SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

A New Blood Test for TB Could Save Millions of Lives 

It can be performed at a clinic, yield same-day results and may cost less than half the current test. 

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Pacemakers that Temporarily Disrupt the Heart's Rhythm May Boost Its Health

Counterintuitively, key heart health indicators proved markedly better in dogs with pacemakers programmed for a period of irregular contractions.

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Deadly Drug Combinations

New software and gene analyses may predict which medicines can become harmful when taken together.

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With liver donors in short supply, cell transplant offers new options

For many liver disease patients, implantation of a few new cells from a healthy organ may buy time or avoid a full transplant altogether.

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The Solid-Gold Wonder Drug

A decades-long search for better treatments for a debilitating liver disorder is finally coming to fruition. Later this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve a new pill that can cure hepatitis C — a chronic infection that afflicts about 170 million people worldwide and annually kills 350,000 people, including 15,000 in the U.S. — faster and with fewer side effects than current remedies.

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Hospitals Fail to Take Simple Measures to Thwart Deadly Infections, Survey Says

Many hospitals fail to take simple measures to prevent infections of a new strain of Clostridium difficile that's hard to track and at least in part responsible for skyrocketing infections rates in U.S. hospitals

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Did Alternative Medicine Extend or Abbreviate Steve Jobs's Life?

The biomedical evidence for alternative or complimentary treatments for cancer, beyond acupuncture, remains thin, although it probably didn't hurt Jobs.

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Going Viral: New Hepatitis C Drugs Owe Their Success to HIV

The treatment of hepatitis C virus infections has taken a major step forward with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval of two new drugs, telaprevir and boceprevir, for managing the disease. Blocking the same viral protein as the first ­anti-HIV drugs, they are also the latest chapter in an ongoing story of medical success.

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Poor Man's Burden: Why Are HIV Rates So High in the Southern U.S.?

When the AIDS epidemic first surfaced in the U.S. 30 years ago, the illness was primarily an urban problem, centered in cities such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Today New York State and California still rank among the highest in the number of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with more than 150,000 people living with AIDS (the later stages of HIV infection) between them. But in recent years HIV has begun to take a disproportionate toll on the southern U.S., including in rural areas.

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Ant Thrills: Seeing Leaf-Cutter Ants through an Artist's Eyes

When Catherine Chalmers headed to Costa Rica for the third time this past January, she had a script in mind that told a very specific story: the stripping of nature. With a cast of hundreds, if not thousands, she would film a leafy branch being reduced to wood to represent the larger picture of clear-cutting taking place worldwide.

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Homo musculus: Researchers Create a "Humanized" Mouse for Liver Disease Studies

Chronic infection with malaria and hepatitis B and C occurring in more than 800 million people worldwide leads to at least 1.5 million deaths yearly. Although significant strides have been made in treatment and vaccination for these liver-based diseases, shortfalls remain. Progress has been stymied for several reasons, chief among them is the lack of an effective research model. Now, advances in mouse model creation are conspiring to usher in a new era in the research and treatment of these life-threatening maladies, and possibly many others.

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Adoption Agents: Keeping Interest in Orphan Drugs Alive

Since its passage in 1983, the Orphan Drug Act (ODA) has led to the approval of 357 drugs for rare diseases and a pipeline of more than 2,100 additional products. Before the ODA, just 10 such drugs existed. Considering that some 7,000 rare diseases affect 20 million to 30 million Americans, federal overseers and patient advocates are anxious to ramp up efforts even more.

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iRegulate: Should Medical Apps Face Government Oversight?

As apps enter the realm of routine medical care, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must consider whether and how to ensure patient safety around the hodgepodge medical apps market—the top 10 medical apps include Medical Calculator and Sex-Facts. The fact that some specialized medical apps are openly available to anyone with a smart phone may raise additional concerns. But excessive regulation of medical apps could also squelch what might be the part of the next great wave of innovations in health care.

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Spreading the Health

Americans spend some $200 billion annually on prescription drugs. Since 1997, in an effort to keep a lid on costs, 37 states have enacted legislation allowing patients, their families and health care facilities to recycle good, unused pills through local pharmacies for donation to patients lacking sufficient insurance. Thousands of patients could in principle benefit from these “drug repository” laws. But as well intentioned as these efforts are, practical problems have prevented widespread implementation of such programs.

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Family Efforts Brought Legalized Drug Donations

Programs that permit the donation of good, unused drugs to the needy owe their existence to the lobbying by families of patients. It all began 10 years ago with Garry Beltz, who owns a ceiling tile cleaning business near Akron, Ohio. After his wife, Karon, died of breast cancer in 1999, he was determined that the last evidence of her disease—$6,700 worth of prescription drugs—be put to good use helping others in need. "I took the medicine back to the hospital to ask if they would give it to someone at the cancer center," Beltz says. "They said it was against the law."

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Confidence Booster 

Stimulating the immune system to destroy tumor cells has long been a hope—but judging from past studies, perhaps a dashed one. Clinical trials testing various cancer vaccines have failed miserably; in one, a melanoma vaccine called Canvaxin did not improve the survival of patients, an outcome that ultimately forced the drugmaker to sell itself to another firm. But rather than writing off cancer immunotherapy, some researchers argue that the agents have been examined in the wrong way, resulting in erroneous conclusions. With the correct study design, proponents say, cancer vaccines should prove to be promising.

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Bills of Health

Oncologists will soon be adding “financial counselor” to their job description. With an increasing number of cancer patients suffering economic hardships as a side effect of expensive therapy, most oncologists are finding that cost needs to be considered as part of treatment options. Leading cancer organizations are now working on incorporating cost into treatment guidelines and other materials. The change, which departs from the current American medical ethos, is fraught with thorny questions not only for cancer doctors and patients but also for the health care system at large.

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The Healthy Type

Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.

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