Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Download PubMed Search Results Into a Spreadsheet with FLink

By Research Buzz on November 22, 2010


Hat tip to Patricia at the Dragonfly blog for her pointer to FLink, (Frequency-weighted Links), a tool for downloading PubMed results into a CSV file (suitable for opening in Excel or OpenOffice.) You can access FLink at

You can use Patricia’s post for step-by-step directions for using FLink, but it’s pretty easy. Use the pulldown menu to specify the database you want to search (there are a few available besides PubMed.) Then from the popup window choose “Search Entrez” and enter your search keywords. FLink will think about it a minute and show your search results in the browser window. (I searched for autism and got 16502 results.)

From there, click “Download CSV.” In the case of the autism search I did, it took several minutes for FLink to assemble a CSV for me — but once it did, it was a 5MB download that listed over 16300 articles from PubMed, including PubMed ID, Authors, Title, Month and Year of publication, and Summary.

Now if direct links to the articles were included you could jimmy up a little Perl and have a nice download utility, but unfortunately links are not available. However just to be weird I took the last thousand article titles in the downloaded CSV (I wanted to do more but Wordle got stroppy) and made a tag cloud of the top 75 words.

A nice tool. I feel guilty for wishing there were more data downloaded with the CSV.


November 23, 2010 Posted by | Librarian Resources | , , | Leave a comment

Medical imaging breakthrough uses light and sound to see microscopic details inside our bodies

From a November 22, 2010 Eureka news alert

New research in the FASEB Journal shows how combining photoacoustic tomography with gold nanobeacons allows researchers to see blood vessel formation in detail without a microscope

See it for yourself: a new breakthrough in imaging technology using a combination of light and sound will allow health care providers to see microscopic details inside the body. Access to this level of detail potentially eliminates the need for some invasive biopsies, but it also has the potential to help health care providers make diagnoses earlier than ever before—even before symptoms arise. Details describing this advance are published online in the FASEB Journal (

In the online research report, researchers from St. Louis describe how they combined photoacoustic tomography (PAT) with gold nanobeacons (GNB) to achieve an unprecedented level of imaging detail. Specifically, the researchers were able to identify the first signs of new blood vessel growth, which is necessary for new tumors to form. Specifically, not only were the newest blood vessels with initial blood flow imaged, but pre-vessel formation of inter-vessel bridges and vessel off-shoot sprouts in which blood flow had yet to begin also were captured. This is the first time that the angiogenic process was imaged in such clear detail without a microscope. The scientists anticipate that the combined use of PAT and GNB will be able to further pinpoint precise molecular disease markers.

According to one of the researchers involved in the work, Dipanjan Pan, Ph.D. from the Consortium for Translational Research in Advanced Imaging and Nanomedicine at the Washington University School of Medicine, “This study further establishes the opportunity provided by molecular imaging and photoacoustic tomography to identify, characterize, and guide the rational management of high-risk patients with life-threatening disease earlier when treatment is the most likely to help and quality of life is best preserved.”

To make this advance, the researchers implanted mice with a gel (Matrigel™) that stimulates natural capillary formation, mimicking the same process occurring in an aggressive cancer or unstable atherosclerotic plaque. Then they used GNB to target a prominent molecular indicator of proliferating new vessels. Unlike common ultrasound techniques that send in a sound wave and “listen” for the echo, PAT sends in a light beam that excites and warms certain proteins, such as the hemoglobin in red blood cells. The minutely heated proteins emit a sound wave that is then detected by the ultrasound transducer.

“This type of imaging verges on Star Trek territory,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal. “We’re now exploring inner space with tools developed for outer space.

Early tumors and latent infections give rise to microscopic changes in blood vessels that no one could pick up until this technique came along. It’s the new age of nanomedicine.”


November 23, 2010 Posted by | Health News Items | , , , , , | Leave a comment

New tool detects Ebola, Marburg quickly, easily

Abstract Image

Boston University researchers develop portable diagnostic device

From a November 22, 2010 Eureka news alert

BOSTON (11-22-10) — Boston University researchers have developed a simple diagnostic tool that can quickly identify dangerous viruses like Ebola and Marburg. The biosensor, which is the size of a quarter and can detect viruses in a blood sample, could be used in developing nations, airports and other places where natural or man-made outbreaks could erupt.

“By enabling ultra-portable and fast detection, our technology can directly impact the course of our reaction against bio-terrorism threats and dramatically improve our capability to confine viral outbreaks,” said Assistant Professor Hatice Altug of the Boston University College of Engineering, who co-led the research team with Assistant Professor John Connor of the Boston University School of Medicine.

Traditional virus diagnostic tools are effective, but require significant infrastructure and sample preparation time. The new biosensor developed at Boston University directly detects live viruses from biological media with little to no sample preparation. The breakthrough is detailed in the Nov. 5 online edition of Nano Letters….


“Our platform can be easily adapted for point-of-care diagnostics to detect a broad range of viral pathogens in resource-limited clinical settings at the far corners of the world, in defense and homeland security applications as well as in civilian settings such as airports,” said Altug.

Connor noted an additional, significant advantage of the new technology. “It will be relatively easy to develop a diagnostic device that simultaneously tests for several different viruses,” he observed. “This could be extremely helpful in providing the proper diagnosis.”

The new biosensor is the first to detect intact viruses by exploiting plasmonic nanohole arrays, or arrays of apertures with diameters of about 200 to 350 nanometers on metallic films that transmit light more strongly at certain wavelengths. When a live virus in a sample solution, such as blood or serum, binds to the sensor surface, the refractive index in the close vicinity of the sensor changes, causing a detectable shift in the resonance frequency of the light transmitted through the nanoholes. The magnitude of that shift reveals the presence and concentration of the virus in the solution.

“Unlike PCR and ELISA approaches, our method does not require enzymatic amplification of a signal or fluorescent tagging of a product, so samples can be read immediately following pathogen binding,” said Altug. Ahmet Yanik, Altug’s research associate who conducted the experiments, added, “Our platform can detect not only the presence of the intact viruses in the analyzed samples, but also indicate the intensity of the infection process.”

The researchers are now working on a highly portable version of their biosensor platform using microfluidic technology designed for use in the field with minimal training.




November 23, 2010 Posted by | Consumer Health, Health News Items, Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The not-so-sweet truth about sugar — a risk choice?

This is Richard J. Johnson, M.D., of the division of renal diseases and hypertension at the University of Colorado.

From a November 22, 2010 Eurkeka news release

Increasing evidence shows that excess fructose may play role in diabetes, obesity and other health conditions

More and more people have become aware of the dangers of excessive fructose in diet. A new review on fructose in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN) indicates just how dangerous this simple sugar may be.

Richard J. Johnson, MD and Takahiko Nakagawa, MD (Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension, University of Colorado) provide a concise overview of recent clinical and experimental studies to understand how excessive amounts of fructose, present in added sugars, may play a role in high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Dietary fructose is present primarily in added dietary sugars, honey, and fruit. Americans most frequently ingest fructose from sucrose, a disaccharide containing 50% fructose and 50% glucose bonded together, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a mixture of free fructose and free glucose, usually in a 55/45 proportion. With the introduction of HFCS in the 1970s, an increased intake of fructose has occurred and obesity rates have risen simultaneously.

The link between excessive intake of fructose and metabolic syndrome is becoming increasingly established. However, in this review of the literature, the authors conclude that there is also increasing evidence that fructose may play a role in hypertension and renal disease. “Science shows us there is a potentially negative impact of excessive amounts of sugar and high fructose corn syrup on cardiovascular and kidney health,” explains Dr. Johnson. He continues that “excessive fructose intake could be viewed as an increasingly risky food and beverage additive.”

Concerned that physicians may be overlooking this health problem when advising CKD patients to follow a low protein diet, Dr. Johnson and Dr. Nakagawa recommend that low protein diets include an attempt to restrict added sugars containing fructose.



Disclosures: Dr. Johnson and Dr. Nakagawa are listed as inventors on several patent applications related to lowering uric acid for the treatment or prevention of hypertension, diabetes, and fatty liver. Dr Johnson has also published a book, The Sugar Fix that covers this topic for the general public.

The article, entitled “The Effect of Fructose on Renal Biology and Disease,” will appear online at on November 29, 2010, doi 10.1681/ASN.2010050506.



November 23, 2010 Posted by | Consumer Health, Health News Items, Nutrition | , | Leave a comment

Medical Advances Improving Lives, Surveyed Docs Say

HealthDay news image

From a November 19, 2010 Health Day news item by Robert Preidt

RIDAY, Nov. 19 (HealthDay News) — Advances in drugs and medical technology have greatly improved the ability to save lives, according to a survey of physicians in Pennsylvania.

The poll found that 76 percent of respondents agreed that their ability to save lives has “somewhat or greatly improved” over the last 20 years, and 79 percent said the same is true about their ability to extend and improve quality of life for patients with chronic diseases.

According to 81 percent of respondents, drug treatments have “somewhat or greatly improved,” while 92 percent said the same about medical technology, the researchers at the Institute for Good Medicine at the Pennsylvania Medical Society reported.

The survey also found that more than 70 percent of respondents believe that patient knowledge has “somewhat or greatly improved.” However, some of the physicians noted there is a difference between knowing about something and actually acting on it.

The improvements in drugs and medical technology, along with physicians’ skills, have significantly improved patient care, according to institute founder Dr. Peter S. Lund.

“Good medicine today is practiced in an environment of constant progress and changing technology. While pharmaceuticals and new technology are the tools, they still require the expertise of physicians in order to be applied to individual patient needs,” he said in a Pennsylvania Medical Society news release.

More than 565 doctors responded to the survey. The complete findings are published in the Institute for Good Medicine’s 2010 Good Medicinereport.

SOURCE: Pennsylvania Medical Society, news release, Nov. 15, 2010


November 23, 2010 Posted by | Consumer Health | Leave a comment

Some “Lead-Free” Pottery Can Still Taint Food

Some "Lead-Free" Pottery Can Still Taint Food - (FLICKR)



From a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Consumer Alert [last updated 11/22/2010]

Colorful pottery may look nice on the dining room table. But beware: it can cause serious harm if it can contaminate food placed in it with lead.

Although we’re all exposed to small amounts of lead during our daily routine, exposure to large amounts can cause lead poisoning, a dangerous condition that occurs when the body absorbs lead into the bloodstream.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it has confirmed reports from local and state agencies that traditional ceramic pottery made by several manufacturers in Mexico—and labeled “lead free”—in fact contains lead.

Agency investigators have in some cases found that the pottery exceeded FDA’s limits for “leachable” lead—lead that could get into food that comes in contact with the pottery.

This makes the dishware potentially hazardous if it’s used for cooking, preparing, serving, or storing food or drinks….

[The article goes on to describe how some manufacturing processes contribute to potential lead poisoning ]

….Advice for Consumers
Be aware that some pottery should be used for decoration only, and not for holding or serving food.
Also, know that a child with lead poisoning may not look or act sick. If your child has been eating or drinking from pottery that may have allowed lead to leach into food, talk to your health care professional about testing your child’s blood for lead.

  • Be wary if pottery you have was purchased from a flea market or a street vendor, or if you are unable to determine whether the pottery is from a reliable manufacturer.
  • Look over your pottery and check to see if it is handmade with a crude appearance or irregular shape
  • antique
  • damaged or excessively worn
  • brightly decorated in orange, red, or yellow colors

If you have pottery that fits any of these descriptions or if you’re concerned about the safety of pottery in your home, you can:

  • Look for a warning label on the pottery. If the pottery was made for use only as a decorative item, it may have a warning (such as “Not for Food Use—May Poison Food”) stamped onto the bottom.
  • Test the pottery. Lead-testing kits, which are sold in hardware stores and online, come with swabs and instructions. They do not damage the pottery. With most, the swab will change colors if lead leaches onto the swab. If a test reveals a positive result for leachable lead, don’t use the pottery for cooking, serving, or storing food or drinks.
  • If you are unable to test the pottery or otherwise determine that it is not from a reliable manufacturer, don’t use it for cooking, serving, or storing food or drinks.

Be aware that no amount of washing, boiling, or other process can remove lead from pottery.

For More Information

November 23, 2010 Posted by | Consumer Health, Health Education (General Public) | , | Leave a comment


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