Archive for February, 2014

Cat Bites An Unrecognized Danger

Posted by on Friday, 21 February, 2014
Cartoon about cats



Cats are stunning things – amazing beings. If you have one in your house, you know. Please don’t mistake them for pets as they are visitors from another star system that just happen to favor fur coats.

THEY decide if they’re in the mood.

Or not.

Often they rub against arms and purr. However. Wind up toys, they are not. They’re willful, intelligent co-inhabitants of your life space and, if they get pissed off at you, they won’t hold it all in and give themselves ulcers.

Cats bite and scratch. If you haven’t had the pleasure, believe me, they can make their point.

Here’s the thing.

If a cat bites your hand, take it seriously, okay? One in three bites to the hand put the attached person into the hospital with a nasty infection that all too often needs surgery to debride the wound. Dr, Brian Carlsen (lead study author on the paper which was published in the  Journal of Hand Surgery) says this is because the needle-ish teeth of cats do a great job of injecting bacteria deep into structures that aren’t exposed to air. Once the tooth gunk is sealed off in there, the infectious organisms have enough privacy to engage in intimate behavior leading to many bacterial babies and a glorious explosion of infection.

No need to make them crazy in the emergency room. Don’t show up every time your cat brushes you lightly with a paw. But if you do get a puncture wound – especially if it looks red or inflamed – please don’t ignore it. Let a medical type have a quick look. If it’s nothing, you can go home and change the litter box. But – seriously – if that bugger is getting infected, the best time to act is now.

Do it for me. Okay?

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The drawing of the unsmiling kitty is mine.



Posted by on Monday, 17 February, 2014
Cartoon about cancer surgery




You’ve been “scheduled” even though you’re not sure you heard everything they said and aren’t sure you made the right choices.

How did this happen? Will everything be okay? Will your kids be orphaned?  Nobody answers these questions for you. It’s all about practical next steps.

You’re on a gurney talking to a nice doctor.

Isn’t she a little too young? Shouldn’t she be more reassuring?  Less “We’ll know a lot more after we get in there”?

You think she said  “We’ll take away the bad stuff and leave the good stuff.” 

That must be what she said. That’s what they do right?


The surgeon’s job is to get rid of the diseased tissue. How is that determined?


To see if all of the cancer has been successfully removed, a sample is put into a container with preservative. The sample is sent to the pathologist. After a gross exam ,  the sample is quickly frozen, stained, and sliced.  Other samples go into a cassette for a more complete analysis later. Those samples go into hot paraffin which, after a few hours of cooling, get sliced on a “microtome” for the eventual “thumbs up/thumbs down”.

This process is a cumbersome one. If the pathology lab says the quick frozen sample still has cancer, the surgeon has to take out more tissue, send a new sample, wait for the lab, and maybe even repeat again. When it’s all done, and the patient is supposedly recovering,  the lab gets a second vote based on the samples that were saved for further study.

The doctor wants to walk out to the waiting family and say things went great.  Good margins. All gone. Its embarrassing for the doctor and dispiriting for the patient and the family to find out that those margins might not have been so great after all.


Two tools are trying to make their way to the operating room that could add more certainty and reduce the “standing around” time for the surgeon.

One of them, I mentioned last July. It’s a “hot knife” that does an instant analysis of the vaporized tissue. In early testing, the results were in perfect agreement but there is more testing to be done before the instrument is submitted for regulatory approval.

Another way to get at the problem is a pair of special glasses that make cancer cells visible to the surgeon.  Dr.  Samuel Achilefu, PhD, professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at Washington University is the project head. The system uses a “heads up” display to see cancer cells as small as one millimeter. The cells look like they are glowing when you look at them with the goggles. The trick is a contrast agent that is injected beforehand into the tissue.

Like the iKnife the googles aren’t ready for approvals. More testing has to be done with humans.

For now, we’re still stuck with the painstaking path lab process but this would seem to be the future of cancer surgery.

The sooner the better, I think.

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The drawing is mine.



Posted by on Tuesday, 11 February, 2014
Cartoon about robots inventing stuff



What’s the opposite of the crazy guy inventor?  How about the ROBOTIC crazy guy inventor?

Alan Porter (Georgia Institute of Technology) is the principal investigator on a way to bulk up technology by using information from patents and publications. His system looks at the way  the citations in various patents reference each other. His system then uses that information to figure out  where the holes are in a collection of patents – the “intersections for new technology”. 

Cell phones have sensors for acceleration and brightness and temperature? Maybe you missed something. Look through the stuff about sensors. Anything good there? A key patent for automotive suspensions expires next month? That’s an opportunity, right? Patents tend to “cluster” in certain areas. You can see where new areas are starting to emerge by noticing the density of new categories.

“Patent maps” aren’t new. It’s the way corporations  look for where there’s weakness in the patent “portfolios” they own. Patents aren’t inventions anymore. They’re bullets in a war against evil competitors who are also trying to figure out what has to be invented, bought, or stolen to bulk up their own side of the patent wars.  The old system grouped patents into eight major categories. The new system is much more granular and, according to Jan Youtie, director of policy research services in Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, it works a lot better.


Do you want to know what MISTER ScienceAintSoBad thinks about a “systems approach” to inventing? Does he think a cold blooded technology based approach to invention is ever a real substitute for individual intuition, talent, and genius?

Not really.

In fact, I think it’s why big rich companies that have unlimited access to scientists and engineers, struggle so mightily to come up with the next biggie. They spend too much time gluing extra sensors and more pixels into their products.

They should spend more time in the garage.

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The cartoon is mine.

Caffeine Addiction

Posted by on Thursday, 6 February, 2014
funny cartoon about too much coffee

Conked By Caffeine


Caffeine is one of those counterintuitive things. You think it’s going to turn out bad for you  and it turns out good.

I recently wrote an article about coffee . I called coffee a “guilty pleasure”. I talked about how surprisingly good it seems to be  for you with good effects on blood flow, liver function, and diabetes.

I didn’t let myself get too carried away. Some inner birdie chirped in my ear to watch it. Don’t forget to tell them to use common sense, said the birdie.

So I did.

I ended with “Don’t get too carried away. I don’t want to hear you’re drinking back-to-back coffees all day.”

Good thing.

Now comes a new study  about “caffeine use disorder”.  This comes from Dr. Laura Juliano (American University) and was published in the Journal of Caffeine Research. Dr. Juliano did a literature review pulling in information about the habits of many drinkers of coffee and other caffeinated beverages.

What did she find?

Pretty much what the birdie  – the one who said I better stick that declaimer in my last article? – figured. If you douse yourself in the stuff,  you’re looking for trouble.

Okay. This doesn’t seem to apply to everyone. But, for some people, there’s a real chance you can get hooked on caffeine like you can get hooked on a drug. Withdrawal symptoms. Can’t cut down even when you know you have to.

A cup or two of coffee should be okay but three or more cups can, for some people, lead to trouble.  Any source of caffeine  that dumps 400 mg of caffeine into your system each day could make you a caffeine junkie. Pregnant women should keep it to about 200 mg a day. About a cup of coffee.


How right was the birdie? Does coffee fall from its pedestal? Not the healthy drink I triumphantly proclaimed in November? Or is this last study just making seeming science out of the obvious fact that if you’re one of those who gets too buzzed out on caffeine, you should use a cup of common sense?

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad thinks it’s a good study. It reminds us to keep some sense of proportion even when numerous studies seem to “give permission” for something we love. I guess we’ll tack this onto our Controversy Board for now and track developments  while sipping (in moderation) a cup of  java.

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The drawing is mine

Treatment Shrinks Enlarged Prostate

Posted by on Saturday, 1 February, 2014


Humorous cartoon about BPH


Pee less. Sleep more.

It looks like an ordinary bathroom door.

At night, however, when you are comfortably snoozing,  it whispers “Come to me, come to me.” Once, twice, sometime four or five times it calls out to you. In the morning, you feel like you haven’t slept because – actually – you barely have.

Guys with enlarged prostates know what I’m talking about. They’re on the prowl all night long. Their oversized prostates press against their urethras, keeping them from  emptying their bladders completely  so they “have to go”.

And go.

And go.

The “right” name for an enlarged prostate is benign hypertrophy of the prostate. Benign means not cancerous  (bad as it is, it could be worse.) Some drugs help but, for lots of guys, drugs only delay the day when they  will have to sit down with the doctor and try to find a real answer.  Hearing about the risk of erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence  (with most surgical stuff) will make them think twice.

Here’s the thing.

There are new alternatives to relieving the symptoms of BPH without (hopefully) permanent side effects.

Artery Embolization

Dr. Francisco Carnevale, associate professor at the University of San Paolo just did a study of 120 guys. He treated their enlarged prostates  with “artery embolization”. Embolization means putting an “embolus” (an obstruction) into the artery to reduce the flow of blood. If you do that to a guy’s prostrate, guess what? It has less blood in it and less volume.  

It shrinks.

For enlarged prostates, shrinking is good. It takes pressure off of the urethra and peeing gets back to the way it was in the old days.

That’s the concept.

How did it go with Francisco Carnevale’s 120 men?

Actually, it went amazingly well. (The study, by the way, was reported at the International Symposium on Endovascular Therapy.) Almost all (97%) of the participants in the study did better. However, within the 15 month study period, 14% of the patients started to have symptoms again. They had to be retreated or had to find another solution for their BPH other than artery embolization.

Embolization has a lot going for it. The innovative treatment is simpler (local anesthetic) and has virtually no side effects.  If it all hangs together over a longer time period and with more people receiving the treatment, it has great potential.


Another interesting approach  is an implantable device called a “UroLift” (made by NeoTract). The devices are inserted into the urethra in a minimally invasive (easy for me to say) procedure and they are anchored so as to pull the prostate tissue back and away from the urethra, relieving the pressure. Several UroLift devices may be required, depending on the size of the prostate. This device was approved by the FDA based on two studies with a little less than 300 men; they were followed for two years.  As with the embolization effort, we want to see what things look like after more people get treated.

May you sleep soundly.

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The drawing is mine.