Thursday, March 31, 2005
DNA analysis will help us to answer questions

By Dr. Anthony Policastro Nanticoke Memorial Hospital

It is common for detective shows to toss around the words DNA studies. We recognize the fact that criminal investigations often use these studies to help come to conclusions. However, we do not often realize that it was just 50 years ago that Watson and Crick discovered DNA. A lot has happened since then. When I was a medical student we could count the number of chromosomes in the human body. We later learned how to identify parts of the chromosome. A few years ago, I wrote an article about genes and gene therapy. We can now identify genes on the chromosomes. That is what DNA analysis is all about. One of the side products about this type of analysis is the finding related to patients with cancer. Most cancers have abnormal chromosomes. It would appear that a cancer cell develops an abnormal chromosome that then causes it to grow uncontrollably. Recently a headline read that the drug Ritalin was linked with cancer. Headlines like that always cause a lot of concern on the part of patients. This is especially true when it concerns a drug that is in widespread use. The real story is a little different. A medical researcher examined 12 patients on Ritalin. He looked at their chromosomes a few months after starting the drug. The changes in their chromosomes were similar to the changes in chromosomes found in certain types of cancer. With the number of patients being so small, there is not enough information to reach any conclusion other than the fact that more studies are needed. It is not clear whether this occurs with other drugs. It is not clear that it is directly related to the drug. It is not clear whether these changes are of any significance for the future. It is not clear whether these findings go away once the drug is stopped. Since adults do not take the drug, this is an important issue. In other words, there was a headline suggesting a major problem based upon a grand total of 12 patients. I expect that the patients that I currently have on this drug will now be asking me about this. One thing we know for sure is that we have been using the drug for over 40 years. That means there is a good opportunity to study this group, as they get older. It will take some time for that to happen. In the mean time all we have is a bunch of unanswered questions. They are similar to the unanswered questions that we have about a lot of medical issues. Further research will be needed to decide whether this finding is of great significance or no significance. Right now there is no answer. As we use the current methods of chromosome evaluations for more and more things, it is likely that there will be other instances of questions such as this. What their long-term significance will be will depend upon future research.

Dr. Anthony Policastro is medical director at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.
Medical ethics series concludes on April 7

The Seaford Public Library will be concluding its six-week medical ethics series of programs on Thursday April 7, at 7 p.m. This program will be held at the Methodist Manor House at 1001 Middleford Road. Our speakers will be the Delaware Consumer Health librarians, Betty Maute and Dan Eckrich, who will speak on “The Pharmaceutical Industry: How it Works.” In November 2003, Maute became the Kent County consumer health librarian for the Delaware Academy of Medicine. In the 10 years prior to this position she gained a variety of experience in academic and special libraries and a library consortium. This included two years at the Academy of Medicine in reference, technical services and a hospital library, as well as two years at Albany Medical College as a reference and education specialist. Maute received her MLS from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany, and her BS from the SUNY College of Environmental Sciences & Forestry in Syracuse. Eckrich became the Sussex County consumer health librarian in December, when the state decided to expand the Delaware Consumer Health Information Service Program that started in 2003 by the Delaware Academy of Medicine. This is a program funded by the Health Care Advisory Fund Committee and administered through the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. He received his master’s degree (MLIS) from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. and his BA from Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. He is currently pursuing certification as a Consumer Health Information Provider Specialist through the Medical Library Association. All programs are free and open to the public.