits and vegetables]."
Dr. Joe Schwarcz, director, Office for Science and Society, McGill University
Carnivore Diet

For people who consider meal preparation a chore, who don't know all that much about nutrition and good choice selection in a balanced diet, eating one type of food exclusively might seem attractive. All the more so that one particular kind of food does attract the appreciation of many people who enjoy red meat to the exclusion of many other choices. We're told by health specialists and the medical community that too much meat in one's diet leads inevitably to the clogging of arteries and heart disease along with risk of stroke, not to mention obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes.

We're urged by public health campaigns to eat in moderation and to make intelligent choices; avoiding processed foods, excessive salt, fats, sugars. Make the greater proportion of what's on our dinner plate vegetables, and a small amount of protein to accompany them. Eat fresh fruit as often as you like in preference to baked goods. Make the issue a complete life-style one of balancing diet with physical movement; reject a sedentary lifestyle and a diet weighted heavily in red meat and processed meat types.

How did the carnivore diet begin its route to popularity? An orthopedic surgeon by the name of Shawn Baker, a leader in the carnivore diet movement, wrote a book titled The Carnivore Diet, released early in 2018. He has had his medical license revoked. The "voluntary and permanent surrender" of his medical license was ordered by the New Mexico Medical Board in 2017 in reflection of the fact that "This action was based on failure to report adverse action taken by a healthcare entity and incompetence to practice as a licensee", according to their report.

Fatty meats from ruminant sources (cattle, lamb, goat, antelope, elk, deer) along with processed meats such as bacon, sausage and deli meats are all fundamentals of the carnivore diet. In fact they are, essentially, the carnivore diet. And water. Drink water, eat beef. All the time. At every meal. Eschew grains, fruits, vegetables; they contaminate the carnivore diet. Eggs and dairy may be permissible. Take with water. Add sodium to ensure there's no muscle cramping. Forget nuts, seeds or spices based on plants; ditto oils or seasonings. Supplements? Now you're pushing it.

The carnivore diet claims people can readily lose weight, improve cardiovascular health, increase their mental clarity, alleviate autoimmune symptoms, clear acne and other skin conditions and while they're at it, the diet will ease anxiety and depression. The theory behind refusing fruits and vegetables is that lectins, gluten and phytic acid in many plants are toxic to people. Found in seeds, grains, skins, rinds and leaves lectins are there to protect plants from predators. Ingested by humans, according to American cardiologist Steven Gundry, they cause inflammatory reactions.

Of course for some people, such as those with kidney disease, and of course diabetes which can lead to kidney disease, meat intake should be strictly limited. People are  urged to limit intake of red and processed meat to 70 grams daily to reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Too much meat in the diet can increase uric acid in the blood leading to joint crystallization which causes gout. Evidence exists that links grilled meat and cancer; chemicals form including heterocyclic amines, mutagenic in nature causing DNA changes increasing cancer risks when muscle meat is cooked at high temperatures.

There's no calcium in meat nor dietary fibre. Red meat contains zinc and iron, and a number of B vitamins. Eggs, permitted on the carnivore diet, contain some vitamin C along with steak tartar, meat in its raw form, as well as liver. But hardly in sufficient quantities to prevent scurvy. No randomized clinical trials exist in support of claims the carnivore diet can cure autoimmune diseases. Touted benefits are difficult to either quantify or measure.

Red meat (beef, pork, lamb), with an emphasis on fattier cuts of meat to take in enough calories. Other options include:
  • Organ meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
    • Lard
    • Bone marrow
    • Butter
    • Salt and pepper
    • Water
    • Bone broth

    Foods That May Be Okay on the Carnivore Diet

    Foods that might be acceptable, as some people interpret the “comes from an animal” part of the carnivore diet, says Schmidt, include:
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
Coffee and tea: These may be plant-based, but some people keep these in the diet.

Foods Not Allowed on the Carnivore Diet

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Grains

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Revisiting The Bad Seed

"The rehabilitation of  young offenders is one of the primary goals of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, but it is not the legislation's only goal. In a case such as this the goal of protection of the public must also be stressed."
"He is only fourteen years of age and in desperate need of treatment and supervised control. He constitutes a danger to the public and [to] his grandmother."
"Based upon the reports I recently discussed, it is difficult to see how such a sentence [Crown and defence suggested a period of six months of open custody and supervision, followed by a period of probation] will assist in [the boy’s] rehabilitation or protect the public from him. It appears obvious that [the boy] is not ready to be placed back into the community."
Judge Wayne Gorman, Corner Brook, Newfoundland

"[He is an] out of control, violent, manipulative youth with no concerns for how his actions affect others around him or any regard for following court orders."
"[In my opinion only a secure sentence represents an outcome to provide any level of rehabilitation.]" "Without a period of secure custody being imposed [the boy] will likely continue to be involved with the Youth Justice System on a regular and escalating basis."
Presentence report

"[The boy stated that he] has been stabbed and has stabbed others, that he kicked his adversary on the ground and sometimes gets in street fights for no other reason than satisfaction."
Psychological report
123RF Stock Photo

He's considered a child as a young offender and his identity is protected under Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act. His behaviour is that of a sado-masochistic sociopath; he feels neither concerned compassion for others nor one iota of regret for his own harmful actions toward others. His commission of violent behaviour, his rejection of authority, his threat to society led to a ten-month sentence of secure custody and supervision.

Im Grade seven there were 125 "behavioural incidents" and in grade eight 66 such incidents logged against his conduct, at a time when he was in school for a mere hour daily. The sentence imposed on this boy takes into account multiple crimes committed this year, including breaking windows, break-ins, stealing lottery tickets from a mall kiosk. On September 21 the boy and a handful of his peers skipped school to go to an abandoned building.

They lured a twelve-year-old girl to accompany them. Once there the boys attacked the girl because they felt she was a "rat"; obviously believing she had "told" on them to school authorities. The boy placed a knife at her throat, she was forced to kneel and she was repeatedly kicked and informed the building was a "good place to kill someone", and their body would never be found. The boy placed a chokehold on the girl and she passed into unconsciousness.

When they left the abandoned building, he warned the girl that if she mentioned the incident to anyone he would kill her. The following day he was arrested. Six months of open custody and supervision with probation was the Crown and defence recommendation, one that the presiding justice deferred in favour of a more rigorous penalty in view of a need to protect the public and to make an effort to rehabilitate the boy.

This young boy has been diagnosed with partial fetal alcohol syndrome. Before he was a year old he was removed from the custody of his parents because of their inattention to the needs of a child, alongside their drug use. And he was placed in the custody of his grandmother, to raise. She informed officials of the limited control she had over the boy's actions. And she made no secret of her fears of her grandson's behaviour, that when he is released in her opinion he will represent a threat both to himself and to the public.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Searching Out Awesome Thrills

"I looked down once and I thought to myself, 'This is it, I'm going to fall to my death. I'm a goner."
"I just locked on and held on as hard as I could. I didn't have much grip left in me at all. My hand was opening, I was slipping."
"Gail [his wife] and her pilot took off first…. looked cool as hell. Then my pilot and I lined up for takeoff. We waited a bit for the updraft to pick up and then we ran till we left the side of the 4000 ft mountain edge. I was expecting to level out above the pilot as we went, but quickly discovered that my harness was not attached to the hang glider or anything else…"
"While the pilot made a critical error in our pre-flight set-up by not attaching me to the glider, he did all he could to get me down to the ground as quickly as possible while grabbing onto my harness and flying with one hand."
"My body weight shifted straight down and I found myself hanging on for my life. I remember looking down and thinking, this is it. I was losing grip with my right hand that was holding onto a strap on the pilot’s right shoulder. He was trying to make a beeline to the landing field as he knew what the situation could bring."
"As we were going down for a hot landing I was slowly losing my grip with my right hand as I was swinging in the wind with the glider. The pilot grabbed my hand, but like in the movies it was a slow motion slipping of the grip until my right hand slipped off and I grabbed another strap on his left side for a bit but this slipped off also."
"I ended up holding on the bar with the left hand and the lower part of his leg with the right when we were nearing the ground."  
Chris Gursky, American tourist in Switzerland
Chris Gursky and his wife, Gail, were on vacation in Switzerland when they decided to try hang gliding for the first time.
Chris Gursky and his wife, Gail, were on vacation in Switzerland when they decided to try hang gliding for the first time.
Working as an auto-parts store manager and photographer might not be the most fascinating job in the world, so it's possible that Chris Gursky of North Port, Florida was ready for some drama and life-changing excitement. He might not have imagined just how life-threatening that drama might turn out to be, but then who among us does when we set out to do something out of the ordinary to break up the tedium in life's routines?

This would be Mr. Gursky and his wife Gail's first such adventure; hang-gliding, but it seems they needed no convincing that this first-time exposure to the thrills of the recreational 'sport' would add something to their lives. In fact, it came close to subtracting something vital to both their lives. He might have ended up very dead, and she a widow. Not the kind of thought that appeals to most people looking to be entertained.

No one, least of all, Mr. Gursky, and perhaps the pilot who somehow overlooked the most vital safety assurance incumbent upon an instructor-pilot having someone else's life in his hands, might foresee. But accidents happen and one man's forgetfulness can translate as another man's ill fortune. In this instance, however, it was not to be and Mr. Gursky had the good fortune to come away from his rather unorthodox experience in hang-gliding relatively unscathed.

No serious physical injuries incurred, though it's remotely possible he will have nightmares for a while. Remotely in the sense that because he had been unable to experience the thrill of a safe hang-gliding exploit, he is still determined to do so and plans in the future to give it another try. This time, however -- if there is another 'this time' -- he will know enough to ensure that he is securely strapped on to the device even if the professional momentarily and almost-catastrophically forgets.

The episode took two minutes total, start to finish. It started badly and ended extremely well. Both Mr. Gursky and the pilot shaken needless to say, but both survived what appeared at first to be the epitaph of one man in failure to launch and the haunted conscience and loss of professional gravitas of the other. Generously, Mr. Gursky praises the pilot as a "good guy" who "did all he could and more" ... aside from neglecting to secure him as per standard avoidance of death technique.
Still from video   Global News

They took off from a 4,000-foot mountain ledge (be still, my heart) when the realization hit that there was nothing securing him to the glider, the harness he was fitted with was nicely in place but unattached. Mr. Gursky found himself dangling to the left of the pilot, clinging to the bar of the glider and alternately to the pilot, not too enthused about meeting the ground prematurely with nothing to cushion the impact.

He did deliberately loose his grip on the pilot/glider at just the right time, ejecting while moving at 70 km/h, seconds before the glider landed in a field of grass. A broken wrist and a torn biceps tendon was what the effort cost him. On the other hand, the video documenting the entire episode has found a celebrated home on YouTube with over a million gawping views by Tuesday following the Monday event.

And Mr. Gursky is now a celebrity of sorts. To whom congratulations for his survival of an untoward incident is due.

Still from video   Global News

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

China's Wild East Public/Private Medicine

"The patients still give us recognition, isn't that correct? This proves that we have no problems."
"The state has also not taken any measures against us, right? Because our hospitals themselves are very good."
Wu Xidong, Putian health industry association

"The reports were nonsense. Now, when people go and see a doctor, they'll ask: 'Is this a private hospital? Should we go in?' There's a question mark."
"Will they be deceived? It's making things difficult for us."
"I was the first person to create everything." 
"We are not selling fake drugs, nor are we deceiving people. The government has done nothing to us."
Chen Deliang, 67, Dongzhuang, Putian, China

"China's health care fraud is pretty rampant."
"With China's private hospitals, there are a lot of traps."
Dr. Ma Jun, director, Harbin Institute of Hematology and Oncology
Scandalous Origins of China's Biggest Private Hospital Group Putian Health Exposed   YICAI Global

Mr. Chen doesn't mean 'everything', he does mean he was the founder of the hospital dynasty that has a presence throughout China, a private hospital system that he began and expanded and networked, inviting family and friends to invest their own efforts in the enterprise. It was, and remains, an enterprise that succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. In Dongzhuang where Mr. Chen and his colleagues live, they live in style. All owing mansions, driving luxury vehicles like Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Mr. Chen is now retired, enjoying the fruits of his labours.

He began the empire that is now the Putian health industry modestly enough. Starting out as a salesman of a remedy to treat scabies his enterprise eventually became a chain of clinics to serve clients with sexually transmitted diseases. From that vantage point, the largest network of private hospitals developed and as they developed all those who joined Mr. Chen in his successful network of private hospitals became immensely wealthy.

Putian hospitals account for eight of all ten private hospitals in the country, adding up to 8,000 facilities to serve the health needs of the country. All these hospitals came into being as the work of people with ties to the Putian area. Where the old state hospitals lacked well-trained specialists, quick appointments, state-of-the-art equipment, the Putian hospitals had it all. Public authorities had nothing but praise for the network; even Wall Street invested billions.

The Putian network is a lesson in success. Public hospitals remain subject to tight scrutiny but private hospitals are the responsibility of local governments, most of which lack the resources and expertise to vet the medical profession. It has come to light that some hospitals in the Putian group took to fabricating patients' testimonies and doctors' credentials while others listed false certifications or used outdated treatments. And that led directly into a case that has shocked the country into awareness.

A university student at a Putian-linked hospital was treated with a discredited form of immunotherapy for his cancer. Wei Zexi, the 22-year-old student, had a diagnosis of synovial sarcoma, a rare type of cancer attacking tissue in the muscle joints. He thought the best chance he would have for survival could be accessed at a Putian hospital. He underwent three operations, four chemotherapy sessions and 25 radiation therapy sessions. He took traditional Chinese medicines repeatedly.

Donations gave him the opportunity to buy Keytruda, an immune-therapy drug not available in most parts of the Chinese mainland, paying $5,000 to access it in Hong Kong. Nothing worked for him, and in desperation he looked online for other options. A Putian center at a military hospital in Beijing was listed at the top of his search results, offering an immunotherapy program called DC-CIK. A specialist for the Putian treatment center told him the treatment had a 80 to 90 percent success rate that could extend his life by 20 years, speaking of a partnership with Stanford University.

$30,000 to pay for the treatment was borrowed by the student's parents. And then, as a few months went by, the cancer spread to  his kidneys and ten months following his first treatment at the Putian-linked hospital, he was dead. The DC-CIK treatment was seen to be largely ineffective in the U.S. and it had been phased out, and nor was there any partnership with Stanford. In the public view, suddenly the Putian network was emblematic of unfettered corruption reflecting the private health care system.
A military hospital in Beijing that has departments contracted to the medical group from Putian Photo: IC

It all started when during the Cultural Revolution, scabies afflicted many Chinese at a time when doctors were in short supply and access to medicine was limited. Causing Mr. Chen to recognize an opportunity to make a  home-made remedy comprised of nitric acid, mercury and vinegar. With it he travelled throughout China, selling his medicine for 30 cents a bottle representing ten times what it cost to produce. At a time in China when public servants were earning about $5 monthly, Mr. Chen was raking in $2,200 annually.

Disciples surrounded him, and he trained them in his practise. "None of us had any medical background", he reminisced. He and his apprentices began renting rooms in small hotels close to bus stations guaranteed to have plenty of foot traffic, and posted ads on utility poles. They began to branch out, opening clinics to treat STDs at a time when prostitution was rising and people were too embarrassed to go to public hospitals. Patients could register anonymously at the clinics.

The Putian network expanded, opening clinics for infertility, dermatology and cosmetic surgery, and then they graduated to opening complete hospitals. In 2003 China gave private hospitals tax-free status in response to severe acute respiratory syndrome sweeping the country, making it imperative that more hospital beds be available along with more quarantine facilities. From there the government agreed to encourage the development of private hospitals to fill an obvious need in that immense population base.

In its online marketing materials Putian features dozens of specialists complete with impressive resumes promoting "abundant clinical experience" and "praise from peers within the industry". Testimonials from happy patients with emotional narratives were placed on line. Some of the Putian hospitals boasted of credentials they were not in possession of. In 2017 a provincial court claimed a hospital had violated local regulations, renting out specialist departments in andrology and dermatology to a man from Putian whom they shut down.

At a marketing firm for Putian hospitals, economics student Xing Jiaming began an internship to gain experience at a successful and growing business. He was assigned to write up credentials for a doctor's replacement, discovering the resume of the replacement was perfectly identical to that of his predecessor's. Mr. Xing was told to promote treatment success rate at the Nanjing Brain Hospital as 100 percent. And he was told to produce testimonials of his own making. "Everything was fabricated by us. None of them was a real case", he admitted.
Mr. Li is one of many Chinese men who has been made impotent by surgery conducted at poorly regulated private hospitals. Photo by Li Wei

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Monday, November 26, 2018

"Sovereignty in Birth"

"Why am I not feeling the head yet? [Am I pushing against a tilted cervix? Am I pushing against a cervix that's not fully open]?"
"I just prayed to the universe to God. I tapped into my baby, 'Can you please show me what's going on'?]"
"I wanted to be the one calling the shots at my birth. I would know if I had to transfer myself to hospital."
Kristie, podcast, Free Birth Society

"No one ever talks about how traumatic it is for the OB [hospital obstetrical] team to receive these patients."
"We often have minutes to intervene and so the rush to prevent catastrophe is interpreted as 'you only want to cut me open'."
"Free birthers are] monstrously egotistical [emotionally immature and seriously reckless]."
Dr. Amy Tuteur, clinical instructor, Harvard Medical School 

"[...When women try to speak up] they're bulldozed, told they're crazy, threatened and punished with even more damaging interventions."
"[Medical professionals] sabotage [what should be the] most profound experience of ecstasy, love, power and beauty in our human experience."
"For medical professionals, the idea that 'all that matters is a healthy baby' is predicated on a profound unconscious hatred of women and the assumption that women are mere incubators, rather than full human beings."
Yolande Clark, Free Birth Society, Fredericton, New Brunswick, mother of seven

"Over time, with repeated contractions, they're [fetuses] not getting as well oxygenated and that can lead to complications for the baby, obviously."
"[Under Canadian law, fetuses are not considered] legal persons [with rights. However, should the baby require emergency care after birth and a delay ensued in seeking care] there might be some grounds for charges."
Liz Darling, assistant dean of midwifery, McMaster University

"The bright side of all this weird media attention is it's brought a TON of women to this movement."
"F--k yes to transmuting people's traumatized s--t energy into something powerful and exciting."
Emilee Saldaya, Free Birth Society founder, CEO

And for anyone who is interested in free birth, "coaching" packages are available should you wish to shell out the (US)$899 it will take to acquire such a package which generously is inclusive of phone or Skype sessions alongside audio recordings of free birth "affirmations" so you can "prime your subconscious for a peaceful, powerful birth". One that seems to appeal to some women who believe that childbirth is a simple, natural process that rightly occurs "on your own terms, wild and free".

When Kristie quoted above delivered it was on her own terms, so to speak. She decided on sitting in a birth tub for the delivery, complete with candles, crystals and burning sage. She did feel a bit of concern, but kept on pushing and finally was rewarded when she felt her baby's head, shoulders and body emerge. She "soaked up that beautiful baby bliss" as she held her newborn daughter's head above the water. Present with her was her husband and their 11-year-old, both eager to be useful, happy to help her out of the tub. Quite the experience for an 11-year-old.

The Free Birth Society is comprised of 'activist' members as an online community, their 23,000 followers on Instagram encouraging one another to be natural. All is not sweetness and light, however, as when a few weeks ago one of its private Facebook group members was identified as a "baby killer" in a social media backlash when her daughter was born dead after six days of labour, meant to be a "natural" birth. She received no lack of encouragement with members urging her to "trust the process". Lacking medical attention the baby perished of Group B strep, picking up her mother's uterus infection.

But that hasn't chastened the two leaders of the group, Yolande Clark and Emilee Saldaya. Their business is freeing women up to be themselves. And being themselves they have no need of the "oppressive medical model" of childbirth with its birth interventions, like checking the cervix for dilation; nothing but obstetrical "rape", according to the two.  Hospitals are institutions where women are "brutalized". Midwives are of course, dangerous "birth workers" who operate alongside obstetricians within "the system".

An Ecstatic Freebirth on the South Coast of New South Wales

According to Candace Johnson, a professor of political science at University of Guelph, her study of the group has concluded it is comprised mostly of privileged women from developed countries who demand less medical intervention throughout pregnancy. After the stillbirth of the California baby the group was condemned as attention-seekers. And it isn't difficult to arrive at that conclusion given that the movement has left women feeling free to birth in yurts and teepees in southern Oregon, in the Daintree rainforest in Australia, in a bamboo forest in Maui. Many see no need for pediatric care and fail to vaccinate their babies.

On the other hand those who find the claims of the free-birthers making sense point out that they have arisen in response to the high-intervention birth climate of the present day, and a "broken system" that can have the effect of leaving women feeling under pressure, coerced, unsafe and disrespected. Caesarean sections now account for 28 percent of all births in Canada, and labour induction rates have doubled to 25 percent of all births in the past three decades. A startling rise in physical injuries has been documented by a summer study, along with trauma to babies from forceps deliveries.

Women informed researchers they had no wish to be restricted, monitored or informed when and how they must push, in one 2015 study out of New Brunswick on free birthers. Of the nine women interviewed, half described their previous hospital birth experience as traumatic. On the other side of the equation, experts report home births can be risky. One 2010 literature review concluded that though low-risk women with planned birth at home may have fewer haemorrhages, infections, lacerations and tearing, a near tripling in death rates for babies ensued, in comparison to planned hospital births.

Data from over 13 million American births attended by doctors or midwives found home birth increased the risk of stillbirth ten-fold, in a 2013 study. On the other hand a study published in 2015 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found there was no increase in risk of harm to babies among low-risk women in Ontario birthing at home with a midwife where midwives attend about ten percent of births in the province, and about 20 percent of those take place at home. There were 7,799 "non-hospital" births reported in Canada in 2017 according to Statistics Canada.

Of the 371,356 hospital births, 2,899 recorded stillbirths ensued (0.7 percent). The most common complication of unattended home births along with an elevated risk of post-partum haemorrhage is a very long, slow labour, and in these conditions the fetus is hard put to cope. The backlash from the California baby stillbirth last month hasn't dampened the free birthers enthusiasm, however. Its CEO closed down their Facebook page with its over 6,000 members, but now sells private memberships for $108.

Hey, business is business.

Freebirth in New Hampshire: Kate's Story

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Manipulating Cannabis Genetics

"You can only manipulate a gene when you know where it is located. And you also need to know something about the rest of the sequencing in the genome so that you can uniquely target the gene of interest and not be side-tracked by --- other things that look similar."
Harm van Bakel, genomic expert, Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York

"Humans, plants, virtually all organisms have something like this [embedded retroviruse DNA].
"[The machinery] that's normally responsible for keeping things tidy and organized gets confused when it sees multiple copies of the same thing, and it makes mistakes."
"That is almost certainly what has happened [with the THC and CBD genes in cannabis]."
"Until the last couple of years, it's been extremely difficult to work with it [cannabis] legally. The repercussions of being caught with a huge number of marijuana strains in order to do genetic experiments -- nobody would risk that."
Tim Hughes, molecular geneticist, Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, University of Toronto
Cannabis sativa plant (photo by michael fischer)

Now, however, since the October 17 recreational cannabis legalization legislation has taken effect in Canada, research can commence on a grand scale. Dr. van Bakel foresees Canada becoming the go-to place for marijuana research into the plant and its hallucinogenic as well as medicinal effects. The latest-generation scanners for example are capable of capturing tens of thousands of the base pairs that produce the twisting DNA molecul which older technology could sequence only excruciatingly slowly, making advances in research far more possible.

As was done when the research team comprised of Canadian and U.S. scientists were enabled to locate the genes responsible for the kick that cannabis produces when they located the THC and CBD genes on the plant's sixth chromosome, owing to the aid given them by improved genetic scanning technology. One of the intriguing points of interest for research is to understand what the genes producing THC and CBD effect for the plant itself, even while it is well enough understood how THC and CBD affect humans.

The study in question was released this month b the online journal Genome Research, which concluded:
  • Definitively that THC and CBC are produced by separate genes;
  • The existence of another active gene that produces a product known as cannabichromone (CBC) which can have both medicinal and slightly intoxicating effects in humans;
  • The location of a gene that helps to determine the potency of different cannabis strains.
Although it was well enough known for decades what the chemical makeup of the genes producing THC and CBD were  -- the two main cannabinoids found in marijuana -- what was not known was where they could be found. Cannabis's 10-chromosome genome had been sequenced in 2011, but the location of these genes remained a mystery; unknown was where they were in a maze of viral DNA. It may seem strange to speak of viral DNA but all species, including humans can be infested with DNA from viruses.

Marijuana and hemp plants, sharing a common ancestor, see 70 to 75 percent of their DNA derived from retrovirus sources, explains Dr. Hughes. The research's success in discovering just where the genes responsible for the cannabinoids were to be found, hidden among "junk" DNA left in the plant's genome by viruses during its evolutionary phase will make it infinitely more efficient to manipulate levels of intoxicating THC and medicinal CBD.

That will be done with a view to producing a product amenable to variations reflecting preferences in the legalized Canadian market. The scientists have concluded that the viral DNA in cannabis played a key role in creating random genetic rearrangements to produce the active forms of THC and CBD in an inert plant. Had the viral DNA not been present, that transformation and presence of those genes would in all likelihood never have occurred. Cellular mechanisms that normally maintain genetic order can be circumvented by lengthy and repeated sequences of the surrounding viral DNA.

The faulty mechanisms that result would rearrange their sequencing to produce the genetic configurations seen today rather than presenting the genes in their original form. Now research can continue apace in the new political climate of legalization along with the use of more technically advanced instruments, scanners capable of capturing tens of thousands of base pairs as opposed to the technology they have replaced which could sequence a mere several hundred at a time.

Although the plant’s genome had been sequenced in 2011, the location of some genes remained hidden in a sea of viral DNA.
Although the plant’s genome had been sequenced in 2011, the location of some genes remained hidden in a sea of viral DNA.  (Steven Senne / The Associated Press)

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Saturday, November 24, 2018

China's Aging Population, Cancer and Pharmaceuticals

"I find it hard to give a one-size-fits-all view on whether they should or shouldn't do it."
"Some generics from India are likely to offer newer treatments than the existing medicines in the mainland [China]. You're acquiring drugs through informal channels. Not only are you taking on economic risks, but also the uncertainty of the technology."
Gordon Liu, director, Health Economic Research, Peking University, China
This picture taken on Nov. 18, 2013, shows customers buying goods in an independent pharmacy in Hong Kong. Safety fears over medication in mainland China are driving a risky illegal trade in cancer drugs in Hong Kong, experts say
This picture shows customers buying goods in an independent pharmacy in Hong Kong. Safety fears over medication in mainland China are driving a risky illegal trade in cancer drugs in Hong Kong, experts say
AFP/Getty Images

At the Peking University Cancer Hospital, director of digestive oncology Dr. Shen Lin had several of her patients ask whether they might use generics from India to ease the expense of drugs they are required on their long-term medication therapy for cancer. Her response was that she would be unable to vouch professionally for the safety and efficacy of such drugs derived from unofficial sources. "If they continue on their path, they would go bankrupt", she observes of patients with limited income facing the ongoing expense of acquiring the drugs they need through official channels in China.

Access to needed drugs has become a monumental concern to the Chinese public. The film Dying to Survive, based on the true story of a leukemia patient in China who smuggled generic drugs from India to save himself and others became a box office hit. That very fact prompted Premier Li Keqiang to urge that price cuts for medication be speeded up. The Chinese Communist Party knows that it is incumbent on it to provide improved opportunities for the public in health care should it wish to maintain its grip on power.

As the Chinese public grows ever more affluent, its expectations have also increased, and a certain level of health care is among those expectations. Yet, to remain alive many desperately ill people are forced by circumstances imposed upon them, to break the law. Foreign-produced drugs must face approval in China and those approvals are heavily backlogged. The bureaucratic vetting process means that online marketplaces filled with illegal pharmaceuticals attract the attention of the desperate.

China's rudimentary insurance system barely covers a portion of the continually rising cost of treatments and drugs for chronic and deadly diseases like cancer and diabetes among a population finding it difficult to access the drugs they need to remain among the living. Insurance coverage depends on accessibility, not that much of a problem for urban dwellers but a ranking concern for rural residents lacking access to certain drugs.
A nurse prepares to inject a cancer patient with medicine as she performs her daily rounds at the Beijing Cancer Hospital in this file photo from 2011. Cancer is spreading in China and kills millions annually
A nurse prepares to inject a cancer patient with medicine as she performs her daily rounds at the Beijing Cancer Hospital in this file photo from 2011. Cancer is spreading in China and kills millions annually         David Gray—Reuters

In seeking relief from online pharmaceutical sellers the desperation of people knowing that what they acquire may in fact be false hope, with products whose efficacy may be illusory, only serves to highlight the extent of the problem. Aside from the illegal online drug sellers, there are dealers operating underground pharmacies. Where, in some instances cancer patients and their families acquire the vital ingredients required to mix a drug, along with instructions, to end up producing their own medications.

From 2001 to 2015 China approved slightly over one hundred new drugs representing roughly one-third the number approved in developed countries, according to the China Food and Drug Administration. Furthermore, drugs can take six to seven years to obtain that green light, so that for many people diagnosed with cancer, that diagnosis becomes a death sentence. Chinese authorities decided they would start to permit drug companies to submit data from foreign clinical trials to speed up reviews, dropping approval times to two to three years.

At the same time the new drugs waiting for approval backlog has dwindled to 4,000 from its 22,000 high point in 2017. A the end of 2016, 600 drug reviewers were on staff for a population four times that of the United States which had at the same period thousands of reviewers. Approved, drugs must qualify for coverage under one of China's insurance plans, to earn a place on the National Reimbursement Drug List a process that can take years. In 2017, 36 drugs were added to the list and another 17 this year.

Should anyone think this means the battle is close to being won, they're mistaken, since despite the speed-up in approvals and listing allowing the drugs to appear on the market, many patients cannot afford them, even with government coverage. Chinese, the world's foremost Internet users, have accustomed themselves to shopping online for almost everything, from groceries to jewellery and vehicles. Buying pharmaceuticals, including the raw ingredients to illegally make their own drugs is part of that online culture.

And here's the really peculiar thing; instead of laboratories independent though they may be, producing drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil produced in China and available through the Internet -- illegally of course on an online black market of dangerous drugs' acquisition -- which is causing such havoc in developed countries with massive numbers of overdose deaths from those powerful drugs, China could be producing the kinds of medication so badly required by its elderly and ill population.

The irony? That China is a major supplier of potentially deadly recreational drugs to the world market, while on the other hand importing life-saving drugs from the world market of pharmaceutical producers. "Many patients have become doctors and chemists. They find ways to buy API (active pharmaceutical ingredients) to make drugs. One third of my patients are taking such medications", admitted Wu Yilong, lung cancer expert and vice-president of Guangdong People's Hospital.

A scientist grows cancer cells in a lab at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, July 15, 2013. Picture taken July 15, 2013. To match Insight CANCER-DRUGS/ REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Scientist grows cancer cells in a lab at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton
Thomson Reuters

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Friday, November 23, 2018

Researching the Genesis of Cancer

"This is quite a fundamental piece of biology that we were unaware of."
"These mutant clones colonize more than half of your esophagus by middle age. It was eye-opening for me."
"It [helping harmless clones to outcompete the bad ones] opens up new avenues [in fighting cancer]. I think knowledge is always a weapon."
"We have found that genetic mutations associated with cancer are widespread in normal tissues, revealing how our own cells mutate, compete and evolve to colonize our tissues as we age. Given the importance of these mutations to cancer, it is remarkable that we have been unaware of the extent of this phenomenon until now."
"While the work sheds light on early cancer development, it also raises many questions about how these mutations may contribute to aging and other diseases, opening interesting avenues for future research."
Dr. Inigo Martincorena, geneticist, Wellcome Sanger Institute, Cambridge, England 
The image above shows a summary representation of what 1cm2 of normal oesophagus looks like in the 9 individuals, sorted by age. We see large differences in burden, clone sizes and even preference to mutate certain genes across patients. Dr. Inigo Martincorena

New research by a team headed by Inigo Martincorena has come up with some unexpected results, basically that cells in healthy people carry more mutations than ever thought and these include mutations in a large portion of cells felt to represent the primary drivers of cancer which incite some cells to grow faster than others, the hallmark of cancerous cells as they run amok, growing and replicating faster than the body's immune system can detect and target them. That being so, the puzzle is that despite this recognition cancers are not more common among any given population.

The reason that these mutations were not picked up and studied is simply that the tools to examine DNA were too crude. Dr. Martincorena and other researchers gradually developed new methods enabling them to detect rare mutations as DNA sequencing became more sophisticated. As they uncovered the presence of these mutations it occurred that they might also be found to be present and hidden in healthy cells. Starting with the body's largest organ, the skin, where cells are daily assaulted by the ultraviolet rays of the sun known to trigger mutations, this is where they began.

Scientists collected skin from cosmetic surgeries in eyelids in a 2015 study, gently prying away the top layers of cells (epithelial cells) from the underlying tissue. DNA from healthy epithelial cells were were isolated, then researchers sequenced 74 genes recognized as playing a role in the development of cancer. In these healthy skin cells mutations common in cancer genes were discovered with one of every four epithelial cells carrying a mutation on a cancer-linked gene, expediting the cell's growth.

Researchers speculated that this situation was peculiar to skin alone and that it was likelier that within the body where ultraviolet rays were unable to penetrate, healthy cells without key mutations such as those found in the skin would be far more likely to be present.  But when the same74 cancer-related genes in esophagus tissue were found albeit more gradual to develop in the esophagus than in skin, it became obvious this was not the case. Given time the rogue cells spread across the esophagus to form colonies of mutant cells, identified as clones.

Clones exhibit one of cancer's hallmarks; rapid growth, though they are not themselves cancerous. Ordinary aging it seems, leads to the rise of mutations leading to further speculation that their presence may represent an intrinsic physiological change related to growing old. According to Scott Kennedy, a cancer biologist at University of Washington, the study raises questions surrounding efforts to detect cancer at its earliest stages. "Just because someone has mutations associated with cancer doesn't mean actually they have a malignancy", he explained.

The conundrum facing researchers is that, given the plenitude of cancer mutations within healthy people, why is it then that cancer does not present more frequently than it does? And the answer may well be that a healthy body may be akin to an ecosystem where clones with variant mutations may arise, compete for space and resources and thus maintain a balance, none of them able to surmount the influence of the others.

That being the case, Dr. Martincorena muses, fighting cancer may one day become invested in a therapeutic response where aiding harmless clones to outcompete the bad ones becomes the first line of defence against cancer onset.

Approximate number of driver mutations needed to cause cancer by area of the body   Wellcome Sanger Insstitute

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Thursday, November 22, 2018

Recalibrating Calorie Intake and Energy Expenditure

"It's not only what we eat, but when we eat -- and rest -- that impacts how much energy we burn or store as fat."
"The vast majority of the calories that we burn every day [60 to 70 percent] are burned just to maintain our body functions."
"If you ate at the wrong biological time once, it wouldn't have much impact. [More frequently than occasionally] it could add up over time and lead to weight gain." 
"Let’s say we get up an hour or two hours early and eat breakfast an hour or two hours early. We may be eating that breakfast not only at a time when our body might not be prepared to deal with it, but at a time when we need less energy to maintain our functions. Therefore, the same breakfast might result in extra stored calories, because we don’t need those to maintain our body functions."
"Regularity of habits such as eating and sleeping is very important to overall health."
Dr. Jeanne Duffy, neuroscientist, sleep and circadian disorders, Brigham and Women's Hospital

"The fact that doing the same thing at one time of day burned so many more calories than doing the same thing at a different time of day surprised us."
Kirsi-Marja Zitting, study co-author, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School
midnight snack
A new study finds that an imbalance between one’s circadian rhythm and eating and sleeping habits may contribute to weight gain. (Credit: Pakula Piotr/Shutterstock)
Biological sciences keep coming up with interesting items to explain processes that might otherwise forever appear inexplicable to us about how our bodies work. As was done when researchers from Boston launched their experiment with seven volunteers. The seven participants in the study were kept for 37 days in windowless rooms where there were no clocks, radios, televisions, phones or Internet. No distractions, nothing to inform the participants of what was happening in the world outside their temporary cocoon.

Everything was geared to perfect conformity in timing; bedtimes adjusted so that study participants went to sleep each night four hours later than they normally would, the effect disturbing their body's natural circadian rhythms in a manner they likened to the effect of an flight from England to Halifax one day then the following day on to Vancouver, followed by a trip to the Marshall Islands the third day and the fourth day on to Hong Kong.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, found that at rest the human body burns ten percent more calories in late afternoon and early evening than it does in the early morning hours. A conclusion that explicates why night- or rotating shift-work can effect the risk of becoming overweight or obese. Resting energy expenditure (REE) was the focus to determine the number of calories the body burns simply to exist -- reflecting the minimum amount of calories required in the maintenance of physiological functions such as circulation of blood, breathing, body temperature and brain activity.

The researchers investigated whether resting energy expenditure rate varies with circadian rhythms representing the body's innate, 24-hour cycle set to control the body's awareness of day and night, and when to eat and when to sleep. The 37 days the volunteers -- aged 38 to 69 -- spent in chambers free of any distractions much less indications of time, enabled them to read, watch videos or DVDs, but enjoy no visitors. Contact with family or friends conducted through mail only.

All subjects were given the same proportion of protein, carbohydrates and fats; body temperatures monitored with rectal sensors (more calories are burned when the core temperature is highest).

For their time and willingness to surrender such a large amount of their time and free agency, study participants were given an award of $12,000 each. Each night for three weeks the assigned bedtime was moved four hours later than that of the night before to confuse the normal circadian rhythms. During scheduled "sleep opportunities" all lighting was switched off, the process enabling researchers to take measurements across each waking period for the duration of the three weeks.

"So that we could get an idea of whether resting energy expenditure was always the same no matter what biological time they woke up at, or whether it varied", explained Dr. Duffy. It was discovered that the amount of calories burned turned out to be lower during late night, corresponding to the dip in core body temperature, and highest 12 hours later which would relate to the equivalent of late afternoon or early evening.

While the study answered some questions, there are others yet to be approached by further studies. It is not known whether people should be timing meals to late afternoon-early evening peak, or whether they might be better off avoiding meals after early morning workouts at a time when resting calorie burn is at its lowest. The researchers estimated that about 130 calories per day is involved in the difference between peak and minimum calorie burn time.
Photo Taken In Bangkok, Thailand (Getty Images)

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change

The draft management plan leans heavily on Inuit knowledge, which contradicts polar bear population estimates from Environment Canada. (Niore Iqalukjuak)
"Inuit believe there are now so many bears that public safety has become a major concern."
"Public safety concerns, combined with the effects of polar bears on other species, suggest that in many Nunavut communities, the polar bear may have exceeded the co-existence threshold."
"Although there is growing scientific evidence linking the impacts of climate change to reduced body conditions of bears and projections of population declines, no declines have currently been attributed to climate change."
"[Inuit knowledge] acknowledges that polar bears are exposed to the effects of climate change, but suggests that they are adaptable."
Nunavut government draft management plan 

"That's just plain wrong. That's been documented  in many places now -- not just linked to body condition but reproductive rates and survival."
"They will move into communities seeking food [with a lack of sea ice due to climate change]. There's lots of attractants around Northern communities."
"They [Nunavut] don't ask for input from southern scientists. The less input from the South is where it seems to be moving." 
"If the stated goal is to have fewer polar bears, that may be the tripping point whereby polar bear management in Canada comes under renewed scrutiny." 
Andrew Derocher, polar bear expert, University of Alberta

"[Inuit knowledge] has not always been sufficiently incorporated by decision-makers."
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., (Inuit land-claim organization)

"This is very frustrating for Inuit to watch ... We do not have resources to touch bases with movie actors, singers and songwriters who often narrate and provide these messages [that climate change is impacting deleteriously on wildlife and particularly Polar bears]."
"We know what we are doing and western science and modelling has become too dominant."
Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Board
A submission from the Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Board expresses frustration with how polar bears are used as an icon in the fight against climate change. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

This past summer of 2018 saw two Inuit being killed by Polar bears. Among the issues that have led the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut to conclude that the existence of too many Polar bears needlessly endangers the lives of both humans living in the area and other vulnerable animal populations. The report issued by the Nunavut government points out that in their considered opinion, living close to the animals on their shared traditional heritage hunting grounds, if climate change is a reality it has not yet affected the Polar bear population.

That this conclusion flies in the face of the scientific certainty that climate change is altering Polar bear natural environment with dramatic consequences for the bears as a worrying symptom of steady wholesale changes in Earth's atmosphere, is something else altogether. Inuit believe that their lived experience with the land, with its seasons and with its animals in their natural habitat equips them in a far more realistic way to draw conclusions even if they disagree with those reached by biologists studying the bear population.

The territory has proposed a plan set to be examined in public hearings in the territorial headquarters of Iqaluit which states that public safety is being jeopardized and that being the case the situation calls for traditional Inuit knowledge allied with current experience and should drive policies on management of the bear population. Simply put, Inuit knowledge yields population estimates greater than those identified by Western science, encompassing all 13 regional bear populations.

Despite the confidence that Nunavut holds in the Inuit conclusion, scientists claim that there is one only population of bears managing to prosper in contrast to the Inuit number of nine. Four bear populations, according to Environment Canada, are seeing diminished numbers, while the Inuit beg to differ, stating that none are shrinking in numbers. Eleven Inuit groups and hunter's organizations aided Nunavut's conclusions, by their submissions.

The Nunavut management plan has provisions for increased education and programs on bear safety for hunters and communities. It also states that hunting bans would no longer be applied automatically when bear populations appear to be shrinking; that "management objectives could include managing Polar bears for a decrease."

The territory's wildlife management board will take what it hears at the public hearings and include it in a final document, which will go before the Nunavut cabinet for approval. (Niore Iqalukjuak)

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Offending Conservation Methodology


"Parks Canada has a proven track record of effective ecosystem management and population reduction is only used in situations where it's absolutely considered necessary."
"We're going to take back all the results [of the reforestation and hunting pilot project], analyze and determine what the best approach might be to restore the boreal forest. Ultimately that's our goal."
"...No decisions have been made past 2018."
Rob Howey, Park conservation manager, Parks Canada
"Cost doesn't seem to be a huge issue as they've already spent close to $1-million killing moose."
"I believe killing an animal in a national park should be a last resort and it seems to me there are other options."
Rose Courage, northern Cape Breton craft shop owner

"From a Mi'qmaq point of view we're out there to provide and we're out there to share."
Clifford Paul, moose management coordinator, Unama'ki Institute of Natural Resources
A moose forages in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (Parks Canada)

Rose Courage was disturbed by what she viewed as two things gone very wrong in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, a forested nature preserve on Nova Scotia's east coast of Canada. First, that animals were being culled as a conservation measure; and second that an inordinate amount of tax dollars was being spent to expedite that cull in remote regions of the park. She felt that all avenues of possible solutions should have been explored and perhaps were not, although she was aware that one of her suggestions, fencing off vulnerable areas to browsing moose, is already being done.

Conservation authorities at Parks Canada had drawn the conclusion that the park was host to too many of the ungulates and their presence was harmful to the forest environment. Their choice menu is the browsing of new tree tips of balsam fir and spruce in the boreal forest, during spring growth, stunting the trees and eventually killing them, holding back forest growth when the purpose of conservation is to encourage the growth of strong and healthy trees.

It had been decided to launch a five-year program for reforestation named "Bring Back The Boreal Forest" which required a hunting component to enable the program to reach its goal. It began with a $1-million budget growing to a budget of $2.1-million. And most of that budget has been allocated to the hunting portion of the two-pronged program. A program which saw the 'harvesting' of 122 animals from a herd estimated in size at 1,800 since 2015. Parks Canada is satisfied with both the cost involved in achieving its goal and the early impressions of its success.
Moose: the largest living deer

The moose is the largest living deer. It affects the growth of the forest in the park by selectively browsing only certain species of trees.   Parks Canada

Preliminary results from a study carried out in the area demonstrated that twigs of balsam fir and spruce that had attracted moose showed a significant decrease in the number of trees being eaten, deprived of the opportunity to flourish. Roughly half of the twigs were consumed by moose four years ago; this year 90 percent of the new-growth twigs had been untouched, thus increasing the opportunity for the forest to regenerate.

Through access-to-information applications, Rose Courage is anything but impressed by what she had read with regard to the program and resulting research. Where Parks Canada has a total cost for the first three harvests at $731,000, accounting for 122 harvested moose, the costs typically consumed by travel and overtime for park wardens, helicopter flights into remote areas and the charges for airborne moose surveys, Rose Courage adds another $233,000 in policing as well as an additional $7,141 for overtime last fall.

Which brings the average cost related to the removal of every moose to a tad over $7,900. She feels there should be a focus on increasing the use of fenced enclosures to ensure that moose cannot gain access to vulnerable park areas as preferable to the intensive methods of hunting. Parks Canada flies Aboriginal hunters into the park, aids them in removing the carcass, and the food is then distributed to Mi'kmaq communities and food banks throughout Nova Scotia.

A balsam fir, severely browsed by mooseA balsam fir, severely browsed by moose   Parks Canada

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