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Category Archives: Medical Issues

Cat Poop and Cancer

toxo1

 

Toxoplasmosis.

That’s a big scary word. What it means is an infection with a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii or T. gondii. And many millions of us are infected. Especially if you are owned by a cat. For the most part such infections are harmless and cause no symptoms or known problems but at times it can cause a flu-like syndrome and rarely severe illness. Here is an article from the CDC on this interesting little critter.

What’s interesting about a T. Gandii infection, or exposure, is that it causes an immune response in humans that is similar to that found in cancer victims. It’s possible that exploiting that immunological reaction could be a useful approach to cancer treatment. Much research lies ahead but it is interesting.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on July 29, 2014 in Medical Issues

 

Q and A: How Could My Character Keep Blood In a Liquid State For Later Consumption?

Q: I have a killer who drinks the blood of his victims. If he wants to bleed out a victim and wind up with blood in his freezer that he can reheat in a Mr. Coffee, I assume he’ll need some sort of anticoagulant. Is that right? Would he have to use it immediately at the murder scene? What would the average person have access to that could serve this purpose, especially if he didn’t preplan his first kill. Better still, is there some way to reconstitute the blood after it coagulates?

Craig Faustus Buck, Sherman Oaks CA

 

LEFT: Clotted and Separated Blood RIGHT: Unclotted Blood

LEFT: Clotted and Separated Blood
RIGHT: Unclotted Blood

 

A: Actually there are several ways to accomplish this. If your killer has access to the victim for several days or weeks prior to the event, he could slip some Coumadin into his food daily for two or three weeks prior to the killing. Coumadin, or warfarin, is an oral anticoagulant that works mostly in the liver to prevent blood clotting. It takes a week or so to build up to levels that would keep the blood liquid.

That might be cumbersome for your story, so there is another choice. Heparin. Heparin should be given intravenously but it works immediately as an anticoagulant. Your killer could inject a large dose of heparin right before the killing. This would of course require that he have full control of the victim or at least convince the victim that the injection was harmless. Either way, if he gave 100,000 to 200,000 units of heparin intravenously the victim’s blood would be anti-coagulated within seconds and he could then bleed him and store the blood as a liquid for an extended period of time.

Lastly, as he drained the blood he could put it into a container that contained EDTA. This is what is used in the blood vials when blood is drawn that needs to be anti-coagulated for certain tests. It’s a white powder that is available from pharmaceutical supply houses. Mixing some of this with the blood would prevent it from coagulating so it could be stored as a liquid.

As far a reconstituting it, once blood clots it immediately begins to separate into the reddish clot and the yellowish serum. Vigorous shaking or running it through a blender could remix the blood, resulting in a red liquid that he could then consume.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Blood Analysis, Medical Issues, Q&A

 

Visine and Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy

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Visine is a useful medication. I use it all the time. When the Santa Ana’s blow in SoCal and the temperature rises, the humidity falls, and eyes dry out, Visine works very well. When used properly it is very safe and effective—-but, if used improperly, it can be a deadly poison.

Actually, anything can be deadly. The difference between a drug and a poison is simply a matter of dose. What can cure, can harm; what can harm, can kill. It’s really that simple.

The active, and dangerous, ingredient in Visine is tetrahydrozoline hydrochloride. If ingested in sufficient amounts, it can cause an elevation in blood pressure, a drop in heart rate, a reduction in body temperature, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, blurred vision, seizures, coma, and death, to name a few effects.

The case of Samantha Elizabeth Unger underlines this danger. Seems she poisoned her two children by adding the medication to their juice. And may have done so multiple times—-which could indicate that this is a case of Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy—a psychiatric disorder in which parents harm children in order to garner attention and sympathy. Odd, but not rare.

Recently on Crime and Science Radio, Jan Burke and I interviewed Beatrice Yorker, the Dean of the College of Health and Human Services at California State University, Los Angeles and a renowned expert in Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy. Take a listen and check out some of the links for more info on the fascinating topic.

 

 

Guest Blogger: Daphne Holmes: How DNA Testing Helps Determine Paternity

DNA

 

How DNA Testing Helps Determine Paternity

The impetus for determining the paternity of a child likely dates back to the most primitive tribal cultures. Particularly in patriarchal cultures where females were regarded as the property of males, it was deemed important to ensure that a man’s “property” had not been shared, and that the virtue of the female was beyond question. As societies became more sophisticated, the need to establish paternity became as much an economic issue as a moral one. In modern cultures, paternity testing is used primarily to establish whether or not a man is responsible for providing financial support to a child, as well as determining whether the child carries any of the father’s genetic predispositions for health challenges.

Physical appearance – In more primitive cultures (some of which continue to flourish), the objectives behind determining the paternity of a child were culturally and/or emotionally based. If a child was born who lacked identifying characteristics of either parent, it was frequently assumed that the father was someone other than the woman’s mate. The repercussions to the mother were quite severe, often culminating in her death. Unfortunately – especially for the women – the comparison of obvious physical traits was highly subjective, and many women suffered dire consequences, even if their husband/mate was indeed the biological father.

Blood typing – With the early 20th century discovery that different individuals had different blood types, and the recognition in the 1920s that those blood types were genetically inherited, a more accurate means of determining paternity came into common use. It was discovered that by comparing the parents’ blood types, it was possible to determine the most likely blood type of the child. While this was admittedly a step above the “he has his father’s eyes” paternity test, it was still only about 30% accurate.

Serological testing – It was discovered in the 1930s that specific proteins not considered during blood typing could establish the presence of genetically inherited antigens that would more accurately identify the child’s biological father. Unfortunately, serological testing only improved the accuracy of paternity testing to about 40%. Hardly conclusive evidence.

Tissue typing – In the 1970s, the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) was discovered in abundance within white blood cells. When samples of this genetically inherited antigen taken from the mother and child were compared to the sample taken from the father, paternity could be established with roughly 80% accuracy. While this was a significant improvement over previous methods, the collection procedure itself was unpleasant, and the size of the sample required made it hazardous to the child, particularly if the child was less than six months old. Obviously, more work needed to be done.

DNA testing (RFLP) – In the 1980s, the technique called restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) was discovered that looked at a significantly wider spectrum of variables in the blood than had been analyzed with earlier techniques. It was discovered that the offspring of two parents would have half the unique characteristics of each parent. This technique elevated the accuracy of paternity testing to the level of statistical certainty. Unfortunately, the amount of blood required for accurate sampling was, like tissue sampling, large, posing potential problems for the child. In addition, the potential for genetic mutations in the child could render a false negative, indicating that neither the woman or the man was the child’s biological parents. For these reasons, RFLP testing has been all but abandoned.

DNA Testing (PCR) – By the 1990s, the RFLP testing was replaced by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique. This technique involves the computerized replication of DNA collected from even a minuscule sample that is collected anywhere on the individual’s body, then comparing the subjects’ profiles. In addition to requiring a very small sample (typically via an oral swab), the subject is not submitted to discomfort as in earlier test techniques, and the computerized analysis takes far less time, while still providing accuracy at the level of statistical certainty, 99.99%.

Author: Daphne Holmes contributed this guest post. She is a writer from www.ArrestRecords.com and you can reach her at daphneholmes9@gmail.com.

 

 

Snake Venom For Treating Seizures? On Second Thought

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In the dark ages of medicine, meaning anything before 50 to 100 years ago, those afflicted with epilepsy were treated, how shall we say, less than compassionately. They were often thought to be infected by some evil miasma, or possessed by a lurking devil or witch or warlock, or were afflicted with some contagious process. They were isolated from society, feared and shunned by all, and often subjected to horrific treatments – everything from freezing water to cutting holes in the skull to let out the evil spirits (trepanning).

 

trepan

 

This is not an uncommon reaction when people are faced with things that they don’t understand. And 100 years ago the medical profession actually understood very little.

A case in point would be Philadelphia physician Dr. Ralph Spangler who suggested that rattlesnake venom, which interestingly he had been using to treat tuberculosis (go figure), might be useful in treating epilepsy. He published an article about a Texas man who had been bitten by a rattlesnake and subsequently the epileptic seizures that had plagued him suddenly ceased. In this empirical observation of a single case he jumped to the profound conclusion that snake venom cures seizures. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and other physicians pointed out that snake venom not only didn’t, and couldn’t, help epilepsy but rather frequently caused allergic reactions as well as hemolytic destruction of the blood. Not pretty.

The history of medicine is replete with such examples.

 

Crime and Science Radio: Deadly Doctors, Killer Nurses and other Medical Miscreants

photo 2012 cas

 

Join Jan Burke and I for a lively interview with Bea Yorker. We will delve into the very odd and not all that rare Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome as well as healthcare professionals who commit serial murders.

 

BIO: Beatrice Crofts Yorker is the Dean of the College of Health and Human Services at California State University, Los Angeles where CSULA’s forensic science program is located. She is renowned for her own research into Munchausen By Proxy, her landmark study of medical serial killers, and her publications on other topics that bring law, psychology, medicine, and ethics together.

 

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2014/03/09/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-bea-yorker

 

LINKS:

Medicine Net: Munchausen Syndrome: http://www.medicinenet.com/munchausen_syndrome/article.htm

Munchausen Syndrome, Cleveland Clinic: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/factitious_disorders/hic_munchausen_syndrome.aspx

Munchausen By Proxy: Cleveland Clinic: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/factitious_disorders/hic_munchausen_syndrome_by_proxy.aspx

Kid’s Health: Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sick/munchausen.html

Medicine Net: Munchausen By Proxy: http://www.medicinenet.com/munchausen_syndrome_by_proxy/article.htm

Angels of Death: The Doctors: Crime Library: http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/weird/doctors/index_1.html

Angels of Death: The Female Nurses: Crime Library: http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/angels/female_nurses/index.html

Angels of Death: The Male Nurses: Crime Library: http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/angels/male_nurses/index.html

Serial Murder By Healthcare Professionals by BC Yorker, et al: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17199622

Serial Murder By Healthcare Professionals by BC Yorker, et al: As PDF File: http://www.chem.sc.edu/analytical/chem107/tox/chem107_toxarticle.pdf

Psychology Today: The Medical Murder Club: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-equation/201206/the-medical-murder-club

 

 

Is “Real” Artificial Blood On the Horizon?

red-blood-cells

 

Blood is indeed the river of life. It carries oxygen and nutrients to all the cells of the body and removes toxic byproducts to keep everything clean and healthy. The cardiovascular system is a closed system in that it constantly recirculates, and like submarines, leaks from the system can be disastrous, and deadly. Blood is also a living, biological material and this makes it very difficult to handle. It must be taken from a living person, treated to prevent clotting, and stored in a manner that prevents decay. The logistics of this are very difficult, particularly when blood is needed in places such as war zones, very remote areas, and even in space. If someone is severely injured and in danger of exsanguinating – – the $10 word for “bleeding to death” – – then rapidly replacing this loss blood is essential. IV fluids and plasma expanders and other assorted intravenous materials can be given to buy time, to keep the volume in the system to an adequate level, and to keep everything circulating, but these materials have a major drawback – – they don’t carry oxygen. So the only life-saving remedy is to replace the blood.

Over the years there have been many attempts to develop artificial blood, a product that would carry oxygen and be logistically more friendly. Something that did not require anticoagulation, refrigeration, and care in its transport and storage. Something that could be carried and stored like a bottle of water. Many of these endeavors have proven to be unsuccessful.

Blood substitutes have traditionally been based on hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying molecule within the red blood cells (RBCs). Products such as HemoPure (made from bovine hemoglobin), PolyHeme (made from outdated human blood), and HemAssist (based on cross-linked hemoglobin) all seemed promising but safety issues arose with each and these have not been completely resolved.

Other forms of “artificial blood” have been based on perfluorocarbon emulsions. These too have faced many problems.

Another problem with blood therapy is keeping a steady and safe supply. There are only so many donors and the blood’s shelf-life is not all that long. If blood could be manufactured so that an adequate and steady supply could be maintained, this would be a giant step forward.

Well, now it seems that manufactured truly artificial blood might be on the horizon. A group at the University of Edinburgh is beginning clinical trials on a process for making red blood cells from stem cells. Since these would be “real” RBCs, the technique holds promise.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 30, 2014 in Medical History, Medical Issues

 
 
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