Archive for August 11th, 2011

Ramadan

August 11, 2011
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I have been remiss in not noting the start of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and devout Muslims fast during the daylight hours throughout the month. This means that they may not eat, drink, smoke, or have intercourse while it is light outside. Traditionally, it is light when one can distinguish between a light thread and a dark thread. Ramadan started August 1 in our Gregorian calendar and will end on August 29 this year.

The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. Unlike the solar Gregorian calendar, The Islamic calendar is based on the phases of the Moon. There are twelve months of 29 or 30 days with extra days added in a thirty year cycle to keep the calendar in phase with the Moon. The problem is that twelve Moons add up to 354 days, eleven days shorter than the solar year. Most cultures with lunar calendars add a leap or intercalary month every few years, the exact cycle depending on the calendar. Moslems, however do not add an intercalary month. There is even a verse in the Koran that forbids adding an extra month.

The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve (in a year)- so ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth; of them four are sacred: that is the straight usage. So wrong not yourselves therein, and fight the Pagans all together as they fight you all together. But know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves

Verily the transposing (of a prohibited month) is an addition to Unbelief: the Unbelievers are led to wrong thereby: for they make it lawful one year, and forbidden another year, in order to adjust the number of months forbidden by Allah and make such forbidden ones lawful. The evil of their course seems pleasing to them. But Allah guideth not those who reject Faith. Koran 9:36-37

For this reason the Islamic calendar is not synchronized with the seasons. The year cycles through the season every 33 years. It is as if Christmas were in winter one year, autumn six years later, summer even later, and so on. Because the Islamic calendar is not synchronized with the seasons it cannot be used for agricultural purposes. A farmer couldn’t plant, harvest, etc on the same date or month as the previous year because they would not correspond to the proper seasons. Nowadays, outside of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic calendar is used only religious purposes. For other purposes, the Gregorian calendar is used.

The calendar seems impractical compared to the Gregorian calendar but it does have one advantage, in that the fast of Ramadan cycles through the seasons so that for at least part of the 33 year cycle, the fast is held in the cooler, winter season with shorter days. But, then, for part of the cycle, including this year, the fast is in the summer with the longest days of the year.

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Leukemia Treatment Exceeds Expectations

August 11, 2011

This is wonderful news, though it may be a bit premature to celebrate.

Research published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine shows amazing results from a single shot to treat leukemia. It may be one of the most significant advances in cancer research in decades.

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While doctors at the University of Pennsylvania have only treated three leukemia patients, they report the treatment made the most common type of leukemia disappear in two of the patients, and reduced it by 70 percent in the third.

In each patient, as much as five pounds of cancerous tissue compelety melted away in a few weeks, and a year later remained gone.

The research almost did not happen. The National Cancer Institute and several pharmaceutical companies declined to fund the research. But, the researchers did receive a grant from the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, a charity founded by Barbara and Edward Netter after the daughter-in-law died of cancer. The funds were enough to cover just the three patients treated in the study.

While the research is new and involved only three, the results surpassed expectations and many are optimistic and hopeful about further findings.

There is more information here.

Scientists are reporting the first clear success with a new approach for treating leukemia — turning the patients’ own blood cells into assassins that hunt and destroy their cancer cells.
They’ve only done it in three patients so far, but the results were striking: Two appear cancer-free up to a year after treatment, and the third patient is improved but still has some cancer. Scientists are already preparing to try the same gene therapy technique for other kinds of cancer.
“It worked great. We were surprised it worked as well as it did,” said Dr. Carl June, a gene therapy expert at the University of Pennsylvania. “We’re just a year out now. We need to find out how long these remissions last.”
He led the study, published Wednesday by two journals, New England Journal of Medicine and Science Translational Medicine.
It involved three men with very advanced cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL. The only hope for a cure now is bone marrow or stem cell transplants, which don’t always work and carry a high risk of death.
Scientists have been working for years to find ways to boost the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. Earlier attempts at genetically modifying bloodstream soldiers called T-cells have had limited success; the modified cells didn’t reproduce well and quickly disappeared.
June and his colleagues made changes to the technique, using a novel carrier to deliver the new genes into the T-cells and a signaling mechanism telling the cells to kill and multiply.
That resulted in armies of “serial killer” cells that targeted cancer cells, destroyed them, and went on to kill new cancer as it emerged. It was known that T-cells attack viruses that way, but this is the first time it’s been done against cancer, June said.
For the experiment, blood was taken from each patient and T-cells removed. After they were altered in a lab, millions of the cells were returned to the patient in three infusions.
The researchers described the experience of one 64-year-old patient in detail. There was no change for two weeks, but then he became ill with chills, nausea and fever. He and the other two patients were hit with a condition that occurs when a large number of cancer cells die at the same time — a sign that the gene therapy is working.
“It was like the worse flu of their life,” June said. “But after that, it’s over. They’re well.”

 

As Glenn Reynolds would say, faster please!


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