Daily Archives: February 11, 2016

Double the Meat, Double the Trouble?

Maddie Parker

Dolly is a classic American name that holds with it the prestige of a first lady and the persona of a country signer. The lesser-known Dolly, however, is the name of the world’s most famous sheep. In 1997, she was the first mammal to be cloned successfully. Although the first mammal to be cloned was around two decades ago, the technology is still relatively new and scientists are continuously researching new techniques of cloning.

Due to the lack of general knowledge, there have been concerns raised about the safety of consuming cloned agriculture. The uneasiness sprouts from scientists and consumers, alike. These anxieties, for now however, can be put to rest. Multiple studies testing the composition of cloned animals versus naturally mating animals found no significant difference that could lead to severe health effects.

The first type of cloning used, such as in mammals like Dolly, is somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which is when the cell nucleus from an adult cell is transferred into an unfertilized oocyte that has had its cell nucleus removed. The hybrid cell is then stimulated to divide by an electric shock. Finally, when it develops into a blastocyst and it is implanted in a surrogate mother. The more recently discovered type of cloning is embryonic cell nuclear transfer (ECNT). The methods are very similar, however, SCNT comes from adult cells where as ECNT is from embryos.

While these two methods have been successful, researchers still face issues with the efficiency of cloning and as well as the health of the cloned animals. Animals cloned by SCNT have higher rates of pregnancy loss, difficult parturition, and high post-natal mortality. Around 20% of the cloned animals die within the first twenty-four hours of their lives. Even though scientists are still struggling with the development process, sufficient research has shown that cloned animals are not harmful for human consumption.

A study published on Theriogenology: An International Journal of Animal Reproduction, investigated the composition of meat and milk in cloned cattle. The reason for looking into the composition of cloned cows further sprouted from the high prenatal death and the desire to investigate the necessity of regulation in the testing of cloned animal products.

An important evaluation of meat from cloned cattle was conducted on adult Japanese Black cattle derived from either embryonic or somatic nuclear transfer. To analyze the components, they used electrophoresis to separate the species. In the study, properties of meat samples were examined and it was shown for the first time the biochemical and biological characteristics of meat from cloned cattle were similar to that of non-cloned cattle. The only differences found by scientists were slight but significant enough to advance their research. The deviations caused a question of the safety of consuming these animal products.

Heyman, the head investigator, and his group of researchers then decided to test these variations of the nutritional value of cloned animal products using Wistar rats. Four groups of the Wistar rats were adapted to different regimens of cloned milk and meat and then fed for three weeks. Comparing the control group and the test groups, it was found there was no difference between the two rats. Rats are sensitive models, so the fact that they showed no biological and biochemical difference demonstrates that cloned products are not harmful to humans.

The United States Food and Drug Administration, or US FDA, conducted a study (The US FDA and animal cloning: Risk and regulatory approach) after various companies contacted them to discuss using cloned livestock for breeding stock. They FDA did not have regulations for cloned meat and thus decided to research the safety of the cloned products. Their research looked at the blood composition, carcass characteristics, proximates, and amount and distributions of amino acids, fatty acids and key vitamins and minerals for both clones and naturally mating cattle.

They concluded that cloned cattle produce the same hazards that naturally mating animals do. Furthermore, although many cloned animals have high prenatal issues, if a healthy animal is produced and grows into an adult then the products produce no significant hazards.

The FDA has therefore decided not to enforce any new regulations involving the testing of cloned meat. They have, however, agreed to stay up to date with new research on cloned animals and take precautions as necessary. As of now, they still have not approved cloned meat to be distributed legally into the commercial food market.

As discussed above, research supports the safety of consuming cloned animal products. In spite of this, the evidence has not convinced the human population. As a result, a study by Sawada Aizaki and K. Sato, was conducted to test the consumer’s attitudes before and after learning more about the cloning process and the limited health effects it poses. The study was issued to healthy, Japanese meat consumers who had cooked with beef in the last week. They took the survey before and after learning about the cloned meat. It was found that the consumers held the same attitude towards the cloned meat before and after being informed about it.

Although science proves that cloned meat posses no new threats compared to naturally mating meat, more research needs to be conducted on the topic. This is because there is still a lack of general knowledge not just among the common population but also among the researcher population. If significant research is conducted that produces consistent and reliable results, then cloned meat could be on the forefront of innovating our meat industry. Only time and further research will tell if double the meat really is double the trouble.

The One Eye Want

Photo from Flickr Images

Blue eyes are frequently found in nationalities located near the Baltic sea in northern Europe, and uncommon in places in Asia. Photo from Flickr Images.

Sabrina Shah

Do you yourself have dark brown eyes? Have you ever wished to have vibrant-colored irises? Have you ever invested in colored contacts? Imagine being able to have the bright blue colored lenses you’ve always wanted, permanently. Only about 8 percent of the human population has blue eyes. What if you could be one of that 8 percent?

The idea of cosmetic eye color alteration procedures that was once only seen in sci-fi films and novels is now a reality. With the latest technology, labs in California and India are permanently changing people’s eye color with great rates of success and ease.

The initial discovery of the ability to change one’s eye color was a result of a scientific fluke. It started in 2007 when a glaucoma patient, a 56-year-old Caucasian man, was undergoing experimental treatments. After doctors used a laser procedure in hopes of curing the man’s glaucoma, they discovered his eyes had changed in hue to a bright blue color —an unexpected side effect.

Upon the realization that the eye color change did no damage to the man’s iris after long-term observation, and that it resulted in an aesthetic change, scientist started research and development to create a similar surgery to use for cosmetic purposes to offer to the general public.

Under every brown eye is a blue eye. A Californian lab, STROMA, developed a technique of eye color change on this very idea. Scientists in this lab have created a non-invasive laser method that is pointed at a specific spot in the iris, the “sweet spot”, that causes gradual pigment-tissue degeneration over the course of a few weeks that eventually reveals the blue hue that is present under every brown eye.

This operation has occurred so far only in California and clinical trials have been done on 20 individuals in one eye each to see the success rates and possible long term side effects. So far the operation has yielded great success and no issues have come up however, one known flaw is that the procedure only works to turn brown eyes blue, and furthermore, the blue hue varies in shade depending on the individual’s own base blue eye pigment.

This surgery is not yet available to the general public however, the lab offers an application process to be a participant in their trials; participants are able to get the operation done in one eye and they must attend follow-up consultations to see the effectiveness and potential side effects of the surgery before the lab is able to release the procedure for public consumption.

A different technique in its trial stages is a permanent implantation of a colored lens over the iris. The procedure, so far, has only had one trial performed on a New Zealand woman; the surgery took place in a lab in India.

This procedure is invasive as it requires a physical cut and insertion of a lens over the iris however, it is more manipulable; surgeons are able to change any base eye color to any other desired eye color, much like colored contact lenses do. During the procedure, doctors implant a colored artificial lens over the person’s natural eye color. The color change is immediate much like colored contacts but without the hassle of having to remove the contacts on a nightly basis.

No negative side affects have been noted by the New Zealand participant thus far, and the surgery was successful in altering her brown eyes to her desired shade of bright teal blue. Further observation is being carried out in order to ensure the safety and permanence of the implants. Surgeons want to ensure that the lenses will not need to be replaced and that they do not have issues with movement within the eye, years after the procedure. This lab did not offer any opportunity to register as an experimental participant, and is only observing the one known participant so far. It is not yet offered on the market to the masses.

The implications of these two surgeries are potentially monumental.

The lens implantation surgery can be used for people who are afflicted with genetic diseases such as albinism, birth defects that cause a lack of iris pigmentation, and other individuals who lack color in their irises for unexplained biological reasons, since the surgery is able to change any one eye color to another. With the implantation method, people who lack pigment in the iris will be able to get any color lenses implanted over their own colorless lenses.

Both procedures, STROMA and lens implantation, can also be used on people who just do not like their dark eyes and want an everlasting eye color change. Imagine plastic surgery/body modification for the eye balls.

This new technology may be the very future of body modification for people around the world. Although it is not available in the market yet, once it is tried and tested by experimenters and health agencies, eye color alteration may become the next big obsession in first world nations that strive to attain physical beauty.

Since only about 8 percent of the population has blue eyes, colored eyes are vied for by people in places where blue eyes are uncommon, like Asia where the colored contacts industry is particularly booming. Marketing for these procedures will most likely take place in regions with high frequency of brown eyes (55 percent of the population of the world currently, has brown eyes). These procedures will likely decrease that statistic dramatically.

After these surgeries become established procedures, what body part do you think will be up for modification next?

What to expect when it’s unexpected

PTB (10 days)

What survival looks like 10 days after a preterm birth. Photo taken by Andrew and Marnie Hodges on November 20, 2008.

Christopher Piccirillo

As a mother would know, giving birth is an extremely painful ordeal, but once her child has entered the world, and the mother holds him or her for the first time, all of the suffering and anguish seems to dissipate.  Unfortunately, this is not the case for all births.  Every year, more than 500,000 babies (roughly 1 in 8) are born prematurely in the US alone, and the complications that arise from these cases can result in sustained suffering for both the child and mother.

Preterm birth (PTB) is considered to be any birth occurring before 37 weeks of gestation; the time an infant develops in the womb is normally 40 weeks gestation.  PTB not only threatens an infant’s probability of survival, but is detrimental to his or her quality of life.  Many premature babies suffer from mental retardation and physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy.  In the occurrence of a PTB, doctors can only respond to the aftermath.  In high risk patients, however, preventative methods are more effective, as they address the root of the problem before it occurs.  The rationale behind PTB prevention is like spilt milk.  If you remember to put away the carton, the milk will not spill.

As obstetricians Flood and Malone discuss in their seminar, prevention of PTB can be organized into two major categories: primary and secondary prevention.  Primary prevention consists mainly of lifestyle habits that may reduce your risk of having a PTB, such as a balanced diet, while secondary prevention focuses on prolonging pregnancy in women who are at a higher risk of having a PTB.  Higher risk women include those who have had a PTB previously or are pregnant with multiples (i.e. more than one baby at once).  These patients are the focus of secondary prevention, patients like Nikki Fleming.

While working with one of her clients, social worker Nikki Fleming was overcome with what she can only describe as a “horrible pain.”  Moments later, she noticed a discharge of fluid.  She was confused and scared; it was January and her due date was in May.  It was at the hospital that every mother’s worst nightmare became a reality for Nikki: she was in labor and already 2 centimeters dilated.

In 2004, Nikki Fleming gave birth to her first child, Lauren, 3.5 months early.  Immediately, the newborn was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where doctors worked quickly to assist her underdeveloped lungs, hooking her up to ventilators.  It was probably in this setting, among the hubbub of emergency medicine, that Nikki first laid eyes on her baby, partially obscured by the myriad of tubes sustaining her fragile life.

Lauren remained in the NICU for 5 months.  This is almost the same amount of time she spent in her mother’s womb.  Today, she still suffers from asthma and has a learning impairment, problems common among those born prematurely.

Due to her history of PTB, Nikki now had a 25% higher chance of having a successive PTB.  So, when she realized that she was pregnant again in 2011, she became a high risk patient, eligible for secondary prevention techniques. Cervical cerclage is one such technique that has been around for decades.

This physically intuitive surgery involves the stitching of the cervix shut to prevent PTB.  The cervix is the passageway between the base of the uterus and the vagina through which an infant travels during birth.  It is made of cartilage and normally is closed during pregnancy to prevent the baby from emerging from the uterus underdeveloped.  However, in a PTB, the cervix is weak or abnormally short and does not function properly.  Thus, stitching the cervix closed has become a widely accepted method of secondary prevention since the 1950s.

This procedure however, is still not well understood.  Research demonstrates that the surgery is effective in high risk patients carrying a single child, but may encourage PTBs in patients carrying multiples.  As with all secondary prevention methods, cervical cerclage is known to work in some instances but not in others.

A less invasive method is the injection of progesterone, a hormone that is produced naturally in the body and stimulates the strengthening of the fetal membrane.  Unsurprisingly, the presence of progesterone decreases when women go into labor.  As a result, researchers developed a synthetic version of the hormone that would strengthen the fetal membrane of women at high risk of a PTB.  Such a treatment was prescribed to Nikki Fleming during her next pregnancy.

A synthetic progesterone-based hormone, 17P, had just been approved by the FDA that year when Nikki began her weekly injections and, though painful, proved to be successful, allowing her daughter, Erin, to be born one week shy of her due date.  Unfortunately, this new method is estimated to prevent only 10,000 PTBs annually, which is just 2% of PTBs in the US.  This is due to the fact that only certain types of high risk women are eligible for the treatment (e.g. woman pregnant with multiples are not eligible).  This is where doctors get creative.

Medicine, like many professions, is heavily dependent upon trial and error and trying to fit the right pieces together to complete the puzzle and solve the problem.  Such problem-solving requires “out of the box” thinking.  This was beautifully demonstrated by the research team who identified a new and more effective method of secondary prevention: a combination of both 17P injections and cervical cerclage.

Recent findings presented at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) Annual Clinical Meeting of 2013 showed this coupling of treatments to be a more effective method of preventing PTBs in extremely high risk patients.  This discovery highlights the importance of innovative thinking in medical research.  Such creativity will result in many more infants, like Erin, who will be given the opportunity to enter the world whole, but not all research generates an effective PTB prevention technique.

Some experimental drugs are never approved by the FDA as insufficient evidence supports their effectiveness and, in the case of relaxin (a protein-based hormone), some evidence exists to the contrary.  Remember how medical research consists of trial and error?

Well, relaxin happens to be that error.  This naturally occurring hormone regulates internal bodily functions during pregnancy and according to its designer, Dennis Stewart, relaxin strengthens the cervical membrane in women.  However, a review of all relaxin experiments published by The Cochrane Library reveals that relaxin also has the potential to induce birth in some cases.  Due to these mixed findings, none of the proposed benefits can be proven.  Although not all research yields promising results, any attempt to provide these infants with a healthy start to life is worthwhile.

As a result of secondary prevention, Nikki has now successfully given birth to another child, her son Corbin, at 39 weeks.  After the deep, heartfelt anguish that she and her husband experienced when their first child was born, this new research into synthetic progesterone injection prevented such complications from reoccurring.  In this instance, the medical community successfully cared for the Flemings by identifying their need and developing a solution through whatever creative means necessary.

Nikki and her husband Densel have been chosen to be the 2011 ambassadors for March of Dimes, an organization devoted to the health of mothers and their babies.  As ambassadors, the Flemings travel around the nation, telling their story and raising awareness for PTB and the possible methods of treatment.  “We just hope through our travels that it gives people hope,” said Nikki, “We cry with families, we share with families [and] we talk about our experiences together,” and sometimes it is this small “injection” of hope that really is the best medicine.


The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2013). 17P Plus Cerclage Decreases Preterm Labor Risk. Retrieved from http://www.acog.org/About-ACOG/News-Room/News-Releases/2013/17P-Plus-Cerclage-Decreases-Preterm-Labor-Risk

Bain E, Heatley E, Crowther CA, Hsu K, Wiley. 2013. Relaxin for preventing preterm birth (Review) The Cochrane Collaboration [Internet]. The Cochrane Collaboration [Internet]:1–12. Available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD010073.pub2/pdf

Flood K, Malone FD, Elsevier. 2011. Prevention of preterm birth Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine [Internet]. Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine [Internet] Volume 17:59–61. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1744165X11000898

Stewart DR. 2011. Method of preventing premature delivery United States Patent Application Publication [Internet]. United States Patent Application Publication [Internet] 17:1–7, 12. Available from: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/US20110166070.pdf

TIME Magazine. (2011). Prolonging Pregnancy: New Drug Helps Prevent Premature Birth. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2011/02/08/prolonging-pregnancy-new-drug-helps-prevent-premature-birth/

U.S. News & World Report. 14-11/14. What You Can Do to Prevent Premature Birth [Internet]. Available from: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2014/11/14/what-you-can-do-to-prevent-premature-birth

WSOC-TV. 08-04/11. Family Focus: Family Raises Awareness About Premature Birth [Internet]. Available from: http://m.wsoctv.com/news/news/family-focus-family-raises-awareness-about-prematu/nGyzT/