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YouTube Put to Good Use

In my household, YouTube is mainly a means of catching up with the latest pre-adolescent hilarities and marveling at really cool musical feats.

But a group of neuroscientists affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco has harnessed the ubiquitous power of the popular online video-sharing site to spread information about a handful of related neurodegenerative diseases.

By creating a YouTube channel to share info about the symptoms, prognosis and treatment of such diseases as Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (CJD), Huntington's disease and Parkinson's disease -- all of which involve the body's misprocessing of proteins -- the team hopes to raise awareness and drive patients into clinical trials in hopes of finding new treatments.

Spurred by the experience of their Silicon Valley colleague Michael Homer, a former Apple Computer and Netscape marketing executive who was recently diagnosed with CJD, the scientists hope to use the new YouTube channel (along with related online information-sharing technologies and a Facebook group called "Defeat Dementia"; Facebook registration is required to access this.) to raise research funds. "The Fight for Mike," as the effort is called, has raised more than $7 million for CJD research, particularly that conducted by Stanley Prusiner, who won a 1997 Nobel Prize for discovering the protein (called a prion) that causes the disease.

Turns out there is other health-related stuff on YouTube, too: I found lots of video instructions for doing CPR, for instance, but some were out of date and didn't reflect current guidelines.

A big word of caution, though: I'm not exactly a prude, but I hadn't realized how much tasteless and offensive stuff there was on YouTube until I started tooling around there, looking for a video I could link to as an example of that adolescent humor I mentioned above. It was hard to find anything that didn't include foul language or sexual references; even the handful of plain old funny items I found were surrounded on screen by links to offensive material.

So, it's doubly refreshing to see the folks involved in the UCSF project using YouTube's power to good ends.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 18, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health  
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