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The 19th Century Illness That Struck Busy, Stressed-Out Americans

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, workaholics in America were said to be at risk for developing Americanitis, a dangerous illness unique to citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave. It was thought that this disorder, a relative of neurasthenia, was caused by nervous exhaustion and was a direct product of “the hurry, bustle, and incessant drive of the American temperament,” according to psychiatrist William S. Sadler.

The term first popped up in the 1880s, and was most likely coined by a foreign professional; according to one medical journal published in 1882, it was an English researcher, although Annie Payson Paul, author of 1891’s Power Through Repose, claimed it was a German doctor. Either way, it didn't take long for it to become the diagnosis du jour.

There was some debate as to whether Americanitis was a disease, or was just a precursor to more serious health issues, such as heart attack and even insanity. But nearly all of the day’s experts blamed stress caused by the relentless pace of life in the U.S., which was only exacerbated by new technological advancements. Some pointed fingers at the proliferation of electric lights, which were said to have lengthened the workday. 

Most experts believed that the only cure was for sufferers to stop and smell the roses. Elbert Hubbard, a self-help author of the era, suggested his readers “cut down your calling list, play tag with the children, and let the world slide.” For those too busy to work the few hours a day Hubbard recommended, there were a number of medical treatments available too, including electrotherapy and elixirs such as Rexall’s “Americanitis Elixir,” and Neurosine, used to address the symptoms of Americanitis and other nervous issues. (Its active ingredient: cannabis.)

Famous sufferers included Theodore Roosevelt—who was sent on a retreat in the Badlands as part of his recovery—Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jane Addams, and mogul Nelson Morris, who in 1907, was said to have died from Americanitis. The condition was most often seen in middle-aged men; in 1925, a writer for TIME claimed that the condition was responsible for taking 240,000 lives a year. 

By the time the Great Depression rolled around, however, Americanitis was no longer much of a concern. No work, after all, meant no stress about work. 

Wonder what the doctors of the day would have made of our iPhone addictions? 

[h/t: Smithsonian.com

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Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
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Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

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New Peanut Allergy Patch Could Be Coming to Pharmacies This Year
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About 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe have severe peanut allergies, including more than 2 million children. Now, French biotechnology company DBV Technologies SA has secured an FDA review for its peanut allergy patch, Bloomberg reports.

If approved, the company aims to start selling the Viaskin patch to children afflicted with peanut allergies in the second half of 2018. The FDA's decision comes in spite of the patch's disappointing study results last year, which found the product to be less effective than DBV hoped (though it did receive high marks for safety). The FDA has also granted Viaskin breakthrough-therapy and fast-track designations, which means a faster review process.

DBV's potentially life-saving product is a small disc that is placed on the arm or between the shoulder blades. It works like a vaccine, exposing the wearer's immune system to micro-doses of peanut protein to increase tolerance. It's intended to reduce the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to accidental exposure.

The patch might have competition: Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., which specializes in food allergy treatments, and the drug company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are working together to develop a cure for peanut allergies.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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