Friday, January 4, 2008

The REAL Cutting Edge of Medicine

Has anyone else ever noticed the fact that proponents of alternative/integrative medicine, most notably the NCCAM, are always talking about altmed like it's the "cutting edge" of medicine? As though CAM "research" and the use of "holistic" therapies are what separate the wheat from the chaff in today's medical world? After all, they're the ones that are really curing diseases. "Allopathy" can only subdue symptoms with toxic drugs, enslaving patients with chronic illnesses to big pharma for life. (Somehow buying supplements for the rest of your life is different.)

I'm going to abandon professionalism and make a rude gesture at those talking heads for a moment, because they (obviously) haven't the faintest idea what they're talking about. You want to see the cutting edge of medicine?

This is some amazing stuff. According to JAMA and several other sources, Swiss researchers are working on a promising new vaccine that may be a more effective way to control high blood pressure. The vaccine works by stimulating the body to create antibodies against a human protein called angiotensin II.

When the kidneys are recieving insufficient blood, the kidneys secrete a substance called renin. Renin, in turn, stimulates the formation of angiotensin, which is then transformed by angiotensin-converting enzyme (usually called ACE) into angiotensin II. Angiotensin II has a powerful effect on blood vessels, promoting constriction and increasing pressure. This system is a major means of controlling fluid volume in the human body. In fact, you may have heard of ACE before. ACE inhibitors, such as lisinopril, are commonly used to lower blood pressure; these drugs work by blocking the formation of angiotensin II. Other drugs for hypertension, such as angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs) and the new direct renin inhibitor Tekturna all work to accomplish the same goal--reducing the effect of angiotensin II.

The new vaccine works by stimulating the human immune system to produce antibodies to attack and break down angiotensin II. This is an absolutely incredible use of biochemistry--modifying the immune system to eliminate a protein that the body is making in excess. Because the effects of the vaccine are long-lasting, patients shouldn't need to take daily medications to decrease their blood pressure. In fact, it may be necessary for patients to have medication on hand to raise their blood pressure in the event of an emergency, much like diabetics who carry glucose tablets to rapidly raise their blood sugar in case of an insulin overdose. Further time and testing will tell, but early trials are very promising--4 and 12-month follow-ups suggest that the vaccines are well-tolerated.

And this same theory is being applied elsewhere in medicine as well. Cancer vaccines are in development that can be used to treat various cancers by reprogramming the body to attack cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Even Alzheimer's disease might be treatable with a vaccine that degrades the "plaques" that form on neurons and are understood to be a major cause of the disease.

What kills me is that this is the sort of thing that altmed is always claiming to do--modification of the body's immune system to produce a long-term cure for a disease that isn't caused by an infectious agent. Forget about balancing vibrations or whatever. This is real high-tech medicine. If human beings are going to someday conquer all forms of illness, the work will be done by biochemists, not reiki masters.

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