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  Health

PHOTO CREDITt: —Courtesy of Albuquerque BioPark
Doug Hotle, Curator of Reptiles at the ABQ BioPark, extracts venom from an eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

BioPark rattlesnakes used in ground-breaking cancer research

—Doug Hotle

Four western diamondback rattlesnakes from the Albuquerque BioPark will soon be part of the first clinical trials for venom as a cancer treatment. The snakes traveled on November 10, 2011, to the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, one of the four premier venom laboratories in the United States. The snakes’ venom will be extracted and sent to Paris, France, where the clinical studies are underway.

Snake venom contains hundreds of proteins, which impact the human body in various ways. When combined, the proteins can be devastating. In isolation, these proteins can be used to treat health issues from strokes and heart attacks to Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. “Copperhead venom is probably going to be our saving grace for breast cancer. It puts the cancer cells in suspended animation,” said Doug Hotle, a venom expert and Curator of Reptiles at the ABQ BioPark. “The lab tests using rattlesnake venom to treat cancer have also been extremely successful. We know that there are a lot of great things on the horizon.”

Scientists at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo will extract the rattlesnake venom using a non-harmful method, which allows the snakes to bite and excrete the venom naturally. “Anyone in the snake venom world began as a snake enthusiast,” said Hotle. “The last thing they’d want to do is to see the snakes hurt.”

From there, the venom will travel to Paris, France, where Celtic Biotech, an Irish pharmaceutical company, is conducting the first clinical trials of rattlesnake venom as a cancer treatment in humans.

“We’re excited to be involved in such groundbreaking research, especially on a health issue, which has impacted so many people,” said Mayor Richard Berry. “It is a great credit to the City of Albuquerque, our Zoo, and to Curator Doug Hotle.”

The BioPark is an accessible facility and a division of the Cultural Services Department, City of Albuquerque, Richard J. Berry, Mayor. For more information, visit www.abqbiopark.com or call 311 locally or (505) 768-2000 (Relay NM or 711).


New Mexico poison center offers carbon monoxide safety tips

—Luke Frank

As temperatures cool, the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center (NMPDIC) would like to educate New Mexicans on how to protect themselves from carbon monoxide poisoning. All fuel-burning equipment and appliances such as stoves/ovens, fireplaces, water heaters, and generators can produce carbon monoxide gas.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous system tissue, or can result in death. Symptoms may include headache, dizziness, aches, and confusion. Although carbon monoxide does not produce fever or diarrhea, symptoms may be confused with the flu.

Since carbon monoxide gas is undetectable by human senses and the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are shared with other seasonal illnesses, prevention and early detection of exposure to carbon monoxide gas is crucial. Please take the following precautions to prevent and/or minimize the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Properly install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor and outside of every sleeping area of your home. If the alarm sounds on a detector, turn off all fuel-burning devices, open doors and windows, and vacate the premises immediately until the source can be identified and repaired by a qualified technician. Inexpensive detectors can be found at any hardware store.
  • Have your furnace, fireplace, chimney, wood stoves, flues and other fuel-burning appliances inspected, adjusted, and repaired, if needed, before every heating season.
  • Do not use charcoal grills indoors (including inside a tent, car, or garage) for either cooking or heating—even if the door(s) are opened.
  • Do not use your oven to heat your home or put foil underneath a gas oven as this interferes with combustion. Do not use your clothes dryer to heat your home.
  • Do not attempt to warm up your car by letting the engine run in an enclosed or attached garage—even if the door(s) are opened.
  • Do not run a generator in your home, garage, or crawlspace—ventilating the area by opening windows and doors or using fans will not prevent the accumulation of carbon monoxide gas.

Contact the New Mexico Gas Company immediately at 888-NM-GAS-CO (888-664-2726) to report a gas related emergency. Refer to The New Mexico Gas Company’s web site to learn more about carbon monoxide safety and what to look for when shopping for a carbon monoxide detector (www.nmgco.com/Safety_and_Emergencies.aspx).

If you think that you or someone you know has been exposed to carbon monoxide gas, call the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222.


PHOTOCREDIT: —Chad Harder
The holiday urge to feast—built into our DNA.

Flash in the Pan

—Ari LeVaux

This is why we pig out

The urge to feast during wintertime is in our DNA. Long before your office holiday shindig was called a Christmas party, people were getting merry during the cold, dark days. Before the first Jews lit their first Hanukkah candles, before the first pagan decorated the first evergreen, before the old Norse began celebrating yule-beings feast with mead, the solstice has been a time to eat, party, and light stuff on fire.

And while the solstice gives us cause to crave light and warmth, the holiday season also arrives at a time when the harvest is in and the hunt is done. In other words: a lot of food to eat, and nothing much else to do. Plus, people get a bit lonely, spending less social time outside, and more huddled privately around heaters. Tis the season to break cabin fever before it sets in, as we pack on insulation to keep winter's bite at bay.

This is the one time of year when you can make an evolutionary argument for the consumption of massive amounts of fat. Perhaps for the same reasons, this is the time of year we crave fat most.

Under extreme conditions like winter, or pregnancy, the body craves specific nutrients. Arctic explorers report that a stick of butter rolled in sugar is the tastiest thing ever when you're pushing a sled across ice. In the middle of the Arctic, your body is a delicate fire that needs to be fed and protected, and every calorie counts. Wracked with exertion and cold, the body knows it needs sugar for immediate use and fat to break down into energy and heat. In the desert, on the other hand, electrolytes will be your nutritional priority, since you're constantly losing them through sweat. Survivors of dehydration have reported salt tasting like sugar. Apparently the body "knows" that salty flavors are a tough sell to thirsty tongues, and tricks you into thinking salt is sweet just to get you to eat it.

Little has changed, metabolically speaking, since ancient times. During summer we don't need as much antifreeze in our pipes, and we can survive on leafier, leaner diet. As the days cool, we need more insulation than salad can provide. It's time to bring on the fat.

It's a culinary cliché that "fat is flavor," and as with many clichés, there's some truth to it. But too many restaurants interpret the relationship as a directive to "add butter and serve." There is great skill involved in the proper application of fat.

Fat is often paired with some kind of acid. Steak and wine, catsup and French fries, and bacon and coffee are all examples of happy mouthfuls built on the acid-fat dance. Spice can be involved as well.

I cook steak simply, so as not to bury its flavor. That said, I often add sauce, which gives me control of how much extra flavor I want to add. If it's a fat, juicy steak, like from a cow or certain cuts of pig, the sauce can focus on the acidic side of the flavor equation: applesauce on the pork chop, steak sauce on the T-bone. But with wild game like deer or elk, which tends to be lean, the sauce can stand a little fat.

Lately I've been enjoying salmoriglio, an oily, lemony, oregano and garlic sauce that's related, and similar, to Argentine chimichurri. The lemon mixes with the olive oil to create a context in which the oregano can permeate each mouthful with herby volatility. The fat coats the taste buds, and the acid cuts the fat to stimulate them.

While the tension between acid and fat can facilitate great flavor, the two substances don't mix easily. Forced to commingle, they move apart as quickly as possible, causing many a sauce or dressing to separate.

It is, however, possible to convince an acid and a fat to stay mixed. It's a state called emulsion, and emulsions include many of the world's best sauces, like mayonnaise, hollandaise, béarnaise, and even some sauces that don't end in "aise," like ranch dressing.

Today's recipe, salmoriglio, is not an emulsion. Like an oil and vinegar dressing, it needs to be shaken or stirred before use.

While your steak is cooking, ideally over glowing coals, quickly whisk or beat half a cup of olive oil in a small bowl or food processor. Add half a cup of hot water, poured slowly into the oil in a thin stream, while constantly beating the oil. Continue beating as you add the juice of a lemon, also in a thin stream. Finally, stir in a clove of minced garlic, a few sprigs of minced parsley and minced oregano, and a teaspoon of dried oregano. Adjust seasoning with salt, and serve the salmoriglio alongside your steak, to be applied as needed.

You can also sprinkle some pomegranate seeds on top. Pomegranates are in season during the holidays, and the occasional seed will explode in your mouth, a tart bite of sweet acid cutting through the richness of the salmoriglio-drenched meat like a sip of wine.

Don't let the cold, dark, empty days of winter swallow you whole. Swallow back. Thicken your sauce with warm camaraderie. Chew the fat while working in the kitchen. Continue chewing, with your mouth full of fat, until the sun comes back. It won't be long.

   

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