Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You're Gonna Poke Your Eye Out Kid

The Happy Hospitalist always finds the most interesting stories!
This is one on scleral tattooing--which I guess is the next step in the evolution of eye decoration (following eye jewelry)

Eye Jewelry

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The waterfall illusion can be transferred between vision and touch

If you look at a waterfall for about 30 seconds, and then shift your gaze to a nearby stationary object, such as a rock or a tree, that object will seem to drift slowly upwards. This well known optical illusion demonstrates a phenomenon called the motion after-effect, which is thought to occur as a result of adaptation - the brain compensates for movement in one direction, causing us to momentarily perceive a stationary objects to be moving in the other.

Although illusory motion can also be induced in the sense of touch, the brain is thought to process visual and tactile motion separately. But now researchers from MIT have found that not only can moving visual stimuli induce a tactile motion after-effect, but also that moving tactile stimuli can induce a visual motion after-effect. The findings, which are published in Current Biology, show that the senses of vision and touch are closely linked, and that each can influence the other.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Poems and Tears for 'Silent Mentors' Spark a Surge of Cadavers in Taiwan

HUALIEN, Taiwan -- A young medical student stood in front of a corpse as sobbing filled the operating room.

The aspiring doctor, Hsu Jun-k'ai, worked up the nerve to glance at the relatives crying next to him. Tears trickled down his own cheeks. But the surgery wasn't a failure. It hadn't even begun.

Mr. Hsu was taking part in an elaborate farewell for eight people who had donated their bodies to Tzu Chi University's medical school for use in a surgery-simulation class. Medical schools around the world have ceremonies to honor donors, but Tzu Chi (pronounced Seh-Gee) is taking the practice to unusual levels.

By the time students here wield their scalpels, they will know the dead intimately, composing poems and slide shows to them, writing their biographies and sometimes lighting incense in their honor. When they are finished, the students will carry the donors' coffins to the crematory, mourning them as their "silent mentors" who taught them with their bodies.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What Are Friends for? A Longer Life

In the quest for better health, many people turn to doctors, self-help books or herbal supplements. But they overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, speed recovery, slow aging and prolong life: their friends.
In 2006, a study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. And notably, proximity and the amount of contact with a friend wasn’t associated with survival. Just having friends was protective.

The silence of evidence

This blog entry from "Junkfood Science" is definitely worth reading...

The reality of nationalized electronic medical records is recognized among most medical professionals, who know that the claims of saving money and lives are not supported by the preponderance of credible evidence and that improving health care isn’t about having everyone’s medical records in a federal database for governmental oversight. But the general public has largely been kept in the dark about the controversies surrounding electronic medical records.
One reason for this disconnect and why the full story isn't reaching consumers was explained in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association
It turns out that electronic medical record vendors have negotiated contract deals that leave them free and clear of liability when their software is inferior and harms patients, and prohibits problems from being revealed to the public.

Lizards Sunbathe for Better Health

Lizards and other cold-blooded critters bask in the sun to keep warm. But they also do it for the vitamin D, a new study finds.
"The chameleons were as effective as mathematically possible by our methods at regulating toward optimal UV exposure for their vitamin D profile," he said. "We thought they were probably pretty good at regulating their UV exposure; we just didn't think they'd be this good."

It's not clear, however, by what mechanism they are able to sense their internal vitamin D levels, but Karsten thinks there may be a brain receptor sensitive to the vitamin.

The Free Online Ophthalmology Book

Written by Tim Root, ophthalmology resident..
The Free Online Ophthalmology book

I can see clearly now the leech has gone

The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine has reported the first case of a leech being safely removed from a human eye.

via Suture for a Living

Braille e-reader concept can't be far from reality

The technology's already here, we just need a venture capital firm and a determined entrepreneur to make it happen. A foursome of designers -- Seon-Keun Park, Byung-Min Woo, Sun-Hye Woo and Jin-Sun Park -- have banded together to create the above pictured concept, an e-reader for those with limited or no vision. Their Braille E-Book concept theoretically relies on electroactive polymers in order to change the surface's shape as pages are turned, and while we fully expect the battery life to suffer due to all the necessary commotion, it's definitely a start that needs to happen.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The diagnosis? Fir on the lung

The annals of medical anomalies bulge with stories from far-flung places where the idea of a reliable source is a chap sitting on a gate in a goatskin fleece who waves to passersby, even if there are none. And so to the Urals, where medics are reported to have removed a tiny fir tree from a man's lung, after he complained of chest pains. Before doctors opened him up, they were convinced he had lung cancer.
Now, they're convinced he inhaled a seed, which sprouted inside him.
via the Happy Hospitalist

Saturday, April 18, 2009

National Geographic's New Infinite Photograph

Check out the video of this new Web app from National Geographic. It's called Infinite Photograph and is live today at www.ngm.com/infinite.

The browser-based program features stunning user-submitted photography from the natural world to create a massive As Seen on Earth photo mosaic that you can navigate by clicking on color patterns to create an infinite number of photograph mosaics.

Cool product: $20 artificial knee for patients in the developing world

(PhysOrg.com) -- Last year Joel Sadler and his classmates faced a daunting challenge in their Biomedical Device Design and Evaluation course: Create a low-cost, high-performance prosthetic knee joint for amputees in the developing world. Dubbed the JaipurKnee Project, the team aimed to help rectify lives ravaged by war and diseases such as diabetes.
via dvice.com

Friday, April 17, 2009

Don't look down: The incredible daredevil who balances on the edge of 1,000ft cliffs

It's the ultimate balancing act - travelling upside-down on a bicycle 1,000 metres above an icy Norwegian fjord, with just a weight dangling below him for stability.

This is the latest jaw-dropping trick from extreme artist Eskil Ronningsbakken, who enjoys nothing more than precariously perching on the edge of a clifftop or walking on a tightrope between two hot-air balloons.

The 29-year-old with a head for heights describes himself as an 'educated balancing performer', and has been honing his death-defying skills since the age of five, with circus troupes around the globe.

How to Raise Our I.Q.

From Nicholas Kristof at the NY TImes...

Professor Nisbett provides suggestions for transforming your own urchins into geniuses — praise effort more than achievement, teach delayed gratification, limit reprimands and use praise to stimulate curiosity — but focuses on how to raise America’s collective I.Q. That’s important, because while I.Q. doesn’t measure pure intellect — we’re not certain exactly what it does measure — differences do matter, and a higher I.Q. correlates to greater success in life.

Aiding is Abetting

More from Dambisa Moyo...
An interview with Dambisa Moyo
African author and economist Dambisa Moyo on ending western aid to Africa now, what Bono and Geldoff don’t get, and the deadening of African independence and entrepreneurship.
Dambisa Moyo’s prescription for economic sustainability in Africa—which includes cutting off all aid within five years—might seem insane if the statistics weren’t so grim: despite one trillion dollars in western aid over the past sixty years, the economic lot of the average African has only gotten worse. Most Africans now live on one dollar per day, and sub-Saharan Africa remains the poorest region in the world. Despite a deluge of aid between the years of 1970 and 1998, poverty on the continent skyrocketed from 11 percent of the population to 66 percent, which means over six hundred million Africans are now impoverished. The average African can only expect to live to be about fifty, and half the continent’s citizens are under the age of fifteen. In addition to poverty, AIDS, corruption (half the continent is still under un-democratic rule), civil war, and genocide ravage the continent. Indeed, Africa seems constantly embroiled in a steady stream of horrors, the likes of which are not seen anywhere else on the planet. Why? Are Africans innately different from the rest of us? Nonsense, says Moyo. She blames aid.

Study Finds Pattern of Severe Droughts in Africa

For at least 3,000 years, a drumbeat of potent droughts, far longer and more severe than any experienced recently, have seared a belt of sub-Saharan Africa that is now home to tens of millions of the world’s poorest people, climate researchers report in a new study.
“Many of the 390 million people in Africa living on less than $1.25 a day are smallholder farmers that depend on two things: rain and land,” he said. “Even small climate blips such as a delay in rains, a modest shortening of the drought cycle, can have catastrophic effects.”

Given the sub-Saharan region’s persistent vulnerability, Mr. Watkins added, the new findings and the prospect of further global warming could be “early warning signs for an unprecedented and catastrophic reversal in human development.”
Famed economist, Uwe Rhinehardt, on the healthcare systems of Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland...
None of these countries uses a government-run, Medicare-like health insurance plan. They all rely on purely private, nonprofit or for-profit insurers that are goaded by tight regulation to work toward socially desired ends. And they do so at average per-capita health-care costs far below those of the United States — costs in Germany and the Netherlands are less than half of those here.

In Europe, as in Canada, that social ethic is based on the principle of social solidarity. It means that health care should be financed by individuals on the basis of their ability to pay, but should be available to all who need it on roughly equal terms. The regulations imposed on health care in these countries are rooted in this overarching principle.

First, these countries all mandate the individual to be insured for a basic package of health care benefits.

Many Americans oppose such a mandate as an infringement of their personal rights, all the while believing that they have a perfect right to highly expensive, critically needed health care, even when they cannot pay for it. This immature, asocial mentality is rare in the rest of the world. An insurance sector that must insure all comers at premiums that are not contingent on the insured’s health status — a feature President Obama has promised — cannot function for long if people can go without insurance when they are healthy, but are entitled to premiums unrelated to their health status when they fall ill.

Second, these nations try to tailor the individual’s contribution to the financing of health care closely to the individual’s ability to pay — almost perfectly so in Germany, albeit less perfectly in the other two countries.
All three countries offer their citizens reliable, portable health insurance based on the principle of social solidarity, but without a government-run health insurance plan like Medicare. The $64,000 question is whether America’s private health insurers would be willing to countenance the tight regulation required for that approach.

Life and Death on the Operating Table

After reading this interview of Dr. Starzl by Dr. Paula Chen, I think I am going to have to Dr. Starzls' memoir, "The Puzzle People."

After finishing a difficult liver transplant, when the fear of losing the individual on the table has finally passed, it is hard not to step back for a moment and wonder about the surgeon who did the very first such operation.
At the end of the operation, he writes, “[Bennie] was wrapped in a plain white sheet after being washed off by a weeping nurse. They took him away from this place of sanitized hope to the cold and unhygienic morgue.... The surgeons stayed in the operating room for a long time after, sitting on the low stools around the periphery, looking at the grown and saying nothing.... It was not the last time I would see this scene, both in my dreams and in reality. I never heard anyone who was there describe this as ’the Solis case,’ or the first human liver transplantation. If they mentioned it at all, it was always just about Bennie.”

I recently spoke with Dr. Starzl, who at 83 continues to be involved in transplantation research and with patients (he excused himself from one of our conversations to take a call from a patient). He shared some of his thoughts on the patient-doctor relationship, health care reform, and on being a patient and doctor...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sound of Music Train Station

The power of music is mighty indeed....

Tip of the hat to S.A. and Pat

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Eyeborg Project: An Exciting and Creepy Hack I Hope You Never Try

It goes without saying that experimenting with your eyesight is neither the easiest hack in the world or the safest, but apparently a few brave souls out there are driven to take it on regardless. The Eyeborg Project is the brainchild of one of those.

EYEBORG-- The Two Week Trial from eyeborg on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


AL WALEED, IRAQ — What does it feel like to raise a newborn baby in an inhospitable desert where scorpions crawl about and sandstorms threaten to bring down one’s tent?

Lubna Falah is about to find out. She will soon deliver her baby. This is not her first child, but she has never tried to raise one in a tent.

In Baghdad, Lubna had a beautiful home. That was then. Now she is left with bad dreams and repeated nightmares. Lubna is an Iraqi Palestinian, a double refugee, living in the desert close to the border with Syria. Her ancestors fled Palestine 60 years ago when Jewish forces took control of their home in Haifa, and now she is trying to flee Iraq. She is the sister of my friend Lina.

Almost a billion iphone app downloads

This is pretty amazing--check out the link...
We're about to hit a billion...

Join the celebration. Download any app and you automatically get the chance to win a $10,000 iTunes Gift Card, an iPod touch, a Time Capsule, and a MacBook Pro.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mugabe Aides Said to Use Violence to Get Amnesty

HARARE, Zimbabwe — President Robert Mugabe’s top lieutenants are trying to force the political opposition into granting them amnesty for their past crimes by abducting, detaining and torturing opposition officials and activists, according to senior members of Mr. Mugabe’s party.

Review: iPhone apps for nearly every waking minute

An iphone addict myself, I appreciated this article detailing how the iphone can become so integrated into one's life...My latest use of an iphone app was when I was called to the Nevada Assembly for a "stat" eye consult and was able to use an eye exam app on my iphone as part of the exam.

PHILADELPHIA — Hi, my name is Deborah Yao, and I am an iPhone applications addict.
I didn't see it coming. I bought the iPhone because it is the Swiss Army knife of gadgets — a video iPod, phone and Web browser and more. But then I discovered what would become the source of many bleary-eyed nights: the iPhone applications store.
The apps are software programs you download to the phone to give it new features. So now my phone is a pedometer, a voice recorder, a gym coach and a budget tracker. It promises to find my parked car, give me a shoulder massage and even repel mosquitoes, for free or 99 cents and up.

Gold-Plated Economy in Nevada Town Becomes Rare Beacon for the Jobless

ELKO, Nev. -- Gold fever has inoculated this historic cow town from the state's economic malaise, making it an island of relative prosperity in a state flooded with unemployed workers.

While Las Vegas, Reno and other onetime hot spots reel from the real-estate crash and wider recession, this area's gold-mining operations are adding jobs and spreading wealth in surrounding Elko County. The area boasts 26,700 jobs, up from 25,500 a year ago, while Nevada has lost many jobs. Construction is up here, as are taxable sales

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

From Medical School to Middle Age

This could be an interesting show. No matter what our professions, we all wonder at some point if we would recommend the same to our children. My view is that it is much easier and gratifying to be a teacher, engineer, doctor etc. in areas of great need and where warmth, respect, and civility are hallmarks of society.
When one of my sons was 6 years old, I told him that if at that age God had "told" me that when I grow up I was going to help blind people see, I would have been flabbergasted...

Tonight and next Tuesday, PBS shines the retrospectoscope on doctors as “Nova” airs “Doctors’ Diaries,” the most recent installment of a 22-year chronicle about seven former Harvard medical school students.
These last views offered by the retrospectoscope are tinged with sadness, the kind of regret that inevitably comes with nearly 20/20 hindsight. Each doctor goes on to address the question: Would you do it over again? And it’s uncomfortable watching these once voluble or spontaneous young students now pause and offer the measured responses of middle age.

But what leaves the viewer, and any future doctor who might watch the series, with hope is the surprising lack of regret each expresses regarding his or her choice to become a doctor. Their work today reflects a broad range of deeply committed and patient-centered work — caring for the underserved; doing clinical and basic science research that will ultimately affect patients’ lives; traveling to Third World countries to offer care; running a nonprofit that helps to fund community service projects here and abroad. It is work that transcends the challenges of their personal lives and far surpasses the quality of what they might have ever offered patients earlier on in their careers.

There is a discussion at the nytimes on this subject here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Benjamin Zander: Classical music with shining eyes

U.S. Reduces Subsidies for Private Medicare

The federal government made good on its plan to cut 2010 payments for private Medicare plans, whittling the subsidies to health insurers sooner than the industry originally expected.

The cuts, announced late Monday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are slightly less severe than the 5% reduction the federal agency signaled in February, but still raise concerns about what has been a critical source of profit growth for many health insurers. Reimbursements to private insurers that administer so-called Medicare Advantage plans would fall by as much as 4% to 4.5% next year.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Willpower: A Game Of Strategy

Willpower is a very familiar phrase, but what is it really and where does it come from? What happens in the mind when you resist your impulses in the face of temptation?

The second strategy used by the mind to resist an impulse, says Mischel, is a little more complicated. It involves not distracting yourself, but actively changing the way that you think about the object of desire. "The pre-wired way that a 4-year-old thinks about a marshmallow if she allows herself to think about it," says Mischel, "is how yummy and chewy they're going to taste."

People tend to focus on the immediate pleasure of the experience. They will think of the temptation, Mischel likes to say, in a "hot" or emotional way that makes it hard to resist. The same can be said of an adult smoker or alcoholic. But if you do want to resist, says Mischel, what you need to do is think about the object you desire in a cold or cognitive way.

So, for example, to help the children resist the treat, before leaving the room Mischel told the kids to imagine the treat in front of them differently. "I told them to think about those marshmallows as if they were just cotton puffs, or clouds. Those instructions to the 4-year-old had a dramatic effect on her ability to wait for the thing that she couldn't wait for before."

Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory

As someone who spent considerable time as an undergraduate pursuing "the memory molecule" in a lab, I find this quite exciting...uvealblues

Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic loss, even a bad habit.

For all that scientists have studied it, the brain remains the most complex and mysterious human organ — and, now, the focus of billions of dollars’ worth of research to penetrate its secrets.

Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical for holding specific types of memory, like emotional associations, spatial knowledge or motor skills.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Save the Words

Weirdly addicting for all the wordsmiths...check it out here

The World is Flat

For those of you who haven't read Friedman's excellent book, you can get a nice video summary here from his talk at MIT...

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Believing in Treatments that Don't Work

This article highlights the doctor mindset of advocating treatments that don't work. Of course there is also the patient side, in which patients would rather try unproven treatments for diseases which appeal to them instead of treatments which have much data to prove their efficacy. The other issue that can come up for physicians is trying to convince patients insistent on various treatments for various ailments that they don't need them...often times this discussion arises from misleading advertisements from big pharma...Regardless the author makes very important points in this article...

As Washington debates health care reform, emergency room physician Dr. David H. Newman explores how medical ideology often gets in the way of evidence-based medicine.
The practice of medicine contains countless examples of elegant medical theories that belie the best available evidence.(read on)

Treatment based on ideology is alluring. Surgeries to repair the knee should work. A syrup to reduce cough should help. Calming the straining heart should save lives. But the uncomfortable truth is that many expensive, invasive interventions are of little or no benefit and cause potentially uncomfortable, costly, and dangerous side effects and complications.

Heart Muscle Renewed Over Lifetime, Study Finds

In a finding that may open new approaches to treating heart disease, Swedish scientists have succeeded in measuring a highly controversial property of the human heart: the rate at which its muscle cells are renewed during a person’s lifetime.
“I think this will be one of the most important papers in cardiovascular medicine in years,” said Dr. Charles Murry, a heart researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle. “It helps settle a longstanding controversy about whether the human heart has any ability to regenerate itself.”

If the heart can generate new muscle cells, researchers can hope to develop drugs that might accelerate the process, since the heart fails to replace cells that are killed in a heart attack.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


A great article by one of the best medical writers out there, Atul Gawande, on the effects of social isolation...

The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?

The Darfur the West Isn’t Recognizing as It Moralizes About the Region

For many who survey an African landscape strewn with political wreckage, nowadays merely to raise the subject of European colonialism, which formally ended across most of the continent five decades ago, is to ring alarm bells of excuse making.

Clearly, the African disaster most in view today is Sudan, or more specifically the dirty war that has raged since 2003 in that country’s western region, Darfur.

Rare among African conflicts, it exerts a strong claim on our conscience. By instructive contrast, more than five million people have died as a result of war in Congo since 1998, the rough equivalent at its height of a 2004 Asian tsunami striking every six months, without stirring our diplomats to urgency or generating much civic response.

Mahmood Mamdani, a Ugandan-born scholar at Columbia University and the author of “When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and Genocide in Rwanda,” is one of the most penetrating analysts of African affairs. In “Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror,” he has written a learned book that reintroduces history into the discussion of the Darfur crisis and questions the logic and even the good faith of those who seek to place it at the pinnacle of Africa’s recent troubles. It is a brief, he writes, “against those who substitute moral certainty for knowledge, and who feel virtuous even when acting on the basis of total ignorance.”

Out of Africa

The masked face with its feathers of hair glares from the instep. And the savage hybrid of a shoe mixes python straps and a sky-high heel with beads, wooden pearls, a cord and a tassel.

When it appeared on the runway at the Louis Vuitton show in October, who could have believed that the fantastical footwear — selling at €1,250 to €2,250 (about $1,650 to $3,000) a pair — could be the hottest item for summer 2009?
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