A summary of important health news from the past week
By Katherine J. Wu
With no official treatment or cure for Covid-19, researchers are studying what factors can determine how some patients fight off the virus without even noticing while others tend to have no chance against it. One likely hypothesis is obese individuals are more likely to have kidney disease, hypertension, and higher blood pressure on average leading to a weaker immune response. Adding to those risk factors, a higher body fat percentage is associated with higher inflammatory rates which could contribute to the over-active uncontrollable inflammation found within the Covid-19 immune response. With studies showing that obese individuals are 50% more likely to die of Covid-19, America’s obesity epidemic leaves healthcare professionals worried; areas with food deserts and fast-food culture makes long-term weight loss difficult to implement, and leaves Americans with vulnerable immune systems.
By: Eleanor Bird, M.S.
Researchers at USC took a slightly unorthodox approach to curing colon cancer: they treated mice with tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana plants. The THC successfully prevented inflammation and stopped the development of colon cancer in the mice. At the end of the study, the mice who received THC showed no tumors, unlike the control group which received a placebo. The mice in the THC group also had significantly less colonic inflammation, which is a symptom of IBD. CB2 receptors, or cannabinoid type two receptors, modulate inflammation in the intestine, and scientists have previously identified them as a potential therapeutic target for IBD. Future efforts will focus on developing a non-psychoactive drug that targets CB2 receptors to illicit a similar response.
By: Julia Belluz
On September 30, three scientists received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus. The contributions of Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice have made possible blood tests and new medicines to save millions of lives. Prior to their discovery, no one could pinpoint why so many people developed chronic hepatitis after receiving blood transfusions. Hepatitis C can only be transmitted through the blood of an infection person via infected needles, blood products, or sexual contact. Now that we know what the virus is, we are able to test for it. Although there is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, antiviral medications can cure the disease. And while drug pricing remains a barrier for access, the introduction of new lower-priced generic has put the price down to a cost-effective price range around $20,000.
By: Donald G. McNeil Jr.
Aid organizations such as the WHO and UNICEF have been collecting oxygen equipment to donate as Covid-19 spreads rapidly in low-income countries. The oxygen tanks may save the lives of millions of patients who not only have severe cases of Covid-19, but also premature infants and children with pneumonia as well. However, due to the virus, demand for tanks has dramatically increased while supply has decreased, and shipment of such machines aren’t coming in soon enough. In the urgent effort to acquire tank supply, new campaigns such as Oxygen for Africa and older organizations such as the United Nations’ Oxygen Therapy Project and Assist International have been stepping in to contribute to oxygen tank production and shipment as well.