News, views and insights on maintaining a healthy edge.
Experimental Drug Looks Good vs. MRSA
Antibiotic-resistant superbugs that have hospitals and doctors gravely concerned, including MRSA, may have a new superhero in the form of the experimental drug, Staphefekt. In a recent trial conducted by the Dutch biotech company that makes it, ﬁve of six patients with the MRSA infection on their skin were cured. Staphefekt works differently than traditional antibiotics, which need to penetrate bacteria to be effective. Staphefekt latches onto the wall of the bacteria and releases an enzyme that eats a hole through the membrane to get inside. The hope is that bacteria won’t be able to adapt to this type of attack. “This is an exciting new concept in our ﬁght against harmful bacteria,” observes William Farrer, MD, Chief of Infectious Disease at Trinitas. “However, I would stress that Staphefekt can be used only on superﬁcial Staph skin infections such as acne and impetigo, not on more serious infections such as abscesses, pneumonia, or blood stream infections.
” Hopefully, adds Dr. Farrer—who also serves as Associate Professor of Medicine at Seton Hall’s School of Health and Medical Science—the technology will be extended to other bacteria and for systemic use. Indeed, some scientists believe this type of antibiotic can be “trained” to kill only bad bacteria and not the beneﬁcial bacteria in our bodies.
A Blunt Assessment of Marijuana
As state after state legalizes marijuana, the medical community is looking more closely at the effects of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, on human brains. It is well accepted that THC impacts short-term memory and that marijuana-using adolescents can experience long-term impact on the developing brain. A recent study conducted jointly by Northwestern and Harvard Universities showed that the concentration of THC in marijuana may be a key contributing factor. The researchers noted that currently available marijuana is three to four times more potent in terms of THC concentration than 20 years ago. College students who used marijuana four times a week underwent brain scans and all were found to have slight structural abnormalities of the nucleus accumbens—an area associated with pleasure and pain and, by extension, motivation. “This may explain the amotivational syndrome that has been described in earlier literature as a complication of marijuana use,” according to Anwar Y. Ghali, MD, MPA, Chairman of the
Department of Psychiatry at Trinitas. “Also, studies have demonstrated that marijuana use accelerates the precipitation of schizophrenia in 40 percent of patients who developed that illness. In addition, studies also have shown that many of those who use marijuana go on to abuse other and more addictive substances.” One of the Harvard-Northwestern study co-authors commented, that if he were to design a substance that’s bad for college students, “it would be marijuana.”
Obesity and the Brain
More bad news about the effects of a poor diet—this from the November meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. New research ﬁndings presented during Neuroscience 2014 suggest disturbing connections between obesity and brain function. For example, exposure to a high-fat diet in the womb may alter a child’s brain “wiring” in ways that alter eating habits later in life. Another study suggests that being overweight is associated with shrinkage of a part of the brain involved in long-term memory of older adults. “We are aware there is an association between obesity and the brain, and how the food we eat plays a major role in our overall health and well being,” notes
Dr. Ari Eckman, Chief, Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism. “What is not clear is what the exact mechanism of that association is. Since none of these ﬁndings is conclusive, further research is needed to determine the impact of obesity on the brain, but this information presented at Neuroscience 2014 certainly sheds light on another possible danger of being obese.” One more bit of alarming research from the conference hinted that a high-fructose diet during adolescence could affect the brain’s response to stress and also exacerbate depressive behavior.