Thursday, July 05, 2012
How evolution accounts for traits

By Dr. Anthony Policastro Most of us are familiar with Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. One of the major themes in his theory is natural selection. This means that sometimes animals will develop traits that help them survive. The result is that they live longer than animals without those traits. They then pass on those traits to their descendents. That allows those traits to continue on in future descendents. For example, suppose a rabbit had a trait of being faster than the other rabbits. That would make that rabbit less likely to be caught and eaten. The slower rabbits would die before they produced descendants. Then future rabbits would only be of the faster type. There is a human characteristic that is an example of this type of survival. It is the sickle cell gene. People with two sickle cell genes (one from each parent) have sickle cell disease. It is a disorder with many kinds of medical issues. However, people with only one sickle cell gene have what is called sickle cell trait. Under normal circumstances, these individuals have no medical issues. There are times when they can develop medical issues. Those are times when they are exposed to low levels of oxygen. In those circumstances, their blood cells will react to low levels of oxygen in the same way that patients with sickle cell disease do. For example athletes with sickle cell trait have problems performing strenuous athletic activities at high altitudes. One of the Pittsburgh Steelers had to sit out of last year's playoff games in Denver because he had sickle cell trait. The last time he had played a game there, he had problems. The result was that he had to be operated upon. He had to have his spleen removed. There was a college athlete who had sickle cell trait. He went to college in Denver. He wound up dying from a sickle cell crisis. The result is that it might make us wonder what evolutionary advantage the sickle cell gene could possibly have. The answer is more obvious than you might think. Patients with sickle cell trait are less susceptible to malaria than patients without the sickle cell trait. Thus, there might be two individuals in an area with a high incidence of malaria. One might have sickle cell trait. The other might not. The result is that the one with sickle cell trait is less likely to die from malaria. From a historical perspective, it then becomes easy to see what happened over time. The sickle cell gene was introduced into the human population at some point in time. When that happened, people who had the gene were less likely to die from malaria. They passed that protection on to their children. Then that protection was passed on to future children. In areas where there was a lot of malaria, the people with the gene survived better than those who did not have the gene. For that reason, we see a lot of people in high malaria regions like Africa with the sickle cell gene. This is consistent with what we would expect from an evolutionary standpoint. We sometimes do not realize the fact that evolution accounts for many human traits. That is even true with a trait like the sickle cell gene. It is a good gene to have if you are living in an area where malaria is common.

Autism therapies to be covered Legislation requiring health insurers to cover autism therapies unanimously cleared the House and is headed to Governor Jack Markell for his signature. Autism results in impaired social and communication skills, repetitive behaviors or obsessions, and often sensory processing deficits. It is generally considered a lifelong disorder though treatment can produce significant, lasting gains. Senate Bill 22, sponsored by Sen. Liane Sorenson and Rep. Quinn Johnson, will require insurers to cover behavioral health treatment, which includes Applied Behavioral Analysis, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, mental health care, and prescriptions for autism when the condition is diagnosed by a physician or psychologist. While Delaware is experiencing shortages of professionals in some of these areas, it is believed that insurance coverage will draw in new practitioners. New Jersey and Pennsylvania already require coverage of ABA and other therapies; passage of SB 22 makes Delaware the 30th state to require some form of autism therapy coverage.

HIV testing now standard On National HIV Testing Day, Governor Jack Markell was joined by state officials, state legislators and HIV activists in Dover to sign Senate Bill 162, providing for routine HIV opt-out testing. SB 162 implements the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that HIV testing should be part of the standard battery of medical tests. The new rule will not only increase HIV testing, but help destigmatize such screenings and cement HIV testing's place as part of regular medical care. The bill preserves the opportunity for patients to decline the testing as with most other medical tests. Delaware consistently ranks in the top 10 states per capita in AIDS cases in the U.S., and as many as 800 people in Delaware may have HIV right now and do not know it. To find the closest free HIV testing, visit and type in your zip code. If you do not have Internet access, call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).

Artwork sought for calendar Delaware Physicians Care members from grades kindergarten through 12th are invited to submit entries in the sixth annual Delaware Physicians Care Kids Art Contest. Winners' artwork will appear in the plan's 2013 health calendar. The youths are allowed to use any art medium desired to create a picture about healthy behaviors. Contest winners will receive framed certificates, carryall bags, and school supply stipend gift cards in addition to having their artwork featured in the calendar. Deadline for submissions is July 13. Call 302-894-6818 for information on how to submit an entry.

BIAD hosts annual Crab Feast The Brain Injury Association of Delaware (BIAD) is hosting its fifth annual Crab Feast Fundraiser on Saturday, Aug. 11 from 4 to 8 p.m. The menu includes all you can eat crabs, corn on the cob, chicken tenders, french fries, and non-alcoholic beverages.

A cash bar will be available and benefits the Leipsic Fire Company. Cost is $32 per person, $8 for kids ages 5 to 12 and free for kids under 5. The event will also feature an "Extreme Bake Sale." There will also be a 50/50, door prizes, and merchandise raffle. Buy tickets online at or call 1-800-411-0505 for more information.

KINfolk provides laptops for sick kids Ask people across Delaware about KINfolk and few will know what you are talking about. But ask kids and parents stuck at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children or the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware for any length of time and you will learn all there is to know about KINfolk. KINfolk provides laptop computers to kids while they are at A.I. duPont Hospital. "Our laptops," explains KINfolk executive director Melinda McGuigan, "can mean the difference between having a depressed hospitalized child or a child who is well adjusted and better equipped to deal with his medical challenges." The Parkhurst-Benton family of Millsboro knows all too well about the benefit that KINfolk provides. Two-year-old George has been a patient in A.I. duPont's cardiac intensive care unit for much of his young life. His parents Tara and Kenny, siblings Keith, Savannah and Mandy along with grandmother Sharyn Luzier have rotated through A.I. duPont Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House and home in Millsboro in an effort to keep the family unit together. "KINfolk really helped us stay connected," says Tara Parkhurst. The KINfolk story quietly plays out more than 5,000 times per year as they loan laptops and maintain computers in the waiting rooms and emergency department at A.I. duPont Hospital. KINfolk will hold its Seventh Annual Wine Tasting and Art Auction on Wednesday, July 18, at the Cordrey Center in Millsboro. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. There will be live and silent auctions, a selection of wines and a buffet of signature appetizers from fine area restaurants. Tickets are $30 and available at the door. Call Kathy McNamara for more information at 302-645-6971.

Free to Breathe Delmarva run/walk Register today for the third annual Free to Breathe Delmarva 5K Run/Walk, 1 Mile Walk and Kids' Dash, a fun event for the entire family that brings the community together to inspire hope and create change for everyone impacted by lung cancer. The event will be held on Sunday morning, Aug. 12 at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes. Online registration ends Aug. 8. All proceeds support the National Lung Cancer Partnership's vital research, education and awareness programs. For more information, to register or donate, visit

Short named new COO/CNO Effective July 1, Penny Short, RN, BSN has been named Nanticoke Memorial Hospital's new chief operating officer/chief nursing officer. Short has played a key role in growth at Nanticoke as the chief nursing officer. As the CNO for the last three years, Penny has been responsible for ensuring patients receive the highest quality care. Now, with the additional title of chief operating officer, Short will oversee hospital operations. A native of Delaware, Short has a bachelor of science in nursing, is a registered nurse, and has over 28 years of experience in the health care field. In addition to delivering hands-on nursing service to many of Nanticoke's patients, she has held various roles within the organization, including chief nursing officer, Joint Commission coordinator, Critical Care Services director, and Acute Care clinical process coordinator. Earlier this year she was elected to the board of the Southern Delaware Division of the American Heart and Stroke Association. Short is also on the board of directors of Peninsula Home Care at Nanticoke.

Weight loss education seminar Join Dr. James Hummel at Nanticoke Chiropractic and Weight Loss Center for a free seminar on a new breakthrough technology that will help you learn how to lose weight and keep it off. Seminars are being held July 12 and 24 at 7 p.m. Register for one today at or by calling 628-8706. This is your chance to transform your body, overcome food cravings and finally lose that stubborn belly fat.

Parkinson's Support Group A Parkinson's Support Group is being held in Seaford on the third Monday of each month from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Nanticoke Senior Center. The group focuses on educating members about Parkinson's through guest speakers and small group discussions. Persons with other movement disorders are welcome to join the group as much of what is discussed is not limited to Parkinson's. New members are encouraged to attend. Reservations or advance notification is not required. For more information, call Dennis Leebel at 302-644-3465.

Breast cancer support group Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, Inc. (DBCC) has expanded its Beginning Your Pink Ribbon Journey, a program for women newly-diagnosed with breast cancer, by partnering with Nanticoke Memorial Hospital Cancer Center in Seaford. The free, monthly program is offered at the Cancer Center located at 801 Middleford Road, Seaford, the third Thursday of each month from 3 to 4 p.m. To learn more, call Lois Wilkinson at 672-6435. Registration is required and light refreshments and small gifts are provided.

HIV/AIDS Support Group A new support group for HIV/AIDS will meet every other Wednesday, at 7 p.m., in the Branford Lounge at Epworth United Methodist Church at 19285 Holland Glade Rd., Rehoboth Beach. The group is sponsored by Epworth UMC, CAMP Rehoboth, the AIDs Delaware and Delaware HIV Consortium. For more information, contact David at