Smoking, or more specifically tobacco, is estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be the most preventable kind of death in the World. In the world there are currently 1.1 billion smokers with a great majority of these being from developing countries. Still in the US alone you’ll find about 500,000 deaths attributed to tobacco annually with a considerable 40,000 deaths of people who never smokes but inhaled second hand smoke from others. More general facts about tobacco can be found here. Apart from the obvious pulmonary and cardiovascular effects smoking has on your health, there are also some slightly more bizarre health effects.
Last week I produced this post about the possibility of using microfluidics to produce emulsions. Of course precise control of liquids is a key aspect of microfluidics and this allows for many applications in the pharmaceutical industry. Formulations of drugs produced by meticulous design are able to improve the life time of the chemicals as well as offer a more uniform release of the drugs from various implanted systems. On that note microfluidics also opens up new ways to deliver and target drugs in the body as well as manipulating the chemistry of the drugs themselves.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 (HIV-1) is one of the most notorious viruses worldwide. According to Avert.org 36.7 million people are infected with HIV making 0.8% of the adult population of the planet. Since the epidemic started in the 1980s, 35 million people have died from the diseases which Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome leaves them vulnerable to with an estimated one million people still dying every year. The development of combination AntiRetroviral Therapy (cART) has managed to enhance the lifetimes of the infected but no treatment can ever purge the central nervous system and lymph system of the virus.
A fine needle aspiration biopsy is a technique used to take a small cell sample from organs. There is a scaled up version called a core needle biopsy which is used if a larger sample is needed. Normally for these procedures local anaesthetic will be applied so the patient doesn’t feel discomfort while whichever needle is being used is inserted through the skin and a sample is taken. In order to actually target these needles at the place where the doctors wish to sample it is common to use MRI scans, tomography or ultrasound to aim the needle tip. However, in the case where we’re looking at a small lesion on an organ, it can certainly be difficult to actually image properly increasing the uncertainty in the biopsy results. For instance the prostate is very hard to image and so often oncologists looking for cancerous cells will actually perform multiple, between six and twelve, biopsies looking for any cancerous cells.
Gaucher disease is a recessive genetic disease that is estimated to be carried by about 1% of the American population. It is characterised by the inability to degrade glucocerebroside, one of the many types of fat our body produces. Normally the human body creates glucocerebrosidase to specifically break down and reuse glucocerebroside but of course people with Gaucher disease aren’t as lucky. As a result of the insufficient quantity of this enzyme produced, this lipid (and other sphingolipids) will begin to build up in their liver, spleen and bone. The results of this have varying severities with many people never truly suffering any major symptoms of the disease but for some, of the lipid builds up in the nervous system, the results can be serious convulsions, mental retardation from early childhood and acute apnea.
Arteries, veins and capillaries. All names for tubes that carry blood. The arteries are large and carry blood away from the heart, they have thick walls in order to withstand the pressure the heart produces. The veins return blood to the heart and have considerably thinner walls. But the capillaries are the most impressive as it is their job to distribute blood throughout the tissues of the body once the arteries carry it near. The average capillary is just 8 μm across which is about half the width of a human hair and as you can imagine, the network of these blood vessels is unbelievably intricate. Interestingly the occurrence of skin diseases such as psoriasis (which I written about before here) or eczema have been related to the widening and twisting of capillaries in the dermis. It is also typical of skin cancer cells to hijack and disrupt local capillary structures during their formation.
Acetylcysteine (C5H9NO3S) is a drug with the notable property of being used to treat a variety of ailments. Paracetamol overdose is a particularly important use, but it also is used to treat bronchitis, chemotherapy side effects, HIV and also has found a use as a psychiatric treatment. It is known for being quite safe with side affects such as vomiting and redness of the skin being quite manageable. The most serious side effect is that 5% percent of people experience an anaphylactic shock that may require immediate treatment when they take acetylcysteine. However it is none of these purely medical concerns that are relevant for today’s paper. Instead the focus is on another property this drug possesses. A physical antimicrobial mechanism which has been reported as being effective at disrupting bacterial adhesion, hampering of their polysaccharide production and ultimately breaks up biofilms.