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2012's weirdest medical stories

Amy Corderoy
Published: December 21, 2012 - 8:11AM

The human body, in all its glorious, gory, stinky wonder, is one of the joys of the health round. It’s also one of the number one reasons my colleagues say they would never, ever want to cover the topic.

Medical researchers run the gamut of weird, smelly, gross and amazing. So since it’s the end of the year I thought I would share some of my favourites.

1. An ovarian tumour that grew (quite pretty) hair and teeth

This week I was just chatting with the director for the Museum of Human Disease at the University of NSW, Derek Williamson, and happened to ask him what the weirdest pathology specimen they had was.

While he thinks that “weird is in the eye of the beholder”, he nominated the ovarian tumour as one of the strangest. The tumour was called a (non-cancerous) “teratoma”, and it comes from a type of cell that can potentially become anything in the body. HOW AMAZING IS THAT?! So as the tumour is growing it also begins to sprout all sorts of different things: when I posted it to Facebook a friend told me she had just had three removed that not only had hair and teeth, but something resembling fingernails as well.

Sometimes, they even grow eyes.

2. Penises made from arm skin

Ok, we won’t go into images here as they are certainly NSFW (but the journal article is not locked so you can click through if you want), but let me tell you, you can make an amazing penis these days just from someone’s arm. Of course, you end up with a giant penis-shaped hole in your arm, but if you have lost your penis then you are probably willing to put up with that. Melbourne surgeons were able to give men who had serious penile abnormalities brand new penises that allowed them in some cases to have erections and penetrative sex again. One man even got the use of his old penis back because of the surgery.* The surgeons wrote in their report that the surgery had changed the men’s lives: causing “overwhelmingly positive” changes.

3. Poo science

In what might possibly be the most unglamorous job in the medical sciences, an increasing number of researchers seem to spend their time poking around in other people’s excrement.  Andrew Holmes, an associate professor of biochemistry at Sydney University's school of molecular bioscience, is trying to discover if the cause of your gut might actually be in your gut: if the different bugs living in the guts of obese people could actually be causing their obesity, by changing what their body does with food. Many researchers are now also looking at poo transplants to help get rid of potentially deadly gut infections.

4: Pee pressure

This one has been around and about a bit, but anyone who has ever felt the desperate urge to wee will understand. Apparently, the amount of will power and concentration it takes to hold on while you are busting is so distracting it is the equivalent of being drunk! It was inspired by a long flight-ride between the US and Australia, and the researchers tested the theory on themselves. Ultimate Science.

5. Breast feeding and everything good

For some reason we still feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public (have you ever watched a mother try to organise her baby under one of those modesty cloths? I sat next to a woman in a doctors surgery recently who had so much trouble trying to cover herself up she ended up putting the whole blanket over her head, making her look like some kind of giant breastfeeding ghost), despite more and more research showing us how good it is for the world. Recently researchers at the Sax Institute found it might even prevent diabetes in the mother. Not to mention potentially staving off obesity, diabetes, gut problems and asthma in your baby. (Just remember to be careful where you store your milk, as you don’t want to end up like this poor lady).

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