Friday 20 October 2017


I love my work. Every day I find out something new - about science, about myself, about the students, about real life.  My mind is a bit like Lake Oroville [prev] now; I feel that it is reaching capacity: every bit of information added sends another over the spillway to oblivion. That's possibly why I think I'm learning new stuff all the time.

I was drifting out of Human Physiology class last week chatting with some of the students about the overlap between the different courses they are being taught. We agreed that it was usually a Good Thing to hear the Human Physiology take on a subject and the Drug Actions and Uses version of the same information. One of them then launched into the fact (news to her; and to me) that Roaccutane, which is prescribed for serious acne, is severely teratogenic - it generates birth defects. That is most unfortunate because the girls who are experiencing the worse cases of acne are also approaching their peak of fertility. Roaccutane = isotretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A and works by reducing the quantity of  sebum produced in the hair-follicles; making them a far less hospitable place for bacteria, like Cutibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus epidermidis. A course of 12 or 16 weeks will often knock the problem on the head.  But you need to be super careful not to fall pregnant while this stuff is coursing through your veins. Responsible GPs insist on two independent forms of contraception and a pregnancy test before and during the course of treatment. In Ireland, of course, finding that you are pregnant while under Roaccutane treatment won't help a lot because of Article 40.3.3. of our Constitution.

Like Gardasil, and for similar reasons, some folks hold that Roaccutane induces depression and suicidal ideation but, despite the tragic anecdotes, there is only weak epidemiological evidence for such an association. The drug will also filter through into the prostate but the levels of Roaccutane found in semen are too low to impact on the fetus.  The most common side-effect <duh!> is dry skin because you are interfering to reduce the normal lubricants. Dermatologists are likely to claim that Roaccutane is wildly over-prescribed in General Practice, but they aren't at the front line when an unfortunate teenager with a boiling face presents in surgery.  In my day, you just sucked it up (no, not literally, ye daft bugger) or went through a bottle of Clearasil and realised that a) it didn't really adversely affect your ability to 'pull' - because unpretty much all your rivals were similarly afflicted b) all things, even pimples, do pass.

A fortnight ago, we had a couple of visitors from Finland, and I landed a free lunch out of it.  My colleague refers to events in the white tablecloth corner of the canteen as "a bit of rubber chicken with our guests". That's not fair, especially if you like mashed potato, which comes with everything. All the larger place-names in Finland are doubled up, like our Gaeltachts, because Swedish is present as a minority first language [about 5%] especially round Åbo /Turku in the SW of the country.  The majority live in a country called Suomi or, formally, Suomen tasavalta = Republic of Finland. The Swedophones call it Finland and themselves Finns. That label makes their Finnish-speaking neighbours a teeny bit uncomfortable because, in their language, Finni = pimple.

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