Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Video Gamers Solve HIV Protein Puzzle

Video games and video gamers often get a bad rap in the media, usually unfairly in my opinion. Although my own video game playing has waned over the years, I grew up with Intellivision, Atari, Coleco, the original Nintendo, and REAL arcades in the 1980s that only cost a quarter to play. Hearing the noises of Pac-Man, Ms. Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, Super Mario Brothers, and countless others, was and still is, music to my ears. So I have a fond affection for video games (and all sorts of games) having grown in the Golden Age era.

These days, video games have advanced significantly to include huge online communities, live simultaneous international competition, rewards and prestige for earning achievements, and often require excellent visual-spatial skills and highly complex strategic decision making. The people who play these games and do well and them are highly skilled and many are very intelligent. My brother, an engineer who graduated from Lehigh and Georgia Tech, is a perfect example.

Researchers at the University of Washington figured they may be able to use the skills of video gamers to help them solve a problem they had been unable to figure out for over a decade. Specifically, the researchers were trying to determine the structure of a protein (known as protease) that forms retroviruses. This protein plays in important role in causing certain viruses to multiply, including HIV. The structure was difficult for the researchers and computers to decipher because the amino acids that make up the protein fold into very complex shapes.

In order to create a drug to deactivates the protein (which would then stop the virus from multiplying), the researchers needed to know its exact structure. Why?  Think of a lock and key analogy. Just like a lock will only open for a specific key based on the structure of both components, parts of the protein have structures that will only react to a medication made of molecules with a corresponding matching shape.

So the researchers at University of Washington made a video game named “Foldit” to see if they could get people to build models of the protein. The game was competitive and required the use of three-dimensional problem solving skills.
Result…In just three weeks, video gamers deciphered the structure of the protein. The discovery is expected to result in the development of new anti-retroviral drugs, which includes anti-HIV drugs.


  1. Human intuition can be superior to automated computer methods.
  2. Some video gamers are geniuses.
  3. Video game players provided a positive contribution to science.
  4. Video gamers may have just opened the door to giving many sick people an “extra guy.”

Click here for reference

Monday, September 19, 2011

Amazing Images of EXTREME Bodies and Body Parts

Remember going to the library as a kid and being the lucky one to pick out that short thick Guinness Book of World Records book that week? I remember being fascinated by these books, the records that were in then, and the pictures of some of the amazing physical characteristics of some people.  It was partly an amazing collection of extreme physical characteristics among people, animals, and other living things.

Unfortunately, the short little thick Guinness books are gone and they have been replaced by the larger books that just don't seem to hold the same charm to me. But today, I found some newly announced 2012 world records from Guinness and wanted to share them with you.
First, here is the lady (Channell Tapper) with the longest tongue (3.8 inches) in the world. For the longest tongue in the world (a man) see here. This will give Gene Simmons a run for his money:

Second, here is what is described as the world's fattest woman (Pauline Potter), although I am told that the politically correct term nowadays is "persons of size." Either way, she's 643 pounds:

Third, here is Jesus Aceves, who is the closest possible match to a human werewolf. He has a rare condition called congenital generalized hypertrichosis (excessive facial and torso hair).

Fourth, here is the world's shortest man (Junrey Balawing, age 18), from the Philippines, coming in at 24 and 1/4 inches tall:

Fifth, here is Christine Walton, the woman with the world's longest fingernails, coming in at 10 feet, 2 inches on the left hand and 9 feet, 7 inches on the right hand:
Sixth, here is Rolf Buchholz frm Germany, who has the most body piercing and studs (453 rings and studs). This includes 94 around the lips, 25 in his eyebrows, and 278 in the genitals. Ow. Ow. Ow.

Seventh, here is Ram Chahaun, who has the world's longest moustache, which is 14 -feet long

Eighth, here is Aevin Dugas, who has the world's largest afro (4 feet, 4 inches in circumference):

Hope you enjoyed these pictures as much as I did. Feel free to pass this blog entry on to others who may like them too. Also, be sure to click here for more extreme body parts and even more and more extreme body parts.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Guest Blog Entry: Chakras 101

Today is the first of many new guest blog entries on MedFriendly. The purposes of guest blog entries are to introduce the reader to something I would not normally write about, branch out into new areas, and feature people with expertise on certain healthcare topics. The guest blog entry below was written by Ana Finnegan, a Registered Nurse, in Florida. She is very knowledgeable on alternative medicine and the art of Eastern healing.

The Skinny on Chakras 

If you have ever taken a yoga class, learned to meditate or simply wondered the meaning behind the band Third Eye Blind's name, chances are you have heard of chakras. Knowledge of the Chakra system comes from the ancient Indian practice of Tantra Yoga. The word Chakra comes from the Sanskrit word “Cakra” which means “a wheel or a disk of energy”. This energy or Prana is the vital life force essential to the function of the physical body. Balance of this pranic energy through each of the chakras is associated with optimum state of health both physically and emotionally. Just as a closed or misaligned chakra can deprive its corresponding organs of vital energy, a wide and misaligned chakra can overload its corresponding organs with too much energy. There are seven main chakras: The lower: root, sacral, solar plexus and heart. The upper: throat, third eye and crown.

The Lower Chakras

The first chakra is the root chakra. It is located at the base of the spine and the pubic bone. This chakra encompasses the genitals, reproductive organs, the adrenal glands, the kidneys and the spinal column. The color associated with this chakra is red. The second chakra is the sacral chakra. It is located in the sacrum, just behind the navel. Organs associated with this chakra are: the spleen, bladder and the kidneys. The color of this chakra is orange. The third chakra is the solar plexus chakra. It is located in the solar plexus area of the abdomen cradled by the ribs. Organs associated with this chakra are: the pancreas, the stomach, the liver, the adrenal glands and the kidneys. The color of this chakra is yellow. The fourth chakra is the heart chakra. It is situated midway between the shoulder blades over the sternum. Organs fed by this chakra are the heart, the thymus glad, the blood and circulatory system, and the immune and endocrine systems. The color of the heart chakra is green.  

The Upper Chakras 

The fifth Chakra is the throat chakra. Located in the throat, it feeds the thyroid and parathyroid gland, the lungs, the vocal cords, and bronchial apparatus. The color of this chakra is blue. The sixth chakra or the third eye, is located in the center of the head behind the forehead. This chakra feeds the pineal and the pituitary or master gland. The color of this chakra is indigo. The seventh chakra is the crown chakra and it is situated on the top of the head. This chakra also feeds the pineal and pituitary glands. The color of this chakra is white.

Chakra Tune-up and Balancing 

So now that we have discussed what the main chakras are and the organs they feed it is important to understand that chakras need to be balanced in order to for the physical body to perform optimally. It is considered preventative medicine in the world of alternative therapy and holistic medicine. There are many ways to balance one's chakras such as with the use of aromatherapy, crystals, music, chanting and meditating. The use of a pendulum is preferred by the author along with her own home made organic incense herbal blend. 

Mediation vs. Medication

If you thought meditating is for monks... better think again! Here are a few benefits of meditation:

Meditation has been shown to decrease blood pressure.
Meditation has a positive chronotropic effect much like Digoxin (it increases cardiac output and slows the heart rate).
Meditation has been shown to lower oxygen consumption and respiratory rate, leading to increased exercise tolerance especially in heart patients.
Meditation has been shown to enhance the immune system by increasing the activity of natural killer cells and by reducing the activity of viruses.
Meditation has been shown to enhance post operative healing by reducing inflammation.
Meditation has been shown to reduce allergies, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and other inflammatory conditions.
Meditation has been shown to decrease muscle tension and tension headaches.
Meditation has been shown to improve the quality of sleep as well as increase the amount of REM cycles by inducing deeper levels of relaxation.
Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety by lowering lactate levels in the blood.
Meditation has been shown to increase Serotonin production thus improving depression and other mood disorders, as well as by reducing obesity.
Meditation has been shown to reduce PMS.

Meditating for Dummies

1.      Create a sacred space: Find a quiet spot, lite a white candle. Play soft instrumental music or mediating CD’s. Initially set a timer for 10 minutes.
2.      Quiet the committee: Concentrate on breathing, If you find your mind wandering, bring it back to the breath. You can even recite a mantra or short phrase such as SO/HUM. This is done when you breathe in you visualize the word. So in your mind and when you exhale you visualize the word HUM.
3.      Be Persistent: Meditate for 10 minutes everyday. It will become easier and you will learn to look forward to it.

I don't know about you, but I rather stock my medicine cabinet with scented candles, incense, Indian chants and lavender oils rather than the alternative!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Abandoning Alzheimer's Patients: My response to Pat Robertson

I was tempted to avoid venturing into this topic, only because I strive to keep my website and blog away from politics and religion. In that light, I am going to stay away from the politics and religion of this topic and just stick with the main theme of the story and respond based on my own experiences, which includes assessing patients who are known to have or are suspected of having Alzheimer’s disease and/or other serious medical diagnoses.

The context of this blog entry has to do with a comment that Pat Robertson made on his show, The 700 Club.

A viewer asked about his friend, who began seeing another woman after his wife developed Alzheimer's Disease: "He says that he should be allowed to see other people, because his wife as he knows her is gone. I’m not sure what to tell him. Please help." 

The fact that the question was asked in the first place (especially to a religious leader) indicated that the caller felt guilty and that he is doing something wrong.

Robertson acknowledged that it was a difficult situation but then stated that "I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.” 

When someone asked about how this can be reconciled with marital vows, Robertson rationalized his response by saying that Alzheimer’s Disease is “a kind of death.”

The most difficult aspect of my job by far is having to tell a patients and their family members that the results of the evaluation indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s disease. It is extremely difficult because there is no cure, the disease course is slow and progressive, and it involves profound memory loss. The disease will take its toll on the patient, spouse, friends, and family. However, these patients need strong emotional and physical support from these individuals because these are the people who love and care about them the most. The reference to “custodial care” is a fancy way of saying that someone else will take the primary responsibility of caring for the patient, typically in a nursing home.

To be sure, not every spouse or family member can care for a patient with significant medical needs by themselves. It is indeed a difficult job, physically, cognitively, and emotionally. Many people need help taking on this care-taking role but at a certain point, the demands can become too great and the best decision for the patient and the spouse is for the patient to be cared for in a quality nursing home. However, this does not mean that the spouse divorces the patient and abandons them. Over my years of working in various inpatient services, I have seen family members who are regularly present by their loved one to provide the support they need. In any medical facility, it makes a world of difference having family and friends present who can advocate on your behalf to make sure the best possible care is received. In some medical facilities, when staff see that the patient has been abandoned by the family, it can unfortunately need to a detachment in treating the needs of the patient by some, most, or all of the staff.

Another problem with Robertson’s comment is that is can easily be applied to patients who are in the end stages of other terminal diseases, such as cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or Huntington’s disease. People with terminal medical conditions are nowhere near the persons they once were when the physical ravages of the condition or disease have set in. Beyond physical impairments, significant changes in thinking skills, emotional functioning, and behavioral functioning often co-occur. Would Robertson suggest abandoning these patients too?

Anyone who has personal and/or professional experience that involves the impending death of a family member, friend, or patient, can attest to the importance of family support. Whether it is talking to provide cognitive stimulation and emotional support, putting on the radio or television, bringing in a favorite snack, making the bed more comfortable, helping with grooming and hygiene, making sure the proper medications are being given, or making sure the doctor is aware of new medical problems, these are just a few of the things that a spouse or family member can do that benefit the patient. Although some facilities provide excellent custodial care, no one will look after the patient better than a concerned, motivated, and loving family member.

Robertson’s comments can probably also be applied to patients who do not have a terminal disease but instead have a condition or disease that causes severe impairments in physical, cognitive, emotional, and/or behavioral functioning. Some examples are severe traumatic brain injury, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease. Would Robertson see the severe impairments be seen as “a kind of death” and if so, would be advocate abandoning these people?

As someone who witnessed my grandmother suffer from the debilitating effects of a stroke, I can attest that she was a completely different person. She had transformed from a the stereotypical short, pleasantly plump Italian grandmother who loved to talk with you, to an emaciated and aphasic (speech impaired) woman who seemed to have aged by 20 years. She could no longer dance to Perry Como songs at Christmas time or prepare baseball-sized meatballs in the kitchen as she was now bedridden and paralyzed on one side of her body. Gone were the nice welcoming kisses, hugs, and cute little phrases as they were replaced by confusion, bewilderment, and occasional obscenity use.

Although some may see this as “a kind of death” my father frequently took us to see her when I was a child because it was the right thing to do, even though it was difficult. When we were there, all of the support mentioned above was provided. But since Robertson focused on spouses, it is important to point out that her husband remained at her side for years until she passed away, despite only marrying her a few months before the stroke. She usually did not remember him and often referred to him by other names. Nevertheless, the thought of abandoning her and withdrawing support would simple never have occurred to him. Each day, this nice little old man, braved the New York City subway system and city crowds, despite all of his own medical problems – just so he could be there for his lady.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Man Found with 72 Bags of Cocaine in his Stomach

In this week's strange medical story of the week, a man was arrested at an airport in Brazil after he was was found behaving oddly, screened by security, and found to be in possession of drugs. However, this was not your average drug possession as the man was found to have swallowed 72 bags of cocaine. He is now going to faces charges of up to 15 years in prison. Below are some images of the cocaine bags inside of his stomach, courtesy of the Brazilian Federal Police and the Associated Press:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

In Defense of Sponge Bob

Aye-aye maties! This week, a study came out in the Journal, Pediatrics, which concluded that watching Sponge Bob is associated with worse executive functioning in children. Executive functioning is a broad concept but in this context it refers to the ability to delay gratification. Children who watched Sponge Bob segments as opposed to the lighter paced PBS show, Caillou, were worse at delaying gratification. The theory is that the children were so mentally worn down after watching the quick Sponge Bob animation that they could not delay their gratification as well as the children who watched the slower animation on Caillou. This was based on results of the famous "marshmallow test" in which children were told that when the researchers left the room, they could ring a bell and eat two marshmallows or crackers immediately. But if they waited a few minutes they could have 10 marshmallows or crackers. Children who watched Sponge Bob ate the food right away.

No one knows how long this effect lasts or even if it is a valid reflection of a true association with Sponge Bob (or fast animation). To begin with the sample size for each group was small (20 per group), the children were 4 years old despite the target demographic for Sponge Bob being 6 to 11, and there may be other explanations that have nothing to do with fast animation. For anyone who watches Sponge Bob, it is very food-based. Maybe the children who watched Sponge Bob got hungry watching those delicious Krabby Patties being prepared and just wanted to eat something afterwards.

The ironic thing about this study from my own personal experience is that I know people whose children love Sponge Bob and are great students but whose parents banned Caillou because the character was talking rude to others and this was being imitated by the children. So, there are other factors to consider as opposed to how fast the segments go on a TV show. As someone who grew up watching fast paced shows such as Tom & Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, and the Electric Company, somehow I made it out ok and with enough executive functioning to earn a doctoral degree and run a website. So I think that the Sponge Bob Generation will be just fine -- as long as Plankton doesn't get his grubby little hands on that secret Krabby Patty recipe.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My memories and reflections of 9/11/01

Ten years ago, on 9/11/01, I remember walking into work at Jackson Memorial Hospital (JMH) in Miami, Florida. I was a graduate student at Nova Southeastern University at the time and was collecting data from brain-injured patients for my dissertation. As I was waiting for the elevator, I turned around and looked at the small television hanging in the corner wall. The news was on and I saw images of smoke coming out of a hole in large building. There was no audio, but it was obvious that the building was one of The Twin Towers. The hole was small, so I figured that a very small plane crashed into the building. In fact, this was one of the early rumors of what had happened. When I walked into the nursing station, more rumors were flying, including that this was a terrorist attack. When the second plane hit the other Twin Tower, there was no longer any doubt. In a prelude to the debate that later ensnared our country, doctors and other health care providers were openly debating whether to attack whoever was responsible, and whether nuclear weapons should be used. In the midst of the debate, nurses were calling their relatives in New York to check and see if they were ok.

Stunned by what was taking place and after watching the Twin Towers continuously smoking on TV, I decided to take a break from the TV coverage and to test a patient to get some more dissertation data. I shut the patient’s TV off, spent about an hour or so with him, and turned the TV on again. When I turned it on, all I saw was a massive plume of smoke and that the Twin Towers had collapsed. I thought back to just a few years ago when I had driven by the World Trade Center, looked up at the Twin Towers (not even able to see the top from the car window) and thought about how incredible of a disaster it would be if just one of those Towers ever fell over. When I had wondered about that several year prior, I was thinking of what would happen if the Towers fell over to the side. With the Towers collapsing downwards and not to the side, thousands of additional deaths through were likely avoided and the disaster cleanup was at least be more contained, although still daunting. It also didn’t avoid the release of large amounts of asbestos in the air from the Towers, exposing emergency workers and thousands of other to an insulation fiber known to cause mesothelioma.

At this point in the day, all non-essential personal were asked to leave the hospital. There were still reports of planes in the air and no one knew where they were going to next. The Pentagon had been hit by a plane and rumors were that another plane was coming for the White House of the Capitol building. People in large metropolitan cities were worried, and for good reason. Driving home down I-95 was bizarre because people were looking in the air for planes as weapons. I called my brother on the phone, who was living in Atlanta at the time, and he voiced a similar concern. We both were struck by how strange it was that we seriously needed to be worried if we saw a plane in the air at this point since all planes had been grounded by the FAA. My brother and father used to walk by the Twin Towers every day that past summer and if the attack had happened when they were there, we both realized that they could have been victims. Fortunately, my father was not working in NYC that day.

I remember getting back to my apartment and being glued to the TV like all of America that day and the days ahead. I barely got any sleep due to how much coverage I was watching. Soon, pictures of the victims came out and memorial videos were shown on TV. I particularly remember the song “Only Time” by Enya being played constantly during these memorials. During this song, which is very emotionally-laden, a picture was shown of one of the victims – a dad standing next to his two children at Disney World, as happy as can be, posing next to Tigger or some other character. That picture really hit me hard, because it symbolized how much innocence and kindness had been taken from us that day. It was impossible to watch it without a tear coming through. Thinking of all of the people who had to make a decision as to whether to jump to their deaths or be burned alive was frightening because you try to imagine yourself in that situation. Hearing phone messages of victims calling their loved ones for the last time was terribly sad. I did not have children at the time, but even then, it was not hard to imagine how devastating it must have been to think that you would never see your children or family again. Today, it just reminds me even more never to take your loved ones for granted.

When driving, I remember that everyone, and I mean everyone, had an American flag sticking out of their car window or attached to their car antennae. Everyone was proud to be an American. As the decade has passed by, many people have gone of with their lives, but hopefully, people will never forget what happened on that day. In writing this, I found a powerful reminder of that day , played to the Enya song noted above. If you would like to share your memories of 9/11 or pay tribute to a 9/11 victim, please feel free to do so below.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Announcing the New MedFriendly.com

As we near the 10th anniversary of MedFriendly.com in October 2010, I wanted to take a moment to update readers with many new features of the site.

1. NEW DESIGN: MedFriendly was given a complete redesign. The homepage is no longer cluttered and contains a new scrolling menu divided into three different sections: Information, Interactive, and Special Areas. The individual entries have been redesigned so the advertisements flow better with the content and use space more efficiently. Long entries will no longer begin with a long list of questions that can be clicked for more details, but instead starts immediately with content that is divided into different sections with labeled colored font. The blog you are reading has also been redesigned to be more reader friendly.

2. TWITTER: MedFriendly now has a Twitter page where you can follow us. To do so, click the Twitter (bird) icon on the homepage or click here. There is also a MedFriendly Facebook page.

3. BLOG: The MedFriendly Blog will be updated more frequently. Entries will be tied into content of the site and related to current events in the news. Guest blog entries will also return. The blog will also be where new features are announced as the What’s New section was removed. Other ideas for blog entries are welcome.

4. NEW EMAIL: Instead of having multiple email addresses, a new single email address is in place: MedFriendly@gmail.com. Feel free to use that email and your message will be replied to as soon as possible. Emails will be checked daily.

5. MORE DETAILED ENTRIES: Web statistics on MedFriendly show that articles with more detailed content are more popular than brief definitions. While brief definitions will continue to be added, there is a new focus on adding more detailed content entries.

6. REMOVAL OF POP-UP ADS: All pop-up ads have been removed from MedFriendly.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Return of the MedFriendly Blog

The MedFriendly Blog will be returning with regular posts in September of 2011. Please feel free to post any suggestions on the type of content you would like to see on the blog. See you in September! Come back and check it out.