Acupuncture: Magic treatment for spinal cord injury? Or just plain muggle

I recently read a super interesting article that I’ve wanted to share with you, and I figure today’s a good day to geek out. So put your nerd pants on because we’re talking science!

It turns out that a large amount of the damage from having a spinal cord injury actually happens AFTER the injury. What this means is…if your neighbor Bob falls off his roof and crushes his spinal cord right this instant, that just caused nerve damage. But in the next few weeks and months, the healing process will actually cause FURTHER nerve damage. Who knew?!

The spinal cord is made up of nerves and supporting cells. When you injure you spinal cord, there is an initial amount of damage done, which then causes inflammation. Inflammation damages and destroys the nerves’ supporting cells during the healing process. Nerves cannot survive without supporting cells. Therefore, during the period where you are healing after a spinal cord injury, the amount of nerve damage increases.

There doesn’t seem to be a large body of scientific research that supports the efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine. For example, acupuncture is often considered a luxury akin to massages, or as an alternative treatment option for when Western medicine treatments fail. Chinese medicine has practiced electro-acupuncture (applying needles in specific positions of the body and then running a small electrical current through those needles) for over 80 years and has been used for spinal cord injury patients.

Does electro-acupuncture have any real measurable impact in spinal cord injury? Or is it just some superstition or theory that fits with Chinese cultural or spiritual beliefs?

There has been a recent push towards finding scientific merit for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM); there is even an entire scientific journal dedicated to this goal: Chinese Medicine Journal. Of course some believe that TCM has no place in respectable scientific publications.

Governor Vessel
Governor Vessel (GV) Acupuncture points.
Photo: Acupuncture Assistant

Electro-acupuncture is often used at points along the spine (or, to be more specific, along the river of yang, aka. The “governor vessel,” as described in TCM). I admit, the idea of sending energy to your river of yang sounds like hokus pokus and sticking needles into my spine sounds like it could only cause bad things. But today is a good day to be nerd, so embrace your inner scientist and look at the data with an open mind.

In this article, it is shown that electro-acupuncture shortly following spinal cord injury:

  1. suppresses inflammation
  2. inhibits glial scar (scar tissue) formation, and
  3. promotes the growth of neural stem cells.

We already know inflammation causes additional nerve damage. The glial scar causes loss of nerve function. Neural stem cells can form new nerve cells are present in small numbers in the adult spinal cord.  The fact that electro-acupuncture promotes growth of neural stem cells could be HUGE. They also showed that electro-acupuncture increased the amount of function regained following the injury.

Glial Scar

A scar forms in the spinal cord during the healing process and contributes to loss of nerve function
Photo: Invivo Therapeutics

This article shows that electro-acupuncture treatment immediately following spinal cord injury causes as much improvement in function as transplanting stem cells to the site of injury! This non-invasive, relatively low-risk treatment works just as well as surgically placing stem cells (which your body may reject) to recently damaged tissue!! If this is true, I say Chinese Medicine: 1, Western Medicine: 0.

Normal acupuncture was used in a 2003 clinical trial for immediate treatment of spinal cord injuries. You can see the positive results here.

But this is all talking about electro-acupuncture treatment in the weeks where your body is still healing from the injury. What if your injury is old? Does it have any affect?

According to Chanda Hinton Leichtle, regular acupuncture treatments ended her chronic pain, along with other secondary conditions that resulted from her spinal cord injury. Western medicine could only prescribe her pain medications that nearly killed her. Unfortunately, insurance companies do not pay for these alternative treatments. So Chanda started a non-profit, the Chandra Plan Foundation, that has successfully passed legislation to allow Medicaid to cover certain alternative therapies (such as acupuncture, yoga, massage, etc) in a pilot program. It seems to be working judging by the testimonials page!

Interesting note: I just found the tiniest digital footprint about a scientist in France, Albert Bohbot, that practices laserpuncture where infra-red light beams are used on acupuncture points (no needles!). I didn’t find any data only an account saying the patients in the study responded well to laserpuncture.

Now, I’m not saying that acupuncture is a magic cure. However, it is an exciting area where I would love to see more research done. It may stimulate a significant improvement in treatment and patient outcomes, and if we can study HOW it causes that improvement, maybe we can use that knowledge to find that magic cure! Alohomora

Unlocking your DNA: 23andMe Genetic Services and is it worth it?

23andMe was established in 2006 to help you unlock your DNA. You simply send a vial of your saliva and they send you a copy of your genetic code and information on your ancestry.  The FDA currently regulates their distribution of other medically-relevant information  but they hope to once again provide health information in the future.

23andMe is a large contributor to genetic-based research. They collect customers’ DNA and have them answer a survey. Through this process they have identified genes, including the one that is responsible for making some people sneeze when they look at a bright light, called the photic sneeze reflex. This is a brilliant business model in terms of generating enough data to make significant discoveries through Big Data analysis! People line up to learn about their ancestry from the comfort of their home, where most wouldn’t line up to go to the doctor for a physical and genetic testing for the sake of some PhD’s research project. But the more data researchers can use, the faster they can make discoveries.

“On average, a customer who consents to research contributes to over 230 studies.”  –23andMe

23andMe also has specific research projects for specific diseases. Recently, I saw an ad for IBD project where people with IBD would get free 23andMe genetic testing/ancestry reporting in return for supplying their genetic code to IBD researchers and answering a survey. (There are other research projects with the same offer, including one for Parkinson’s) Sounds great!! Right?

So I did my due diligence and read up. 23andMe seems pretty legit–Google invested in it for goodness sake! Then again, Google is responsible for the ads I see, and the fact that the 23andMe IBD ad has been a frequent flyer on my computer (aka. the computer of an IBD patient) doesn’t give me the greatest sense of security for my privacy. So what will 23andMe do with my genetic code? Will they sell me out for a profit like Google does with advertisers? They will definitely turn over my data to law enforcement if asked (which isn’t a worry for law-abiding citizens like me, but what if I’m related to someone with a skeleton in their closet? Will my selfish quest of self discovery endanger a loved one?) A very scary thought is how health insurance companies could use this information to craft policies that will get them out of paying for any preexisting genetically-preindicated diseases.

For me, I think that 23andMe has a lot to offer. I’d love the info and they’d love my ATCGs to further important research. But my real name isn’t essential to either of those two goals. Therefore, I recommend reading this article: How to use 23andMe without giving up your genetic privacy to learn how to hide your identity through the process. It is also and excellent resource if you are worried about identity theft, credit card fraud, spam, etc from your online transactions. I plan to try it out myself, and if I can also further 229 other studies in the process, well that is just awesome!

Happy Monday!

Note: 23andMe offered health reports including “health-related results including health risks, drug response, inherited conditions and traits” but due to the FDA’s 2013 decision, 23andMe can no longer provide these health reports. They still provide a copy of your genetic code and ancestry information. They hope to provide health reports again in the future

Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year!!

Last year was kind of a big year for me and I hope that 2015 that is just as awesome, with the added bonus of being more active on this blog!

On the topic of resolutions… 🙂 Tomorrow most of us go back to work as usual. But before set the routine for 2015, I think it’s important to resolve to take a step towards some goal whether that goal is to be more fit, to get organized, to work towards your independence (whether it be financial, emotional or otherwise). Personally, I hope that more people will resolve to see more of the world. For those who do travel, I hope you can really engage with the culture.

One amazing way to get the most out of travelling is to learn the native language. Usually this is an impossibly difficult task. Who has $400 to spend on Rosetta Stone? Who has time to enroll in a language class? Who is ever successful teaching themselves?

Now you don’t have to spend a fortune or break your brain trying to force another language in! Duolingo is a relatively new online program that teaches you a new language for FREE!! And it both WORKS and is EASY! It actually feels like a game and you can even compete against your friends! The hardest part of the whole process is downloading the free app–the same way that the hardest part of working out is getting to the gym.

According this study (December 2012), DuoLingo can teach you as much as you would learn from a semester of college language instruction in only 34 hours!! (My college language classes were about 75 hours of class instruction, not including homework) Meanwhile Rosetta Stone takes 55 hours to accomplish the same feat.

I have spent this last week on DuoLingo learning:

  1. a language I’m pretty familiar with–Italian,
  2. a language I studied for one semester in college (and remembered nothing)–French, and
  3. a language I didn’t know the first thing about–German.

I learned that:

  1. the mind-bogglingly short placement exam was actually good and I jumped a ton of lessons to get to new material,
  2. I know more about French now than I did when I took my final at the end of my college class, and
  3. it works wonderfully to pick up a language from scratch.

This program doesn’t teach you by bombarding you with rules that you try to remember. You learn from examples and somehow the correct answers start to sound right to you. It’s incredible.

I used the Apple Store App almost exclusively throughout the week but the website has more resources if you are struggling with a topic. These include brief summaries of rules you learn in each lesson (found under “Tips and Notes”). The most valuable online resource that I really wish the app could include is the discussion forum for every single question. Here students can ask for explanations on the question and other students do an excellent job explaining. This is particularly useful if the pronunciation confuses you.
For example, I thought that “the dog eats” and “the dogS eat” sound EXACTLY the same in French so I answered the question incorrectly (repeatedly). The discussion for that question showed many students had the same problem. Other students took the time to explain clearly the difference. It is amazing!!

Now I’ve gotten my whole family addicted to this game language learning program and we can even compete and compare our progress. I’m winning 😉

This is available for free because DuoLingo students translate real text as they learn. This way DuoLingo is paid for their translation services from websites like CNN and Buzzfeed, as announced October 2013. They are even translating Wikipedia!! If you would like to learn more about how this business model works, watch this TED talk. To actually translate these real texts, you must use the website and click “Immersion” from the toolbar. These translations will allow you to continuously learn and grow your vocabulary and language skills!!

DuoLingo launched in June 2012 and has continued to increase the number of languages available. Currently you can learn 9 languages: Danish, Duch, French, German, Irish, Italian, Portugese, Spanish, Swedish!! And you can learn them whether your native language is English or any of 16 other languages. This is so exciting!! If they can add 9 languages in less than 3 years, there wont be many more new  years until they add Asian languages, African languages, Polynesian languages, and more Scandinavian languages–I cant wait!

If you can’t tell, I’m REALLY excited about this. You should probably check it out…

Note: I am in no way affiliated with DuoLingo. I wrote only my honest, albeit ecstatic, opinion.


Happy Valentine’s Day!

At 5 months old we found out BJ had Cerebral Palsy and I didn’t want to tell people. My concern was that others wouldn’t love him for him. I thought they’d see his disability first and look for faults. I need not have worried…
How lucky BJ is to be loved by many and how fortunate we are to have him love us in such a joyous and unrestrained manner (his hugs are a killer) –“Have wheelchair will travel

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!

For anyone who has a disability, illness, or is imperfect in anyway really, the whole “love” thing can be…scary.  It’s been brought to my attention that I don’t give the people I love enough credit. It turns out that when you love someone, their imperfections aren’t a burden. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have people in my life to teach me that lesson.

Valentine’s Day is about love, in whatever shape it comes. A sibling, a friend, a better half,…

But for those who are still looking for that special someone and are disheartened in their search because of their imperfections on this fine Singles Awareness Day… humor me and consider this: we might just be the lucky ones. Anyone who can see past the rough exterior is a solid person — one that’ll stand the test of time, life, and whatever chaos ensues in the process. We attract amazing people in our lives, and leave the people who can’t see the good for the perfect people to deal with. Poor perfect people…

I'm different. You're awesome. Puppy love

Photo credit: Deliberate Blog; in their post on disabilities and Laws of Attraction

If you really need to fulfill your lovey dovey, mushy, hopeless romantic needs, check out these 5 special love stories (spoiler, their really cute!)

Note: “Have wheelchair will travel” is a Facebook Page with all sorts of great posts. You should check ’em out!

Air Access: Not just an ideal, it’s also a real life chair!

Air travel can be a nightmare, but traveling with a wheelchair is a whole other animal. UNTIL NOW! This is super exciting. But before I unveil the genius that will we will undoubtedly enjoy in the future, lets take a trip down memory road (aka, what you can expect at the airport today):

First flaming hurdle: you have to get someone to find an aisle chair like this.

Just look at that face and see how he feels about step 2: the transfer. How are you supposed to transfer into that tiny little thing? He’ll probably need to be helped, and they might even call for some back up. ‘Cause that’ll be discrete and not at all frustrating/embarrassing/anger-inducing/painfully awkward/painfully painful…

Then someone has to push the passenger onto the aircraft and help facilitate one more transfer. Sometimes the aisle chair doesn’t remain on the flight–even though it is required to by law so that the passenger can access the bathroom. And when it is there, going to the bathroom is a huge ordeal involving a team of flight attendants and all sorts of commotion.

The only real question is…WHY????!!! POR QUE???

There seems to be an obvious answer to this! And while I hadn’t worked out all the details to my simple solution, Priestmangoode did!

This detachable wheelchair fastens into the seat frame of the plane. It is perfectly secure and requires minimal effort to detach. Passengers can transfer onto the chair once in the terminal, and then out of their chair at the arrivals terminal. If they need to use the bathroom: easy. No need to worry if the aisle chair was accidentally forgotten. No need to call in advance to make sure the aisle chair will even be at your terminal. And if there are no wheelchair users on the flight, the chair can be used like a normal seat! No one would know. So you shouldn’t have to worry about them misplacing equipment, because misplacing this particular peice of equipment would mean one less airfare until it’s fixed.

I introduce, the Air Access by Priestmangoode.
There’s an invisible “ch” —> (ch)Air Access. Just kidding; I totally made that up.

This design was inspired by the London Paralympians. Sochi Paralympics start March 7th; let’s hope that when the Rio Olympics roll around, these Air Access chairs will be a s staple for all airlines.

If you think this accomplishment is no big deal, then prepare to have your mind changed by some of the incredible Paralympians that inspired it’s creation. It is your moral responsibility to watch these 4 minutes. They really say it best.

It’s the only time in my life when I feel disabled…
Everything in my life is independent until I get to the door of an aircraft…
It’s dehumanizing…
–Jen Browning Assistant Coach, Women’s Wheelchair Basketball, Team GB


It’s no wonder it was awarded the IDEA Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America, and a contender for the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year Award! Congratulations!!


Liquids allowed in carry-ons!

In August 2006, eight men tried to use liquid explosives on planes leaving the UK and headed towards the US. Almost immediately, a ban on all liquid was enacted.

Today we only suffer the minor inconvenience of the 3-1-1 rule (3.4 ounce containers of liquids, all in 1 quart size zip-lock bag, and 1 bag per person). I’ll be honest, I’ve lost my fair share of water bottles to the war on terror. This minor inconvenience can really suck sometimes! But the days of 3-1-1 might be coming to an end!

A nonprofit research-and-development company, Battelle, in Ohio has made an effective liquid-detection device: LS10. You can simply place a sealed container in this super-scanner where the contents will be analyzed using radio waves and ultra-sound technology. Within seconds it differentiates harmless liquids from potential threats. This process is effective for almost any container type (clear or opaque glass, plastic, metal, paper, and ceramic). It identifies potential threats through a database of known dangerous liquids; this database can be updated as new discoveries are made. These machines are being installed in Heathrow and other airports in Europe and Australia.

The United States appears to be going a different route. In September of this year, TSA placed a $6.8 million order for RespondeR Bottled Liquid Scanner from Smiths Detection. RespondeR BLS uses Raman spectroscopy technology to identify hazardous liquids in sealed bottles within 20 seconds. The machines can analyze clear, translucent, or frosted unopened glass or plastic bottles.

RespondeR liquid scanner

Source: Smiths Detections

Lets take a second to think about that. It sounds to me that TSA chose in favor of a previous vendor (Smith Detection supplies conveyor belt scanners at security points) instead of a potentially superior device. I don’t know the ins and outs of these products to make a strong argument but it seems that RespondeR is applicable for a limited type of containers and takes longer to scan. Meanwhile LS10 got more press (it was approved for use in Europe in 2012before the Responder and was chosen for use in Heathrow (where the 2006 bombers were thwarted!).  Also, I tend to feel that non-profits have cleaner motives in general. What do you think?

Europe’s liquid restrictions will be lifted in January 2014. When I read that I thought some funky business was going on. That’s only 2 months away and I hadn’t heard of any major change in security procedures to justify this change! Is this welcoming another round of attacks? Not according to the Association for Airline Passenger Rights (AAPR):

[AAPR] called on the agency [TSA] to end its “security theater” by focusing on more effective security measures.
According to AAPR Executive Director Brandon Macsata, TSA’s current 3-1-1 policy for carry-on liquids  is ineffective… TSA already allows liquids on planes… Second, technologies now exist to test liquids, which are already being utilized in Europe. “For years leading security consultants have questioned the effectiveness of the liquid ban, so it is time to end it. Ending the ban would allow TSA agents to better focus on more pressing potential security threats.” — November 11, 2013

TSA still contends that there is still a threat of liquid explosives

We understand that 3-1-1 is an inconvenience. But it’s also an inconvenience to terrorists and significantly drops their chances of getting a liquid explosive on an airplane. – TSA Blog (August 10, 2010)

and even blogged about how 3-1-1 is an effective security measure

Why can’t multiple people bring on explosives in three-ounce containers and mix them post security? The tough one! Tough because there are parts of the reason that are truly classified but here goes… [followed by 8 detailed reasons]. –TSA Blog (February 4, 2008).

As someone who spent a few extra the Heathrow airport on August 10, 2006, I appreciate these classified procedures. (We were trapped in a secure terminal for hours because “a repair needed to be made to the hydraulics.” We were traveling with my two favorite aerospace engineers, so we knew something was hinky with the explanation we were given). I don’t think they disclosed how they caught the would-be bombers, which is especially impressive when you consider they did so without our current screening procedures. Clearly they are doing something right!

As we approach the busiest travel-day of the year (Thanksgiving!) and we all have to brave the impending fiasco with only our courage, let this knowledge bring you some comfort: next year you might be able to bring liquid courage with you! 😉


Update: The European liquid restrictions will begin being lifted in January 2014, but will not be completed until 2016. You can expect more freedoms on connecting flights.

BatKid saves SF’s Gotham City!

BatKid is the 5 year old superhero who jumped to action to save the Bay Area’s Gotham City.

Miles Scott was diagnosed with leukemia before his 2nd birthday. And with a true hero’s spirit and bravery, he has battled it for 3 years. June marked his last treatment and he his now in remission–just in time to save the day!

The Make A Wish Foundation granted Miles’ wish to be Batman. With an adult Batman side-kick (and also Miles’ little brother “Robin”), Miles responded to Police Chief Greg Suhr’s desperate plea for help. BatKid sped to the rescue in his (car seat inside the) Lamborghini Bat-mobil!.

— First he saved a damsel in distress–a woman tied to a bomb, right in the path of the cable cars.

— Then we went off to capture the Riddler in the act!

— What’s a kid to do after defusing a bomb and thwarting a robbery? Why lunch of course! And good thing, because BatKid would need the energy for one last rescue!

— The Penguin mascot-napped Lou Seal, the SF Giant’s mascot. BatKid saved Lou and the Penguin joined the Riddler in lock up!

— After a long day of crime fighting, Mayor Ed Lee gave BatKid a (chocolate) key to the city in thanks!

So many supporters and volunteers are what made this event truly spectacular:

  • involvement of people like Mayor Ed Lee, chief federal prosecutor Attorney Melinda Haag and FBI agent David Johnson (who accused the days captured villains of “performing all kinds of mayhem in Gotham, San  Francisco, and parts unknown for an indefinite period of time.”)
  • involvement of police and even the SF Chronicle for issuing a special-edition newspapers with the headline, “Batkid Saves City.” Articles were authored by Clark Kent, Lois Lane and the likes.
  • Thousands of volunteers showed up to cheer BatKid on. (Some even ditched work! Our secret)

The support was so immense some were turned away. At every stop BatKid was cheered on by his enthusiastic fans, not only in person, but also online. The #SFBatKid was trending on Twitter and it even caught the attention of the President! President Obama and the First Lady tweeted their thanks to Miles, and Obama proved he is the hippest President around–he Vined his thanks!

He likes to be a superhero. He is one. He beat an awful disease.  -Batkid’s mom

For more info, check out:
NY Daily News – has great pictures tweeted from the event
ABC News – video report
LA Times – great videos of the event

Veterans Day!

Happy Veterans Day!

I’d just like to take a moment to appreciate the amazing men and women that are our veterans and service (wo)men. This year is special because we are reminded to celebrate Veterans Day not just for what veterans have given us, but what they continue to give…

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 7th, killing an estimated 10,000 people. This is among the most deadly storms in history. It is still active and has left thousands without food, shelter and power. Yesterday, Team Rubicon flew out to help.

Team Rubicon is a volunteer group of veterans and emergency responders who donate their time and skills to aid in these types of disasters. It took them only 3 days to plan and send their first team to one of the hardest hit areas: Tacloban.  Their focus will be on search and rescue, and medical triage. The next team will deploy later this week.

We’re here because we want to continue to serve after we left the military, be around our brother and sister veterans, and go do great things around the world and save some lives. —Matt Pelak of Team Rubicon

Thank you to all the service men and women out there! Protecting and serving is not a job description; it’s a character description.

This nation will remain the land of the Free only so long as it is the home of the Brave

Halloween Wrap

Tho the ghosts and goblins have disappeared until next the hallowed eve,
the time is ripe for a cute costume reprieve.

Happy Saints Day! I hope you have enjoyed these great costumes that have popped up for people dressing up with their mobility devices. They are pretty spectacular and hopefully will inspire another awesome year! Only 364 days left to figure out your next costume!

First I’d love to you about Peyton McCubbin and her amazing family. Peyton has used a wheelchair most of her childhood and her family has created out-of-this-world costumes. Here are two of my favorite, below, but you should check out her story to see more!

Pebbles and Bamm Bamm - wheelchair halloween costume

Princess Leia and Skywalker




And more ideas for your viewing pleasure:

Mario cart costume - little boy in wheelchair

Source: KidzOrg

Giraffe costume - little girl with crutches

Source: KidzOrg


CARS Mater and Lightning McQueen costume - boys with wheelchairs

Source: Pinterest


Cinderella in her carriage - little girl with wheelchair

Source: Pinterest
Instructions: Matthew&Kristitart


Dragon - boy with wheelchair (and family)



Wizard of Oz costumes - little boy with family

Source: Pinterest

Ice cream man - little boy with wheelchair

Source: DailyPicks

Luigi costume - boy with wheelchair

Source: Pinteres








Segway to accessibility

Segs4Vets is a non-profit established in 2005 to give injured veterans Segways to improve their mobility. The following year it was given a waiver allowing this charity to donate to active-duty military as well.

Segs4Vets with President Bush

The really cool thing about this is that Segs4Vets aren’t just “Mobilizing America’s Heroes.” Mobilizing heroes entails wheelchairs, power chairs, prosthetics, walking frames, and other assistive devices. Segways aren’t viewed by the general public as disability devices but as a new, fun and quirky mode of transportation.

When people see a wheelchair, they have an immediate reaction. But Segways don’t reflect an image of injury or loss, etc. They allow injured soldiers to stand tall (or rather, stand taller if we are being literal about it). And that is something everyone deserves, especially those who risk their lives for others.

A Segway seems like a fitting thank you for that sort of sacrifice.

Segways offer other advantages to powerchairs–like better turning radius, ability to be at eye-level, and of course a Segway makes a disability easily overlooked by passerbys.

Segs4Vets training program

Now for the bad news. Since Segways are not a device specifically designed for and used solely by people with disabilities, Segways do not get the same priviledges as wheelchairs, power chairs, etc. If you read this ADA Factsheet, this distinction is really important:

“Other power-driven mobility devices” include a range of devices not designed for individuals with mobility impairments, such as the Segway® PT, but which are often used by individuals with disabilities as their mobility device of choice. Wheelchairs (and other devices designed for use by people with mobility impairments) must be permitted in all areas open to pedestrian use. “Other power-driven mobility devices” must be permitted to be used unless the covered entity can demonstrate that the class of devices cannot be operated in accordance with legitimate safety requirements.

What does this mean? Well, it means you cannot use a Segway in Disneyland. On July 18, 2013, an appeals court sided with Disneyland, allowing Disney to prohibit Segways in the theme park, due to safety concerns. This begs the question, who else can ban them? In 2002, San Fransisco banned them from any area intended for foot or bike traffic in the entire city.

Fortunately, airlines must treat Segways as assistive devices for travelers with disabilities. The only trouble might be your battery – lithium batteries don’t fly, but other types do.

This all gets me thinking… a Segway Tour might be a really cool travel idea. I’ll have to research and report back!

What’s your experience with Segway?