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On ‘Sound Medicine’: Dangers of synthetic drugs, and stem cells’ potential for cancer treatments


“Sound Medicine,” also available via podcast and Stitcher Radio for mobile phones and iPads, covers controversial ethics topics, breakthrough research studies and the day-to-day application of recent advancements in medicine.

What danger lies in synthetic drugs? While you may be able to find many synthetic drugs at your local gas station, including White Rush and K2, the chemical background of these drugs is commonly unknown, and their use can mimic the side effects of cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine. Another synthetic drug is known as “bath salts,” which police suspected could have been behind the vicious face-eating attack in Miami this year. Three of the most common components of bath salts have been declared illegal by the FDA, resulting in a nationwide raid of manufacturers and distributors of synthetic drugs by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Mark Ryan, Pharm.D., director of the Louisiana Poison Control Center, explains the effects of synthetic drugs on the body and the dangers posed by synthetic drugs sold in convenience stores.

Is the safety of already approved drugs questionable? Several popular prescription drugs have been pulled from the market following their approval because of the emergence of severe side effects, bringing attention to the lack of a system to assess and monitor the safety of drugs once they are on the market. Eric Meslin, director of the Indiana University Center for Bioethics, Sir Alasdair Breckenridge, chairman, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in London, and Bruce Psaty, professor of medicine at University of Washington, all participated in creating the Institute of Medicine’s report on the safety of approved drugs. The trio talks with “Sound Medicine” to share the background behind the report and summarize the main recommendations for improving the safety of drugs already on the market.

What can the increasing number of cancer survivors be attributed to? Today in the United States there are more than 13 million cancer survivors, a significant increase from 6.6 million in 1990, a number expected to rise to 18 million by 2022. Elizabeth Ward, Ph.D., national vice president for intramural research at the American Cancer Society, discusses the combination of earlier diagnosis and better treatment that increases the likelihood of survival as well as the potential pressure that an increased number of survivors could place on our overburdened health care system.

How can stem cells revolutionize cancer treatments? In his research at the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, Michael Clarke, M.D., has isolated a type of cancer cell that is capable of producing new tumors because of its stem-cell-like behavior. This discovery has the potential to change the way certain types of cancer are treated, by targeting only the cancer cells that have the stem-cell-like behavior. Clarke, associate director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine and an alumnus of IU, was the keynote speaker at this year’s Cancer Research Day at IUSM. This week on “Sound Medicine,” Clarke shares the background behind the relationship between stem and cancer cells and the aptitude that stem-cell-like cancer cells have for creating better treatments.

“Sound Medicine,” co-produced by the IU School of Medicine and WFYI Public Radio (90.1 FM) and underwritten in part by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, is aired on the following Indiana public radio stations: WBSB (Anderson, 89.5 FM), WFIU (Bloomington, 103.7 FM; Columbus, 100.7 FM; Kokomo, 106.1 FM; Terre Haute, 95.1 FM), WNDY (Crawfordsville, 91.3 FM), WVPE (Elkhart/South Bend, 88.1 FM), WNIN (Evansville, 88.3 FM), WBOI (Fort Wayne, 89.1 FM), WFCI (Franklin, 89.5 FM), WBSH (Hagerstown/New Castle, 91.1 FM), WFYI (Indianapolis), WBSW (Marion, 90.9 FM), WBST (Muncie, 92.1 FM), WBSJ (Portland, 91.7 FM), WLPR (Lake County, 89.1 FM) and WBAA (West Lafayette, 101.3 FM).

“Sound Medicine” is also broadcast on these public radio stations across the country: WLRH (Huntsville, Ala.), KSKA (Anchorage, Alaska), KTNA (Talkeetna, Alaska), KUHB (Pribilof Islands, Alaska), KUAF (Fayetteville and Fort Smith, Ark.), KIDE (Hoopa Valley, Calif.), KRCC (Colorado Springs, Colo.), KEDM (Monroe, La.), WCMU (Mount Pleasant, Mich.), WCNY and WRVO-1 (Syracuse, N.Y.), KMHA (Four Bears, N.D.), WYSU (Youngstown, Ohio), KPOV (Bend, Ore.) and KEOS (College Station, Texas).