Officials in Cardiff confirmed today the world's first cases of human-to-human transmission of Tamiflu-resistant H1N1 influenza. It's not unexpected, but it is worrisome. Even though flu cases are down here in Minnesota and across the US, keep washing your hands!
Here's a nice round up of opinions and press coverage of the controversy revolving around changing the beginning age for mammogram testing in women from 40 to 50. In the past several years having personally known several women under the age of 50 dealing with breast cancer, I have to admit I was dumbfounded by this new recommendation.
Courtesy h.koppdelanyDo you ever just need a break? How many times have you been told to just take a deep breath? Turns out that may not be such a bad idea, especially if you have coronary artery disease. Recent research by Midwest physicians took a look at the effect of regular meditation on the health of patients surviving with narrowed coronary arteries. They studied more than 200 of these high risk patients for over five years. The test half of the group received instruction and practiced daily transcendental meditation for up to 20 minutes. The meditating patients experienced close to a half as many major issues to their health such as heart attacks, strokes, and death. Death is one of those things most of us try to avoid. Scads amount of research has delved into the possible effects of a wide range of meditative practices on such things as creativity, focus, mental well-being, and even job performance. It would seem a natural thing to embrace. I can certainly think of a few Type-A personalities that could stand to hum a few bars of “ooommmmmm” during their morning commute. Take a moment and enjoy your day!
Courtesy sirgabeThere’s something I want to get out of the way straight off the bat: the original title for this post was “Monday Nutrition Extravaganza: Chemicals in your food, playing with your manhood!” And while that has a certain whimsical charm, a re-read revealed hidden, disturbing meaning in those words. And I didn’t want to subject you Buzzketeers to that. I just thought you should know.
So, moving on, what’s this stuff playing with our manhood, now?
Chemicalz in our foodz! And stuff.
Earlier today, I came across this study about how there seems to be a correlation between high levels of chemicals call phthalates in pregnant mothers’ urine, and a lowered incidence of “masculine play” in their male children. (“Girls’ play behavior” didn’t seem to be affected.)
Phthalates are a group of chemicals added to plastics to make them softer and more pliable. We all like soft plastic—no one is arguing that!—but phthalates are all over the place, and increased exposure to them (all sorts of products and packaging use phthalates) is raising concerns about how those chemicals affect us, particularly during childhood development. See, phthalates are antiandrogens, meaning that they mess with the way your body works with hormones like testosterone. Testosterone plays an important role in how we physically develop, and perhaps in how we act. The boys whose mothers had higher levels of a couple kinds of phthalates demonstrated less “male-typical” behavior. The study looked a preferred toy types (trucks versus dolls), activities (“rough-and-tumble play”), and “child characteristics.”
Now, these are slightly sticky things to go judging kids on. Some folks might argue that these characteristics aren’t linked to biology so much as social conditioning. And it feels a little weird quantifying characteristics in children (and, let’s be honest here, characteristics which may not have a solidly identified “norm,” but nonetheless have all sorts of social and sexual baggage that we are uncomfortable with and often deal with in the worst ways). However, there does seem to be some statistical association here, whatever the causal relationship is. One hypothesis is that phthalates alter fetal production of testosterone at an important period of development, affecting “brain sexual differentiation.” It’s not so hard to imagine—a year ago I did a post on how certain common chemicals in pregnant mothers seemed to be causing penis deformities in their male children. The culprit there? Phthalates. The women in that story, however, had had exceptionally high exposure to phthalates (their jobs had them in constant contact with phthalate-containing hairspray), so it’s probably not something to lose sleep over, but it’s worth knowing.
And while phthalates aren’t supposed to be in food packaging, the next article I came across (this is an extravaganza, after all) deals with another plastic additive, BPA, that is found in food packaging, and which may also cause some hormone-related havoc.
BPA has come up on Science Buzz before. It’s in all sorts of packaging and bottles (it’s the reason your over protective mother doesn’t want you to use nalgene bottles) and it may affect tissue development, potentially increasing cancer risks.
We don’t care about that, though, right? Sure, cancer is out there, but in the future, not right now, you know? I know. But BPA’s latest appearance in the news may bring some immediacy to the concern over its use. Concern for some people. For men, I mean.
Chemical BPA in workers related to sex problems, says the Washington Post. “Sex problems”? We don’t want those! Chinese men working in a factory that uses BPA were found to have high rates of sexual problems. (I won’t be defining what “sexual problems” are because whatever you just imagined was probably correct.) Now, these guys have BPA levels about 50 times higher than the average American. But, still, something like 90% of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their urine. Again, probably nothing to lose a lot of sleep over, but something worth knowing about. This professor is of the opinion that BPAs should be banned, even though most of us will probably never be exposed to dangerous levels of it, because a) it’s not a natural part of our diet; b) it’s not actually necessary in plastics processing; c) it accumulates in the body, and we still don’t know what level at which it begins to become harmful (ask those Chinese guys); and d) it’d be relatively easy to get it out of the food and water supply, unlike some other potentially harmful chemicals.
Accepting that scientific studies are necessarily very focused to eliminate variables, both of these stories still left me wondering what affect phthalates and BPAs have on women and girls. On one hand, one tries to avoid the mindset that average human physiology=male physiology, but on the other hand it’s usually just males that have penises, making their medical problems a little more hilarious.
There are so many… things out there, and they’re all doing… stuff! Interesting to know.
This animation shows you how viruses trick healthy cells to join the dark side.
What you see in the video actually happens much, much faster in real life — in a fraction of a fraction of a second. So this is a very slow motion version of cellular activity. NPR.org
The first 2009 H1N1 vaccines are starting to arrive in Minnesota. So I'm wondering, will you be vaccinated? How about your kids? A national study out of the University of Michigan says only 40% of parents plan to get their kids vaccinated. Why? I think Michael Specter sums it up best in a New Yorker article:
In fact, the new H1N1 virus is similar to seasonal flu in its severity. In the United States, influenza regularly ranks among the ten leading causes of death, infecting up to twenty per cent of the population. It kills roughly thirty-five thousand Americans every year and sends hundreds of thousands to the hospital. Even relatively mild pandemics, like those of 1957 and 1968, have been health-care disasters: the first killed two million people and the second a million.
We are more fortunate than our predecessors, though. Scientists produced a vaccine rapidly; it will be available within weeks. And, though this H1N1 virus is novel, the vaccine is not. It was made and tested in exactly the same way that flu vaccines are always made and tested. Had this strain of flu emerged just a few months earlier, there would not have been any need for two vaccines this year; 2009 H1N1 would simply have been included as one of the components in the annual vaccine.
Meanwhile, the virus has now appeared in a hundred and ninety-one countries. It has killed almost four thousand people and infected millions of others. The risks are clear and so are the facts. But, while scientists and public-health officials have dealt effectively with the disease, they increasingly confront a different kind of contagion: the spurious alarms spread by those who would make us fear vaccines more than the illnesses they prevent.
I'm planning on getting the vaccine if I can and I'll make sure my kids get the vaccine. It is all about the risk vs. benefit for me. What are your plans and why?
Courtesy Wikimedia CommonsToday is the birthday of Marie Carmichael Stopes, paleobotanist, poet and novelist, and family planning pioneer. Born in Edinburgh in 1880, as a young girl Stopes planned out her adult life in three stages: twenty years would be spent in science, twenty in social projects, and twenty writing poetry. And that’s exactly what she did. Stopes’s accomplishments are remarkable even though they often put her at odds with the institutions and social mores of her time. At 18, she won a science scholarship and attended University College in London receiving early honors in both botany and geology. After graduate studies in Munich she earned her Ph.D in paleobotany. She lectured on the subject at the University of Manchester for seven years. She also published the book Botany: the modern study of plants, and did research on the history of angiosperms and the composition of coal. This won her a grant from the British Royal Society that led to her collecting and studying fossil plants abroad in Japan for eighteen months. All this was done at a time when a woman’s place was definitely thought to be in the home. As an early proponent of birth control and women’s rights, Stopes established Britain’s first birth control clinic in 1921, and authored several books on the subjects of marriage and parenthood. Her best known work, Married Love : A New Contribution to the Solution of the Sex Difficulties, was written while – and probably because - she was still a virgin (she had been married but her husband proved impotent, and their short-lived marriage was supposedly unconsummated). Her second marriage produced one child, a son named Harry born in 1924. As she raised him, she continued her campaign for family planning, writing extensively on the subject. Stopes also founded the Portland Museum in Dorset in 1930, and wrote and published novels, plays, and poems including Love's Creation (1928) and Love Songs for Young Lovers (1938), although these writings never matched the attention garnered by her science and social writings. Marie Stopes died of cancer in 1958 a few days short of her 78th birthday.
Courtesy Wikimedia CommonsA new study appearing in the journal Nature Neuroscience explains how learning a new complex visual-motor skill, such as juggling, can lead to a significant change in the brain’s white matter. A team from Oxford's Department of Clinical Neurology did the research. Half of the study’s 24 subjects were trained to juggle in the classic three-ball cascade (see animation). They were also asked to practice the skill each day for 30 minutes. After six weeks, MRI scans revealed that the brains of those who learned to juggle showed a marked change in the white matter, the area responsible for networking the pathways in the brain’s grey matter. This new knowledge could lead to aiding in the treatment of neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
Scientists are extending lifespans of mice and primates from 20 to 40 per cent. A protein called S6 Kinase 1 (S6K1), if reduced, resulted in healthier and longer lived organisms.
When University College London (UCL) professor, Dominic Withers, blocked the action of the S6K1 protein in mice he found:
"The mice lived longer and were leaner, more active and generally healthier than the control group. We added 'life to their years' as well as 'years to their lives.
The mice were leaner, had stronger bones, were protected from type 2 diabetes, performed better at motor tasks and demonstrated better senses and cognition, according to the study.
Another molecule related to S6K1 levels known as AMPK was found to regulate energy levels within cells. AMPK levels were effected by drugs called metformin and rapamycin. Recent studies suggest that these two drugs can extend mice's lifespan.
Proteins called sirtuins are thought to help the body survive famines. When an animal is not getting enough food, there is a a survival mechanism that kicks in. Chemicals like AMPK and sirtuins enable an increased efficiency and more effective resistance to disease. Now drugs, rather than famine, have been found that activate sirtuin production.
In mice, sirtuin activators are effective against lung and colon cancer, melanoma, lymphoma, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease, said David Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School researcher and co-founder of Sirtris. The drugs reduce inflammation, and if they have the same effects in people, could help combat many diseases that have an inflammatory component, like irritable bowel syndrome and glaucoma.
A sirtuin activator has been found in some red wines and is known as resveratrol. Sirtris Pharmaceuticals is formulating resveratrol like compounds and is testing them against various diseases.
SRT-501, the company’s special formulation of resveratrol, is being tested against two cancers, multiple myeloma and colon cancer that has spread to the liver. A chemical mimic of resveratrol, known as SRT-2104, is in a Phase 2 trial for Type 2 diabetes, and in a Phase 1 trial in elderly patients.
More than half of people over 60 have a hearing loss (I am in that group). The demand for lip reading skills is driving technology. I foresee that we will soon have portable devices that will "read lips" and either show the words on a display or if the person is deaf and blind it could produce tactile symbols (braille) on a touch pad.
A research team from the School of Computing Sciences at UEA compared the performance of a machine-based lip-reading system with that of 19 human lip-readers. They found that the automated system significantly outperformed the human lip-readers – scoring a recognition rate of 80 per cent, compared with only 32 per cent for human viewers on the same task. Science Daily
By analyzing results of computerized recognition of facial speech patterns, researchers hope to produce better visual speech synthesis. Computer generated "talking heads" are being evaluated to create the most intelligible and visually appealing system.