Thursday, February 27, 2014

University of Miami researchers explore potential of stem cell therapy to repair heart damage

In 2009, Steven Bustamante, 58, was in bad shape.

A major heart attack, along with nearly every complication in the book, had led to heart failure. He called his brother from the hospital to say his goodbyes, fearing he would fall asleep and never wake up.

But when he did wake up, an unfamiliar doctor from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine was sitting in his room, offering him the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial where his heart would be injected with stem cells extracted from his bone marrow.

The results were transformative.

“I went from being a person who probably needed a heart transplant to someone whose heart is in a normal range,” Bustamante said. “I don’t feel like a sick person anymore, at all.”

Several studies at the UM Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute (ISCI) have shown that stem cells derived from adult bone marrow, which carry the potential to grow into various kinds of cells based on their environment, can help repair damaged heart tissue.

As researchers continue to explore the potential of stem cell therapy in current and upcoming studies, they are taking what some see as early but steady strides toward changing the future of cardiac care — perhaps to one in which doctors help patients regenerate and rejuvenate their own hearts.

“We’ve taken some very important steps,” said Dr. Joshua Hare, director of the ISCI, “and we really envision the possibility that this may be an applicable therapy that could help a lot of people. But there are a lot of questions.”

To answer those questions, researchers are simultaneously expanding trial sizes, branching into various cardiac diseases and trying to hone in on ideal treatment, dosage and delivery.

One of the pilot trials, published in November 2012, aimed to determine if stem cells from a donor are as safe and effective as a patient’s own stem cells. The results from 30 people showed that both types are safe — good news because donor cells can be prepared in advance.

Another study with 65 patients, published at the end of 2013, was the first to compare stem cells to whole bone marrow as well as a placebo. Bustamante was one of the participants, all of whom had weakened, damaged hearts.

Like the first study, stem cells injected directly into the heart via catheter reduced scar tissue by an average of one third, helped ‘remodel’ the heart to its healthy, football shape and improved quality of life. The cells were more effective than the bone marrow or the placebo, a vital finding for moving the therapy forward.

Dr. Alan Heldman, interventional cardiologist and member of the ISCI, delivered the actual injections in a procedure that lasts about an hour.

“I’m not ready to say that all doctors should start doing this, we’re not there yet,” Heldman said. “I try to maintain a skeptical neutrality, but I have to say I have seen some results that absolutely stunned me with the magnitude of improvement. I’m convinced we are on to something.”

Heldman and Hare echoed that one of the next big steps is finding a treatment that works even better, reducing more scar tissue faster.

Preclinical research seems to show that a combination of bone marrow stem cells and cardiac stem cells taken directly from the heart makes for a more potent treatment, even doubling the effect. This could have implications for other organs that harbor their own stem cells, like the kidney.

“It’s like a cocktail,” Hare said. “A little of this, a little of that, and you get a mixture of cells that works much better than either alone.”

The ISCI pitched the findings to the National Institute of Health, and Hare said he expects the cell mixture to head to human trials there within the next year.

“We’re fantasizing about the day when we will be able to completely eliminate the scar tissue,” Hare said. “That would be like doing a heart transplant through a catheter. It would be complete recovery.”

Meanwhile, another trial has found that stem cells are beneficial when given during heart surgery, and a current study is looking at whether stem cell injections are effective for heart disease that doesn’t cause a specific scar site. They are even looking at whether the space environment of microgravity has an effect on stem cells — an endeavor that might someday land UM researchers on the International Space Station.

Overall, these early trials, in which stem cells consistently show positive outcomes, are setting the stage for researchers who foresee a new stage of regenerative medicine.

“This may be one of the biggest, just because there is so much heart failure out there,” Heldman said. “There are so many patients, and it’s not just that they die from it, but that when they have it, they feel awful.”

As for Bustamante, today he is able to speculate about what his own future might look like — maybe retiring from his job as a public defender and moving to the West Coast.

“You go through life and you don’t think about it . . . then all of a sudden something happens and you realize you are mortal,” he said. “Thanks to what has happened, I can think about the future and doing other things and living my life.”

Amazing Times we Live In!

Monarchs vs Monsanto

The Natural Resources Defense Council is petitioning the EPA to review its glyphosate rules to save the butterflies.

In 1996, orange-and-black-winged monarch butterflies dotted 45 acres of forest in Mexico—the equivalent of 34 football fields. That year saw the largest-ever migration of the insects between the woods of the Sierra Madre  and stretches of the United States and Canada. The same year, Monsanto released its first Roundup Ready crop, soybeans, which drastically altered the way farmers could apply herbicides across the Midwest—an important breeding ground for the butterflies.

The population in Mexico covered just 1.65 acres this winter, and that precipitous drop over the past 18 years has environmentalists increasingly worried about corn and soy that’s been genetically modified to withstand glyphosate, the herbicide Monsanto markets as Roundup, and the fate of a plant called milkweed. The weed is the only place where monarchs lay their eggs, and the near eradication of milkweed from agricultural land at the hands of glyphosate-spraying farmers is widely believed to be the reason for the plummeting butterfly numbers.


Monsanto's Roundup may be linked to fatal kidney disease, new study suggests

A heretofore inexplicable fatal, chronic kidney disease that has affected poor farming regions around the globe may be linked to the use of biochemical giant Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide in areas with hard water, a new study has found.

The new study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Researchers suggest that Roundup, or glyphosate, becomes highly toxic to the kidney once mixed with “hard” water or metals like arsenic and cadmium that often exist naturally in the soil or are added via fertilizer. Hard water contains metals like calcium, magnesium, strontium, and iron, among others. On its own, glyphosate is toxic, but not detrimental enough to eradicate kidney tissue.

The glyphosate molecule was patented as a herbicide by Monsanto in the early 1970s. The company soon brought glyphosate to market under the name “Roundup,” which is now the most commonly used herbicide in the world.

The hypothesis helps explain a global rash of the mysterious, fatal Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown etiology (CKDu) that has been found in rice paddy regions of northern Sri Lanka, for example, or in El Salvador, where CKDu is the second leading cause of death among males.

Furthermore, the study’s findings explain many observations associated with the disease, including the linkage between the consumption of hard water and CKDu, as 96 percent of patients have been found to have consumed “hard or very hard water for at least five years, from wells that receive their supply from shallow regolith aquifers.”

The CKDu was discovered in rice paddy farms in northern Sri Lanka around 20 years ago. The condition has spread quickly since then and now affects 15 percent of working age people in the region, or a total of 400,000 patients, the study says. At least 20,000 have died from CKDu there.

In 2009, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health introduced criteria for CKDu. Basically, the Ministry found that CKDu did not share common risk factors as chronic kidney disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and glomerular nephritis, or inflammation of the kidney.

Based on geographical and socioeconomical factors associated with CKDu, it was assumed that environmental and occupational variables would offer clues to the disease’s origins – or in this case, it came from chemicals.

The new study noted that even the World Health Organization had found that CKDu is caused by exposure to arsenic, cadmium, and pesticides, in addition to hard water consumption, low water intake, and exposure to high temperatures. Yet why that certain area of Sri Lanka and why the disease didn’t show prior to the mid-1990s was left unanswered.

Researchers point out that political changes in Sri Lanka in the late 1970s led to the introduction of agrochemicals, especially in rice farming. They believe that 12 to 15 years of exposure to “low concentration kidney-damaging compounds” along with their accumulation in the body led to the appearance of CKDu in the mid-90s.

The incriminating agent, or Compound “X,” must have certain characteristics, researchers deduced. The compound, they hypothesized, must be: made of chemicals newly introduced in the last 20 to 30 years; capable of forming stable complexes with hard water; capable of retaining nephrotoxic metals and delivering them to the kidney; capable of multiple routes of exposure, such as ingestion, through skin or respiratory absorption, among other criteria.

These factors pointed to glyphosate, used in abundance in Sri Lanka. In the study, researchers noted that earlier studies had shown that typical glyphosate half-life of around 47 days in soil can increase up to 22 years after forming hard to biodegrade “strong complexes with metal ions.”

Scientists have derived three ways of exposure to glyphosate-metal complexes (GMCs): consumption of contaminated hard water, food, or the complex could be formed directly within circulation with glyphosate coming from dermal/respiratory route and metals from water and foods.

Rice farmers, for example, are at high risk of exposure to GMCs through skin absorption, inhalation, or tainted drinking water. GMCs seem to evade the normal liver’s detoxification process, thus damaging kidneys, the study found.

The study also suggests that glyphosate could be linked to similar epidemics of kidney disease of unknown origin in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and India.

Recent investigations by the Center for Public Integrity found that, in the last five years, CKDu is responsible for more deaths in El Salvador and Nicaragua than diabetes, AIDS, and leukemia combined.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Farmers fear Monsanto is collecting too much crop data

Big data has come to the farm. The world's two largest seed sellers, Monsanto and DuPont, are building "prescriptive planting" technology that will take in detailed data from farmers and spit out precise guidelines for planting. The upside is that farmers can use the algorithmic advice to easily identify things like the best soil for the best seeds, the amount of fertilizer needed, and optimal density for planting.

Some farmers and agricultural organizations are worried about the amount of control the industry is ceding to megacorporations, however. Farmers today rely heavily on algorithms and iPads to automate their planting, and that data is easily harvested. Deere even signed a contract to beam data directly from its tractors to DuPont and Dow Chemical, reports The Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, the new technology could price struggling small farmers out of business.


There are also fears that the data services will be used to convince farmers to plant more and therefore buy more seeds. Farmers are also concerned that the data could be used on Wall Street to inform price projections, cutting into their profit on futures contracts. "I'm afraid, as farmers, we are not going to be the ones reaping the benefit," one farmer told WSJ.

'Toxic War' - The Story of Agent Orange

U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was long and costly in many ways.  The conflict itself raged for more than two decades, but the consequences of military actions taken in Vietnam continue to this day.  One of the darkest legacies is the effect of a widely used defoliant meant to quickly clear dense forests and flush out enemy forces.  Known as Agent Orange, the chemical induced adverse health issues for both U.S. troops and Vietnamese on both sides of the war.

Peter Sills, an attorney who helped represent the Vietnam Veterans of America in a class action lawsuit regarding the use of Agent Orange, has written about it in a new book titled Toxic War. Speaking with VOA’s Jim Stevenson, Sills told of the many ways Agent Orange had a direct effect on people, and how it even evolved into a weapon.
SILLS:  The thing that surprised me the most, when the (U.S.) government found out people were scared of it (Agent Orange), they began spraying the Vietnamese people deliberately. Whether they knew they were poisoning them or not is a question I raise in my book. And there is evidence on both sides of that.
STEVENSON:  So what you are asserting is at the very least unintentional chemical warfare.
SILLS:  Yes, a chemical war. The U.S. government used chemicals that were not manufactured as weapons but they were used as weapons. That includes herbicides, riot control gasses. Napalm which is supposedly used to defoliate was modified to stick to human flesh. As we started to lose the war and become more desperate, we changed the tools we used to help in the war, we started to use them against people.
STEVENSON:  How were American veterans at that time being exposed in harmful ways?
SILLS:  When you start spraying towns and villages, there are American soldiers there too. That is part of it. The food that people ate became poisoned, and the water that people drank. There is another surprising thing: herbicides came in 50-gallon barrels. When they were emptied, they were not really empty. There were two or three gallons of herbicide left in the barrels. Soldiers used them for showers, for bar-b-ques (grills for cooking). Vietnamese used them to hold gasoline and wound up spraying dioxin all over Vietnam. The cities became defoliated even though they were never sprayed (from U.S. planes). They were sprayed by Vietnamese automobiles and motorcycles. No one could figure it out for a while. So people were exposed in surprising and unexpected ways.
STEVENSON:  How many U.S. veterans are we talking about looking for some sort of compensation because of exposure to Agent Orange?
SILLS:  Hundreds of thousands, possibly over a million. That is muddy unfortunately because there are so many people who are sick for reasons other than herbicide exposure. The symptoms of dioxin exposure, the poison in the herbicide, are not very different from what people get normally, heart attacks, diabetes, lung cancer, liver problems, neurological problems, things that people just get. So to determine whether they were actually exposed, it should be possible to do that. But the officially done science has not been able to do that.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Visit From One of my Favorite People on Earth!

Dave is one of my dearest friends.  I first met him when I was 13 years old.  He was the advisor for the school's ski club.  As a senior in High School, he was my Distributive Education teacher.  It was a vocational class concentrating on advertising and marketing.  

He was very much a mentor to me.  As far back as the mid-seventies, he taught me that "women's lib movement" was nonsense.  " don't need an organization to get ahead!  You create your own reality!".  

As far as the influential men in my life, I jumped from my father during childhood, to Dave in my school days, to a boss at my newspaper in Painesville, Ohio (Another Dave!), and then finally to my Dominic.  These 4 guys made me who I am today.

It was a very short 2 night visit, but a GREAT ONE!

He took me out for dinner to my 2 favorite places.... Dee's Hangout and Los Rancheros.

We spent a day at Pier Park, and I drove him around town.  Went to Rock It Lanes and played video games.  Introduced him to the guys at Beach Bar and Package.  Had a ball!

Honestly, as he said goodbye and drove off, I almost had tears in my eyes.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

QUIZ: Test your knowledge on GMOs

This is a fun little quiz.  I got 100% correct:


A Fun Superbowl Weekend

We had a blast this weekend.  Saturday night, I cooked Crash Hot Potatoes and Speckled Trout Amandine, given to me from Cajun girlfriend Vickie.

I was torn between whether I wanted Denver or Seattle to win.  Peyton Manning is a local boy.  On the other hand, Seattle clobbered us a couple of times late in our season.... thus they earned my respect.

Shortly before the game, I chose SEATTLE.

I had a nice spread of food.  Dear friend, Goldie from Kentucky, sent me an 18 pound Country Ham.  This is an annual thing for us.  In return, I send her a Collins Street Fruitcake and a Paul's Pastry King Cake.

I made 2 different kinds of Deviled Eggs.... one with Balsamic Vinegar and Bacon. The other with ALOT of Garlic.  Both were yummy.

My potato salad was a take on a "loaded" baked potato.  I used yellow potatoes with the skin on, bacon, sour cream, green onions and sharp cheddar cheese.

Boiled up a pound of Colossal Shrimp which we never got around to.

Also had a couple different types of bread and cheeses.  My boys- Dom, Joe and Dennis were eating machines!

The boys did some target shooting.  We had fun in the Hot Tub.  Joe and I indulged in martinis over the weekend.  Pecan Pie martinis, as well as King Cake, fun, fun.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Why We Need to Keep ‘Agent Orange’ GMO Crops Off Our Farms

Have you heard of superweeds? For years, Monsanto has been selling genetically engineered (GE) or GMO corn and soybeans that promote the use of an herbicide called Roundup. Evolution is happening, and now weeds are becoming resistant to Monsanto’s killer.

Dow Chemical thinks they have the solution – new GE corn and soybeans genetically engineered to survive an even more toxic herbicide called 2,4-D.  But big profits for Dow Chemical is bad news for the rest of us!

2,4-D was a major component of the chemical defoliant known as Agent Orange

Agent Orange was sprayed aerially by U.S. planes in Vietnam to destroy the country’s forests and agricultural lands. The veterans and civilians exposed to Agent Orange experienced extreme health complications – a range of cancers and birth defects have been linked to exposure to the toxic chemical. The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates nearly 1 million people have experienced health problems as a result of the use of Agent Orange.[1]

2,4-D alone is the seventh largest source of dioxins in the U.S

2,4-D is thought to be the less toxic component of Agent Orange, but 2,4-D alone is the seventh largest source of dioxins in the U.S. Dioxins are highly toxic chemical byproducts of 2,4-D and can bioaccumulate, which means they can build up in your system over time. A 2008 study found that women living near Dow Chemical’s facility in Michigan have significantly higher rates of breast cancer.[2] It has been projected that Dow Chemical’s corn and soybeans would increase the amount of 2,4-D used in industrial agriculture by over 100 million pounds,[3] severely increasing the amount of this toxic herbicide in our food, air, and water.

Exposure to 2,4-D has been linked to major health problems

Health problems include cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lowered sperm counts, liver disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Studies have also demonstrated the chemical’s adverse effects on hormonal, reproductive, neurological, and immune systems.[4],[5],[6],[7],[8]

Dow Chemicals has lied about product safety before

Dow Chemical insists that the use of 2,4-D is safe. But they also assured the public that an insecticide called Dursban was safe…until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined Dow Chemical $800,000 for illegally withholding over 250 reports of poisonings, including many that occurred even when the product was used correctly.

Why did Dow Chemical think Dursban was safe? They fed it to prisoners in New York and decided that none became “violently” ill right away.[9]

Even after paying the EPA fine for withholding evidence of poisonings, Dow Chemical continued to market Dursban as “safe” in its brochures. In 2003, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued the company for violating a 1994 agreement against falsely advertising the product as safe. Dow Chemical agreed to pay $2,000,000.

So, do YOU trust Dow Chemical to care for the crops you could feed your kids? Currently, the USDA is reviewing Dow Chemical’s new GE crops designed to be resistant to 2,4-D, and they are accepting public comments until February 24.

It is up to you to say “No” to Dow Chemical Company’s “Agent Orange” crops!  

Learn more and take action at


Dom's January Numbers

GOOD NEWS:   All of his numbers are in the NORMAL range.

BAD NEWS:  They didn't draw enough to test his M-Spike.  We're having that done on Wed.

WBC            7.9

HCT              42.3

PLT              164

ANC             57