Saturday, September 20, 2008

Breaking Down Tyrosine

I enjoy watching this show about various patients who have usually rare medical conditions which often leave a whole host of doctors dumbfounded before someone realizes what is actually going on and gives the patient the right treatment. It was funny because just a few hours before I saw this particular episode I was trying to memorize the structure of the standard amino acids (tyrosine being one of them). Well the episode I saw had to do with a newborn who kept throwing up each time she was fed. Also, I remember that her mother had gone to her prenatal checkups regularly and that during one of the last checkups doctors found after some testing, that the baby had abnormally high levels of a particular protein in her blood. Therefore they warned the mother and told her that her baby may suffer from mental retardation and other complications. The mother was very worried but at birth her fears momentarily subsided since the child appeared to be at least normal physically. So the child was taken home where she proceeded to vomit immediately after each feeding. She was taken to her pediatrician who suggested the parents switch the baby to a different type of formula and check back with him in two weeks time to see how the baby had progressed. The child only continued to vomit and soon her parents decided that she was truly sick so they took her to the local emergency room. She was examined by a number of doctors before a liver specialist saw her and realized that her problem was that she was lacking a particular protein which broke down the amino acid tyrosine. Each time she ate and broke down the food, her tyrosine levels would increase to dangerously high levels because she was unable to metabolize tyrosine. So her body would react to the toxic levels of tyrosine the only way it knew how-by throwing up the partially digested food and decreasing the amino acids levels within her body. Fortunately, once diagnosed there is an effective means of treatment which was administered to the sickly newborn immediately. She improved dramatically and today is a healthy eleven year old who lives the life of a normal, vivacious pre-teen. Today pre-natal checkups screen for this protein difficiency, which if left uncorrected is fatal. I find it pretty amazing when I can see how the things we're learning in class can be related and applied to situations we may see one day as a health care professional or have to deal with personally if our own children are afflicted. So that tyrosine is pretty important if I can only remember its structure I'll be set for that exam Tuesday!

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