Livin' on the MDedge

In the Grand Canyon, norovirus gives new meaning to ‘leave no trace’


Ain’t gastroenteritis grand?

The Grand Canyon is perhaps America’s greatest natural wonder. The mile-deep gorge of epic proportions, carved over eons by the Colorado River, elicits superlatives of the highest order from those seeing it for the first time. In the past few months, though, visitors to the Grand Canyon have been experiencing a rather more unpleasant sort of reaction: Involuntary bowel evacuation.

Since April, more than 150 river rafters and backcountry campers have fallen ill with bouts of acute gastroenteritis, likely caused by norovirus. Hey, a viral outbreak and our old friend SARS-CoV-2 isn’t involved! Hopefully it won’t get jealous. Whatever the culprit is, however, it got everywhere, as clusters of illness have popped up in unconnected parts of the park and some hikers have been restricted to a smaller portion of the park to avoid further disease spread. The majority of cases occurred in May, so it’s hoped that the outbreak is dying down, but the park remains on alert.

Grand Canyon Jon Sullivan/Pixnio

Now, acute gastroenteritis is certainly an unpleasant disease, but it isn’t typically a life-threatening one. There are, however, a couple of unique factors complicating this outbreak. For one, the Grand Canyon is in Arizona (duh), which can get rather hot in the summer months. Expelling waste from both ends becomes rather more dangerous when the thermometer reads over a hundred degrees, and there have been reports of multiple helicopter rescues.

That’s pretty bad, but in a way, they’re the lucky ones. How can we explain this … see, when you visit the Grand Canyon, you’re expected to follow the general rules of Leave No Trace. That means several things, but essentially, if you bring it in, you have to bring it out. Yes, that includes the various consequences of an acute gastroenteritis attack.

Forget spooky campfire stories and hungry wildlife lurking in the night, because true horror is scraping your friend’s diarrhea off the walls of the Grand Canyon into a plastic bag and stuffing it into your backpack. Probably not the sublime one-on-one Grand Canyon experience that people are expecting.

Give us a pee! ... for stem cell retrieval

Getting cells for regenerative stem cell treatment has traditionally been painful and difficult – usually they are retrieved by surgical means from bone marrow or fat tissue – but there may be an easier way.

Just pee in a cup.

A jar containing a urine sample toeytoey2530/Thinkstock

Apparently, human urine contains stem cells with the potential to be used for regenerative effects. The magic ingredient? The enzyme telomerase, which “is essential for the self-renewal and potential of different types of stem cells” and is related to longevity, according to researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

They looked into how regenerative telomerase activity is for various capabilities beyond chromosomal stability, and whether these stem cells can become other kinds of cells for optimal tissue repair. Turns out they could, acting as a “distinct subpopulation” that has the ability not only to grow cells but also to morph into other cells, they said in a written statement.

Safety is also an issue. “Being able to use a patient’s own stem cells for therapy is considered advantageous because they do not induce immune responses or rejection,” said Anthony Atala, MD, a coauthor of the study published in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology.

So less risk, easier retrieval, and great regenerative results. If this takes off, the other methods of retrieval could get flushed down the toilet.


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