Showing 31 - 40 of 190 annotations tagged with the keyword "Medical Research"

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This is a huge and wonderful book about cancer, the collection of diseases that sickens people all over the globe and kills many of them. An epigraph to the book states, “A quarter of all American deaths, and about 15 percent of all deaths worldwide, will be attributed to cancer,” but the book also describes medical advances that now heal, prevent, or palliate most forms of cancer.

Mukherjee, a cancer physician and researcher, has several strong themes. He sees cancer as an affliction with a long history, a story worthy of a biography; indeed recent discoveries show it to be rooted in our genes (although external factors such as viruses, asbestos, and tobacco smoke can cause genetic disruption). The story of cancer implies a surrounding triangle, the stories of sick people, treating physicians, and biological researchers, all of which Mukherjee artfully weaves across 472 pages. Cancer has Rohrschach blot qualities: depending on time, place, and role in life, humans have perceived different attributes of cancer. As the book ends, however, there is a coalescence of scientific understanding that is satisfying—although there is certainly more to be learned and we are all still vulnerable to genetic errors and, of course, we are intractably mortal.

Another strand is the nature of stories themselves, their twists and turns, presumed early solutions, and personal and social values embedded in them. Mukherjee threads throughout the book the case of a contemporary kindergarten teacher, Carla Reed, who has a leukemia. He bookends his text with ancient Persian Queen Atossa with (presumably) breast cancer. Reed, healed by the end of the book, was Mukherjee’s patient; Atossa was described by Herodotus: both suffered emotional turmoil because of their disease.  Mukherjee understands the affective dimensions of disease for patients and caregivers alike; literature represents these in various ways, and he quotes in his chapter epigraphs and in his prose many writers who describe human experience deeply: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Susan Sontag, Charles Dickens, Thomas Mann, William Carlos Williams, Carlo Levi, and Italo Calvino, to name a few.

The primary story, however, is the interplay of cancer and a large cast of observers, investigators, doctors, scientists, activists, and government officials. Sidney Farber and Mary Lasker dominate the first 100 pages with their two-decade war against cancer. While surgery—historically dramatic and disfiguring—had been a mainstay for treatment of cancer, Farber pursued a biochemical route, which elaborated into chemotherapy, the second major approach of the late 20th century.

Mukherjee also explains ancient views, Hippocrates’, Galen’s humors, Vasealius’ anatomy, Hunter’s stages, Lister’s antisepsis, and Röntgen’s X-rays, which became the third major approach. By 1980, however, the American “War on Cancer” had not been won.

Further advances in cellular biology and genetics would be needed to make targeted molecular therapy possible.  Mukherjee tells this complicated story clearly and engagingly, showing the human investigators to be personable and dogged in their pursuits.  

Another important approach is prevention. The biostatistical work of Doll and Hill, for example, showed the links between tobacco and lung cancer. Screening, such as Pap smears and mammograms, also saved lives, but the basic cellular understanding still eluded investigators.

The final 150 pages explain the search for and discovery of genetic factors, specifically oncogenes. Harold Varmus and J. Michael Bishop were the leaders, winning a Nobel Prize in 1989. Bert Vogelstein, Judah Folkman, Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan took the work further, opening the doors for such drugs as Herceptin, Gleevec, and Avastin. 

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Summary:

In the eighteenth century, Europe began to take stock of the horrific infant mortality in foundling homes and hospitals. Infant feeding and care became a major preoccupation for charities and philanthropic doctors. Some organized systems of wet nurses in the communities and institutions to provide for motherless children. 

At the same time, syphilis was becoming a serious problem in newborns. The sexually transmitted disease, which swept the continent following the voyages of Columbus, was known to affect babies born to infected mothers. Since the early sixteenth century, doctors had been convinced that mercury was of benefit.

Founded in 1724, the Vaugirard Hospital of Paris was the city’s home for orphans. By 1780 it had made room for mothers with syphilis and their children.  Sometimes the mothers died, or well-off families would abandon their sick children. Healthy wet nurses were engaged to feed these babies.

Eventually, the wet nurses were viewed as a technology—a vehicle--for administering mercury to the babies through their milk. Many of these healthy women fell ill, either from the mercury or by infection from their charges. Nevertheless, the practice continued into the nineteenth century. The wet nurses did not know (or were not told) that the children were infected. The physicians in charge of this experiment also attempted unsuccessfully to vaccinate the wet nurses against syphilis. That experiment also spread the disease.

Remarkably, some wet nurses brought suits against the doctors or the birth families. Occasionally they won damages, and finally the law was changed to offer greater protection.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The journalist author investigates the hidden lives of his father and his grandfather, both physicians. He is motivated by the mysterious silence that pervaded the ancestral home in a wealthy Toronto neighborhood, and by the frightening tendency to depression and suicide that stalks his family members like an Irish curse.

He uncovers many details of the early adventures of his parents, the failure of their marriage, and his father’s doomed career. From his beginnings as a debonair socialite, the father, Jack, embarks on a promising medical career as an allergist; however, he virtually sinks into taciturn misery and alcoholic self-destruction, unable to express affection or joy. Jack’s endless travails as a patient through shock therapy, analysis, and heavy psychiatric drugs are presented in merciless detail using hospital records and interviews with caregivers. The author’s self-indulgent anger with his self-absorbed father drives the research deeper into the earlier generation, to learn about the grandfather of whom his parents rarely spoke.

The author's grandfather, Irish-born John Gerald FitzGerald (1882-1940), son of an immigrant pharmacist and an invalid mother, strode through the exciting scientific world of the early twentieth century like a medical Forrest Gump. At first, he is drawn into the new fields of psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and neuropathology; cameo appearances of Freud, Ernest Jones and C.K. Clarke light up the story. But then this elder FitzGerald is swayed by the need to control infections and produce vaccines. He travels Europe and the United States for three years learning bacteriology.

Upon his return to Canada in 1913, he fearlessly launches a Canadian-made solution, outfitting a stable and a horse farm to produce rabies vaccine and diphtheria anti-toxin. The initiative evolves into the famous Connaught Laboratories and the School of Hygiene, its academic arm. Other luminaries enter the story– such as Banting and Best of insulin fame and C.B. Farrar of psychiatry. FitzGerald served as Scientific Director of the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation and as Dean of the University of Toronto medical school.

Nevertheless in his late fifties, having accomplished so much, the grandfather crashes into doubt, depression and self-destruction, believing himself a failure and consumed with guilt for some never-disclosed transgression. Did his stellar achievements, his high expectations, and his baffling demise dictate the collapse of his son Jack?

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

In 1951 when Henrietta Lacks was dying of cancer in the colored ward of Johns Hopkins, cancer cells taken from her without her knowledge "became the first immortal human cells grown in a laboratory"(4).  Known as HeLa cells, they are still reproducing today and are used world wide in research for cancer, cloning, genetics, Parkinsons, and many technologies. Henrietta's family did not know she was the source of these immortal cells until scientists began testing the family members too.  Poor and black, they were very angry to find the white establishment had made fortunes using HeLa cells while the family got nothing for it and couldn't even get good health care. In her thorough and careful investigation, Rebecca Skloot interviewed the Lacks family; scientists, doctors, and others who worked with HeLa cells; historians; journalists; ethicists. This book traces the complex stages of her search for the truth about what happened to Henrietta Lacks, her HeLa cells, and her family.

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Lucy

Gonzales, Laurence

Last Updated: Sep-07-2010
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Lucy is a novel named for the female hybrid offspring born of a bonobo mother and human father, a creature called, at various times, a "humanzee" since the bonobo, a great ape found in the Congo in Africa, is occasionally referred to as a pygmy chimpanzee. The result of artificial insemination by her father, Donald Stone, a British anthropologist in the Congo with aims to improve the human species, Lucy is a very human looking 15 year old girl.

The novel begins in medias res when Jenny Lowe, an American primatologist whose camp is near Dr. Stone's, is awakened by the sound of gun fire from nearby insurgents.   She goes to Dr. Stone‘s camp, finds the anthropologist and an adult female bonobo lying on the ground, both dead from gun shot wounds. Near the two bodies is a living teen aged girl, Lucy, whom she rescues and manages to spirit back to her home base, Chicago, where Jenny‘s friend and lover, Harry Prendeville, a charismatic surgeon, awaits her. Lucy enrolls in high school, her genetic heritage kept secret from all save Jenny who discovers -- in one of several nods to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein -- Dr. Stone's notebooks.

Lucy meets and becomes best friends with Amanda Mather, a classmate (this relationship is far from clearly a strictly heterosexual one) and becomes the state wrestling champ because of her bonobo-inherited skill, strength and speed. When Lucy contracts a viral disease that bonobos, not humans, acquire and her secret is about to be exposed (Jenny, Amanda and Harry now all know), Lucy does what all 15 year olds would do in 2010 (the book is set in present time) - she outs herself on Facebook. (O tempora, O mores!)

The novel now enters the accelerated phase of denouement with expected and unexpected reactions from TV, the violent right (think Mickey the Gerund in Cast of Shadows in this database), Congress and the public. Without revealing too much plot as a spoiler, suffice it to say that a governmental scheme to abduct Lucy for the purpose of NHP (non-human primate) experimentation becomes a reality with devastating consequences that allow for a thrilling read with its share of tragedy and triumphs and ending with an unusual yet fulfilling conclusion satisfying for most concerned, especially Lucy and those who love her.

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Tainted

Pennie, Ross

Last Updated: Sep-01-2010
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Zol Szabo, is public health doctor for the Hamilton Ontario region. He is also a single parent to a seven-year-old, Max, because his wife could not deal with Max’s physical disability. But Sol thinks there is hope for Max in an injection of a miraculous new substance called “Endotox” that may loosen the contractures of his arm. Soon he his investigating a cluster of variant CJD (mad cow) cases that may be related to Endotox. But they also seem to be connected to the grocery store where Sol does his shopping. The products that all victims had in common were an imported candy and a sausage, both Max’s favorites.

Conspiracy theories about corrupt pharmaceutical companies and the antics of a pair of unethical mink farmers lead the investigation in many different directions, all personally threatening to Sol because of the health of his son or the ire of his boss. Pressure from his superiors to avoid publicity cramps Sol’s freedom. He seeks help from an attractive woman detective who, of course, sticks with him to the terrifying (and satisfying) conclusion.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In May of 1944 the author, a Hungarian Jewish physician, was deported with his wife and daughter by cattle car to the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. This memoir chronicles the Auschwitz experience, and the German retreat, ending a year later in Melk, Austria when the Germans surrendered their position there and Nyiszli obtained his freedom. The author describes in almost clinical detail and with alternating detachment and despair what transpired in the crematoria and the dissecting room during his tenure as chief pathologist working directly under Dr. Josef Mengele.

From the first, Nyiszli suspected that there were horrors emanating from the crematoria but he singled himself out from a group of physicians by deciding to "[break] ranks" when Mengele asked those with forensic training to identify themselves. This act secured his survival: the remaining physicians, none of whom stepped forward, all soon perished, while he was assigned to the Sonderkommandos--the prisoners who carried out the exterminations, and who were themselves regularly exterminated to prevent the truth from becoming known. He writes, "As chief physician of the Auschwitz crematoriums, I drafted numerous affidavits of dissection and forensic medicine findings which I signed with my own tattoo number."

At times self-congratulatory about his forensic expertise, at times forcing himself to witness atrocities which he could have avoided, occasionally finding a way to delay death for some of the inmates, Nyiszli was determined to record what he saw--to bear witness, were he to survive. Uncannily able to read a situation and take advantage of it, the author relates how he managed to get his family out of Auschwitz just before they were scheduled for annihilation. Even in the final weeks of the war, when he and thousands of prisoners trudged on foot for weeks with the retreating German army, many dying along the way, he remained shrewdly assertive--and lived.

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Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Extraordinary Measures, based on events in the life of John Crowley and his family, dramatizes the father's quest to find a cure for Pompe disease, a relatively rare genetic condition that afflicts two of his three children.  The quest brings into play three powerful, often competing human motives:  a father's love for his children, a scientist's pursuit of knowledge and recognition, and a corporation's mandate for profits.  Crowley (Brendan Fraser), an energetic marketing executive, and his wife Aileen (Keri Russell) are told that their children Megan (Meredith Droeger), age eight, and Patrick (Diego Velazquez), age six, have reached the upper limits of their life expectancies.

When Megan, an affectionate, playful, and clear-sighted child, is rushed to the hospital with symptomatic heart and respiratory failure, a young physician empathically encourages the parents to think of their only daughter's immanent death as a "blessing" that will end her suffering.  However, Megan survives.  "So I guess you could say we dodged that blessing," Crowley echoes back to the doctor.  Seeing Megan's will to live reinforces John's wish to make her well, and he abruptly abandons his promising career to find a medical researcher who can reverse Pompe's effects. 

Immersing himself in medical journals and websites, John discovers the intriguing research of Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford).  A cranky, renegade scientist who thinks to the beat of rock music blasting from a boom box, Stonehill has developed a cutting-edge theory about correcting the enzyme deficiency in the cells of people with Pompe, which gradually weakens skeletal, respiratory, and heart muscles.  However, to produce a treatment derived from his theory, he needs more funding.  John immediately creates a fund to support Pompe research, and he and Stonehill form a mutually exasperating partnership.  They lock horns with each other, venture capitalists, and finally a large genomic research corporation, Zymagen.

Despite the scientist's abrasive ways, Zymagen gives Stonehill a lab and creates employment for Crowley.  However, the two confront the company's culture of rigorous competition among its scientists and its focus on profit margins that ignore the fates of individual children.  When the Zymagen scientists develop a promising therapy, they decide to offer the treatment only to infants, who are most likely to experience benefits.  Disqualifying Crowley's children from the promising trials, this decision, combined with Crowley's obvious conflict of interest, creates the film's final obstacle.  Stonehill and the executives uncharacteristically collaborate to overcome it. 

This ending might seem implausibly neat, but it's consistent with the film's mostly evenhanded approach to the dilemmas of pursuing treatments for orphan diseases.  Toward the end, we witness even Crowley, albeit uncomfortably, reaching beyond his fatherly motives for the Pompe project and turning his argument for bringing the treatment to market from children to profits.  The longer the patients live, John assures the executives, the more treatments Zymagen will sell.  The film leaves space for viewers to ask to what extent Crowley's argument creates a fair compromise or opens an ethical quandary.  In a closing narration, the film moves beyond the fictionalized characters and plot to the real Crowley children and a tempered victory.  Yes, the Pompe treatment stopped the progression of the disease and improved Megan's and Patrick's hearts.  But it has not cured the Crowley children, and almost certainly it won't.   The treatments do, however, show more success when taken at the onset of symptoms.      

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Summary:

The title refers to a Veteran’s Administration hospital regulation concerning the withholding of full medical benefits if an ailment is not specifically related to military service. In an oftentimes comic battle between the forces of good--physicians and vulnerable patients--and those of evil--the administrators and their minions--the story has currency and direct appeal to viewers.

The Darth-Vader-like administrators are self-serving, inhumane bureaucrats with emotions that run the gamut "from A to B" (Dorothy Parker). Physicians, especially the character played by Ray Liotta, but also his dedicated colleagues, are imaginative and non-rule abiding in their central concerns: the patients. They listen to stories and sympathize; in addition, they turf, lie, steal, and do whatever is necessary to protect, serve, and treat their patients. When the government denies a heart bypass, for example, the docs schedule prostate surgery for the official record and do, instead, the needed heart surgery.

At times, it’s as if the Marx Brothers or the Keystone Cops have donned white coats to sneak around the hospital with patient-centered antics. In the absurd bureaucracy, viewers, perforce, must cheer enthusiastically for the merry band of renegade docs.

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Suburban Shaman

Helman, Cecil

Last Updated: Feb-22-2010
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Because this lucid, rich, and incisive book has not, as yet, been published in the United States, it has not acquired the readership it deserves. For those teaching Medical Humanities or those interested in broader or more global stories and perspectives about physician training, practice, and experiences, Helman’s most recent publication should be considered.

Part One (“Setting Out”) begins in South Africa where Helman’s family, comprised of a dozen doctors, has lived for generations and where his own medical studies occurred. As a child, he accompanied his father on rounds while other children spent holidays at the beach. Before long he discovered how hospitals, during the madness of Apartheid, were to “some extent a distorted mirror-image of the world outside” (3). Appalled by the differences in care and treatment, the keenly aware young man kept notes. His vivid observations of the harsh context of social injustices provide an unequivocal, eloquent, and disturbing critique of medicine then and there. His acute observations of physician behaviors and indigent populations in the city and in the bush contribute, as readers discover in later chapters, to the author’s expanded and compelling interests in cultural anthropology.

Part Two (“The Family Doctor”) leads to London. “After all the heat and light and space of Africa, London—with its low leaden sky and constant drizzle—was like living inside a Tupperware box, one stored deep inside a refrigerator” (47). In the 60s Helman’s migration required an adjustment to a world of technology and order, where as a family practitioner, he had become, in fact, a suburban shaman. In any society, patients wanted “relief from discomfort, relief from anxiety, a relationship of compassion and care, some explanation of what has gone wrong, and why, and a sense of order or meaning imposed on the apparent chaos of their personal suffering to help them make sense of it and to cope with it” (xvi).

Gradually Helman saw connections between the role of family physician and traditional healer: both involved an understanding of “not only a body’s internal equilibrium but also the equilibrium of the patient’s relationships with the world he or she lives in and how treatment should aim not only to treat the diseased organ but also to restore the patient’s life that equilibrium of relationships” (xvii). His encounters with patients and the stories they reveal suggest how important these often overlooked connections are and why they ought to be included in medical training and practice.

By the time readers reach Part Three ("States of the Art”), the author has moved into broader realms of thinking, in which medicine and illnesses are examined anthropologically. After 27 years of clinical practice Helman’s white coat and stethoscope are placed on a hook. Now, as a credentialed anthropologist at University College London, his larger lens allows for sustained scrutiny of the complexities, ambiguities, and nuances in such chapters as “Grand Rounds,” “Hospitals,” “Placebos,” “Third Worlds.” Helman’s range of experiences, multi-disciplinary training, intellectual conclusions, and abundant common sense argues for techno-doctors to learn from holistic practitioners. Whether devastating or humorous, the critiques reflect not just care provision but shared human capacities: the insights are thoughtful and fresh and very worthwhile.

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