Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Rat Hearts and Monkeys

I've been seeing lots of very deceptive - or at least misleading - news coverage about a science experiment where claims are made that a rat heart was 'brought back to life and began beating'. That's sort of what happened. Here's the skinny on it which explains it a bit better:

First, healthy rats were killed and their hearts quickly harvested and attached to a perfusion system that leached away all of the normal contracting cardiac cells, leaving behind the scaffolding of the rat's heart: the vascular tree, the valves, the shape of the heart, and the fibrous infrastructure that could help orient new cells in a direction to develop contraction. It was like having a clear crystalline shell-like structure as a growth platform - a fibrous skeleton of sorts.

Next, some baby rat hearts were processed, "pureed," and the cardiac cells reintroduced into the dead rat's scaffolding. The introduced cells, when carefully nurtured with a friendly growth environment and a bit of pacing, started to beat.

But the beat, so far anyway, was hardly the stuff of a myocardial assist device. The researchers admit that the ejection fraction (the percentage of blood ejected from the heart's pumping chamber with each heart beat) for a human heart would be about 2%. (Recall that a normal human heart's normal ejection fraction exceeds 50%). While real, I have never seen a patient, must less a rat, survive with an ejection fraction of 2%. Still, the fact that the organ beat at all was pretty cool.

The experiment certainly has some indications of progress in organ regeneration and transplants, but 'indications of progress' is not a catchy news headline. So we get the Dr. FrankenRatHeart version instead.

Seems that TV news especially offers up a lot of "chopped up" and "pureed" versions of news stories and I'm left to seek facts out on my own.

I've been seeing some of the images and reading some of the reports about President Bush's trip to Saudi Arabia, where he offered the Saudis some 'smart bombs' as part of a $20 billion arms package to Middle East countries and asked them to make more oil available. Reports indicated the President has been getting a good look at how the royalty live - receiving a "
a giant necklace set with hundreds of rubies, emeralds and other precious stones, holding a medallion that included a hand-painted enamel American flag and staying one night in a $3 billion hotel.

White House press secretary Dana Perino was quoted as saying "the president had a really nice time".

Well, that is nice. Nice way to play up the bling and downplay a lot of details too. Bling makes better headlines.

Other recent headlines have been about a 'dangerous threat' from boats buzzing the Navy in the Persian Gulf. As they story began to slowly come to life, it came with numerous references to something called The Filipino Monkey. Turns out the crank radio chatter has been around for 25 years, and is something of a joke, according to the Navy Times. (SEE ALSO: Knoxville Talks)

Who knew there were Filipino Monkeys in the Persian Gulf?

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