by Jack Cain In the United States, there is a heated debate at all levels over the increased use of narcotic pain relievers, especially as part of a long-term treatment regimen for chronic pain.  Part of that debate is fueled by the pejorative use of the term “drug” instead of “medication” in conjunction with the legal prescribing, dispensing and consumption of these substances. Bias is ...

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It was 1978 and I was a third year medical student when my friend was slowly dying of metastatic breast cancer. Her deteriorating cervical spine, riddled with tumor, was stabilized by a metal halo drilled into her skull and attached to a scaffolding-like contraption resting on her shoulders.  Vomiting while immobilized in a halo became a form of medieval torture.  During her third round of chemotherapy, her nausea was so ...

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Embryonic stem cells are present after a fertilized egg divides for two or three days. They have the seemingly miraculous ability to turn into any of the tissue types in the body—whether brain neurons, beating heart cells, bone, or pancreatic islet cells. It is important to understand just where these cells come from. Those used in science are ...

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The placebo effect is somewhat of a mystery in modern medicine. Wikipedia calls a placebo  "a sham or simulated medical intervention." Commonly, when we refer to a placebo we mean dummy-drugs, but the placebo effect has further applications in medicine, such as sham surgery or false information. Now, a great video produced by an Australian journalist from the ABC Science Show has compiled ...

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I should be hard at work right now seeing patients in the office, and I would be if it weren’t for one little pill. Have you ever been frustrated by a physician refusing to give you an antibiotic?  That very scenario occurs daily in primary care. "It is only a virus." The arguments against taking an antibiotic (cost, side effects, allergic reaction) can seem less ...

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Comparative effectiveness research — investigations that determine which treatments are best — has attracted attention in the health care debate. Critics charge that these studies are designed to restrict choice. The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest released a report that suggested that they would stifle innovation. Often they are framed as studies to support efforts to keep useful but expensive ...

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In a thoughtful posting in the New York Times, Dr. Pauline Chen, a well respected observer of the doctor-patient relationship, points out an ethical dilemma that faces cancer researchers working in drug development conducting early phase (I) new drug studies. Ethicists have identified that patients in these studies often have unrealistic optimism about their personal outcomes despite ...

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Stem cells will usher in the era of regenerative medicine, allowing the creation of cells, tissues and organs to treat or cure diseases and injuries. This will be a fundamental alteration in our approach to medical care and a transformational medical megatrend. And it will be very "personalized medicine" to provide the specific individual with custom tailored new cells and tissues for organ repair or ...

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Omega-3 fatty acids (more properly called “n-3 fatty acids”) are a group of naturally occurring fat molecules. They are found mainly in fish and other marine-derived oils, but some can also be extracted from plants.  Omega-3′s are currently very popular, but the evidence for their usefulness isn’t so clear.   A recent study failed to show any benefit in preventing dementia.   A new study out ...

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Herpes zoster (or shingles) is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. Zoster increases in incidence with advancing age. It is estimated that over 1 million Americans get shingles annually with the resulting acute discomfort and often chronic pain thereafter. A vaccine was introduced by Merck in 2006; the initial studies of 38,546 patients indicated ...

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