It’s a hard and dangerous life being Santa Claus, especially the night before Christmas.
We have just left behind us that wonderful time of celebration. And for most of us during this vacation period there will have been much more of feasting than fasting and more of sloth than industry. Thinking about this led me to pose what I think is an interesting question: is Santa diabetic?
Why do I ask that? Well, does Santa get enough exercise during the rest of the year? Could Santa be heading for an inevitable health collapse due to his topsy-turvy schedule and diet? Just how overweight is Santa? Think about it: he must eat and drink a billion or more sweet snacks on Christmas Eve – his triglycerides must be through the roof! This led me to think about my own health, the health of my family and, if we can think about the vast numbers of mince pies and glasses of sherry (what British people traditionally leave out for Santa) taken on Christmas Eve by our gift-giving, white-bearded, non-sleeping friend, then why not think about the health of all of us? Many of us overeat or drink too much. Many of us have a spreading waistline, are in our middle age and are thinking about the future and how to make it healthy and happy for us and our children. Thinking about Santa got me thinking about my own future. My family has a history of developing diabetes.
Now, stay with me, this all got me thinking about diagnosis and disease treatment in a more general sense. Typical symptoms of diabetes include thirst, excessive urination, fatigue, and an elevated blood glucose level. In ancient times, urine in diabetics was even observed to taste sweet! This was known at least 3,500 years ago in India and Egypt. But there are many diseases that will kill you if left untreated, and they are harder to detect than diabetes. Many forms of cancer, imminent cardiac arrest and stroke, to name a few, are hard to detect while still being treatable in such a way as to alleviate symptoms or extend life.
I recently described an approach in clinical research that might enable diagnosis of pancreatic cancer from urine samples at an early and treatable stage. The research that led to the development of that test was based on a powerful approach to understanding human biology and disease called proteomics. Proteomics is the quantitative study of the complete protein complement, the proteome, of an organism, tissue or cell. If you would like to learn more about biomarkers used for disease diagnosis and in other areas please visit Thermoscientific.com/ProteinBiomarkers.
The primary technologies underlying clinical & translational research proteomics are liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry, usually abbreviated to LC-MS. It is technology like LC-MS applied to proteomics and next-generation sequencing (NGS) applied to genetic analysis that are revolutionizing clinical research and translating that research to the clinic.
High levels of refined sugars in your diet are thought to contribute to cancer. Otto Warburg discovered this in 1931. He found that cancers and tumors preferentially use sugars to feed themselves and grow and spread rapidly. How strange, interesting and disturbing.
So Santa’s sweet, sweet diet might contribute not only to his large waistline, but Santa might also be feeling pretty tired, not just because of his astonishingly busy night but because of ill health due to diabetes and perhaps even cancer.
The powerful technologies of LC-MS and NGS are starting to be used in the emerging area of precision medicine, particularly NGS. What is precision medicine? It is ‘an emerging approach to disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle’ for each individual person. An earlier term for precision medicine was personalised medicine, which has since been superseded. There is a great infographic on the NIH website which summarises precision medicine very nicely.
So, perhaps in the not-so-distant future, when Santa is getting his annual check-up, his doctor will take samples and send them away to be analysed by NGS and LC-MS to not only identify and then treat incipient illness but also prevent illness from happening in the first place. Remember the old saying: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’
If you have enjoyed these ramblings look out for my next, which will discuss precision medicine and how it is changing the face of modern healthcare and how it will change the health and wealth of nations.