Posts for category ‘Uncategorized’

Missing Scissors Recovered from Patient
| November 6, 2006 | 3:08 am


In 1994 a group of doctors at Chenglepattu Medical College Hospital, India lost a pair of 7 inch long scissors while removing a tumor from a 33 year old woman. The doctor’s must frequently lose medical instruments, because they didn’t seem to notice the missing tools. When Ms. Sigamani began complaining about abdominal pain after the procedure, the doctors figured that it was probably just run of the mill post-surgery blues and suggested she take pain killers.

Twelve years later the independent investigators believe they may have solved the mystery of the phantom pain and the lost scissors when a local medical practitioner suggested that Sigamani have an X-ray.

The hospital denies having any medical records pertaining to the now-12 year old surgery, and has not asked for the scissors back.

via The Deccan Chronicle

Wired News: Stem-Cell Fix for Diabetic Ulcer
| November 2, 2006 | 12:31 am

For the last couple days I have been feverishly working on a set of stories about stem cell therapies in India. I have been very impressed with the facilities available here in Chennai, and am beginning to think that India has a strong shot at becoming a world leader in stem cell therapy. While research still lags behind the Unites States and Europe, Indian doctors are making bold steps in designing treatment regimes that have not been successful elsewhere. Here is one example that I recently wrote about in Wired News.

Stem Cell Fix for Diabetic Ulcer?

CHENNAI, India — Vamal Cattacha didn’t pay much attention to the pinprick-size sore on the back of her leg, and before she knew it the oozing wound had spread 22 inches, from her instep all the way up to her calf. And it was beginning to smell bad.

When Vamal, a 68-year-old diabetic, finally sought treatment for the nasty-looking wound, many doctors said it was too late to save her leg. She traveled up and down the coast of India, searching out doctors offering miracle cures, but every respectable medical practitioner said her leg would have to be amputated. And it would have to happen fast, lest the ulcer spread further and turn gangrenous.

After several bouts of bad news, Vamal visited vascular surgeon S.R. Subrammaniyan at Vijaya Hospital here. Subrammaniyan, who works closely with a stem-cell research facility, came to the conclusion that an experimental treatment involving stem cells harvested from Vamal’s bone marrow could be her only hope for saving the leg. An angiogram showed she had almost no circulation in the limb.

“She was otherwise in good health, and an ideal patient to try this treatment,” said Subrammaniyan, who had read about the success of similar procedures performed in Poland, Japan and China.

Once Vamal was admitted to Vijaya Hospital, bone marrow was drawn from her hip and the sample was rushed to a nearby lab, where technicians used a specialized cold centrifuge to extract stem cells. The sample had to be kept at a constant temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit or the cells would begin to deteriorate.

The results of the harvest were promising: Out of 108 milliliters of bone marrow, the lab workers got 14 milliliters of stem cells. It was a good yield.

After preparing the wound, Subrammaniyan injected the concentrated solution of stem cells back into Vamal’s leg two times over the next week and waited anxiously for evidence of improvement. Because the wound was so large, he also grafted a piece of skin from her thigh over the ulcer.

The results were nothing less than miraculous.

Within 60 days, the ulcer had visibly healed, and bright, white signatures of arteries streaked across her post-treatment angiograms. The stem cells had apparently re-formed significant lengths of her atrophied circulatory system.

“No one quite knows how it works,” said Subrammaniyan, “but somehow, once injected, the stem cells know how to transform into the right sort of cells.”

Still, an isolated success story does not necessarily signify a revolution in ulcer treatment.

“This was a single case with no controls,” wrote Geoffrey Gurtner, associate professor of surgery at Stanford University and an expert on diabetes care, in an e-mail. “We know that in any disease states, some patients get better even in the absence of care for reasons we do not entirely understand.”

A recent The New England Journal of Medicine article, he pointed out, deflated media hype surrounding studies in which doctors transplanted stem cells into damanged hearts. The results are promising, but mixed, the authors found, and more study is necessary before anyone can declare the treatment a cure.

Still, Gurtner commended the Chennai team “for the high-throughput manner in which they isolated and purified the bone marrow cells,” calling the method “a real contribution” to stem-cell research.

Diabetes sufferers could use the type of medical breakthrough hinted at by Vamal’s recovery. The number of diabetics is on the rise around the world, and amputation is often the only option left to doctors treating patients with critical limb ischemia, a condition that develops in people with severely decreased blood flow in their lower extremities. The problem is a particularly dramatic consequence of diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, patients with diabetes undergo 60 percent of non-trauma-induced amputations in the United States, totaling 82,000 severed limbs in 2002.

India is even worse off than some other places, Subrammaniyan said. He predicts that by 2015, 10 to 15 percent of the population will suffer from some form of diabetes, up from 4 percent today. That would mean more than 100 million diabetics in a country still racked with severe poverty and weak medical infrastructure.

At the moment, the best treatments for diabetics with critical limb ischemia are surgery to bypass atrophied arteries and certain drug regimens that are not always effective.

For Subrammaniyan, stem cells will be a necessary part of the future. And what’s more, stem-cell treatments could be quite cheap: Vamal’s procedure cost less than $2,000. That’s more than most Indians can afford, but over time the cost probably would come down.

More importantly, a significant advance in stem-cell therapy could mean the difference between patients walking away from treatment and spending their lives in wheelchairs.

“I am happy,” said Vamal as she left the hospital with her family. “I can walk again — and there is no pain.”

Published on November 1, 2006 in Wired News

Rocket’s Red Glare
| October 26, 2006 | 7:18 am

This story is appears in this month’s issue of WIRED magazine. Check it out on news stands all over the world.

“After liftoff there is no room for adjustment,” says the middle-aged Indian gentleman with the prodigious handlebar mustache. “A fraction of a second and everything is lost.” My companion, an engineer with the Indian Space Research Organisation, checks his watch compulsively as we wait for the agency’s latest rocket, bearing an INSAT-4C communications satellite, to rise from its gantry and streak across the cloudy sky over the Bay of Bengal.

Operating on a fraction of NASA’s budget, the ISRO has turned itself into the Energizer Bunny of space programs – it just keeps launching and launching and launching. Since 1975, the agency has lofted 43 satellites into orbit, 20 of them from Indian soil. An extraordinary string of successes – 12 consecutive launches without a failure – has attracted European and Asian investors looking to capitalize on the growing demand for satellite communication and reconnaissance. A few big deals could turn the ISRO into a moneymaker, boosting India’s prestige and helping deflect criticism that the space agency’s rupees would be better spent alleviating the misery of roughly 300 million Indians who live below the poverty line.

The launch site, situated on the island of Sriharikota off the east coast of India and surrounded by natural barriers of water and sand, could be the lair of a James Bond villain. Security is obsessively tight at the complex, which is about 50 miles from Chennai, the closest major city. For the mid-July launch, some 900 armed guards surrounded the site to secure the area for convoys of officials, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Over the course of two months, I applied formally to watch the launch but was rebuffed, so I decided to show up unannounced. No luck. With a broad smile, the dapper press officer informed me that foreign journalists were strictly prohibited. In case I had a problem with that, a guard holding an assault rifle stood nearby.

Denied access to the inner sanctum, I take an 8-mile detour to the nearest village, Ataganathippa, and claim a spot along the road with a clear view of the launchpad, amid an audience of ordinary people – farmers, fishermen, day laborers, and my rocket-engineer acquaintance, who has brought along his family. Jeans-clad engineering students from the local community college chat excitedly about how the new satellite could reduce the price of cable television. Suddenly a bright flash erupts in the distance. Huge plumes of smoke boil up from the ground, and a loud rumble rolls across the water. In a matter of seconds the rocket rises above the horizon and a group of young boys shouts, “Jai Hind! Jai Hind!” (Victory to India!) Climbing steadily, the rocket disappears behind a bank of clouds. The crowd is motionless, anticipating the engine’s fading rumble.

But it doesn’t fade. There’s a thunderlike crack. Then chunks of flaming debris begin a slow, tumbling descent, tracing red trails back to Earth.

“That’s not supposed to happen,” says the engineer, his voice tense with disbelief. Fifteen minutes later, a nearby car radio crackles: “The launch has failed.” Ground control issued a self-destruct order when the rocket veered off course and threatened to crash. “It’s not over,” declares my companion. “God willing, we’ll have another crack at the next launch.” The crowd, now silent, slowly drifts away. A hard wind blows, scouring the sky clean.

Scott Carney

The Business is in the Cards
| October 25, 2006 | 10:48 am

We are all proud of the things we make. When I put together my first website I sat and looked at it for hours congratulating myself on my skill with hyperlinks. Today my wife is proud of her business cards. Ten minutes after she came home she hijacked me and demanded that I immediately snap a dozen photos of her demonstrating how in the coming days she will pass along her contact information to the rich and powerful.

The business cards are the first official document of The Shakthi Center, a Chennai-based organization that seeks to promote women’s reproductive health and spread awareness of progressive sexuality along the highways and byways of this land. In the next few months the organization will begin to get off the ground with the help of her partner Priya Iyer. If anyone is interesting in volunteering just send me a message and Padma will be sure you get a business card.

The Curse of Toothless Men
| October 24, 2006 | 1:21 am

TeethFor three generations Hari Prasad, his sons, and grandson have been born without teeth. Their near-empty mouthes have never nibbled the flesh of a guava nor have they masticated a on a piece of bread.

“Our forefathers never suffered as much as we are suffering now because of this deformity. We have become the laughing stock of the entire village and no one is willing to accept out daughters in marriage because they fear the curse will begin to work on them,” said Prasad who lives in a village in Uttar Pradesh, India.

The Deccan Chronicle reports “The family has preformed several pujas and consulted witch doctors, but nothing seems to have worked and Hari Prasad and his sons now blame the government for their deformity.”

Medical experts who have been called in to consult the family say that it is a rare disorder probably caused by a lack of calcium. Though to me, it sounds like they have met with the business end of natural selection.

via Deccan Chronicle (print edition)

Happy Diwali, Do You Need a Boob Job?
| October 21, 2006 | 12:40 am

Diwali, the Indian holiday most analogous to Christmas, is famous for its firecrackers and elaborate temple ceremonies. But for the country’s battalions of nip and tuck plastic surgeons the festival also means a boon for business. Reuters reports that in the run up to the holiday there is between a 20 and 40 percent rise in tummy tucks, nose jobs and breast enhancements.

The most popular surgery among Indians are nose jobs with some clients asking for noses like famous Bollywood actors.

Cosmetic surgeons say Bollywood heartthrob, Shah Rukh Khan’s nose is popular amongst male clients, while many women ask for a nose like actress and former Miss World beauty Aishwarya Rai.

Surgeons say there is generally a rise of about five to 10 percent in the number of procedures ahead of the festive season, but this year has been unprecedented.

via The Washington Post

The Wine Underground
| October 20, 2006 | 5:43 am

There are wine shops on just about every street corner in Chennai, and yet it is still nearly impossible to buy wine. The word “wine” in India is a stand in any liquor except actual wine distilled from actual grapes. There are a couple vineyards in India, but they still haven’t perfected the process and most of it tastes like bitter mouthwash. The only way to get imported wine is through the embassy commissaries (that I don’t have access to) or through the black market–which I desperately am trying to contact. I had my first bit of success last night.

The story begins three weeks ago when I was browsing the isles of an upscale food emporium in Kilpauk. As I perused jars of olives and an assortment of pastas, I saw a row of wine bottles tucked away on a top shelf. I pulled one down and examined the label. I frowned when I discovered that it was non-alcoholic. Who would want boozeless wine, anyway?

“It’s illegal for me to sell real wine,” said the bored looking clerk when he saw me fingering his stash. Then he made sure the store was empty and beckoning me to the counter. “But I might know of a single bottle on the other side of town that I could arrange for you,” he said conspiratorially.

“Really?” I asked, “What is it?”

“It’s wine. If you want it it’s 750 a bottle.” 750 rupees comes out to about $17, so it isn’t an entirely unreasonable price for good wine. The only problem was that I didn’t know anything about the brand, and the clerk certainly wasn’t a sommelier.

He told me he would order the bottle and save it for me until the next time I came back. I nodded and promptly forgot about the exchange.

Three weeks later I made my next grocery run.

When I walked in the door there was a flurry of excitement as the staff was busily cleaning the store for Diwali. The clerk spotted me and jumped to his feet. “It’s you! We finally got that shipment of Schweppes tonic water you were looking for,” He shouted while winking at me.

I had forgotten about my previous order and looked at him blankly. “Thanks,” I said non-comprehendingly as I went to the back of the store in search of their fantastic new spritzer. I didn’t find any and instead picked up a jar of sun-dried tomatoes.

At the counter the clerk smiled at me and asked if I wanted to see his new seltzer. When I nodded he riffled through a pile of papers under the counter and emerged with a small wine-bottle shaped parcel wrapped in a plastic bag.

“Here it is,” he said proudly. And I opened the package and found a stately bottle of Albert Bichot table wine. I’d never heard of it, but figured it was my only chance for wine. I plunked down my VISA card and it appeared on my bill as a baby carriage.

So now I have a bottle of French wine sitting on my desk. The only problem now is that I don’t have a corkscrew. I wonder where I can find one in Chennai. The question remains whether or not I can go back to the same shop and pull off a similar feat.

I have to say I sort of enjoyed the process. It felt like I was the last member of the French resistance during the second world war with a single source for black market goods.

God’s Own Pin Cushion Heals All
| October 20, 2006 | 1:06 am

Pinimages_1 A young man was admitted to a hospital in Lucknow, India with hundreds of pins and sewing needles pierced into his body. Anil Kumar Jha’s lungs had been pierced by eight different needles and had begun to fill with pus. Doctors at George’s Medical University removed them and reported being shocked that a man could survive with so many foreign bodies in his organs. Jha began inserting the needles into his body as a faith based treatment ten years ago after doctors told him that his daughter would never be able to walk.

“I began praying for my daughter’s recovery, and one day a sadhu [saint] appeared in my dreams and asked me to pierce needles into my body and my daughter would recover. Since I had lost all hope, I began piercing needles into my skin and suddenly my daughter’s condition began improving.”

It has been ten years since he has embarked on his human to pincushion transformation. He inserts 2 to 3 needles into hands, feet, abdomen and chest every day. He says he prefers sewing needles as they hurt less than thicker objects.

[via Deccan Chronicle, print version]

The Writing on the Wall
| October 18, 2006 | 11:29 pm

Over the weekend I went down to Parrys with three friends on an unoffical photo-safari. I only took about a hundred photos, but I think this one is my favorite.But I like the follow up, too.

Stem Cells Treat Indian Heart Attack Patients
| October 18, 2006 | 1:24 am

The prognosis is good for two patients in Gujarat, India who are among the first to receive stem cell therapy after suffering heart attacks. Thirty-five-year-old Lakshmanbhai Bharwad and Ratanbhai Prajapati (58) underwent angioplasty after reporting to the Krishna Heart and Super Specialty Institute in Ahmedabad, but their hearts were still only pumping 30 percent of what healthy hearts do.

Doctors at the institute then harvested stem cells from the patients bone marrow and injected them back into the damaged heart tissue with a drug solution. Within two months their hearts were pumping back up to 55 percent and they felt well enough to go back to work.

“Stem cells can grow into any organ. So the therapy helps to rebuild damaged cells. This means that the heart can rejuvenate itself, something that is otherwise not possible,” said Dr Shalin Thakore who preformed the operation.

The treatment costs about $2000.