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Bodies...The Blog


Six Going on Sixty: The Appearance of Rapid Aging with Progeria Syndrome


Progeria syndrome (formally referred to as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome or HGPS) is an extremely rare condition in which young children begin aging at 8 to 10 times the normal rate.1 Progeria is a genetic condition that is not usually inherited, although there is a uniquely heritable form. "Because of this accelerated aging, a child of ten years will have similar respiratory, cardiovascular, and arthritic conditions that a 70-year-old would have."2 HGPS affects approximately 1 in 8 million live births.3 Currently there are between 35 and 45 known cases in the world. F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 short story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button features a character born as a seventy-year-old man who ages backwards. The popularity of the story – likely inspired by progeria –  and the 2008 film starring Brad Pitt are two main contributors to cultural awareness of accelerated aging diseases.

The word “progeria” stems from the Greek “progeros,” meaning “prematurely old.” Most children born with Hutchinson-Gilford are given a thirteen-year life expectancy; a small percentage lives to see their twenties, and even fewer may reach their forties. Typically, complications of atherosclerosis, such as heart attack or stroke, cause an early death in the teen years.


Controversial Medical Experiments: Syphilis


Guatemala Syphilis Experiment

Interested in testing the effectiveness of penicillin as a treatment for venereal disease, from 1946 to 1948 American public health doctors ran an innoculation experiment now considered "abhorrent." Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. doctors deliberately infected nearly 700 Guatemalans — prison inmates, mental patients, and soldiers — with syphilis. In Fall 2010 Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized to the Guatemalan government and the survivors and descendants of those infected. Clinton referred to the experiments as “clearly unethical.” During the study, the NIH paid syphilis-infected prostitutes to have sex with the prisoners. Other invasive methods to infect the subjects included pouring bacteria on their scraped genitalia.


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


Sometimes I'd look at words or pictures but see only meaningless shapes. I'd stare at clocks and not understand what the positions of the hands meant. Words from different parts of a page appeared to be grouped together in bizarre sentences: 'Endangered Condors Charged in Shotgun Killing.' In conversation, I'd think of one word but say something completely unrelated: 'hotel' became 'plankton'; 'cup' came out 'elastic.' I couldn't hang on to a thought long enough to carry it through a sentence. When I tried to cross the street, the motion of the cars became so disorienting that I couldn't move. I was at a sensory distance from the world, as if I were wrapped in clear plastic.
-A Sudden Illness- How My life Changed by Laura Hillenbrand


The Love Drug


When a couple has chemistry, they usually have it both figuratively and literally. Behind those sweaty palms, thumping heart, stomach in knots, and nervous jitters is the physiology of love. Such sensations often mark the first stage of a romantic relationship, called limerence.

However, post-honeymoon period (anywhere from eighteen months to four years), our chemistry transforms the physical manifestation of love into a different form. In stable, long-term relationships that have reached the secure attachment phase, many people experience a warm, comfortable feeling of security. Attachment love hormones are more comparable to morphine than the cocaine-like high of limerence.

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