Posts Tagged ‘Medicine’

Medical dictionary translates English to Yolngu Matha

// September 13th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Science Communication

Yolŋu Matha is a language spoken by the Indigenous Australians of Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory. To the majority of the people in the communities, English is a second language. There’s a twelve year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people, which is pretty drastic. It’s made worse because there’s a massive communication gap between the doctors and patients.

Just last week, ARDS released a new dictionary that translates medical phrases into Yolŋu Matha. Here’s some examples:

DNA – djinaga’puy wäyuk or djinawa’wuy wäyuk
English: DNA is found inside every cell of our body. It acts like a law that is not easily changed. It controls what kind of cell each cell grows into e.g. a skin cell, or liver cell or brain cell. It also controls what work each cell does.
Yolŋu Matha: Dhuwaliyi ŋunhi djinawa’wuy wäyuk, ŋunhiny ŋayi ŋuli ga ŋorra ŋunhan bili yan ṉapuŋgan ŋunhiliyin ŋunhi nhänhamiriw waka’ rumbalwu yäku cell-ŋura dhuwal rumbalŋura limurruŋgal. Ga rommirr ŋayi dhuwaliyi djinawa’wuynydja wäyuk, ŋunhi ŋanya dhu bäyŋun nhakun yuwalktja rrorru’. Ga buŋgawayirrnydja ŋayi ŋuli ga ŋunhi bukmakkun dhiyak cell-wuny mala nhaltjan ŋayi dhu walalany dhanuŋdhun rommirriyam balanya nhakun: ŋanakpuy dhuwal rumbalpuy cell-nha ga bamburuŋburuŋbuynha cell-nha ga biḏila’puynha cell-nha. Ga ŋunhi ŋayi ŋuli goŋ-dhawar’yundja bala ŋayi ŋuli djämamirriyaman ŋunhi cell-nhany mala

hormone – dhäwu-gänhamirr wiyika’

English: Hormones are substances that are produced in our body and carried by our blood. Each hormone has its own message to give to our body.
Yolŋu Matha: “Hormone”-dja dhuwal wiyika’ mala ŋunhi ŋuli ga ŋamaŋamayunmirr dhiyal rumbalŋur limurruŋgal, ga gämany walalany ŋuli ga ŋunhi maŋguy’nha. Ga bukmakthu “hormone”-dhu ga gäna-gana ŋayatham dhäwu mala ŋunhi walal ŋuli ga gurrupan dhipal bukmaklil rumballil limurruŋgal.

How awesome is that?

Antibiotic beer, as drunk by the ancient Nubians

// September 8th, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Drugs, Recent Research

Image by Peter Trimming

Today’s schooner of science is literally science in a schooner. Plus it comes with a new career path – bioarcheologist, expert in ancient diets.

George Armelagos is the bioarcheologist in question, and he’d been studying the ancient Nubians who lived just south of ancient Egypt in present-day Sudan.

George was looking at some bones and found evidence that they had been exposed to tetracycline, an antibiotic. Tetracycline is absorbed into bone, and fluoresces green. It’s sometimes used to measure bone growth – take tetracycline at day 0, again at day 12, and at day 21 take a biopsy. The distance between the two green lines will show how far the bone grew in 12 days.

Anyhoo, tetracycline in bones from 350-550 AD is weird, seeing as we first invented antibiotics with the discovery of penicillin in 1928. Now we find out the ancient Nubians beat us to it, and as with all great ideas they came up with it over a beer.

The grain they used to ferment the beer contained streptomyces bacteria, which produces tetracycline as a kind of germ warfare. Like penicillin comes from a fungus, tetracycline is made by a bacteria. It’s a bad-ass antibacterial that can treat disease like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and pneumonia which are caused by bacteria. It can even kill Yersinia pestis cause of the black plague.

Were the ancient Nubians drinking it by accidental contamination, intentional medication, or did streptomyces bacteria just grew on the corpses?

To find out they needed (da dada dum!) a CHEMIST! This particular hero was Mark Nelson, who dissolved the bones in some hardcore hydrogen fluoride – “the most dangerous acid on the planet,” according to Mark. Woah. After showing the bones who was boss, Mark mass spec’d the shizz out of them and discovered a metric buttload of tetracycline, confirming that it was ingested and in high quantities.

The scientist duo concluded that this was a brew with a purpose – an antibiotic alcoholic. Even the bones from a four year old child contained a lot of tetracycline, perhaps he was given the antibacterial to cure a disease.

My question is, why are WE not taking our antibiotics in beer? That would be SO much better!

ResearchBlogging.orgNelson ML, Dinardo A, Hochberg J, & Armelagos GJ (2010). Brief communication: Mass spectroscopic characterization of tetracycline in the skeletal remains of an ancient population from Sudanese Nubia 350-550 CE. American journal of physical anthropology, 143 (1), 151-4 PMID: 20564518

Apothecary bottles found in a collectibles shop

// August 21st, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Drugs

About a week ago I was in Gulgong, a small town in New South Wales near the wine region of Mudgee. The main road was spelled Mayne Road, and was brown stone rather than tarmac. Along the footpaths were old stone troughs for watering horses. Key landmarks included the Ten Dollar Motel and the Gulgong Butchers Cafe. It was an old gold mining town which had lost its gold but kept its rural charm.

Wandering the streets I came across a collectibles shop filled with coloured glass jugs and gold rimmed plates. Amongst the copper kettles I found these old bottles from an apothecary, dated around the 1800’s I believe.

Old Apothecary Bottles

The craftsmanship is stunning, and they teased my imagination. What were these drugs used for? What did they look like, when those bottles were filled, and who was the chemist who filled them?

I have since looked into some of the medicines written on the bottles.

Iodoformum is now called tri-iodomethane (CHI3). The crystals are lemon yellow and have a disagreeable odour and taste. I think it was used to treat tuberculosis, and is still used in homeopathy for a range of ailments. Hexamine may have been mixed with hippuric acid to make methenamine hippurate, which was used to treat lower urinary tract infections. Salol was a white powder derived from salicylic acid, the active ingredient in willow bark, which we take as acetylsalicylic acid in asprin. It was used to reduce pain and fever. Menthol you probably recognise from chest rubs. It comes from mint oil, though it can be made synthetically. As well as clearing sinuses it can ease sore throats and muscle pains, and is one of the ingredients in tiger balm.

While researching I found an issue of the British Medical Journal from September 5, 1885 which is an interesting read.

World’s sweetest antibiotic? The five ways honey kills bacteria.

// July 13th, 2010 // 5 Comments » // Drugs, How Things Work, Recent Research, Science at Home

HoneyYou’re at the doctors with a suspected infection, but instead of offering penicillin or erythromycin, they prescribe honey. Would you switch toast toppings? Take a honey pill? How about letting the doctor smear medical grade honey over the infected area?

People have been using honey (not mad honey) as medicine since ancient times, but until now we have never fully understood how it works. Research lead by Dr. Paulus Kwakman from the University of Amsterdam and his team have finally identified the key elements which give honey its antibacterial activity.

Bacteria are becoming resistant to drugs faster than we’re developing them. Honey might help because it works when other drugs don’t. Studies show it has good activity in vitro against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. An older study reports successful treatment of a chronic wound infections not responding to normal medicine.

So how does it work? It’s a combination of five factors.

1. Hydrogen peroxide, a kind of bleach. The honey enzyme called glucose oxidase makes hydrogen peroxide when honey is diluted with water. We clean toilets with bleach, and it’s pretty good at killing bacteria.

2. Sugar. Honey has so much sugar there’s hardly any water for bacteria to grow in.

3. Methylglyoxal (MGO), an antibacterial compound found in New Zealand Manuka honey a couple of years ago. It’s also found in medical grade honey which is made in controlled greenhouses, albeit in smaller amounts.

4. Bee defensin 1, a protein found in royal jelly (special food for queen bee larva.) This report is the first time bee defensin 1 has been identified in honey, and it works as an antibiotic.

5. Acid. Diluted honey has a pH of around 3.5, the acidic environment slows down bacterial growth.

These five things work together to provide a broad spectrum activity against bacteria. For example, S. aureus is vulnerable hydrogen peroxide, while B. subtillis is challenged only if MGO and bee defensin 1 are working simultaneously. Honey has the right mix for maximum destruction.

So that’s how bees keep their honey fresh and unspoiled by bacterial growth. Perhaps with this information we’ll create enhanced honey to guard against infection, improving on nature like we did with penicillin. Until then, I know what I’m having on my toast.

A Schooner of Science could be named Australia’s best science blog. If you enjoyed reading, please vote for me.

ResearchBlogging.orgKwakman, P., te Velde, A., de Boer, L., Speijer, D., Vandenbroucke-Grauls, C., & Zaat, S. (2010). How honey kills bacteria The FASEB Journal, 24 (7), 2576-2582 DOI: 10.1096/fj.09-150789

How to stop coughing with medicine or chocolate

// May 26th, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Drugs

Image by Peter Pearson

I have been sadly struck down with a cold. So it was with weary steps I took myself to the pharmacy to obtain suitable drugs, and plenty of them. I got capsules which contain paracetamol (painkiller,) phenylephrine (ineffective speed-like drug that used to be pseudoephedrine and now doesn’t really work) and dextromethorphan (cough suppressant.)

Well I’m still coughing… So let’s see what the deal is with Mr. Dextromethorphan. Dexter for short.

Dexter is chemically similar to morphine and codeine. It was first developed to replace codeine as America’s favourite cough suppressant, and has been successful because it is non-addictive and has less potential for abuse. Unfortunately there’s debate about whether it actually works, particularly in children.

It may have less potential for abuse, but people still have a good time on cough medicine. Too much Dexter acts as a dissociative hallucinogen similar to ketamine (aka Special K) or PCP. Possibly you could enjoy watching a TV show of animals through a wide angled lens if you had too much.

If that’s not your cup of tea, why not actually have a cup of tea? Tea contains theobromine, which can suppress coughing. You know what else has theobromine in it? Cocoa. Dark chocolate in particular is a good source of theobromine, and is a delicious alternative to cough medicine. The study reported by New Scientist showed it was more effective than codeine, and better than placebo.

Dexter must have kicked in now, I’m not coughing so much. I always feel spaced out from cough medicine though, and I’m feeling pretty zonked… Methinks I will seek out some large supply of chocolate, just in case.






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