Category Archives: Health

Metaphors Matter – Ovarian Cancer as the Silent Killer

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Jasen P. From the “silent killer” to the “whispering disease”: ovarian cancer and the uses of metaphor. Med Hist. 2009 Oct;53(4):489-512. [full text]

Patricia Jasen, a history professor at Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, has written a comprehensive and thoughtful history of metaphorical language about ovarian cancer from the first characterizations of the disease to the present day.

From the conclusion:

“The association of the ‘silent killer’ metaphor with ovarian cancer was exceptionally tenacious, and it arguably played a role in diverting attention away from systematic attention to symptoms which were later deemed relevant by a growing number of researchers. This history provides support for the conclusion that medical metaphors do have a role in defining “notions of reality” and therefore deserve close scrutiny.”

The article is most readable. Understated. How many women died before their time because they were not properly diagnosed in the early stages of disease? The symptoms have been clear for decades.

Hot chilis to cool cancer

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Oyagbemi AA, Saba AB, Azeez OI. Capsaicin: a novel chemopreventive molecule and its underlying molecular mechanisms of action. Indian J Cancer. 2010 Jan-Mar;47(1):53-8 [open access]

Researchers at the University of Ibadan undertook a review of the literature on the plant genus Capsicum (Solanaceae), a principal ingredient of hot red and chili peppers, as a cancer-suppressing agent.

From the conclusion:

“The use of phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetable has gained worldwide acceptance as a novel source of chemopreventive agents against cancer cells. These non-nutrient phytochemicals either block or reverse multistage carcinogenesis. Capsaicin, a pungent ingredient present in chili pepper has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiproliferative and anti-cancer potentials. Capsaicin has chemopreventive effect against a wide of chronic inflammatory diseases, including cancer. Other potential benefits of capsaicin should be explored with the aim of brightening our understanding of the molecular mechanism associated with its anti-cancer activities.”

Chilis!

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Comparative Oncology: Bone Cancer in Dogs and Humans

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Paoloni M, Davis S, Lana S, et al. Canine tumor cross-species genomics uncovers targets linked to osteosarcoma progression. BMC Genomics. 2009 Dec 23;10:625 [open access]

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute, Veterinary Teaching Hospital Colorado State University, Laboratory of Oncologic Research Bologna, and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles compared osteosarcoma expression profiles in dogs and children in an effort to identify novel metastasis-associated tumor targets that have been missed through the study of the human bone cancer alone.

From the paper background:

“An increasingly considered modeling approach in cancer biology and therapeutic development is the study of naturally occurring cancers in pet dogs (referred to as comparative oncology). The features of cancers in pet dogs that may uniquely contribute to our understanding of cancer pathogenesis, progression and therapy have been recently reviewed… Companion (pet) dogs develop osteosarcoma at similar sites as human patients, with identical histology, response to traditional treatment regimens such as surgery and chemotherapy, and proclivity for metastasis… Similarly, many of the candidate genes implicated in the pathogenesis or progression of osteosarcoma in children have also been characterized in the canine disease… The incidence of osteosarcoma in dogs is higher than children, with >10,000 dogs diagnosed yearly… Differences in disease prevalence and the more aggressive disease biology in the dog further argues the opportunity for this approach to inform our understanding of this highly aggressive pediatric cancer. Although limited in scope, pet dogs with osteosarcoma have been effectively integrated into the development of novel treatment approaches for human patients, most notably pioneering limb-sparing techniques… In 2005 the first public draft of the canine genome sequence was released… This milestone provided the opportunity for dogs with cancer to lend additional insight into the biology of human cancers, and to more rigorously evaluate and translate novel therapies to human trials.”

The authors found strong similarities in gene expression patterns between canine and human osteosarcoma, which they suggest supports the inclusion of pet dogs as a translational model in studies of osteosarcoma therapy. A boy’s best friend, indeed.

Medicinal plants in Wonago Woreda, Ethiopia

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Mesfin F, Demissew S, Teklehaymanot T. An ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants in Wonago Woreda, SNNPR, Ethiopia. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009 Oct 12;5:28 [open access]

Researchers at Addis Ababa University documented medicinal plants in the natural vegetation and home gardens in Wonago Woreda, Ethiopia. They collected 155 plant species from the natural vegetation and 65 species from home gardens, and documented 72 as having medicinal value for human or livestock ailments.

Healers have turned to home gardens in the face of threat to natural vegetation:

“Traditional medicinal plants were harvested mostly from natural vegetation area followed by home gardens. They were also obtained from roadsides, farmlands and live fences. The medicinal plants in the natural vegetation were under threat and to tackle these problems traditional healers had turned their face towards home gardens. However, traditional healers still depend largely on naturally growing species because of their belief that those species in the natural vegetation are more effective in the prevention and treatment of diseases and health problems.”

This article is particularly valuable because of the detailed attention to preparation and application of the medicinal plants for specific ailments.

Ethnobotany of the upper Varaita

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Pieroni A, Giusti ME. Alpine ethnobotany in Italy: traditional knowledge of gastronomic and medicinal plants among the Occitans of the upper Varaita valley, Piedmont. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009 Nov 6;5:32. [open access]

Researchers at the University of Gastronomic Sciences and Università degli Studi di Firenze undertook a gastronomic and medical ethnobotanical study among the Occitan communities living in Blins/Bellino and Chianale, in the upper Val Varaita, in the Piedmontese Alps of Northwestern Italy. Traditional uses of 88 plants were recorded.

Sustainability is a serious concern:

It is … evident that traditional knowledge in the Varaita valley has been heavily eroded. This study also examined the local legal framework for the gathering of botanical taxa, and the potential utilization of the most quoted medicinal and food wild herbs in the local market, and suggests that the continuing widespread local collection from the wild of the aerial parts of Alpine wormwood for preparing liqueurs (Artemisia genipi, A. glacialis, and A. umbelliformis) should be seriously reconsidered in terms of sustainability, given the limited availability of these species, even though their collection is culturally salient in the entire study area.

This paper must be downloaded, not least for the incredible photography.

Medicinal plant knowledge of the Bench

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Giday M, Asfaw Z, Woldu Z, Teklehaymanot T. Medicinal plant knowledge of the Bench ethnic group of Ethiopia: an ethnobotanical investigation. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009 Nov 13;5:34 [open access]

Researchers at Addis Ababa University documented and analyzed medicinal plant knowledge of the Bench ethnic group in Ethiopia. Malaria, respiratory tract infections, intestinal parasites, skin-related diseases and typhoid fever are the major human health problems among the people. The study revealed 35 medicinal plant species used by the Bench.

From the conclusion:

“The immediate and serious threat to the local medical practice in the study area seems to have come from the increasing influence of modernization. As there is no adequate modern healthcare service provision in the study area, loss of local medical knowledge and practice could negatively affect the healthcare system of the people. To arrest or slow down the trend, awareness on the contribution of traditional medical practice towards fulfilling the primary healthcare needs of the local people should be created among the youth.”

An old story. Past time to start listening.

Beyond pathways

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Kreeger PK, Lauffenburger DA. Cancer systems biology: a network modeling perspective. Carcinogenesis. 2010 Jan;31(1):2-8 [open access]

Two biomedical engineers at the University of Wisconsin and Massachusetts Institute of Technology review the literature to develop a critique of, and contribution to, pathway-centric oncogenesis research, toward a systems biology approach.

From the introduction:

“Pathways … cannot properly be considered to operate in isolation of one another, as an alteration of one pathway can lead directly (via protein–protein interactions) or indirectly (via transcriptional/translational influences) to changes in others. Accordingly, cancer—along with other complex diseases such as arthritis and diabetes—is most productively conceived of and strategized for treatment as a dysregulation of a multipathway network.”

Not the easiest paper, but well worth reading until you get it.

Global cancer burden to double, prevention urged

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Thun MJ, DeLancey JO, Center MM, et al. The global burden of cancer: priorities for prevention. Carcinogenesis. 2010 Jan;31(1):100-10. [open access]

Researchers from the American Cancer Society project that cancer deaths will more than double worldwide over the next 20-40 years, with the increase driven largely by growth and aging of populations in economically developing countries, in combination with tobacco use, an increase in obesity and physical inactivity, and prevalent chronic infections.

The authors recommend a number of preventive measures, including strengthened efforts in international
tobacco control and increased availability of vaccines against hepatitis B virus and human papilloma virus, along with “action-oriented translational research to adapt programs that have proven to be effective in high-income countries to every setting in which they are needed.”