Category Archives: Medical Science

TRUE DEATH. What happens to your brain in the last minutes before you die?

Dr Rajiv Parti, a California-based anaesthesiologist, has allegedly ventured into the afterlife by mistake but says his journey and near-death experience had him float into a realm on the cusp of heaven and hell.

A wave of electrical activity in our brains called “spreading depression” appears to mark the final moment before death, researchers have found. Experts examining brain activity in dying patients observed a flurry of activity that appears to precede the fatal shutdown of our most vital organ.

The finding suggests that consciousness may still be present for many minutes after the rest of the body has stopped showing signs of life, raising the possibility that for up to five minutes, the process of the brain shutting down could be reversed, according to the Daily Mail.

A team of neurologists, including from the Charité-Universitatsmedizin Berlin, continuously monitored electrical signals in the brains of nine people as they died.

Each of the patients from Berlin, Germany, and Cincinnati, Ohio had received fatal brain injuries and had “do not resuscitate” orders.

Experts hoped that, by implanting electrodes in the brains of their test subjects, they could uncover the mechanisms and timing of events during the process of dying. They found that even five minutes after a person’s heart stops beating their brain cells, or neurons, may still function. But a wave of “spreading depression” marked the moment that these neurons shut down before their final, irreversible death.

In a written statement lead author Dr Jens Dreier of Universitatsmedizin Berlin said: ”After circulatory arrest, spreading depolarisation marks the loss of stored electrochemical energy in brain cells and the onset of toxic processes that eventually lead to death. “Importantly, it is reversible up to a point when the circulation is restored.”

Cells die when blood stops flowing, depriving them of the oxygen they need as fuel to function. When this happens, brain cells draw on energy reserves for a few minutes before they shut down completely. This happens when the mechanisms that neurons use to keep ions separated start to fail.

Experts examining brain activity in dying patients observed a flurry of activity that appears to precede the fatal shutdown of our most vital organ. Ions are electrically charged particles formed when atoms lose or gain electrons. The breakdown of the barriers between these particles releases a massive amount of electrochemical energy into the brain as neurons frantically attempt to draw in fuel.

This process, known as spreading depolarisation or spreading depression, is marked by hyperactivity in the neurons, followed by a sudden silence.

However, this silence only marks the final countdown to death and may be reversed for a period, researchers found. Exactly how long this remains the case is still open to debate.

A final ”wave” of spreading depression seems to mark the point at which neurons have fired for the last time, although the research team warned that this may still be an unreliable marker for true death.

“The chemical changes that lead to death begin with depolarisation,” Dr Jed Hartings of the University of University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine and a member of the research team told Newsweek. “We’ve never had a method to diagnose brain death, and we don’t have a way to be certain when all capacity for awareness is lost.”

While the study doesn’t have a direct effect on patient care today, it may lead to improved diagnostic and treatment procedures in the future. The findings may be helpful for developing strategies for dealing with cardiac arrest and stroke that complement efforts to re-establish circulation.

They may also inform the debate on organ donation after cardio death, where death is declared between two and 10 minutes after The full findings were published in the joumal Annals of Neurology.


Scientists reported in October 2017 that they had discovered a person’s consciousness continues to work after the body has stopped showing signs of life.

That means they may be aware oftheir own death and there is evidence to suggest someone who has died may even hear their own death being announced by medics.

A team from New York University Langone School of Medicine investigated the topic through twin studies in Europe and the US of people who have suffered cardiac arrest and ”come back” to life, in the largest study of its kind.

Study author Dr Sam Parnia told Live Science: “They’ll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they’ll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them.”

He said these recollections were then verified by medical and nursing staff who reported their patients, who were technically dead, could remember details of what they were saying.

Doctors define death based on when the heart no longer beats, which then immediately cuts off blood supply to the brain. Once that happens, blood no longer circulates to the brain, which means brain function halts almost instantaneously. You lose all your brain stem reflexes, including your gag reflex and your pupil reflex.

The brain’s cerebral cortex, which is responsible for thinking and processing information from the five senses, also instantly flatlines. This means that within two to 20 seconds, no brainwaves will be detected on an electric monitor.

This sparks a chain reaction of cellular processes that will result in the death of brain cells.

However this can take hours after the heart has stopped, researchers said.

NZ Herald

Rouhanicare: Iranian president’s unsung domestic success – Saeed Kamali Dehghan. 

When Ali’s father-in-law had a stroke in the Iranian city of Shiraz last year, the 67-year-old shopkeeper was rushed to Namazi hospital, where he received treatment for 20 days, including six days in intensive care.

While his father-in-law recovered, Ali turned his mind to how he would pay for the care. He borrowed money to build up a 100m rials (£2,000) reserve. But when he picked up the bill, it amounted to just 5.8m rials (£116).

“We thought they may have forgotten to add a zero,” he told the Guardian. “I looked at my brother-in-law, and we laughed. This was considerably less, it was almost nothing.”

Before he fell ill, Ali’s father-in-law had joined the healthcare programme brought in during President Hassan Rouhani’s first term, a scheme announced in 2014 and nicknamed Rouhanicare, in apparent homage to Obamacare, Barack Obama’s patient protection and affordable care act. It meant that Ali and his family were only expected to pay a fraction of the total 128m rials.

In the course of the past three years, Rouhani’s health ministry has insured nearly 11 million Iranians, meaning that those who were not previously covered, like the unemployed or the poor, are now protected.

The government’s bimeh salamat(healthcare) scheme pays 380,000 rials per person in monthly contributions, allowing most of those covered to pay a fraction of the cost of treatments.

Ali said he believed the healthcare plan was the president’s biggest unsung domestic achievement, and one that helped lead to a landslide election victory in May, which increased his mandate for his second term by 5m votes. Rouhanimeter, an independent website tracking Rouhani’s campaign promises, said it considers his pledges on healthcare to be a promise fulfilled.

“We have taken big steps to protect the social welfare of those with lower incomes and the nationwide healthcare plan’s implementation means all Iranians are now covered by medical insurance,” Rouhani said in his inauguration ceremony last month.

Initial estimates expected 5 million Iranians to apply for the scheme, but more than double that number have registered – many of whom did not dare to see a doctor previously for fear of the cost.

Shahram Shahbazi’s mother was an aerobics trainer in Tehran before developing a spine condition a couple of years ago that has left her housebound. “This healthcare really came to our rescue, otherwise we couldn’t afford the £5,000 needed for the surgeries,” Shahbazi, 27, said.

“It means that if she didn’t have the insurance, my mother would still be in pain and we would have to stop treatment after the first surgery. Under the insurance, you’re only supposed to have one big surgery a year, my mother had two and still they covered it.”

Despite the scheme’s success and popularity, it has not been without its problems. It is expensive – Rouhanicare costs about £770m a year, while other major health reforms, such as introducing a referral system and family physicians, means the annual healthcare bill is three times that figure. Rouhanicare’s funding comes from 1% of Iran’s 9% VAT rate and 10% of reserves saved through cut in subsidies.

Fars news, a semi-official news agency allied with the opponents of Rouhani, claimed last year that Rouhanicare was “on the brink of collapse” because it was not expertly thought-out and lacked funding.

“The nationwide healthcare plan is facing serious financial problems and state insurance agencies are saying that they are not able to pay back their debts to hospitals and it’s more than 10 months that they are facing those debts,” a Fars article said. Officials have admitted to the lack of funding in initial years.

Hossein Nafisimofrad is a graduate in business management at the University of Warwick who has done research about Iran’s health transformation plan. He also sounded an air of scepticism, saying his evaluation showed the “state-funded policy” was aimed at avoiding political unrest, but would be ineffective and unsustainable in the long run because of its costs.

Although Rouhani has taken the credit for the healthcare plan, it was envisioned in law more than two decades ago and was partially implemented during Mohammad Khatami’s reformist presidency.

Iraj Harirchi, a deputy health minister and spokesman, said Rouhani’s emphasis on the healthcare plan during his inauguration ceremony showed there was the necessary political will for its funding to continue.

“We’re proud to say that there is no Iranian without a medical insurance that we would refuse to cover,” Harirchi told the Guardian. “There may be some people who don’t want to apply, or there are issues with their IDs, otherwise anyone who registers can be covered.”

Nearly half of Iran’s population is insured through Rouhanicare or other means, with about 38 million having the government paying for their national insurance contribution. The rest are covered by medical insurance provided by their employers.

Most people using the government’s salamat insurance scheme contribute 6% of their overall treatment costs, and pay between 10% to 30% towards the costs of most drugs required for their care. Those assessed as unable to afford such payments are not charged.

“Before the [Rouhani’s] health transformation plan, people on average paid for 37% of their treatments costs, now they pay 6% and if it’s through referral only 3%,” Harirchi said, adding the reforms have also significantly reduced corruption and bribery in the health sector.

About 90% of the 11 million people covered by salamat insurance live in the suburbs. The government has recently decided that those who can afford should pay between 15% and 100% of their contribution based on an income assessment, but it was not clear when the new requirement would come into force.

Haririchi acknowledged that funding remains a challenge, but he was confident the government would find the money. “Iran’s population pyramid points towards an ageing population and this would increase the health and treatment costs so we would need more money.”

Vahid Rosoukhi, a contractor specialising in software working in the healthcare sector in Tabriz, north-west Iran, said recent reforms had benefited those on low incomes, but added that more money was needed to meet demand.

“A big challenge facing the healthcare is the bigger picture. From the beginning, we’ve heard criticism from doctors citing its huge financial burden and the government access to limited funds. That’s why from the beginning of this year, the government has relaxed some of its duties under the healthcare and limited its use to state-run health centres,” Rosoukhi said, referring to a cabinet decision this summer which restricted patients covered by Rouhanicare to only use state hospitals and doctors.

Hundreds of nurses have protested in front of the Iranian parliament, Majlis. In February, they complained that Rouhanicare has increased pressure on them, while their salaries have stagnated.

Outside the medical profession, others view Rouhanicare as a success, even those who did not vote for the president, including Roshanak, 39, a computer engineer based in Tehran.

“I don’t know why he kept focusing on the nuclear deal during his election campaign while it was the healthcare that had the most tangible effect on those with lower incomes,” she said.

“Before this plan, many people didn’t even dare to go for a checkup or treatment because they were afraid of the costs but you look at people now and everyone has got a daftarche (insurance notebook).”

The Guardian 


The Curious Case of Phineas Gage’s Brain – Jon Hamilton. 

It took an explosion and 13 pounds of iron to usher in the modern era of neuroscience.

In 1848, a 25-year-old railroad worker named Phineas Gage was blowing up rocks to clear the way for a new rail line in Cavendish, Vt. He would drill a hole, place an explosive charge, then pack in sand using a 13-pound metal bar known as a tamping iron.

But in this instance, the metal bar created a spark that touched off the charge. That, in turn, drove this tamping iron up and out of the hole, through his left cheek, behind his eye socket, and out of the top of his head.

Gage didn’t die. But the tamping iron destroyed much of his brain’s left frontal lobe, and Gage’s once even-tempered personality changed dramatically.

This sudden personality transformation is why Gage shows up in so many medical textbooks.

“He was the first case where you could say fairly definitely that injury to the brain produced some kind of change in personality,” says Malcolm Macmillan, an honorary professor at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences.


Vaccination, it’s science, there is no other side – Dr Michelle Dickinson. 

When a high percentage of people are vaccinated, there are too few susceptible people left to infect.

Science is the field of study concerned with discovering by observing and experimenting.

Although anybody can do science, professional scientific researchers follow a scientific method which allows them to explain occurrences using a logical, consistent, systematic method of investigation.

This involves collecting large amounts of data from well thought out experiments and analysing that data to arrive at a well-tested, well documented, theory that is supported by the evidence.

The theory is then subjected to critique by other experts and only if approved by them is it allowed to be published in a peer reviewed journal for others to read and learn from.

As a person who reads and writes peer reviewed journal articles, I’ll admit that they can be difficult to understand, are often filled with specialist jargon, and are not usually available to the public without having to pay a fee.

This makes obtaining and analysing scientific data difficult and expensive.

What is easy to obtain and analyse is scientific information from websites and documentaries which are deliberately designed to be simple to understand, easy to access and contain memorable, shareable sound bites.

Websites, social media posts and documentaries however do not have to follow any of the rules of peer reviewed scientific method, and instead can make incredible ‘scientific’ claims based on anecdotal stories beautifully packaged into believable emotive narratives.

I mention this as the controversial anti-vaccination film Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe is touring New Zealand.

The movie, directed by Andrew Wakefield the former British doctor who was struck off the medical register over an unethical study, claims to give the other side to the vaccination argument.

Let’s be clear – the whole point of peer reviewed scientific method is that there is no other side.

Science presents all sides, that’s the beauty of science, it’s transparent and open about its evidence based conclusions.

Experiments carried out over hundreds of studies by scientists all over the world involving more than 15 million children conclude clearly that vaccines are not linked to autism.

For those that don’t want to trawl through all of the peer reviewed scientific studies that have shown this, the Cochrane systematic review of research on the MMR vaccine gives a great public summary.

In light of this, there are still hundreds of websites claiming that vaccinations are dangerous, an issue emphasised this week at Grantlea Downs School in Timaru.

The school’s board of trustees, of which I couldn’t find out how many were familiar with scientific method, decided not to allow their students to receive the free vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) on site.

The vaccine is highly effective in preventing infection HPV responsible for about 90 per cent of HPV caused cancers, and school-based vaccinations programmes are the most convenient way for children to get protected against HPV.

Convenient vaccination programmes are important because they work on herd immunity, a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population provides protection for individuals who have not developed immunity due to being too young or too ill to be vaccinated.

When a high percentage of the population is protected, there are too few susceptible people left to infect and diseases become difficult to spread.

Anti-immunisation websites and movies create fear with cherry-picked science and reductions in childhood vaccinations will allow disease transmission chains to rebuild meaning herd immunity will no longer be effective.

I’m all about freedom of choice, but if you are going to put other people at risk, you should have a really good reason. A movie or website isn’t one of them.

Dr Michelle Dickinson, also known as Nanogirl, is an Auckland University nanotechnologist who is passionate about getting Kiwis hooked on science.

NZ Herald

Experts May Have Found The Cause Of Crohn’s Disease. 

People with Crohn’s disease know the uncomfortable symptoms of the chronic condition all too well: diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss and fatigue, among others. But what doctors have not been able to tell the approximately 565,000 people in the U.S. with Crohn’s is why they’ve developed the inflammatory bowel condition in the first place. Huffington Post