Healthcare, medicine & pharmaceuticals

Global warming warning

Could the record number of people suffering from hay fever be linked to global warming? 13 million people in the UK now suffer from hay fever and 2006 has already seen record pollen counts across many parts of northern Europe. Part of the problem is that the hay fever season is starting earlier and running for longer but the severity is also increasing. A count of 80 pcm is usually considered high but 1000 pcm has already been recorded in 2006. The severity may be linked to the fact that high temperatures put plants under stress, which in turn causes them to produce more protein on pollen grains, and it is this protein that is the allergen. CO2 emissions related to the burning of fossil fuels could also be linked to the increase in cases of asthma according to some sources. In the US, cases of childhood asthma increased by 160% during 1980-1994.
Ref: The Independent (UK), 13 May 2006, 'Global warming to blame as hay fever reaches record high', M. McCarthy. See also The Lancet (UK), 7 May 2004, 'Global warming increases asthma'.
Search words: global warming, hay fever, asthma

Drugstores with a difference

Between 1984-1994 the number of independent pharmacies declined by 28% in the US largely due to the power and price-cutting abilities of Wal-Mart and giant drugstore chains like Walgreens (revenues US$ 42 billion). So how can small chains like Pharmaca (10 stores) and Elephant (3 stores) flourish? The answer is by appealing to a small niche that the big guys either haven't seen or don't care about. Pharmaca and Elephant both target people that are interested in non-traditional medicine. In Pharmaca's case this means holding seminars on new age treatments and placing kiosks in each store where customers can access a database of alternative medicines. In the case of Elephant, it means holding yoga classes in-store and adding book sections. The parallel here is Wholefoods supermarket in the US, which also targets affluent shoppers with an interest in natural living. Pharmaca expects to build another three stores during 2006 and predicts that revenues will hit US$ 50 million.
Ref: Business 2.0 (US), May 2006, 'The new age drugstore', S. Schubert.
Links: Wholefoods, the longtail effect
Search words: retail, pharmacies, drugstores, natural, alternative

Animal rights and wrongs

In 2050 will we look back on 2006 with a mixture of amazement and disbelief that we tested products on animals? Putting aside the ethical arguments on both sides, this scenario is quite possible due to advances in computer modelling. Put simply, there may be no need to test new drugs (or anything else) on animals (or people) in the future because software models of human organs and physiological processes will do it instead.The reality is that there will probably always be a need for some level of human or animal trials but it's looking increasingly certain that there will be a dramatic reduction in the 50-100 million animals used in scientific research every year.
Ref: New Scientist (UK), 13 May 2006, 'Can computer models replace animal testing?', C. Biever.
Search words; ethics, animals, testing

Animal engineering

Given the public reaction to genetically modified foods (GMO) it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Scientists have for some time been modifying the DNA programming of animals - the most famous case being Dolly, the cloned sheep.One of the more recent examples of animal engineering is a goat that has been 'modified' to produce milk that's rich in a protein usually found in human blood. Some people don't produce enough of the anti-clotting protein, which can put their lives at risk during surgery. Another use for this specific form of DNA programming is speeding up recovery times for human burns victims. Future developments could include modifying chickens to lay eggs from which drugs can be harvested. In other words, using animals as drug factories is on the horizon.
Ref: Business Week (US), 16 January 2006, 'Crossing the gene barrier', A. Weintraub.
Search words: animals, GMO, genetic engineering

Gender specific medicine

Until 1990 two-thirds of all research on medical conditions that affect both men and women was done purely on men. Men and women are clearly different when it comes to things like memory, verbal abilities, spatial awareness and even facial recognition so why wouldn't they be different when it comes to medicine too? This fact has been recognised on a superficial level with the development of women's clinics and 'women's medicine' but that's about it. Personalised medicine is on the horizon thanks to the Human Genome Project but a better start might be to start developing drugs and treatments that recognise the physiological differences between the sexes. For example, men and women experience heart attacks in different ways. Men tend to have crushing chest pains while women tend to experience upper abdominal pain. In dentistry men often have a poor response to a certain group of painkillers. Men and women also process drugs differently, meaning that doses sometimes have to be increased to have the same effect. What this means, obviously, is that there is an enormous opportunity for pharmaceuticals companies to develop gender-specific treatments and drugs. Female headache pills anyone?
Ref: The Times (UK), 18 February 2006, 'The gender mender', V. Parry. See also 'The Female Heart' by Marianne Legato.
Search words: men, women, medicine, drugs, health. gender, difference