Tuesday, November 30, 2010

ageing is not a disease.

What is a disease? If there is an inevitable process everyone is subjective to, could that be a disease?

A disease, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is:
condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms

The Oxford dictionary defines a disease as:
a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.

While both these definitions are not clear, and also bring in the necessity to define other concepts such as "normal", a disease is understood to mean a condition that affects only some people and not everyone, meaning that aging is not recognized as a disease.

Why is this significant, though? My friend N told me that being a good lawyer means you need to be good at finding your way through loopholes, and this instance seems similar. Well, in order for anti-aging drugs to be developed and approved, the condition it is treating for-aging- needs to be recognized as a legitimate disease. Currently, regulators in Europe & the U.S. such as the FDA do not recognize ageing as a disease, meaning that anti-aging drugs will not be approved and marketed in the U.S. For example, rapamycin, a compound shown to increase the lifespan in model organisms, is only approved in cases of recognized cases such as in  patients after organ transplants. So if such an anti-ageing "drug" is developed, it may be sold as a dietary supplement, but not as a drug marketed to "treat" a condition.

Lately in the news, in 2008, GlaxoSmithKline bought Sirtris (Forbes article here), a company developing anti-aging drugs based on SIRT1 activators such as resveratrol, found in red wine. So far, while other rival companies have not been able to match initial findings that Resveratrol does indeed activate SIRT1, there have been clinical trials with the SIRT1 activator(?) SIRT501. Phase I clinical study of SIRT501 was completed in January of 2010, showing that SIRT501 is indeed safe, even at high doses. However, a Phase II study was suspended in May 2010, because some patients (who had white-cell center) developed kidney problems. 

David Gobel and Aubrey de Grey founded the Methuselah Foundation in 2010, a non-profit organization promoting study of & supporting extension of human life. The foundation awards "The MPrize" to researchers who produce mice that can live abnormally long. Current record holder is Andrzej Bartke of Southern Illinois University who used dwarf mice without growth hormone, prolactin, or thyroid stimulating hormone. His mice lived for ~1800 days (~1.5 times normal lifespan for mice).

While studying ageing is fascinating because well, it was shown only recently that ageing is regulated by genes & the subject is all too personal for any living/breathing/mortal human being. Will living to ~100 years be the normal, a certain future as we age? The exciting spark is not only that lifespan can be extended, but that ageing can be slowed down. Sure, you may be 100, but you may be running around shooting hoops like a 30-year-old. Imagine that.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I went to H-mart last Saturday & got so many delicious things, including persimmons. C had never tried persimmons (or Asian pear, for that matter), and we spent a glorious hour walking through the aisles & picking up cookies/crackers, banana milk, and delicious pastries (melon bread, cream puff's and chestnut bread mmmm). I swear, this boy likes Korean food as much as I do.

I think it's fascinating how tastes are like a collection of colors forming a palette: once you taste something, you know how it tastes. If you've never tasted anything like it, no matter what analogies or comparisons to have it explained to you, you'll never completely get it.

Same with persimmons:
Persimmons are grown all over the world, from Mexico to southeastern Europe to Asia, but the persimmons I've grown up with are the Asian kind, native to China. They are really bitter when they are not yet ripe (and hard), and gradually become softer as they become sweeter. My friend A described them as being "sweet, with texture between apple and peach", and suggested they may taste like sweet potatoes. Interesting, but I somehow agree...

I grew up eating numerous of these persimmons (called gahm, like "palm") growing in my grandma's house. We'd pick literally hundreds of them when it became fall, and my grandma would let them dry in the sun for a few days, and they'd turn dry/sweet, and I'd eat them as snacks throughout the winter. These are a common fruit associated with autumn in Korea, along with the color-changing leaves. Oh, if you let them ripen (but not left to dry), they become soft enough to eat with a spoon.

This angle of me cutting the persimmon makes it look like I'm on a TV show! My suitemate and I will be baking up a delicious pie for our Thanksgiving potluck in a dorm room with neither hot water nor heating. We're going to pretend we're on Survivor fused with Top Chef. 

By the way, there's a new TLC show called "Sarah Palin's Alaska"! First Bristol, and now Sarah Palin herself? A new emerging family of reality stars to come.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

delayed graft attaching hand to leg.

In light of learning about grafts (Think Xenographs are a future possibility to-be-developed. Pigs are being looked at as possible donors of heart for humans. The wonders of technology.) I came upon this incredible story article.

A nine-year-old in China named Ming Li was run over by a tractor on her way to school, which resulted in her left arm being crushed and her left hand being severed from the body. Since the arm was in too bad of a condition for the hand to be reattached, the doctors grafted the hand to her leg for three months, and after her arm was healed, successfully reattached the hand to her arm. She will be eventually able to gain function of her hand back, after two more surgeries.
Sound like something out of a science fiction movie? Amazing! Doctors were quoted as saying, "it's nothing new". Well, the technology may not be as complicated or novel, but it's insane to imagine a hand sticking out next to a foot.

Some sites have pictures of her hand attached to her arm...  click to link on Orange UK if you dare.

something about that name...

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet." Juliet, Romeo and Juliet.

Sorry, J., it seems that there is much more in a name, according to recent studies.

According to a study at Miami University in Ohio by Robin Thomas, names evoke certain characteristics in people. In this study, one group of subjects created faces to given names using face construction software (as used by the police), and the other group given a choice between the face the former created and others. Subjects tended to associate one name over another with certain characteristics, as shown by the fact that the second group chose the faces created by the first group more frequently, and the difference was statistically significant.

The subjects also had a harder time learning names of people if their characteristics did not match what they expected from their names.

But why?
One hypothesis suggests the way names sound may be important. For example, in the figure below included in the article, Bob, with the long O, sounds more round than say, Tim. 
The link to the original article, published in Psychonomic Bulletin 
& Review in 2007, to read the exact methods.

Another hypothesis suggests certain names are associated with certain social characteristics, and certain social characteristics are associated with certain facial structures. A>B, B>C therefore A>C, names to faces.

An "interesting" survey from the French dating site, Smartdate, found that women who have names ending in "-a" are more "promiscuous" than those whose names do not. This study which has been getting a lot of hype because, it's ridicuously interesting- a guide to what not to name your baby girl- but has a lot of problems. (I also found it interesting that the Thomas article opened with baby-naming situation- that hook.)

First, this is a dating site. Not representative of the normal French population. Second, French names rarely end in -a, meaning that many of the users are not "traditionally" French, and probably from another culture. Third, f promiscuity was defined by number of partners, which I think is not such an accurate "measure of promiscuity".

Another study by Mehrabian of UCLA rated how individuals perceived owners of certain names on scale of ethical caring, popular fun, successful, and masculine-feminine, and similarly, it was found that people tend to attribute certain characteristics to certain names.

Anyway, I've found that people associate names with personalities, often stating things like: "all the Alice's I've met are super sweet", or "all the Matt's I know are uber jocks". However, these conversations tend to end in clashes and curious observations where each person who has observed such patterns discovers another person has had totally different experiences with such name-bearers. Zing! I mean, there are like a gazillion different names out there- you tend to meet only a few with any given name, and it's not unusual for them to share certain aspects.

I'm interested in the sound/name association though. Couple of years ago, (I hope this is a related point- do you see it?) my local South Tampa radio station invited listeners to call in and say the word "meatloaf". And the host could tell if they were fat or not, as confirmed or denied by the callers.

Yawnnnn. Need to get my 7 hours in now!

happy sleep: 7 hours a day

Happy Friday/Saturday! I'm up and in on a Friday night when there's a senior pub crawl going on, but I had a long day full of bacteria identification & fixing fly larvae. I didn't get a chance to breathe until 4:30 when I finally crawled back to my room! But I had dinner and relaxed with my new favorite person, who wore the cutest blue sweater and as always, said the most inspirational things, so matter-of-factly.

I've been keeping up such a good sleep pattern lately. This was one of four semester goals, and I am so happy to have established a regular sleep schedule: bed by midnight, up and ready at breakfast by 8, even on weekends. I wanted to read some sleep studies, but besides extreme experiments with sleep deprivation, there are only a few, and many merely observational studies showing correlation and also using self-reports. But many studies suggest seven~eight hours of sleep are sufficient and enough for adults.

I find that I am a lot more awake, peppier, and attentive. Also, my body has adjusted to this sleep pattern as to be able to wake up... without an alarm clock! I accidentally didn't set my alarm this Tuesday but still got up before 8. This may or may not have to do with the fact that I'm out of tetra points- discouraged from buying coffee, or that I've discovered steamers with flavor shots.

My familia admitted to checking in the blog and commented on lack of pictures of myself, so I'm including a picture diary of my today's day as well:
Sipping on bubble tea outside my bacteria lab for a quick lunch. I walked into the student center & they were selling bubble tea! Of course I dropped my plans to get a sensible lunch and went for this tapioca deliciousness instead.

Fixing fly larvae in lab! Every procedure takes 5 seconds, but they're all 10~15 minutes apart. 4 hours in lab probably summed up to 30min~ of actual work, and I got reading & some studying done.

Sweet dreams! Tomorrow our residential college is putting on a neon-themed party. Glow sticks and hot pink shorts? Totally rad.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

harry potter early premier todayyyy!

Our school rented out the entire theater for an early Harry Potter 7 premier this evening. I. am. so. excited. I am not a big HP fan (I still haven't seen HP 5, and only saw HP 6 last Saturday). But this is an advanced screening of HP which defined my childhood, is something I am going to treasure every moment of.
How awesome is this?! (And yes, I wore my thunder bolt-scar to the premier.)
When I am walking out of the line, I'll probably run into people waiting in line for their midnight showing... yay! 

I just got back from the early premiere and it was so much fun! Possibly the movie I laughed the most at (though many of the scenes weren't supposed to be funny). The theater I was in was mostly my residential college & and it felt almost surreal to be off campus, surrounded by the same people! But the movie, not to give any spoilers away, is beautifully shot and so-very-funny at parts. I don't know if it's the common college-crowd mentality that made some scenes really awkward and therefore hilarious, but we laughed at so many scenes.

Walking out, I saw others waiting in line to view Harry Potter & the board- HP sold out mostly. A Thursday night outing totally worth it; I love our college's Passport to Houston program. Off to sleep now!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

happy pepero day!

Today is 11/11, which is designed Pepero day in Korea. The date looks like 4 sticks of Pepero (Korean equivalent of pocky sticks). It's a day similar to Valentine's Day where people confess their love to others by giving them pepero sticks (how romantic, pepero sticks?). In addition to those romantics, people give them away to friends, co-workers, teachers, etc.

I remember in middle school, various stationery shops and gift stores carrying special pocky sticks with different flavors and many beautiful boxes to put them in. Although I never gave Pepero's to any admirers, it was always fun going shopping for them with friends and marveling at the cute things. It was equally fun wrapping them to give to friends & receive them (:D) and of course, eat them for days later.

I am strangely nostalgic for Pepero day & the whole culture along with it today. I wish I could drive over to H-mart and pick up some deliciousness, but I have a big presentation next Tuesday that I want to ace. Let me just stare at the pictures of happy times at Seoul Garden munching on K-food.

Oh well... happy Pepero Day everyone!

Soooo, happy update: My friend came over saying he had something for me, and I had the faintest hope it may be Pepero's. And yes, he presented me with a box of waffle Pepero's! 

We sat on the futon happily munching on a few. Mmmm.

I just came back from the library, and sneaked in a few more Pepero's before today ended! Can I be any more happier?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

to take or not to take? drugs for a common cold.

The entire suite and I have been sick this week, to varying degrees. I have been stubbornly fighting off taking medicine because well, my immunology class seems to point to the fact that it's better to let your body fight it out to full extent and emerge victorious, than to downregulate inflammation, lower body temperature, and tamper with the immune system.

For the common cold, many of the medicines mask the symptoms, rather than battling the cause. The common cold is caused by a virus and is characterized by congestion, fever, headache, and sore throat. Antibiotics will not help you, and no effective antiviral drugs have been developed yet.

But I am so miserable!

I finally walked over to the health services center to pick up a cold kit. I got a zip-lock bag with various different meds:

  • Cepacol, for relief of sore throat. Active ingredients: benzocaine- local anesthetic used as pain reliever, menthol-also a local anesthetic.
  • Sudanyl, as nasal decongestant. Active ingredient: phenylephrine- the most common over-the-counter decongestant, acts as a vasoconstrictor.
  • Advil, pain reliever with ibuprofen , a fever reducer by inhibiting inflammation responses.
  • Tylenol, acetaminophen, pain reliever and fever reducer.
  • Cough drops, with menthol. A definite must if you decide to attend class, for your classmates' sakes.
Here comes the obvious question: advil and tylenol are both pain relievers... what is better? The answer is complicated: ibuprofen acts to reduce fevers by acting to reduce swelling and inflammation on site. Take ibuprofen for bodily injuries and sores. Acetaminophen works with the nerves in the brain to decrease pain, making it a better choice for headaches and fever.

As for me, I'm taking minimal medicine combined with lots of naps & ice cream/cookies. Times like these, I am so thankful that I am usually healthy and well. Ughhh. 

it's in your blood.

How is blood type differentiated? I knew there were different genotypes for A, B, AB and O, but until this week, I had no idea what those genes actually encoded. My immunology class is fascinating and so practical. I absolutely love it.

UT Genetic Science Learning Center website

The different blood-deciding genes code for antigens which lead the body to either recognize the gut bacteria as self-antigen and ignore them or fight against them by producing antibodies. Therefore, bloodtype A produces A antigen, which leads to production of anti-B antibodies. Similarly, bloodtype B produces B-antigen, and O (having neither A nor B antigen) have both anti-A and anti-B antigens. In addition to the ABO blood typing system, there are others as well, such as Lewis, Duffy, Kidd, and Rhesus.

The different blood types are biologically significant. But are the effects of having/lacking certain antibodies equally noticeable? Different blood types have different susceptibility to diseases, even when the causality is unclear. For example, O's are most susceptible to cholera, while AB's are the most resistant. A's are most susceptible to gastric cancers, and O's peptic ulcers. O's also have least severe reaction to malaria. 

Dr. D'Adamo presents a blood type specific diet, focusing on susceptibility of each blood types to diseases, and even associating a personality with different blood types (O's are responsible and decisive!). Hmmmm.

Is this a further push towards nature in the ongoing nature versus nurture debate? 
When you go to the doctor's, the question: "is there a history of [disease/condition] in the family?" should be answered with attention and detail.