Stemming the Tide

By Scott LaFee

August 14, 2019 6 min read

Judging from the ubiquity of advertising by clinics touting stem cell-based treatments for everything from pain management to cancer, it may come as a surprise to learn there are very few actual stem cell therapies that are FDA-approved. Despite a crackdown by federal authorities on unlicensed stem cell clinics making unproven claims, they continue to abound: more than 700 of them nationally, with large numbers in California, Texas and Florida.

A new study found that two-thirds of these clinics featured licensed physicians but nearly half lacked a doctor formally trained in the area the clinic purported to treat. This was especially true for nonorthopedic specialties, in which only 19% of the companies had a physician trained in the appropriate specialty.

Get Me That, Stat!

An international survey by Wellcome Trust of 140,000 people in 140 countries asked about their attitudes toward science and health. Almost 75% said they trust a doctor or nurse more than friends, family or other sources for health advice.

Roughly 80% thought vaccines are safe. The country with the highest percentage of people who did not think so was France, at 1 in 3 persons.

Men were more likely to claim an understanding of science than women, as were those 29 years old and younger. Almost two-thirds of people around the world expressed an interest in science, but one-third of those surveyed in Africa and Central and South America didn't feel science benefitted them.

Doc Talk

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis: The actual description of this medical condition is only a bit longer than the word itself: a lung disease caused by inhaling fine ash or sand dust. Think something like black lung. The word is an invention, created in 1935 by the president of the National Puzzlers' League as the longest word in the English language, at 45 letters. Physicians probably don't actually use the term because, aside from not remembering how to spell it, the word doesn't fit in a medical record.

Mania of the Week

Metromania: An obsession with writing in verse (What could be worse?)

Best Medicine

Q: How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Just one, but it takes nine visits — and the lightbulb has to want to change.


"When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained." — Mark Twain

Stories for the Waiting Room

The good news is that more and more people are surviving cancer. By 2040, it's projected there may be 26.1 million cancer survivors in the U.S. — a jump from 15.5 million in 2016.

The bad news is that one-quarter of survivors may live with chronic pain stemming from their life-saving treatments. According to a study published in JAMA Oncology, chronic pain is an issue with cancers of the bone, kidney, throat, pharynx and uterus. It's also more problematic among survivors who are unemployed, underinsured or poor.

Medical History

This week in 1848, the first U.S. patent for a dental operating chair with adjustable elevation, tilt of seat and back and footrest was issued to M.W. Hanchett of Syracuse, New York. And yet, it's still no fun going to the dentist.

Perishable Publications

Many, if not most, published research papers have titles that defy comprehension. They use specialized jargon, complex words and opaque phrases like "nonlinear dynamics." Sometimes they don't, and they're still hard to figure out. Here's an actual title of an actual published research study: "'Which feels heavier — a pound of lead or a pound of feathers?' A potential perceptual basis of a cognitive riddle."

Obviously, a pound of lead and a pound of feathers weigh the same, but do they feel the same? In 2007, researchers at Illinois State University asked blindfolded volunteers to heft identical boxes containing equal weights of lead and feathers. The participants generally concurred that the lead seemed weightier. One reason, apart from inherent biases, may have been how easily objects were controlled by "muscular forces."

Medical Myths

When a woman's water breaks weeks before her due date, the assumption is that the baby should be delivered immediately. The thinking is that with the protective membrane ruptured, the unborn child is vulnerable to invasive bacteria entering the sterile womb.

However, a clinical trial found that if obstetricians carefully monitor the fetus while waiting for labor to begin naturally, there is no greater risk of infection, and newborns who gestate longer tend to be healthier, with fewer complications.

Med School

Q: What is the only human body part that has no blood supply?

A: The cornea. Oxygen and nutrients diffuse directly from tear fluid on the outside and the aqueous humor (the thick watery substance between the lens and the cornea) on the inside.

Last Words

"I'm going outside, and I might be some time." — Captain Lawrence Oates (1880-1912). Oates was a British army officer and member of the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913), led by Robert Falcon Scott. Stricken by severe gangrene and frostbite, Oates left his protective tent, walking out to certain death because he believed his declining health was imperiling the safety of the group. As it was, the expedition was doomed: Scott's entire party died returning from their journey to the South Pole.

To find out more about Scott LaFee and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: kkolosov at Pixabay

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