Thursday, June 1, 2017

What’s Up, Doc?

I’ve reached that ‘special’ age where parts of me stiffen and ache. When I get tired of putting up with this nonsense, and I don’t feel a medical doctor is doing enough for me, I start researching the cause and what I can do about it. Yes, I’ve been known to dabble in alternative medicines, but only if it made a kind of sense to me AND had next-to-no side effects.

Aromatherapy? Sure. That’s just a matter of smell, and most of the essential oils have a pleasant odor, so why not?

Chiropractics? I’m a firm believer. It seems most medical doctors only worry about bones if they’re broken or completely out of place, but those x-rays can show a chiropractitioner that a particular bone is ‘in place’ but slightly twisted. For years, I would off and on see a chiro for a low-back pain that would radiate down one leg. It would take a few weeks for him to convince that bone to stay untwisted, but then I was good for another year or so.

Acupuncture? I don’t like needles, so I’ve only had the electronic kind, but it seems to help, at least with sinuses and headaches.

But a person has to be careful. Some ‘remedies’ or ‘procedures’ are nothing but a scam.

For instance, let’s look at a company called Theranos. Stanford University student Elizabeth Holmes created a wearable patch that could adjust the dosage of drug delivery and notify doctors wirelessly of variables in the patient’s blood. At the age of 19, she founded Theranos and worked to develop chip technology that would make blood tests quicker and cheaper, requiring only the blood from a pin prick, similar to a blood sugar test.

In 10 years, she had raised over $400 million in funding, but her work was done in secret, which did not sit well with some health groups. Also, Theranos did the testing themselves and did not allow their work to be peer-reviewed. Problems ensued, and grew, as Theranos labs failed inspections, the small-dose blood test equipment apparently required test tubes full of blood, and it was found that the labs actually used the exact same equipment that other labs used.

Why does this matter? It’s left a bitter taste in mouths of many people, from investors to corporations who chose to ‘partner’ with the new company to government agencies who were shocked when they inspected Theranos labs, right down to the patients who thought things were really changing, only to find out everything was the same. Oh, maybe one thing might have changed; the work done at Theranos labs may or may not have been less accurate than that of other labs.

That’s why I carefully study ‘alternatives’ to regular medicine, whether they involve ‘ancient knowledge’, a new ‘break-through’, or something in between. I did not work up any enthusiasm for Holmes’ blood-lab chip for a number of reasons:
1. Holmes was a chemical engineering student, which - in my mind - is nowhere near a medical professional.
2. She dropped out of school after one year even though her school adviser - when she explained her plans for a blood-lab chip - told her it wouldn’t work.
3. She ran her company in complete secrecy, which is apparently standard for tech start-ups, but NOT for medical companies.
4. She filled the company board with politicians and military types. She filled the company with engineers. I suppose for a product like she wanted, you would need some engineers, but... where were the physicians?
5. Ten years in, there was still NO SIGN of these blood-lab chips. Really? After 10 years, they could do nothing any differently from anybody else? They couldn’t even come up with a desk-top-sized machine that could take a smear of blood and test for something?

Okay, there are problems with the ‘old’ technology; the patient has to be stuck with a needle and have a significant amount of blood drawn (depending on how many and what tests are to be done), and both patient and doctor have to wait for the results to come back from the lab. It would be exciting to have a blood-lab chip that would eliminate both of these, but we don’t. Even after 14 (almost 15) years, we don’t.

In this case, I guess... Tried and true will have to do.

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