Between 2001 and 2008, the number of children 5 years old or younger admitted to the emergency room due to poisoning from pharmaceuticals increased 36 percent, according to a new study [PDF]. This pales in comparison to the 8 percent increase in population of the age group. Ingestion of drugs during this period caused 43 percent more kids to be injured, defined as a reaction requiring a medical treatment, to a permanent disability, or death. In all, 90 kids died from unintentional overdose or misuse of medications.
Researchers say that pharmaceutical poisoning of children, especially from prescription medications, is a growing problem that continues to get worse every year. But why? The most likely reason, they suggest, is the overall increase in use of prescription drugs by adolescents and adults, which children can come across and ingest without knowing the consequences. For example, the number of kids injured by opioid pain medications almost doubled during the study, a period when prescriptions for the strong painkillers oxycodone (present in OxyContin and Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) increased 182 and 159 percent, respectively.
Surgeons created the new heart using ventricular assist devices (shown above).
What’s the News: Checking a person’s pulse is often the first thing you do to see if they’re still alive. But a new artificial heart, developed this past spring, will complicate this common diagnosis: Researchers at the Texas Heart Institute have now created a fully functioning artificial heart that uses rotors to circulate blood instead of contractions, like a natural heart.
What’s the News: In long space flights, such as a mission to Mars, astronauts will have more time during which they could get injured or sick. And the same apparently goes for the medicine aboard spaceships: According to a NASA-funded study, medicines degrade faster in space than they do on Earth. As the researchers conclude in their paper, “this information can facilitate research for the development of space-hardy pharmaceuticals and packaging technologies.”
Could a blast of radio waves keep the hypertension away? For patients whose high blood pressure doesn’t respond to regular medication, a treatment reported in The Lancet aims to do just that.
The minimally invasive procedure is similar to angioplasty for heart disease but involves deactivating nerves in the kidney which play a key role in regulating blood pressure. A catheter is inserted into the femoral vein in the thigh and threaded through to the kidney. Then a burst of radio-frequency energy is used to disable the nerves [The Independent].
Normal systolic blood pressure is considered 120; hypertension is defined as being over 140. In this trial, the team led by Murray Esler studied the effect of the radio treatment on more than 100 people who had very high levels—an average of 178—despite taking high blood pressure medication.
After six months, the systolic blood pressure had fallen by at least 10 mmHg in 84 per cent of those who received the treatment. This is expected to reduce their risk of stroke by more than 30 per cent. Esler is unsure why it was not effective for all patients. He speculates that some were not “zapped enough”. [New Scientist]
In January, we discussed a biotech first–a transformation from skin cell to brain cell, without reverting to a more mutable stem cell in between. Today a paper in the journal Cell describes a similar direct transformation in mice, from a type of structural cell called a fibroblast to heart cells. If one day scientists can entice human cells to make a similar “direct conversion,” the researchers believe this metamorphosis may prove one way to fix heart damage that’s irreparable under the current state of medicine.
The study’s authors at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease at the University of California, San Francisco, once attempted to use stem cells for heart repair with little success, Nature News reports. Though the stem cells quickly turned into the beating variety, called cardiomyocytes, they remained feeble, never transforming into the strongly beating muscle cells of a healthy heart.
“I don’t know that this [direct conversion] will entirely replace stem cells,” says Deepak Srivastava [lead author on the study]… “But it will offer another strategy that might remove some of the concerns of using stem cells.” [Nature News]
A new device may one day save those with diabetes from the frequent finger-pricking and cumbersome external monitors required to check glucose levels–by instead keeping tabs from inside their torsos. In a study published online today in Science Translational Medicine, researchers report that an implantable glucose sensor has worked in pigs. Ultimately, clinical trials and FDA approval will determine if the device holds any promise for humans, but researchers say this animal test is an important first step.
“You can run the device for a year or more with it constantly working, and recording glucose quite satisfactorily. Now, we are focused on getting the human clinical trials going. We hope to begin the first human trial within in a few months,” said [lead author, David Gough.] “If all goes well with the human clinical trials, we anticipate that in several years, this device could be purchased under prescription from a physician,” said Gough.[University of California – San Diego]
As Popular Science reports, the device is “just a bit smaller than a Double-Stuf Oreo”–around 1.5 inches wide and half an inch thick. Gough and colleagues implanted the device in two pigs: one for 222 and and another for 520 days. It works by monitoring oxygen consumed in a chemical reaction with the enzyme glucose oxidase–the amount of oxygen consumed is proportional to the amount of glucose in the user’s blood. Though some already use similar sensors, none have lasted this long.