May 3 at 1:01pm by Ryan
Sometimes simple things remind you how privileged we are at this time in history.
Consider this: you can receive text-messages on your cell phone that update you about the current state of the Swin Flu pandemic. There has never been a time in history when you could get such useful information so quickly.
Or think about the extraordinary level of global cooperation regarding protocols for keeping Swine Flu in check. While some people might be complaining about over-reaction, I for one and am extremely grateful for the extraordinary care that’s being taken to prevent mass death.
Score one for innovation and technological progress.
Apr 27 at 3:03pm by Aileen
Jimmy Rogers over at the blog Geeks are Sexy has taken a liking to writing about science, and launched what we hope will be a regular feature entitled Science is Sexy. First offering is a look at what cancer is, and why there’s no single cure for this ailment.
Rogers is a PhD student in microbiology and he’s pretty good at explaining deep concepts in easy terms. So go on over and check out how both geeks and science can be sexy!
A “Unique” Strain of Flu
They’re calling it Swine Flu [H1N1], but the virus that began showing off its late season virulence in Mexico City last week sports DNA from three varieties – swine flu, bird flu and human flu. Within days it had spread to California and Texas, then New York City, Kansas, Ohio and such far away places as New Zealand. On Sunday, April 26, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control [CDC] declared a Public Health Emergency, other nations have issued travel advisories to avoid the U.S. and Mexico, and the words “global pandemic” are being tossed around on news shows and discussed everywhere. Stockpiles of Tamiflu [Roche], which has been shown effective against this virus, have been released and will be quickly shipped anywhere in the United States that the illness appears.
There in no reason to panic, though officials are watching the outbreak closely and trying to contain it. This is an influenza Type-A virus that apparently incubated in pigs before making the jump to humans, but the virus is now being spread person to person. The CDC Swine Flu Fact Page has lots of good information about the virus and lists ways people can minimize their chances of infection. Despite some nations imposing emergency bans on pork imported from the U.S. and Mexico, this flu is not spread by eating properly cooked pork.
Advice to avoid crowds, wear disposable face masks, using tissues when coughing and sneezing to avoid spreading germs, and washing/sanitizing hands often are standard. This illness is striking healthy adults rather than targeting the very young or very old, and there is no current vaccine. If you get it, stay home from work or school to avoid spreading it to others. Those who had a Type-A flu shot this past season will still be susceptible to this infection.
Apr 2 at 8:08pm by Aileen
…and other people die
If your family managed to get through this year’s flu season intact, you’re probably considering yourself very lucky. The A strains claim tens of thousands of lives every year, while hundreds of thousands of people who get infected manage to bounce right back in a week or two. Researchers at the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Germany has conducted experiments using 7 strains of genetically identical mice that led the somewhat surprising conclusion that very serious infection and death from influenza is primarily an autoimmune malfunction.
The research, published in the Public Library of Science [PLoS-One] on line, demonstrates that an excessive immune response to the virus is responsible for fatal outcomes of the disease in mice, and that this immune overreaction is genetically linked.
After infecting mice from the seven genetic lineages with identical strains the Influenza A virus, the researchers were surprised to discover very strong differences in the progression of the disease. In five of the seven mouse lineages the illness was quite mild, while in two the animals lost weight rapidly and died within just a few days.
“The mice die from their own immune defenses, which are actually supposed to protect them against the virus,” says Klaus Schughart, head of the Experimental Mouse Genetics research group. “The immune system produces too many messengers, which have a strong activating effect on the immune cells. These cells then kill tissue cells in the lungs that are infected with the virus. It appears that the animals have specific receptors on their cells that make them more receptive to a severe viral infection.”
If the results can be extended by further research to humans, it may be possible to identify people who are much more likely to die of influenza due to specific genetic makeup, so that protecting them during flu season can be made a priority. While certain at-risk populations are advised to get their flu shots annually – including doctors and nurses most likely to be exposed to the virus – identifying who among the at-risk populations is most likely to develop a hyperactive and potentially fatal autoimmune response could make better use of flu vaccine supplies by targeting them to the right people.
Nov 12 at 8:08pm by Aileen
Scientists at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that some people who have the plaques in their brain associated with AD still manage to score well on tests of cognitive ability if they spent more years in school, and put their cognitive abilities to work on a regular basis. Those with less education, who may not regularly exercise their brains than better educated people, tend to display more symptoms of cognitive decline.
“As expected, those whose brains showed little evidence of plaque buildup scored high on all the tests. But while most participants with high levels of brain plaque scored poorly on the tests, those who had done postgraduate work still scored well. Despite signs that Alzheimer’s might already be ravaging the brains of this subgroup, their cognitive abilities had not declined and they had not become demented.”
So get busy, all you aging Boomers! Now that the nation’s economy is tanking and the government’s printing enough money to deforest the Amazon basin [snark], it’s time to go back to school! Or just audit some courses that interest you. Or take some online courses, just for fun. Download that computerized Scrabble game, do crossword puzzles, join a book discussion clutch, whatever. I want to see you put the burn to that flabby brain, whip it into shape!
…and the payoff just might be that you keep more of your mind later in your life than you otherwise would!
Oct 13 at 6:06pm by Aileen
I don’t know about you, but in my family there is an unfortunate tendency to develop serious headaches. Two sisters have suffered migraines since childhood, my daughter gets them too, and her son has fairly regular headaches that end up sending him to his bed in pain. Lots of people get headaches not quite so severe, and various headache remedies have become part of urban legend lore as well as accounting for billions of dollars’ worth of pharmaceutical company profits over the years.
Sometimes it’s not just a matter of “take two aspirin, call me in the morning.” Luckily, Stephanie over at the blog One Big Health Nut has researched a total of 23 Ways To Get Rid Of & Prevent Headaches. These have solid science behind them and links to demonstrate that, so it’s definitely a blog post worthy of checking out and keeping in your bookmarks if you or anyone in your family suffers from debilitating headaches.
I was gratified to see that our own long-time “family recipes” are indeed supported by good science. Such as drinking lots of water, dehydration being a cause of headaches. Limiting caffine and alcohol, eating regularly and staying away from fried foods too. The only thing missing that I would add to the list is one that Stephanie semi-includes. She advises that a paste of cinnamon and water applied to the brow and temples can help relieve headaches, and this is supported enough to use if you can. The same idea using hot pepper powder has worked well in my own family, the capsaicin stimulating scalp circulation. Which I presume is the method that works with cinnamon paste.
This very useful resource is excellent, so do keep it on file!
Jul 29 at 6:06pm by Aileen
In the year 2030, what’s left of us ‘Baby-Boomers’ will be in our late 70s and early 80s. We will not likely be the largest demographic bump in the general population at that time, as more than half of us will have died off by then. 2030 is also the year that researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, along with researchers at other institutions, project that 86% of Americans could be obese if current trends continue.
Worse, projections show that 96% of non-Hispanic black women and 91% of Mexican-American men will be in those numbers. The costs of this situation amount to nearly a trillion dollars’ worth of obesity-related health care spending, or 1 in every 6 health care dollars.
The projection is based on three decades’ worth of collected data from national surveys. As the obese population ages the health care costs related to being fat will more than double every decade. In addition to hypertension, heart disease and stroke, there is also the link between being overweight and type-2 diabetes. Not to mention the fact that obese children – an increasing problem – have a shorter life expectancy than healthy children.
May 7 at 6:06pm by Aileen
Michael Kramer, a professor of pediatrics at McGill University reported this week that breastfeeding raises children’s IQ and improves their academic performance later in childhood.
Their study evaluated children in 31 Belarusian hospitals and clinics. Half of the women were directly encouraged to breastfeed exclusively, the other half did things the ‘normal’ way (for Belorussia). Six and a half years later the children’s IQs were tested and their teachers submitted academic performance ratings. Scores on both were significantly higher for the children of women encouraged to breastfeed, though there is no indication that the researchers confirmed how many of those mothers actually did breastfeed or for how long.
“Our study provides the strongest evidence to date that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding makes kids smarter,” Kramer said.
Read the rest of this entry »
Apr 9 at 11:11pm by Aileen
For something different and profound, consider the case of a baby girl named Lali born near New Delhi, India on March 11. She has a rare birth defect called diprosopus that gave her two faces on one head. ABC News reported that the resident medical officer of the Saifi Hospital where Lali was born has thus far been unsuccessful in his attempts to convince the parents to allow CT scans or MRI to determine whether there are duplicated internal organs or invisible, life threatening deformities that might be corrected by surgery.
Most babies with this condition are stillborn or die shortly after birth, but Lali so far has shown no breathing or digestion difficulties, both mouths are being fed. She was born normally and left the hospital with her mother 8 hours after birth.
This condition is not technically a case of cojoined twinning, where a single embryo duplicates and does not completely separate. Rather, it is due to malfunctioning in the developing embryo of a single protein called Sonic hedgehog homolog [SHH]. SHH protein governs the width of the face and features, and governs proper development of the brain and spinal cord via a signaling cascade.
Jan 30 at 11:11pm by Aileen
A Neuroscience team in Canada tried an experimental treatment for a patient with morbid obesity a variety of treatments failed to control. They were stimulating potential appetite suppressing sites in his brain’s hypothalamus via implanted electrodes when he suddenly had a strong feeling of deja vu.
The ‘live’ memory recurred under double-blind restimulation. An arched bundle of fibers in the hypothalamus called the fornix was shown to drive temporal lobe and hippocampus activity, important parts of the brain’s memory circuitry.
This is a fascinating article, a sure eye-catcher for any of us who have ever experienced a strong sense of deja vu. Yet what it describes doesn’t sound much like deja vu to me, per my own experience and the general understanding of the phenomenon among most people I know.
Deja vu isn’t a dim memory that suddenly presents itself “as if” we’re there right now. It’s the sudden realization that what’s happening right now is something we’ve experienced before. I’ve had it so strongly that I knew what people were going to say and do before they said and did it!
So I have to wonder if perhaps the neuroscientists don’t have a clear understanding of the phenomenon, or the patient didn’t know the difference between reliving an old memory and remembering the present, or the writer of the press release didn’t know what the term refers to. I’m leaning toward the last possibility, since the actual quotations of the researchers speak of memory, not deja vu. Yet another terminology confusion in the science press, but definitely an interesting finding!
Jan 14 at 4:04pm by Aileen
The exciting science news this week leads with a real shocker – researchers at the University of Minnesota have created a beating heart in the laboratory! This landmark achievement represents a stunning advance toward the dream of growing new organs for transplant from the patient’s own marrow stem cells.
Using a process called “whole organ decellularization,” new hearts were grown from dead rat and pig hearts from which all cells are removed, leaving only the extracellular matrix – the framework between the cells that gives form to the organ. Dr. Doris A. Taylor, head of the team that created the beating rat heart, described the guiding principle for the project -
“…give nature the tools, and get out of the way.”