Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Housewatch, episode 4.2

Last night on House, M.D., the young Air Force pilot was finally diagnosed with Von Hippel-Lindau disease, a rare genetic disorder that causes abnormal growths throughout the body. The process, called angiomatosis, leaves the patient with cysts or tumors scattered throughout the body. The pilot happened to have hers in the liver and brain, although the blood vessels, kidney, pancreas and retina of the eye are common locations too. It occurs worldwide, in about 1 in 32,000 people.

The gene that causes the disease is located on chromosome 3. It is a tumor suppressor gene, which, when lost, lets cellular division go out of control. This can lead to the overgrown blood vessels, which turn into cysts and in the worst cases, cancer. It is an autosomal dominant disorder, which means only one copy is needed for the disease to occur.

Chase showed up to posit that the pilot's panic attacks were caused by a pheochromocytoma, a known early sign of Von Hippel-Lindau. (One researcher has suggested pheochromocytomas aggravated the Hatfield-McCoy feud. ) A pheochromocytoma is a small tumor in the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys that secretes too many stimulating hormones, like adrenaline, into the bloodstream. This is logical, considering VHL can often cause abnormal growths in the kidneys.

The pilot's original complaint was synesthesia, which is a confusion or overlapping of the senses. The most common form is associating sounds with colors. For instance, a flute would be associated with bright red. I searched PubMed for "synesthesia and von" and "synesthesia and hippel". Both came up with zero results, so I wonder if the writers just made that up.

Addendum: Given that Cameron was only onscreen for 60 seconds, she still managed to be quite annoying. House was right, she did look like a cheap hooker. Dark hair and blue eyes is a much better combination.