Liberal, Irreverent

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This Week In Science

This Week In Science
by DarkSyde
Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 07:00:05 AM PST

Physics, mathematics, chemistry, and of course near and dear to our hearts on earth, biology. These and other analytical disciplines are not just fields of study. They are the universal operating system, the software running everything in the cosmos, including us. The software is immutable, for the spiritual among you, think of it as pre-written. But built into that cosmic code is a flexibility allowing creatures clever enough to master even a tiny portion of it to benefit immensely. There are encouraging signs our new President gets that:

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

And we’ve barely scratched the surface. What fortunes might be made, what misfortunes could be eased, with a top down focus on science? Better motor function for the paralyzed, new tissue for the burned, maybe one day new organs, even new eyes; low abundance proteins with astonishing, healing properties; nanosolar cells that can be painted on walls with a brush, ready to be routed and plugged into your fuse box.

With money so tight, and the economy so weak, with so many problems riding on the shoulders of the new President and Congress, it’s tempting to overlook any program which is not immediately essential. But I would urge the newly elected to think long and hard when it comes to science funding. Because science is a lot more than understanding the universe we inhabit or grasping the intricacies of particles that make it up: Science is the engine of innovation and capitalism.

* Seed Science Blogs has set up a discussion and feedback platform for scientists to talk to and about about Obama's Inaugural phrase, "The rightful place of science."

* Another treasured conservative tool for denying global melting bites the dust: The most comprehensive study to date now indicates Antarctica is indeed warming. I'll have more on this tomorrow on Sunday Kos.

* I'm proud to say my own, newly elected Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas -- also recently appointed to the House Committee on Science -- is already getting into the science funding spirit.

* The first experimental treatment for spinal cord injuries in humans using modified embryonic stem cells has been given the greenlight to proceed by the FDA.

* There's flu and then there's complications from flu. This one is a pneumonia complicated by pus formation. Think of a 2 liter soda bottle, empty, and then put a balloon in it and blow it up so that the balloon takes the shape of inside the bottle. The bottle is your chest wall and the balloon is your lung, filled with air. Put water in the balloon and you have pneumonia. But put an inch or two of water in the bottle, and then put the balloon in, and you get water outside the balloon/lung but inside the bottle/chest. It's a complication of pneumonia called a parapneumonic effusion and it's not good. It often has to be drained via a hole in the bottle/chest wall. But if instead of fluid you get pus, it's called empyema. That's even worse, and is difficult to treat, especially in young children (i.e. it's hospital stuff with maybe an invasive procedure for drainage. Do not try this at home.)

Bacterial pneumonia with empyema is a serious complication of influenza and commonly resulted in death during the 1918 influenza pandemic. We hypothesize that deaths caused by parapneumonic empyema are increasing in Utah once again despite advances in critical care and the availability of antimicrobial drugs and new vaccines. In this study, we analyzed the historical relationship between deaths caused by empyema and influenza pandemics by using 100 years of data from Utah. Deaths caused by empyema have indeed increased from 2000–2004 when compared with the historic low death rates of 1950–1975. Vaccine strategies and antimicrobial drug stockpiling to control empyema will be important as we prepare for the next influenza pandemic.

I include this because people often say, "but 1918 was primitive, and we have fancy medicine." Nuh-uh. Even modern medicine is seeing increasing bacterial resistance and virulence (think MRSA, another potential flu complication). If hospitals are full, medications are in short supply, and you have to deal with this at home, you are in big trouble. And if you want to add in the health reform/finance/insurance issues that interfere with excellent and timely care... well, in the meantime, get your flu shot.


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