Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Medical research

While doing some Sunday hot tub reading, I came across a remarkable article in last week's Neurology Today (January 6, 2011, page 18).

Basically they caused rats to have a stroke by occluding an artery, and half of them repeatedly had their whiskers petted during this. They found that rats who had their whiskers stroked ("mild tactile stimulation" in medical talk) had less damage from the event.

Interesting? Yes. But to use the cliché, "further research is needed."

I have a hard time suddenly extrapolating this finding to humans (for one thing, we don't have whiskers, at least not the sensory type rodents have). We may be physiologically similar to rats, but we aren't the same.

Someone who's having a stroke certainly gets their share of "tactile stimulation"- family members holding hands, doctors & nurses examining them, IV's getting put in, blood drawn, blood pressure cuffs, etc.

But I don't see anyone showing that the touch component alone makes a big difference in Homo sapiens.

Not even in this guy.

I'm also not so sure how this could be studied. Since we don't have sensory whiskers, what do you touch in humans? Hair? Limbs? Ear lobe? And how do you sort out real tactile stimulation vs. placebo tactile stimulation? Touch only the side the patient can't feel anything on, since they won't know?

On the other hand, after many years in the trenches giving the so called "miracle clotbuster" TPA, I must say this new treatment (in my opinion) appears to be at least as effective as TPA, and a helluva lot safer.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if it does translate to humans? At the very least, it would give loved one's something so that they wouldn't feel so desperately helpless while waiting for EMS, and reassures the patient. As long as it doesn't delay medical treatment, it can't hurt, right?

Grumpy, M.D. said...

I agree it would be awesome if something so simple DID help humans.

But my point is that you can't immediately extrapolate from rats to primates.

And studying it is hard. As anyone in research knows, the placebo effect in humans is HUGE.

CrownedwithVictory said...

I thought our fingertips were our most sensitive touch receptors. Heard that years ago so I may be wrong.

hannah said...

A rat's whiskers are so sensitive that I don't think there is a human comparison. (Not even out fingertips.)

Dewan Gibson said...

I took Biology 100 twice in community college(got distracted by a girl the first time) and learned that a fellow named Dr. Spitz conducted research into tactile stimulation and newborn orphans. Apparently they were dying due to lack of touch. I believe this was during the "Leave it to Beaver" days. Any truth to this? I'd look it up, but I'm ready to start my morning self-touch routine.

R. May said...

Perhaps it can translate in a different way. For example -in patients at an increase risk of stroke some type of implant that stimulates the key part of the brain similar to the whisker touches.

Anonymous said...

I think, grumpily, that an M.D. should spell "sapiens" right. Grumble grumble gripe & groan, mumble mumble mope & moan.

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Oops! I fixed it.

Anonymous said...

And that's one reason Grumpy is great!

arzt4empfaenger said...

Ah, I understood it that way that they had a better outcome when whiskers were petted during the stroke, and wanted to comment that, hmm, wasn't there quite a share of people suffering strokes during sex (I heard of two riding mistresses myself)? Seems I misunderstood - but it would have been a good example of mild tactile stiulation. ;-)).

And yeah, the bridge rat-primate is a bit far fetched, but either way, loving contact has never hurt patients in hospital. I read about the neglected infants experiments, too, those who didn't get any touch beyond routine care apparently died. It's horrible that someone would even have researched this. :(

Cara said...

I understood those experiments to have been done on primate (ape) infants, not human infants.

Obviously tactile stimulation and bonding is important to human infants as well - the evidence cited my in psych classes was the orphanages in the former Soviet Union where the babies were left in metal cribs, received no touch or toys and whose cognitive development was extremely stunted due to this.

Sadly, this morning I heard of an friend of a friend who had a stroke - she is only 38 years old with two children at home.

Ms Luey said...

@Dewan, are you talking about the Harlow experiments with infant rhesus macaques? He raised the infants in isolation chambers, among other things (leaving infants alone in total darkness for whole years, forcibly and repeatedly separating them from their mother and peers) that left the monkeys psychologically screwed up.

Interesting research to be sure, but undeniably cruel. Here's the Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Harlow

The Mother said...

I was doing coag when the first TPA trials started.

We were the guys (collectively, that is) that stopped the trial. Never have figured out how they managed to get around us and get approval.

Anonymous said...

Sensory whiskers, or vibrissae, are cool. Ever found one shed from a cat?

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