Saturday, February 15, 2020

Celebrity & Other Suicides: Maudsley & Lithium!

One of my ex-juniors, now retired, called to ask if I have read about another celebrity suicide. How very sad! If we look back there has been many such suicides and it is sadder that many are very talented people.                  


Dr. Baldessarini of Harvard:


“Lithium is far from being an ideal medicine, but it’s the best agent we have for reducing the risk of suicide in bipolar disorder,” Dr. Baldessarini says, “and it is our best-established mood-stabilizing treatment.” If patients find they can’t tolerate lithium, the safest option is to reduce the dose as gradually as possible, to give the brain time to adjust. The approach could be lifesaving.
In recent write ups about antidepressants, there is no mention of Lithium. The Cockroach Catcher first worked with one Australian Psychiatrist that worked with Cade and I was, so to speak, very biased towards Lithium. Yes, Lithium has side effects that might be serious. But hang on, you get to live to experience it. Think about it.
"Many psychiatric residents have no or limited experience prescribing lithium, largely a reflection of the enormous focus on the newer drugs in educational programs supported by the pharmaceutical industry."

One might ask why there has been such a shift from Lithium.
Could it be the simplicity of the salt that is causing problems for the younger generation of psychiatrists brought up on various neuro-transmitters?
Could it be the fact that 
Lithium was discovered in Australia? Look at the time it took for Helicobacter pylori to be accepted.

Some felt it has to do with how little money is to be made from Lithium. After all it is less than one eighth the price of a preferred mood stabilizer that has a serious side effect: liver failure.
Some felt it has to do with how little money is to be made from Lithium. After all it is less than one eighth the price of a preferred mood stabilizer that has a serious side effect: liver failure. 


Maudsley and Lithium

First, why a small group from the Maudsley Hospital in the 1960s could, in an almost malicious manner, have sown scholarly confusion about the true effectiveness of lithium. Aubrey Lewis, professor of psychiatry and head of the Maudsley, considered lithium treatment “dangerous nonsense” (). Lewis’s colleague at the Maudsley, Michael Shepherd, one of the pioneers of British psychopharmacology, agreed that lithium was a dubious choice. In his 1968 monograph, Clinical Psychopharmacology, Shepherd said that lithium was toxic in mania and that claims of efficacy for it in preventing depression rested on “dubious scientific methodology” (). Shepherd also scorned “prophylactic lithium” in an article with Barry Blackwell (). Moreover, Shepherd was publicly contemptuous of Schou. He told interviewer David Healy that Schou had put his own brother on it, and that Schou was such a “believer” in lithium that he seemed to think “really there ought to be a national policy in which everybody could get lithium”



 Atacama where Lithium is extracted  © Am Ang Zhang 2015

Lithium: The Gift That Keeps on Giving in Psychiatry

Nassir Ghaemi,  June 16, 2017
At the recent American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in San Diego, an update symposium was presented on the topic of "Lithium: Key Issues for Practice." In a session chaired by Dr David Osser, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, presenters reviewed various aspects of the utility of lithium in psychiatry.
Leonardo Tondo, MD, a prominent researcher on lithium and affective illness, who is on the faculty of McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School and the University of Cagliari, Italy, reviewed studies on lithium's effects for suicide prevention. Ecological studies in this field have found an association between higher amounts of lithium in the drinking water and lower suicide rates.

These "high" amounts of lithium are equivalent to about 1 mg/d of elemental lithium or somewhat more. Conversely, other studies did not find such an association, but tended to look at areas where lithium levels are not high (ie, about 0.5 mg/d of elemental lithium or less). Nonetheless, because these studies are observational, causal relationships cannot be assumed. It is relevant, though, that lithium has been causally associated with lower suicide rates in randomized clinical trials of affective illness, compared with placebo, at standard doses (around 600-1200 mg/d of lithium carbonate).
Many shy away from Lithium not knowing that not prescribing it may actually lead to death by suicide. As such all worries about long term side effects become meaningless. 
Will the new generation of psychiatrists come round to Lithium again? How many talented individuals could have been saved by lithium?APA Nassir Ghaemi, MD MPH
  • In psychiatry, our most effective drugs are the old drugs: ECT (1930s), lithium (1950s), MAOIs and TCAs (1950s and 1960s) and clozapine (1970s)
  • We haven’t developed a drug that’s more effective than any other drug since the 1970’s
  • All we have developed is safer drugs (less side effects), but not more effective
  • Dose lithium only once a day, at night
  • For patients with bipolar illness, you don’t need a reason to give lithium. You need a reason not to give lithium  (Originally by Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin)


Cade, John Frederick Joseph (1912 - 1980)Taking lithium himself with no ill effect, John Cade then used it to treat ten patients with chronic or recurrent mania, on whom he found it to have a pronounced calming effect. Cade's remarkably successful results were detailed in his paper, 'Lithium salts in the treatment of psychotic excitement', published in the Medical Journal of Australia (1949). He subsequently found that lithium was also of some value in assisting depressives. His discovery of the efficacy of a cheap, naturally occurring and widely available element in dealing with manic-depressive disorders provided an alternative to the existing therapies of shock treatment or prolonged hospitalization.
In 1985 the American National Institute of Mental Health estimated that Cade's discovery of the efficacy of lithium in the treatment of manic depression had saved the world at least $US 17.5 billion in medical costs.
And many lives too!
I have just received a query from a reader of this blog about Lithium, and I thought it worth me reiterating my views here.      It is no secret that I am a traditionalist who believes that lithium is the drug of choice for Bipolar disorders.Could Lithium be the Aspirin of Psychiatry? Only time will tell!
Latest: British Journal of Psychiatry

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Anti-NMDAR or Autoimmune Encephalitis:$1 Million Investigation:


In the new world of AQPs, should CCGs be paying for doctors that did all kinds of investigations and still did not know what was wrong with you? What if your illness is so new that very few of the new breed of tick-box doctors know nothing about?

As we are now suppose to follow guidelines and protocols, where would new disease come in? Not that long ago, Legionnaires was declared by a psychiatrist as mass hysteria until he also caught it. Would we now be able to discover Helicobacter pylori without some maverick experimenting on himself!

Hospital Medicine has its place in the medical world and most Bright Young Things are after the Pride in world class medicine. 

So, in my recent research on Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, I came across a book by Susannah Cahalan. In Hospital, her doctors did loads of tests and investigations but could not find out what was wrong with her. The cost mounts up and her insurance had to pay for these negative investigations. Luckily she worked for NY Post and her insurance covered most of the fees.

NPR:
November 14, 201211:00 AM

In 2009, Susannah Cahalan was a healthy 24-year-old reporter for the New York Post, when she began to experience numbness, paranoia, sensitivity to light and erratic behavior. Grasping for an answer, Cahalan asked herself as it was happening, "Am I just bad at my job — is that why? Is the pressure of it getting to me? Is it a new relationship?"

But Cahalan only got worse — she began to experience seizures, hallucinations, increasingly psychotic behavior and even catatonia. Her symptoms frightened family members and baffled a series of doctors.

On some of the symptoms she exhibited at the hospital:

"I slurred my words. I drooled. I didn't have proper control over my swallowing ... I kept my arms out in unnatural poses. At one point, I was like the Bride of Frankenstein — I kept my arms out rigidly. I was slow. I could hardly walk, and when I did, I needed to be supported ... I started [acting] very psychotic. I believed that I could age people with my mind. If I looked at them, wrinkles would form, and if I looked away, they would suddenly, magically get younger. And I believed that my father had murdered my stepmother. I believed all these incredibly paranoid — a huge, extreme example of persecution complex. And then as the days went on, I stopped being as psychotic, and I started entering into a catatonic stage, which was characterized by just complete lack of emotion, inability to relate, or to read, or hardly to be able to speak."

As weeks ticked by and I moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit me to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning me to a lifetime of institutions, or death.

Pride & World Class Medicine:

The head doctors started speaking of a mythical miracle man named Dr. Souhel Najjar. "He would find out what it is," they would say. They even nicknamed him "Dr. House."

My mom requested that we meet this Najjar in person. And after two spinal taps came back with high white blood cell counts -- an abnormal occurrence that signifies brain swelling -- the case was officially passed on to Najjar, a Syrian-born neurologist, neuro-pathologist and epileptologist at NYU Medical Center.

When he came to speak with us, my family was buoyed by his confidence.

He grasped my hands and said, "I'm going to find out what this is and fix it."

Then he handed me a pencil and a piece of paper.

"Draw a clock," he said.

I grasped the pencil and made a circle. Feeling a little confused and put on the spot, I drew in the clock face.

My mother and father gasped.

All the numbers were written on the right side of the clock face, and no numbers were on the left side.

NAJJAR now had five clues as to what was overtaking me: the seizures, the catatonia, the high blood pressure, the high white blood cell count in my spinal taps and the bizarre clock. It was preliminary proof that the right side of my brain (which controls the left side of the body) was inflamed. He believed it was some sort of autoimmune encephalitis, or the swelling of the brain caused by an attack by rogue antibodies.

He decided to send my blood and spinal fluid to a well-respected neuro-oncologist from the University of Pennsylvania named Dr. Josep Dalmau to test to see if rare antibodies were present.

But we had to wait two weeks for the results.

In the meantime, a brain biopsy would be necessary, Najjar said. They would need to cut out a piece of my temporal lobe.

After the surgery, the blood work and spinal fluid came back positive for rare antibodies called anti-N-methyl-D-aspartic acid receptor, or anti-NMDAR encephalitis. The name signifies that the receptors in the frontal lobe, responsible for cognitive reasoning, and the limbic system, or the emotional center of the brain, are under assault by the immune system.

My body was attacking my brain.

Penn's Dr. Dalmau had discovered these antibodies in 2003. Until then, people suffering from my madness were misdiagnosed, likely ending up in mental hospitals, if not dead. Experts aren't sure what causes it, though they believe it's genetic, not environmental.
Najjar estimates that nearly 90 percent of those suffering from autoimmune encephalitis go undiagnosed.

Cahalan's new memoir is called Brain On Fire-My Month of Madness.                                

Chapter 29  The Power of Prayers                                       


Brain on Fire                    

Sunday, January 19, 2020

NHS: Tap Water &The Last Cook.

This was tweeted today:


Prior to my 13-hour on call, I filled up my water bottle from the ward kitchen tap (staff room had no tap/water). I was scolded; That tap water is for patients. Told buy bottled water from M&S or Costa. This article explains why we're so fed up.

This was in my days:


"If we arrived at mid-morning we used to get a nice cup of tea. But that was only since I started bringing in my own tea leaves. We also got served home-made scones and the like.
         All very homely."

 ……I often arrived late at lunch time after the children and nurses had eaten as morning clinics had a habit of running late. With less than ten minutes to spare, the cook would still manage to serve me a bit of some of the things she knew I preferred. Often she felt compelled to sit with me to tell me about her grandchildren or about what the government should really be doing to help the likes of her, a war widow bringing up two sons in this Naval town. I always admired the resilience shining through her stories."
         


 As the sun sets on our beloved NHS:
                                                           ©Am Ang Zhang 2012

Perhaps it is not that well known that the dismantling of our beloved NHS started long before the present government and the future does not bode well for those of us that likes to keep NHS in the public domain.

Child Psychiatric in-patient units across the country were closed some time after many adult hospitals were closed or down-sized.

To me, the government is too concern with short term results that they impose various changes across the board in Health Care & Education without regard to the long term consequences or costs.

After all, I have made good use of in-patient facilities to un-diagnose ADHD and that would in turn save children from unnecessary medication and the country from unjustified benefit claims.

Such units were also great training grounds for the future generation of psychiatrists and nurses. Instead, most rely on chemicals to deal with a range of childhood psychological problems.

Indeed it was a sad day when the unit closed.

From The Cockroach Catcher:

Chapter 48        The Last Cook



O
ne of the few things I learned working in some inpatient units was to be appreciative of the ancillary staff. What a cleaner might reveal to us was often more telling than a formal interview. It could well be that often parents were unguarded and more able to reveal things to someone like the cleaner or indeed the cook.
         I was fortunate enough to experience one of the last NHS cooks when I was Senior Registrar at an inpatient unit. The inpatient unit catered for a middle age group spanning the older children to the younger adolescents. It was one of a kind in the U.K. and indeed it was the first to start a national training course for Psychiatric nurses in inpatient care, a good three years before anywhere else.
         The unit was in the middle of town and was considered to be too far from the Hospital for catering purposes.  Instead a cook was employed to cater for the needs of the children and nursing staff.  We doctors were not supposed to eat there. But we did.  Mainly for lunch.
         If we arrived at mid-morning we used to get a nice cup of tea. But that was only since I started bringing in my own tea leaves. We also got served home-made scones and the like.
         All very homely.
         I had since wondered if our great success rate was more to do with having our own cook than all the other therapies and tit bits that we did.
         You never know as people do not really research these things.
        
         ……I often arrived late at lunch time after the children and nurses had eaten as morning clinics had a habit of running late. With less than ten minutes to spare, the cook would still manage to serve me a bit of some of the things she knew I preferred. Often she felt compelled to sit with me to tell me about her grandchildren or about what the government should really be doing to help the likes of her, a war widow bringing up two sons in this Naval town. I always admired the resilience shining through her stories.
         She also provided me with her down to earth views of what we should do with whichever patient that had come in. I listened. I took note.  You never know.
        
        
         Sheena was the mother of two girls we had to admit. They were both ‘soilers’ and they would never touch vegetables at home or anywhere.

         Sheena was petite, worn and a chain smoker.
         But she had two lovely looking girls.
         We knew from the start there were handling issues and most likely diet ones too.
         One of the other reasons for their admission was that by and large there were very few girl ‘soilers’.  
         It was always a good sign when a child flourished in an inpatient setting, and away from home some mothers were more capable of telling you more of what went on.  Some mothers found it easier to talk to one of the non-medical staff, perhaps the cook.
         Mothers got fed too on their visits. More often than not the children preferred their mother to go home than to stay and watch them. That was a different issue. With the money spent on cigarettes and drinks not much was left for food either for the children or the parents. I knew that if we checked for vitamin and other deficiencies we would find them, a problem that had taken Public Health a long time to wake up to. Increasing tax for cigarettes and drinks did not change people’s habit one little bit.
         With a simple routine the girls were clean in no time.   At least during the week as they all went home week-ends, when the unit was closed.
         We were at a loss as to what was going on.
         The girls would get worse over the week-end and soil. This went on for quite a while.
         Then one day the cook talked to me.
         “Sheena never stays Mondays,” she told me.
         I listened.
         “Have you noticed she is always in dark glasses on Mondays?”
         How stupid of me. Now and again I saw her at the door seeing the girls off and yes, she wore huge sunglasses.
         Sheena was not a movie star.
         I arranged to see Sheena.
         She said, “You knew.”
         I nodded.


         “But I cannot leave him. I have nowhere to go and I shall not get enough benefit money if I am divorced from him. He now goes to the day hospital. Fridays he gets drunk and beats me up. It is like a routine. I try not to get hurt and hide it from the girls. If I walk out, he will find me even if I have somewhere to go. I shall still get beaten up. Now at least I know when it will happen and I can live with that.”
         I suggested that I should speak to him but she looked terrified.
         She felt he might even kill her if I did and last time he threw a chair at a male nurse who tried to say something.
         She was probably right. We often had no idea what people and particularly women put up with. It would be too easy for us to bulldoze in.  We had to think twice before intervening unless we had something better to offer. His Schizophrenia diagnosis allowed for a higher level of benefit she would not otherwise get. Who would she meet up with next?  Another violent man most likely.
         Was it such a cop-out on my part?
         Maybe it was, but in a strange way the girls stopped soiling after that one meeting I had with mum. The case left me with some unease - unease not just about what I did or did not do but about keeping patients in the community. Three other lives were affected here and who knows, one day he might go too far.  That was before Maria Colwell. 
         The unit had long since been closed.
         The last cook in the NHS retired .
The Cockroach Catcher on Amazon Kindle UKAmazon Kindle US

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Lithium: Why? Why? Why?

Lithium! It has Side Effects but you will live to experience it!

One of my ex-juniors, now retired, called to ask if I have read about another junior doctor's suicide. How very sad!


Dr. Baldessarini of Harvard:

“Lithium is far from being an ideal medicine, but it’s the best agent we have for reducing the risk of suicide in bipolar disorder,” Dr. Baldessarini says, “and it is our best-established mood-stabilizing treatment.” If patients find they can’t tolerate lithium, the safest option is to reduce the dose as gradually as possible, to give the brain time to adjust. The approach could be lifesaving.

In recent write ups about antidepressants, there is no mention of Lithium. The Cockroach Catcher first worked with one Australian Psychiatrist that worked with Cade and I was, so to speak, very biased towards Lithium. Yes, Lithium has side effects that might be serious. But hang on, you get to live to experience it. Think about it.


"Many psychiatric residents have no or limited experience prescribing lithium, largely a reflection of the enormous focus on the newer drugs in educational programs supported by the pharmaceutical industry."


One might ask why there has been such a shift from Lithium.

Could it be the simplicity of the salt that is causing problems for the younger generation of psychiatrists brought up on various neuro-transmitters?

Could it be the fact that Lithium was discovered in Australia? Look at the time it took for Helicobacter pylori to be accepted.

Some felt it has to do with how little money is to be made from Lithium. After all it is less than one eighth the price of a preferred mood stabilizer that has a serious side effect: liver failure.

 
Perhaps it is in the British History:



First, why a small group from the Maudsley Hospital in the 1960s could, in an almost malicious manner, have sown scholarly confusion about the true effectiveness of lithium. Aubrey Lewis, professor of psychiatry and head of the Maudsley, considered lithium treatment “dangerous nonsense” (). Lewis’s colleague at the Maudsley, Michael Shepherd, one of the pioneers of British psychopharmacology, agreed that lithium was a dubious choice. In his 1968 monograph, Clinical Psychopharmacology, Shepherd said that lithium was toxic in mania and that claims of efficacy for it in preventing depression rested on “dubious scientific methodology” (). Shepherd also scorned “prophylactic lithium” in an article with Barry Blackwell (). Moreover, Shepherd was publicly contemptuous of Schou. He told interviewer David Healy that Schou had put his own brother on it, and that Schou was such a “believer” in lithium that he seemed to think “really there ought to be a national policy in which everybody could get lithium”


 Atacama where Lithium is extracted  © Am Ang Zhang 2015

Lithium: The Gift That Keeps on Giving in Psychiatry

Nassir Ghaemi, MD, MPH
June 16, 2017

At the recent American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in San Diego, an update symposium was presented on the topic of "Lithium: Key Issues for Practice." In a session chaired by Dr David Osser, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, presenters reviewed various aspects of the utility of lithium in psychiatry.

Leonardo Tondo, MD, a prominent researcher on lithium and affective illness, who is on the faculty of McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School and the University of Cagliari, Italy, reviewed studies on lithium's effects for suicide prevention. Ecological studies in this field have found an association between higher amounts of lithium in the drinking water and lower suicide rates.


These "high" amounts of lithium are equivalent to about 1 mg/d of elemental lithium or somewhat more. Conversely, other studies did not find such an association, but tended to look at areas where lithium levels are not high (ie, about 0.5 mg/d of elemental lithium or less). Nonetheless, because these studies are observational, causal relationships cannot be assumed. It is relevant, though, that lithium has been causally associated with lower suicide rates in randomized clinical trials of affective illness, compared with placebo, at standard doses (around 600-1200 mg/d of lithium carbonate).

Many shy away from Lithium not knowing that not prescribing it may actually lead to death by suicide. As such all worries about long term side effects become meaningless. 

Will the new generation of psychiatrists come round to Lithium again? How many talented individuals could have been saved by lithium?

APA Nassir Ghaemi, MD MPH
  • In psychiatry, our most effective drugs are the old drugs: ECT (1930s), lithium (1950s), MAOIs and TCAs (1950s and 1960s) and clozapine (1970s)
    • We haven’t developed a drug that’s more effective than any other drug since the 1970’s
    • All we have developed is safer drugs (less side effects), but not more effective
  • Dose lithium only once a day, at night
  • For patients with bipolar illness, you don’t need a reason to give lithium. You need a reason not to give lithium  (Originally by Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin)



Cade, John Frederick Joseph (1912 - 1980)
Taking lithium himself with no ill effect, John Cade then used it to treat ten patients with chronic or recurrent mania, on whom he found it to have a pronounced calming effect. Cade's remarkably successful results were detailed in his paper, 'Lithium salts in the treatment of psychotic excitement', published in the Medical Journal of Australia (1949). He subsequently found that lithium was also of some value in assisting depressives. His discovery of the efficacy of a cheap, naturally occurring and widely available element in dealing with manic-depressive disorders provided an alternative to the existing therapies of shock treatment or prolonged hospitalization.

In 1985 the American National Institute of Mental Health estimated that Cade's discovery of the efficacy of lithium in the treatment of manic depression had saved the world at least $US 17.5 billion in medical costs.

And many lives too!

I have just received a query from a reader of this blog about Lithium, and I thought it worth me reiterating my views here.      It is no secret that I am a traditionalist who believes that lithium is the drug of choice for Bipolar disorders.
Could Lithium be the Aspirin of Psychiatry? Only time will tell!

Friday, January 10, 2020

Sepsis & Quorum Sensing!



For the past three hundred years……we’ve been completely wrong……we don’t know anything about bacteria until about a decade ago….”

Bonnie Bassler



Bassler group finds an alternative mode of bacterial quorum sensing

Whether they are growing in a puddle of dirty water or inside the human body, large groups of bacteria have to interact with each other and coordinate their behavior in order to perform essential tasks that they would not be able to carry out on their own. Bacteria achieve this coordination through a process called quorum sensing, in which the microorganisms produce and secrete small molecules, called autoinducers, that can be detected by neighboring bacterial cells. Only when a large number of bacteria are present can the levels of secreted autoinducer build up to the point where the community can detect it and, in response, alter their behavior as a coordinated group.
In a paper published last month in PLoS Pathogens(link is external), a team of researchers led by Sampriti Mukherjee and Bonnie Bassler from the Department of Molecular Biology revealed the existence of a new quorum sensing molecule that increases the virulence of the pathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The finding could help researchers develop new antimicrobial drugs to treat the serious infections caused by this bacterium.
P. aeruginosa is an incredibly adaptable organism that can grow in diverse environments, from soil and freshwater to the tissues of plants and animals. It thrives on the surfaces of medical equipment and is therefore a major cause of hospital-acquired infections, causing life-threatening conditions, such as pneumonia and sepsis, in vulnerable patients. The bacterium has become resistant to most commonly used antibiotics, making the development of new antimicrobial treatments a priority for both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Hospital Infection: Quorum Sensing

This is the story of a much respected retired professor. As he celebrated his 82nd birthday, we have to be thankful that he must have some strong genes to have survived the last eight months. An unfortunate slip at home fractured one of his ankles, and as a pin was needed a surgical procedure was performed in a local hospital by the Orthopaedic surgeon. For the following eight months an otherwise independent and healthy eighty one year old had to suffer the indignity of many more hospital procedures because of a lingering infection.
“I don’t know” was his answer when we visited him and asked if it was the dreaded MRSA.
He was never tested!
Nearly 15 years since the discovery of Quorum Sensing by Nottingham University the topic seemed to be shrouded in some mystery. The Cockroach Catcher read about it by chance in an airline magazine and his own survey of some recent medical school graduates from Cambridge and Southampton indicated that this was not in their curriculum and they had never heard of it.
There is of course a Nottingham Quorum Sensing website and certainly Cambridge produced some research papers.
Why?
Bonnie Bassler said that all we knew about bacteriology in the last 300 years is all wrong. Strong words indeed. So are we still teaching medical students all the wrong stuff?
Is professional jealousy at work here? Surely not. But Quorum Sensing will itself lead to other exciting findings about the world of the microbe that has so far got the upper hand on the ever so clever Homo sapiens.
Think MRSA and C.difficile and I am sure you will agree.
I know that it is a new field and much of it theoretical and conjectural but I was a medical student once and the greatest buzz for me then was Heart Transplant, and VAMP treatment for some kind of leukaemia. So could we not let the future doctors have some excitement other than the 3G iPhone?
Surely we need to inspire some great brains to go where no men have gone before.
It is now well established that in France and Holland where hospitals do not run to capacity, they do not have the level of MRSA and C. difficile problem that we have here.
I do not think that is the result of them using some of the methods we have been known to use here, i.e. not testing the patients. Their standard of care is probably different and their wards are not as crowded.
We do seem to have lots of “good” lateral thinkers working in the NHS. In the meantime, our well loved professor has decided to move to sheltered housing. Months of struggling with his immobility and inability to go walking, swimming, shopping and getting on with his daily chores robbed him of his desire to be independent. But at least he survived.
What about his hospital manager? Did he or she get the bonus? 

SARS and Quorum Sensing

There is a chapter in The Cockroach Catcher called “SARS, Freedom and Knowledge”. I wrote about the SARS virus:
“For the first time, doctors and nurses who were normally in the forefront of the fight against diseases were fighting for survival from SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), a new and dangerously contagious disease. ……
Our knowledge base was in total chaos. What we knew was obviously not good enough. Nor were the most up to date antiviral drugs……”
I am not a bacteriologist nor virologist but that did not stop me writing about these little creatures.
When I picked up the in-flight magazine on a recent flight, an article titled “Genius at Work” caught my eye. Bonnie Bassler is the bacteriologist at Princeton who discovered and pioneered the work on what she now called quorum sensing in microbes. To be more precise her initial work was with Vibrio harveyi. Vibrio is in the family of bacteria that causes Cholera. Vibrio vulnificus is carried by oysters and was most likely responsible for the serious illness of Michael Winner, film producer and now food writer of the London Sunday Times.
On following this up back home, I found an article on the website of Howard Hughes Medical Institute – she is one of the HHMI Investigators. From this article, I learned that:
“Virulent bacteria do not want to begin secreting toxins too soon, or the host's immune system will quickly eliminate the nascent infection. Instead, Bassler explained, using quorum sensing, the bacteria count themselves and when they reach a sufficiently high number, they all launch their attack simultaneously. This way, the bacteria are more likely to overpower the immune system….
For the past three hundred years……we’ve been completely wrong……we don’t know anything about bacteria until about a decade ago….”
Wow! Just as we thought we knew everything there is to know about microbes.
Bonnie Bassler will one day get the Nobel prize for medicine. You read it here first.
Fascinated, I wanted to find out more about this genius. I would like to share with you her answers to some of questions that children were invited to ask about her life and work:
“You all asked me essentially the same question: how and when did I get interested in science. As a kid, I loved doing puzzles, solving riddles, and reading mystery books. I also loved animals and always had pets. Around high school, those interests (puzzle solving and animals) convinced me that I should be a veterinarian so I could work on mysterious illnesses in animals and cure them. In college, I realized I did not like big-bloody stuff. It became clear to me that I probably wouldn't enjoy being a vet, but I did not know what I'd do instead. 
Fortunately, the vet curriculum required me to take biochemistry, genetics, and lab courses. Once I got into those classes, I fell in love with doing puzzles about little things (DNA and RNA and proteins and how they all fit together in cells). I also adored doing lab experiments and puzzling over my results. I realized that lab research was the perfect path for me. It allowed me to spend every day figuring out mysteries/puzzles that have to do with what make us alive. What could be a bigger mystery or puzzle? I changed my major in my junior year, and I have not left the lab since. (I still love animals and have a pet—Spark my cat—and I often go hiking hoping to see animals in the wild.)
I think being open-minded about what Nature is trying to tell you is the key to being creative and successful.”

Now in England, only a couple of Medical Schools require biology. In my book, I puzzled over this fact:
“The ability to dissect out a full set of cockroach salivary glands was a prerequisite requirement for medical school entrance in Hong Kong in our days. It is almost a 180 degree turn around nowadays when many young doctors have no idea about the biological world we live in. Nearly all Medical Schools in England no longer specify biology as a prerequisite subject for anybody who wishes to embark on the study of the human body. As we are so intertwined with the rest of the living biological world I find this policy quite extraordinary.”

Aug 23, 2008
Nearly 15 years since the discovery of Quorum Sensing by Nottingham University the topic seemed to be shrouded in some mystery. The Cockroach Catcher read about it by chance in an airline magazine and his own survey of some recent ...


Oct 24, 2010
Vibrio cholerae, like many other bacteria, uses quorum sensing to synchronize gene expression on a population-wide level. Upon infection of its human host, V. cholerae immediately initiates expression of virulence genes ...

May 27, 2011
Instead, Bassler explained, using quorum sensing, the bacteria count themselves and when they reach a sufficiently high number, they all launch their attack simultaneously. This way, the bacteria are more likely to overpower ...


Jun 22, 2011
Guys & Dr House: Quorum Sensing & MRSA. Looks like Dr House is on leave. Surgeon David Nunn reprimanding the TV crew and officials who accompanied. David Cameron and Nick Clegg on their visit to Guy's on 14 June. ...


Cockroaches & Superbugs




Book I am reading:



As the Nazi regime slaughtered millions across Europe during WWII, it sorted people according to race, religion, behavior, and physical condition for either treatment or elimination. Nazi psychiatrists targeted children with different kinds of minds―especially those thought to lack social skills―claiming the Reich had no place for them. Asperger and his colleagues endeavored to mold certain “autistic” children into productive citizens, while transferring others they deemed untreatable to Spiegelgrund, one of the Reich’s deadliest child-killing centers.

SARS ACCOUNTS: Dr Yannie Soo, Tom Buckley.
Useful link: Hong Kong Chinese University Recommendations. CDC CNN
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