Science Saturday – HIV Killing Cancer

Emma LeukemiaA radical new approach to fighting cancer, which might open the doors to treating other aggressive diseases involves doing something that would probably go against the grain and is completely counterintuitive to most people reading this.

Drs. Carl June and David Porter from the University of Pennsylvania, and their colleagues, have embarked on a new form of treatment for cancer patients which involves injecting them with a modified form of the HIV virus which zero’s in and kills cancer cells.

The trials have been carried out on patients who are classified as terminally ill and whom have no other avenues of treatment open to them. This is their ONLY hope.

The video shows a patient, a young girl called Emma, who has suffered from leukemia for many years. She’s had to endure it coming back TWICE. Her parents were effectively looking for a miracle.

The T-cells are collected and infected with the modified HIV virus. This genetically changes the T-cells which are now reengineered to scout in the patients, look out for and ultimately kill the cancer cells within a patients body. The modified HIV virus has been changed so that it can no longer cause disease, but it still retains the ability to reprogram the immune system. The result being that it attacks the cancer cells.

This treatment is cutting edge and it has not yet been developed to work on everyone.

Emma has gone on from strength to strength, beating leukemia, hopefully for good this time.

The Weekly Shop

Food waste in the West has reached unprecedented levels in the last decade. And what’s even worse is the fact that this wastage continues, even inspite of rocketing food prices.

Add to that, the soaring obesity levels across the likes of the USA, UK, Ireland, to name but three, and the amount of corn syrup, preservatives, chemicals and crap in general pumped into our food, along with the never ending encroachment of GM foods in our diet, it’s no wonder that the population in the West is suffering from more food allergies, lower sperm counts, heart and digestive diseases than ever before.

On the flip side, there are nations whose population does not enjoy the excesses and trappings of a corn syrup filled, chemically pumped diet. In fact, they have to eek out an existence on a very basic diet indeed. And they also don’t throw stuff away just because they bought too much in a two-for-one offer down at the Piggly Wiggly or at Tesco and it’s now going off!

To get a glimpse of how other families live, Oxfam published a new photo series, which depicts people from around the globe with one week’s food supply for their families.

Building on an idea that originated with 2005′s Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, the new images are especially well-timed, when reports about half of the world’s food going to waste vie for space with news about rising global food prices. According to a recent article accompanying some of the photos in the UK Independent, “There is deep injustice in the way food is grown and distributed … the world’s poorest people spend 50%-90% of their income on food, compared with just 10%-15% in developed countries.”

Two things that strike me the most. The first is how almost everyone’s food basket consists of locally grown and seasonally dependent food. Unlike, say, the EU, where you can buy strawberries in the middle of winter, in these photo’s, if it wasn’t in season, it’s not on the table.

Secondly, if you look at the shopping basket of someone in the west, there’s loads and loads of pre-cooked, tinned, ready-meal style meals, and practically none of that crap in other the countries. Think about how much salt, sugar, preservatives and chemicals go into making that tin of Campbells soup, or that microwave lasagne!

Food For Thought – Literally!

Shahveller, AzerbaijanOxfam Food Azerbaijan

Mirza Bakhishov, 47, his wife, Zarkhara, 37, and two sons, Khasay, 18 and Elchin, 15, own a small plot of land where they grow cotton and wheat as well as animal feed. “Our small cattle and poultry [are] everything for us. All our income and livelihood is dependent on them,” said Bakhishov.

Vavuniya, Sri LankaOxfam Food Sri Lanka

Selvern, 70, far right, and her daughters have been members of Oxfam’s local dairy cooperative for four years. Her youngest daughter Sukitha, second from right, works at the cooperative and is also trained as a vet. Selvern gets up at 5:30 every morning to help her daughters milk their cows; she sends most of the milk to the co-op with Sukitha and uses the remainder to make cream and ghee for the family.

Mecha, EthiopiaOxfam Food Ethiopia

A week’s food supply for Wubalem Shiferaw, her husband Tsega, and 4-year-old daughter Rekebki includes flour, vegetable oil, and a paste of spices called berbere. Tsega works as a tailor, while Wubalem follows a long local tradition and supplements her income with honey production. An Oxfam-supported cooperative helped Wubalem make the transition to modern beekeeping methods, which produce greater yields.

Yegeghus, ArmeniaOxfam Food Armenia

The Josephyan family from with their weekly food supply, which includes wheat flour, dried split peas, sugar, and cooking oil. The family supplements their diet with eggs laid by their chickens and wild greens from the fields.

Kaftarkhana, TajikistanOxfam Food Tajikistan

BiBi-Faiz Miralieba and her family, from left to right: son Siyoushi, 11, niece Gulnoya Shdova, 14, and children Jomakhon, 6, Shodmon, 9, and Jamila,13. Like many women in rural areas of Tajikistan, Miralieba is now the head of her household as her husband has migrated to Russia to find work.

Gutu, ZimbabweOxfam Food Zimbabwe

Ipaishe Masvingise and her family with their food for the week, which includes grains and groundnuts as well as fruits like pawpaw and oranges. Masvingise, a farmer, said she sells extra grain from her harvests to pay for school fees and medical costs, and to support members of her extended family who don’t own their own land.

London, U.K.Oxfam Food UK

Ian Kerr, 30, with his family and a week’s food supplied by a charity food bank. Ian left his job to become a full-time carer to his disabled son Jay-J, 12. Also pictured are his daughter Lillian, 5, and mother-in-law Linda, 61. Kerr says the family’s favorite food is spaghetti Bolognese, but Lillian says her favorite is Jaffa Cakes.

Original by Anna Kramer at Oxfam America. The photographers are (in order of photos) David Levene (Oxfam), Abir Abdullah (Oxfam), Tom Pietrasik (Oxfam), Abbie Trayler-Smith (Panos), Andy Hall (Oxfam), Annie Bungeroth (Oxfam) and Abbie Trayler-Smith (Oxfam).

Heart Attack On A Plate….Literally

This is precisely the reason why we need to introduce a Fat Tax. Why should my tax dollars (well, euro’s really) be spent paying for some obese fucker who can’t keep off the burgers, when I’m eating the healthy stuff that emanates from culinary wizardry of herself to maintain my svelte-like figure.

I am just amazed that nobody came up with this combo any sooner!

U.S. Style Healthcare Arrives In Netherlands

OK, so I hate the Dutch healthcare industry….that’s not new news. It is staffed by incompetent unprofessional buffoons who have no interest or incentive to treat patients, and now it seems that any last vestige of motivation or desire to live by their Hippocratic oath has vanished into thin air after the Dutch health minister’s announcement.

Edith Schippers announced that patients who want to be treated by a doctor or at a hospital which has no contract with their insurance company will now have to pay at least part of the bill themselves. Hmmmm…..doesn’t that sound familiarly like the type of crappy two-tiered system currently in place in the U.S. of A? Yup….sounds like it to me.

At the moment, the exorbitant health insurance I am FORCED to pay is supposed to cover the costs of treatment in any hospital across the Netherlands. Nevermind the fact that I already pay a crazy 52% income tax AND the 19% in sales tax on everything I buy. Surely this would have been enough to pay for the overpaid morons who don’t treat patients?

Apparently not, as the government, in their wisdom <sic> decided that insurance companies could go and negotiate with hospitals on the cost of treatment. So with hospitals forced to work towards lowering costs, you can see how one arrives at coming up with an incentive based on NOT treating patients….remember herself’s recent trip to the hospital after being bitten, or my own experience with the slow swimmers? Yup, no medicines given there…just paracetamol and washing detergent!!

With Schippers latest round of moronic Dutch logic, she’s now setting the country up for a two tiered rich vs. poor level of healthcare. According to her, insurance companies should no longer be forced to pay if their clients opt for a different hospital. Instead, we will be forced to pay higher premiums so as to avail of the “privilege” of being able choose where I want to go for treatment. I’m sorry, but the insurance companies already make billions in profits. Their employees are all over paid and not a single company has ever consider going down the route of “not-for-profit”, thus at least giving the illusion that they care about their customers/patients.

Not only will this be a problem at home, but imagine now if you need coverage whilst travelling abroad? Up until now, if I needed treatment abroad it was covered 100%. I can see now that this will no longer be the case and the next item to add to the growing list of exclusions.

Scarier yet, what happens when I arrive in the back of an ambulance. Will they refuse treatment because my health insurance doesn’t cover treatment in their hospital? Or if I am unconscious and unable to tell them where to take me, will I be left with a collosal bill when I am discharged?

There are so many things wrong with her idiotic thinking. Clearly Schippers has been thinking with her arse and not her brain, or, like her colleagues in Eastern Europe who all flock to Austria and Switzerland when they and their families need treatment, she has decided to let the proletariat eat cake whilst she jets off for private treatment outside the Netherlands.

It’s official…this country has finally gone to the dogs!

LASIK – Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin

I’ve done it…’s taken me about 8 years to grow a pair of balls and give in to herself’s nagging, cajoling and encouragement, but I did it.

I flew home to Ireland to have my LASIK surgery last weekend, and I can honestly say that the results, thus far, have been nothing short of amazing.

The first question I get from my Dutch friends is “Why did you get it done in Ireland?”. Well, for one simple reason….I will not let a Dutch quack anywhere near me. My personal experiences (already documented here and here) were enough to deter me from having some Dutch idiot take a scalpel to my corneas. No….it was REAL, PROPERLY QUALIFIED doctors for me, thank-you-very-much.

When we were home at Hallowe’en, we paid a visit to the people at Ultralase in Dundrum. The consultation lasted about two hours. But during those two hours, the professional and highly trained staff explained everything to me in minute detail, putting me completely at ease. I left having made an appointment for treatment later the following year.

Those three months couldn’t come quick enough for me. I was amazed at how excited I was to finally be able to get rid of my old specs. I flew over solo to have the treatment, as herself wasn’t able to join me due to work commitments etc. But the Mammy would take care of me until I would leave a few days later 🙂

On the day of the surgery, I arrived a few minutes early and was greeted by one of the nurses who brought me a coffee and then took me in to the surgeons office. He ran through my patient file again, asked a few questions, asked if I had any myself and then then took me over to another nurse who would administer the anaesthetic drops and walk me through the drops and aftercare regime (which incidentally takes longer than the surgery itself!!)

I was trying to remain cool, calm and collected the whole time. When I walked into the surgery room, I was asked to lay down on the bed, which swivels between the laser and the machine that creates the flap in my eye.

It’s a bit of a strange sensation to be honest, and I will try to spare you any or the gore. But basically you sit on the bed, they allign the laser on one eye. The machine looks at your iris and recognises your iris mapping from the prior consultation to confirm that this is indeed the patient and you are indeed getting the correct vision correction.

The doc swings you under the cutting machine, pops in a kind of speculum over the eye. This helps guide the Intralase tool (which cuts the flap (it’s bladeless)) onto the eye, as well as prevent me from blinking. He then swung me over to the laser machine and using a tool, carefully pulled the flap over to expose the eye to laser. This is the weirdest bit. Once minute you have the same shitty vision you’ve always had. But as the flap is pulled away, you see nothing but a watery, milky blur. You concentrate on looking at the blinking red light, which as the laser fires and works its magic, slowly begins to get a little sharper.

The laser itself only lasts about 30 seconds. In fact it was 27 seconds on my right eye and 37 seconds on my left eye. Once the laser firing is finished the doc places the flap back into position and makes sure it’s nice and snug. And you immediately notice that the blinking red laser allignment light is much sharper. He then does the same on the other eye. Total time from walking into the surgery room to walking into the recovery room is 9 minutes!!

There is no pain at all. Just a mild discomfort. The discomfort came as soon as I walked out of the clinic into my Mum’s car. Even wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day, the natural light was so strong that I could barely keep my eyes open.

Linda, my consultation opthamologist, explained that as the nerves wake up from the anaesthetic it will feel like grit in my eyes. She said the best thing to do is go home and sleep through that stage. Well, that was no problem. My eyes were stinging like as if I have just cut a thousand onions. All I wanted to do was go to sleep in a dark room.

The Mammy woke me up about two hours later for dinner and my first round of drops. I had to have her turn off all the lights in the house. We ate in almost total darkness, which just some red Christmas lights illuminating the dining room. I was also wearing my sunglasses in this weird red light environment. A few Dracula and “nutty photographer” jokes later and I was eventually able to have one or two lights on. By 10pm I was feeling fine.

The following morning, when I woke, I was amazed and just how much I could see. Mind you, it didn’t stop me instinctively reaching for my glasses on the bedside locker 🙂 My right eye has been pretty much perfect from day one. The following day in the check-up with the surgeon, I explained tat my left eye was a little blurry. He looked at both eyes and confirmed that the measurements are both spot-on and that I was healing nicely already. The left eye would “get there” in a few days.

Almost a week later and the continued blurriness in the left eye has indeed begun to dissipate. As too have the halo’s and glare from bright lights at night. Eventually they will disappear completely too (given the specific treatment I chose at Ultralase) so all is looking good so far.

If you’re interested in the procedure, I have included a video of the Intralase technique I underwent below. It looks more gory than it really is….at least I think so 🙂

Going To A Dutch ER? Bring Your Laundry Detergent!

My faith in the Dutch healthcare system has suffered a new low today after our experience in A&E (ER for my American cousins). The Dutch word used to describe A&E is “Spoedeisande Hulp“, or Urgent Help, and it is anything BUT.

Herself managed to get bitten by our prized pooch when she found herself on the business-end of his canines whilst trying to separate him from another dog when they had themselves a doggy dispute. I rushed home and whisked her off to our local hospital.

We weren’t sitting in the waiting room in A&E for very long before being brought into the treatment rooms. The first thing I noticed when we walked in was a long desk, where about 10 computers were lined up in a row, every one of which was occupied by a doctor, or at least someone wearing a white coat, masquerading to be a doctor. Clearly they were busy updating their Facebook status or twittering about the latest patient that had just walked in through the door, because it was another hour sitting in the treatment room before anyone came to actually look at herself’s hand.

On the plus side, I did find out where all my tax money and €4,000 a year in health insurance premiums are going…a kind old lady (hospital staff of course) came into our room and asked if we would like tea or coffee. Glad to see my exorbitant premiums are being spent wisely on key headcount choices.

Eventually a young nurse came and looked at her hand. She clearly didn’t have enough authority, training or confidence to decide for herself what the treatment should be and informed us she’d have to go out and consult with her “colleague”. That’s Dutch code for “I haven’t got a clue and need to speak to my superior who knows more than me, but given that we pretend to be a flat hierarchical nation, I’ll call her my “colleague” and not admit to you that he/she is my superior and knows more than I do“.

Another 45 minute wait and a doctor decided to finally pay us a visit with the young nurse in tow. This is when I could REALLY see my taxes and insurance premiums at work. The doctor asked when it happened. Not sure why she bothered asking us this. I think given the wound was so fresh looking, still bleeding and herself clearly in pain, it could hardly have happened the previous day, or last week.

Doctor – “Hmmmm. Did you happen to wash it before you came to the hospital?”

Herself – “Yes, I cleaned it in disinfectant soap at home and then came straight here.”

Nurse – “Do you think we need to open the wound more to flush it?”

Doctor – “No it’s big enough, and you don’t need to flush it, and don’t stitch it. Just get the patient to clean it herself in the sink over there and give her an anti-biotic.”

I’m sat with my arms folded and cannot believe what I am hearing, or about to hear next.

Herself – “Where I come from, we have hydrogenperoxide or sodiumperoxide to help clean out wounds. Can I get that here in the pharmacy?”

Doctor – “Oh, we don’t have anything like that here in the Netherlands. What we usually recommend is that you wash your wounds in BIOTEX.”

Me – “In what?”

Doctor – “You know….BIOTEX….laundry detergent. You can get it in the supermarket.”

Me – “WHAT??? Are you SERIOUS?”

Herself – “What about iodine or something”

Doctor – “Mehhhh. There’s ACTUALLY no real difference between using water versus iodine or hydrogenperoxide. Water is just as good…just as long as you clean the wound regularly.”

Hmmmmm. I must tell that to my ophthalmologist who was adamant about not getting any water into my eyes after my surgery last week because of the risk of infection due to the amount of bacteria found in tap water. Seems there are NO bacteria to be found in the Dutch household water supply.

So there she was…..hand in the sink, washing it herself over a sink in the treatment room, no nurse or doctor to supervise or help. Eventually some old geezer arrived to give us the prescription for her penicillin and to give herself a tetanus jab.

So now I have learned something new. I have learned that apart from the copious amounts of paracetamol one needs to have in their medicine cabinet here in the Netherlands (one self medicates here in Holland and only goes to the doctor to be told something they already knew), I realised I have been missing one key piece of kit in my first aid box…..LAUNDRY DETERGENT. I guess the only question left unanswered is, should I get the traditional lavender fragrance, or the ocean fresh one?