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Needled by a lack of legislation on tattoos?

Your intrepid reporter David Lynch noted that a review of guidance on tattooing and body piercing recently received 23 public submissions. The Department of Health had also sought submission on plans for new ‘Tattooing and Body Piercing Infection Control Guidance’.

Your trusty columnist George Winter had also raised the issue of the need for regulation in his column in the issue of 28 April.

Tattooing now seems to be in the realm of eCigarettes, where claims and counter-claims have the potential to confuse a public already bombarded by volumes of information never before available on a worldwide scale.

I was therefore at first amused, and then intrigued, by a study published in the American Journal of Biology recently, which suggested that people who have multiple tattoos develop a better immune response to new tattoos than those who go ‘under the needle’ for the first time.

The amusement aspect comes from the mental image of a 17-year-old waving a printout of the study in the face of a hand-wringing mother or father who is trying to dissuade them from getting their next bit of ‘ink’.

The intriguing aspect comes from how the study could help us to better understand the immune system and improve the effectiveness of vaccines.

Caveat emptor — the study had a small sample size and looked at only one or two of the many aspects of the immune system’s response — but it may provide food for thought.

The research team at the University of Alabama, US, took saliva samples from 29 participants who were having their first tattoo and examined their immunoglobulin A and cortisol levels and did the same with people who had already had multiple tattoos.

In the first-time tattoo folks, their immunoglobulin A levels fell far more sharply than those who had already had several tattoos. While this tenuously suggests that those with several tattoos might have improved immune systems, those getting their first tattoo were actually more susceptible to illness.

Co-author Prof Christopher Lynn, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama, remarked: “They don’t just hurt while you get the tattoo, but they can exhaust you. It’s easier to get sick. You can catch a cold because your defences are lowered from the stress of getting a tattoo.

“After the stress response, your body returns to an equilibrium. However, if you continue to stress your body over and over again, instead of returning to the same set point, it adjusts its internal set points and moves higher. There is… evidence suggesting that applying a vaccine with a tattoo approach — several small punctures, not one big shot — may increase the effectiveness.”

It’s an interesting aspect to the tattoo debate. However, as with sunbeds, even when legislation is introduced, the key is how strictly it will be adhered to and whether or not it is even possible to police it.

Cancer bites

The annual American Association for Cancer Research meeting is a big deal, and getting bigger each year, as we struggle to make more headway with the ‘big C’.

Some of the quotes from the meeting are interesting and below is a small sample of who said what, culled from a report in The Scientist.

“I fear that I am a member of an endangered species at a time when the whole ethic of doing discovery-oriented research is being marginalised… I hope that one day this trend will reverse itself.” Dr Robert Weinberg of MIT, who received a Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research.

“I expect over the next decades we will see a very large expansion of the use of microRNAs to treat cancer… It could be as large as monoclonal antibodies.” Dr Philip Sharp, also of MIT.

“So this suggests, contrary to what’s in every textbook, that our cells are capable of using extracellular proteins as a meaningful source of nutrients.” Dr Craig Thompson of Sloan Kettering, who spoke on cancer metabolism.

“We are on the cusp of a real inflection point in the fight against cancer.” US Vice President Joe Biden.

“The main message is that cancer immune-oncology is living up to its promise. Steady increase in durable remissions reported by a variety of groups. The main clinical challenge is how to efficiently conduct combination trials with other targeted agents, since preclinical models are pretty useless in predicting.” Dr Carl June, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, who spoke on CAR T-cell therapy.

A laugh a day…

One or two jokes to finish, which were submitted by readers and are always gratefully received.

A rich businessman is choking on a fish bone at a restaurant and a doctor a nearby table springs up, performs the Heimlich and saves his life.“Thank you!” gushes the businessman. “Please, I insist on paying you. Just name the fee.”

“Very well,” says our doctor, rubbing his chin. “How about half of what you would have offered when the bone was still stuck in your throat?”

While doing rounds, a new nurse couldn’t help overhearing the surgeon yelling: “Typhoid! Tetanus! Measles!”

“Why does he keep doing that?” she asked a colleague.

“Oh, he likes to call the shots around here.” 

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