TIME medicine

These Mummified Cadavers Helped Teach Medical Students in the 1800s

The Burns Collection consists of human cadavers from the early 1800s that were anatomically dissected and preserved to teach anatomy and surgery to medical students. For the first time this portion of the collection is on display to the public as a part of traveling exhibit "Mummies of the World: The Exhibition."

TIME medicine

Drug May Reverse Hair Loss in Alopecia Patients

This image shows the effect of an FDA-approved drug that restored hair growth in a research subject with alopecia areata. Left to right: at baseline, at 3 months, and at 4 months of treatment. Julian Mackay-Wiggan

Early results from clinical trial prove successful in restoring hair loss

A drug normally used to treat bone marrow disorders may help patients suffering from alopecia, according to a new study.

Alopecia areata is a kind of autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system T-cells to attack hair follicles, causing them to fall out and become dormant. For some sufferers, this means the loss of small patches of hair, such as “spot baldness”, but a small percentage suffer complete hair loss. No current treatments for alopecia patients completely restore hair loss.

For a long time, medical researchers were uncertain what was causing the immune system cells to attack hair follicles, until Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) researchers were able to determine a “danger signal” in the follicles of alopecia patients that was signaling the T-cells’ attack.

Now, they’re moving on to search for a cure. In the paper, published in Nature Medicine, the researchers report their early results in both mice and human trials. The researchers tested two FDA-approved JAK inhibitors (or involved in immune response), ruxolitinib and tofacitinib. In mice with severe hair loss they found that both of the drugs completely restored the hair in the animals. In three human patients in the researchers’ clinical trial of ruxolitinib, hair loss was restored within four to five months. Ruxolitinib was already approved by the FDA as a treatment for myelofibrosis.

One of the lead doctors on the clinical trial is Angela M. Christiano, a professor in the Departments of Dermatology and of Genetics and Development at CUMC, who is herself an alopecia sufferer. “Patients with alopecia areata are suffering profoundly, and these findings mark a significant step forward for them,” she said in a statement. “The team is fully committed to advancing new therapies for patients with a vast unmet need.”

The findings are early, but given the limited amount of research and resources dedicated to the study of alopecia, the findings will be a great relief to sufferers—especially as the drug in question has already been given the thumbs up by the FDA.

TIME medicine

Growth Hormone Linked to Higher Risk of Stroke

Children treated with growth hormone are more likely to experience strokes decades later

Since the Food and Drug Administration approved a synthetic form of growth hormone (GH) in 2003 to treat short stature in kids, it’s become a popular medication not just among parents who want their children to grow but also in locker rooms of professional athletes who believe the collagen-building features of the drug can both protect and improve recovery from injury.

Now the latest study shows that children treated with GH are at risk of bleeding in the brain nearly 20 years later. French researchers report Wednesday in the journal Neurology that among a group of children treated for short stature or low levels of growth hormone had between a 1.5 to 5.3 times higher risk of having a stroke during the follow-up period than the general population.

“Subjects on or previously treated with growth hormones should not panic on reading these results,” the authors said in a written statement. “The results of this study highlight the importance of studies of this kind for the evaluation of the long-term effects of treatment.”

While the researchers can’t explain why the hormone treatments, which are usually given in daily injections over four to five years, led to the strokes, earlier studies on animals with a metabolic disorder in which they produced excessive amounts of the hormone showed that they tend to have more bleeding events. The scientists admit, however, that it’s also possible that short stature itself may have some connection to stroke risk since other disorders in which people don’t grow properly are also linked to abnormal blood flow to the brain.

The study, which involved nearly 7,000 participants, provides good reason for people taking growth hormone to discuss the potential risk of stroke with their doctors, say the authors. Whether the findings apply to others who take growth hormone – athletes who use it for performance enhancement, or those affected by other diseases such as kidney disorders – isn’t clear yet.

TIME Research

A Low Daily Dose of Aspirin Can Cut Deaths From 3 Kinds of Cancer

But you need to take it for at least five years, and probably 10, for the benefits to be seen

Researchers have found that taking aspirin over a period of several years in late middle age can reduce deaths from bowel, esophageal and stomach cancer by 40%, 35% and 50%, respectively, Reuters reports.

The claim is based on a sweeping review of all available research into the harms and benefits of aspirin.

However, researchers stress that the benefits are only apparent if the drug is taken for up to 10 years between the ages of 50 and 65.

The study’s lead author, Professor Jack Cuzick, head of the center for cancer prevention at Queen Mary University of London, said that benefits were only seen after at least five years of low daily doses (about 75 to 100 mg).

Researchers also warned that 60-year-olds who take the drug for 10 years could slightly increase their chances of stomach bleeding, which could prove fatal for a small number of people. Aspirin can also increase the chances of a hemorrhagic stroke, which is caused by the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain.

Cuzick concluded that taking the drug did not relieve users of the obligation to live healthily. Although a daily dose of aspirin can help reduce the risk of some cancers, the drug “should not be seen as a reason for not improving your lifestyle,” Cuzick told the Guardian.

TIME remembrance

Doctor Who Contributed To Early Research on Smoking Has Died

LUTHER TERRY
U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry, at rostrum, answers questions on a landmark report on the dangers of smoking during a Jan. 11, 1964 news conference in Washington. Members of his advisory committee sit behind him, with Dr. Emmanuel Farber sixth from left, with arms folded ASSOCIATED PRESS—ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dr. Emmanuel Farber's research contributed to a paradigm shift in American attitudes to tobacco

Emmanuel Farber, the Canadian-American doctor whose medical research contributed to groundbreaking discoveries in the study of cancer-causing chemicals, died on Sunday. He was 95.

“He represents a guiding example of a life devoted to serving his fellow man and scientific colleagues with unmatched qualities of integrity, humbleness, deep reasoning, and an exquisite no-nonsense … approach to science,” the Society of Toxicologic Pathology wrote in 1985, when inducting him as an honorary member.

Farber was born in 1918 in Toronto, where he would first study medicine. After graduating from the University of Toronto with an M.D. in 1942 and serving in the Royal Canadian Medical Corps during World War II, he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.

His career was long and his legacy is vast, but perhaps his most prevailing accomplishment came at the nexus of medicine and public policy, when, in the early 1960s, he sat on the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health, which produced some of the earliest conclusive evidence that cigarettes could cause cancer. The committee’s report, according to Harvard Medical School, caused a paradigm shift in American culture, which until then largely dismissed concerns surrounding smoking’s health risks.

Over the course of his career, Farber held positions on the faculties of Tulane University, the University of Pittsburgh, and his alma mater in Toronto; he also served as president of both the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society of Experimental Pathology. He received numerous awards for his scientific research.

He spent the last years of his life in Columbia, S.C., where he would meet his second wife, Henrietta Keller Farber. She died in 2011. He is also preceded in death by his first wife, Ruth Farber, and two siblings, Lionel Farber and Sophie Goldblatt. He leaves behind a daughter, a son-in-law, and one grandson.

TIME medicine

World’s First Malaria Vaccine Could Be a Year Away

A Thai public-health official places a thermometer into a child's mouth at a malaria clinic in Sai Yoke district, Kanchanaburi province, Thailand, on Oct. 26, 2012 Sukree Sukplang—Reuters

Researchers published promising findings, while a pharmaceutical company applied for the first-ever regulatory approval of malaria vaccine

The world’s first malaria vaccine may just be a year away, after a thorough trial of a new drug showed promising results.

PLOS Medicine on Tuesday published a study, in which researchers found that for every 1,000 children who received the vaccine, 800 cases of illness could be prevented. The children also retained protection 18 months after being injected.

Now, pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has applied the drug for regulatory approval — the first time a malaria vaccine has reached this stage.

“This is a milestone,” Sanjeev Krishna, professor of molecular parasitology and medicine at St. George’s, University of London, who reviewed the paper for the journal, told the BBC. “The landscape of malaria-vaccine development is littered with carcasses, with vaccines dying left, right and center. We need to keep a watchful eye for adverse events, but everything appears on track for the vaccine to be approved as early as next year.”

Around 800,000 people die from malaria every year, most of them children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa. Several African countries were involved in the trial of the new vaccine, which is developed by GSK in cooperation with the nonprofit Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative, for which they have received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

TIME Research

The Link Between 9/11 and Cancer Still Isn’t Entirely Clear

National 9/11 Memorial Museum
People visit the National 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City on May 25, 2014. Cem Ozdel—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A number of complicating factors and delayed data make conclusions difficult to draw

The New York Post reported Sunday that the number of cancer cases among 9/11 first respondents had more than doubled in the past year, from 1,140 to over 2,500. However, to scientists who specialize in analyzing such data, the number of cases cannot ever tell the full story.

Dr. Roberto Lucchini is an epidemiologist and director of the World Trade Center Health Program Data Center at Mount Sinai Hospital, which treats and researches the police officers, construction workers, sanitation workers and iron workers who were among the first respondents on 9/11. To Lucchini, the number of observed cancer cases among these patients cannot be significant until compared to the number of expected cancer cases.

“I don’t think there’s a double of cases one year to the other,” Lucchini told TIME. “When you compare one year to the other, you have to be careful and try to understand what you are comparing. If you don’t compare correctly, you can come up with information that is not exactly true.”

“I don’t think they compared like-with-like which is what you normally do in epidemiology,” adds Dr. Billy Holden, a deputy director of the data center. “I don’t know how they came to the conclusion that there was a doubling.”

Mount Sinai has a record of 1,646 confirmed cancers from 2002 to present-day among the over 30,000 first respondents that they oversee. The hospital’s cases are reviewed and certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Meanwhile, the public registry—which also collects data on these cases—has confirmed 1,172 cancers among Mount Sinai patients, but the registry’s number only represents data through the year 2010, which may account for the difference.

“That’s the latest that we have in reliable data that we can use,” Holden says. “The delay is coming from the registries themselves. It takes them a long time to get the data.”

According to a press release from Mount Sinai, “analysis of available data through 2010 shows that there is an approximately 20% increase in cancer incidence in 9/11 rescue and recovery workers compared to the general population, with a particular increase in thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, myeloma, and leukemia.”

This elevated incidence rate could result from the high exposure to carcinogens that many first respondents endured. However, even this number is subject to question due to a number of complicating factors, including over-diagnosis of certain cancers—such as thyroid and prostate—and questionably reliable data for the general population.

“Over-diagnosis means you’re just screening for cancers, and you pick up cancers that in the normal course of things would never cause symptoms and would never cause death,” Holden says. “The screening for thyroid and prostate cancer is picking up these really non-malignant cancers that don’t do anything.”

Another complicating factor is the continued aging of the first respondents. Epidemiologists would expect the number of observed cancer cases among this population to increase over the coming years regardless because everyone’s risk of cancer rises with time. “Numbers are interesting, but they’re not revealing because we have to look at the rates,” Holden says. “Looking at numbers themselves doesn’t mean anything. You have to put them in a certain context.”

The search for a similar context alone can result in frustration for researchers. As so many residents of New York need not be reminded, 9/11 is an event that stands alone in our history.

“There’s nothing like this in the whole history of the world,” Lucchini says. “We can think about Chernobyl or Fukushima, but this is a totally different situation here… So for us to compare this to other studies and other experiences is quite difficult.”

Lucchini adds, “We are doing as much as we can.”

When it comes to the men and women who first responded on that fateful day, the question remains of how much can ever be enough.

TIME medicine

Tylenol and Panadol Prove No Better Than Placebo at Helping Back Pain

Paracetamol Reportedly Not Effective Drug For Back Pain
Paracetamol tablets sit on a table on July 24, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. In a new study published in the prestigious medical journal, 'The Lancet' the most common pain reliever for back pain, paracetamol, does not work any better than a placebo. Scott Barbour—Getty Images

Acetaminophen isn't curing your aches after all

Two-thirds of adults experience back pain sometime during their lives, and most take acetaminophen, found in brands like Tylenol and Panadol, for relief. But new research has found that those medicines are no more helpful than swallowing a sugar pill.

A study published this week in a medical journal called The Lancet split 1,643 people with acute low-back pain into three groups, each given two boxes. One group received two boxes of 500-miligram acetaminophen tablets, with instructions to use the second box “as needed'; the second group got a box of acetaminophen and an as-needed box of placebos; and the third group received two boxes of placebos. Researchers told the participants to take six tablets per day from the regular box and up to two from the as-needed box.

Over the course of three months, the researchers found no difference among the three groups. Subjects showed no variation in terms of pain, recovery time, function, disability, symptom change, sleep or quality of life. About 75% of the participants were happy with their results, whether or not they had received the placebos.

TIME Health Care

Johns Hopkins to Pay $190 Million to Victims of Secretly Recorded Exams

A sign stands in front of part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex on July 8, 2014, in Baltimore.
A sign stands in front of part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex on July 8, 2014, in Baltimore. Patrick Semansky—AP

A male gynecologist secretly filmed and took pictures during exams with female patients

Johns Hopkins Hospital announced on Monday that it reached a $190 million settlement with patients whose exams were secretly recorded by a gynecologist.

The class-action lawsuit involved more than 8,000 former patients of Dr. Nikita Levy, the Associated Press reports, and the deal marks one of the largest involving sexual misconduct by a doctor. Most of the discovered videos and photographs—about 1,200 videos and 140 photos—did not include the women’s faces and were taken with a pen-like camera he wore around his neck.

The case never led to criminal charges but essentially argued that Johns Hopkins should have been aware of what the doctor was doing. Levy committed suicide 10 days after he was fired in February 2013, which occurred after an employee came forward with suspicions.

Johns Hopkins released a statement in October on the discovery of Levy’s “misconduct and breach of trust,” writing: “We have redoubled our efforts to ensure that all of us in the Johns Hopkins community understand our responsibility, and we want to encourage you to speak up if you have any concerns about patient care or privacy.”

In a statement sent to reporters, Jonathan Schochor, the lawsuit’s lead attorney, said: “When learning of Dr. Levy’s behavior, our clients were extremely distraught. They felt a great breach of faith and trust. They felt betrayed. Now, with this proposed settlement, we can begin the process of healing our community.”

The settlement still needs final approval by a judge, the AP reports.

“We assure you that one individual does not define Johns Hopkins,” the hospital system said on Monday, acknowledging the settlement. “Johns Hopkins is defined by the tens of thousands of employees who come to work determined to provide world-class care for our patients and their families.”

TIME Military

Navy Nurse Refuses Gitmo Force Feed Order

Guantanamo Hunger Strike
In this photo Nov. 20, 2013 file photo reviewed by the U.S. military, a U.S. Navy nurse stands next to a chair with restraints, used for force-feeding, and a tray displaying nutritional shakes, a tube for feeding through the nose, and lubricants, including a jar of olive oil, during a tour of the detainee hospital at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Charles Dharapak—AP

A detainee described the act as a conscientious objection

A Navy medical officer at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba has refused an order to continue force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners in what one detainee lawyer described as an act of conscientious objection.

“There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry-out the enteral feeding of a detainee. The matter is in the hands of the individual’s leadership,” a Pentagon spokesperson said in an email. “The service member has been temporarily assigned to alternate duties with no impact to medical support operations.”

It is the first known instance of a U.S. service member rebelling against the Pentagon’s force-feeding policy. An unknown number of the 149 detainees at Guantánamo’s Camp Delta have been on hunger strike for the past year and a half to protest their indefinite detention.

News of the refusal comes to the public by way of an attorney for one of the detainees, who, according to The Miami Herald, says his client described how some time before the Fourth of July a Navy medical nurse suddenly shifted course and refused to continue force-feeding prisoners. The nurse, he said, was abruptly removed from duty at the detention center. The attorney said his client described the nurse’s action as a conscientious objection.

The Herald reports that the prisoner who provided news of the incident described the nurse as a roughly 40-year-old Latino man most likely with the rank of lieutenant in the Navy.

Last year, civilian doctors writing for the New England Journal of Medicine declared that medical professionals taking part in force-feeding was unethical and called the Guantánamo medical staff to refuse to participate.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser