Stories tagged Human Organism

Nov
20
2009

Meditation
MeditationCourtesy h.koppdelany
Do 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!

Story at ScienceMag.org

Nov
16
2009

Calakmul: I'm not sure if this is the spaceport or the Institute for Marketable Prophesies.
Calakmul: I'm not sure if this is the spaceport or the Institute for Marketable Prophesies.Courtesy J&P Voelkel
The ancient Maya: keepers of arcane knowledge, masters of the celestial spheres, 7th century astronauts… prophesiers of DOOM!

Yes, how the Maya knew what they knew remains a mystery to the arrogant forces of modern “science,” but we know that what they knew was totally awesome and sinister. Because, like, they carved it in stone and painted it on walls, and we all know that anything carved or painted on a wall is pretty much a sure thing. That’s how I know that for a good time I will call 555-5646, and why I’m certain that one day this will surely come to pass. And it’s why I’m sure that the world will end in 2012.

I mean, sure, there are people who still follow many of the traditions of their Mayan ancestors, and they say that 2012 doomsday predictions are nonsense, and that they’re based on the willful misinterpretations of another culture’s beliefs and calendar system, but… those people are obviously ignoring the wisdom of the ancients. You know, the wisdom of the ancients?

Recently excavated murals at the Mayan site of Calakmul are further enhancing our vision of these ancient, mystical people. The colorful murals, preserved on the covered wall of a built-over structure (the Maya sometimes added layers to older pyramids, creating a larger structure with a new face) apparently depict scenes of everyday Mayan life. It’s a unique discovery, because most of the imagery archaeologists uncover shows much grander stuff—royalty, and scenes from mythology. But this one just seems to show normal Mayan people doing normal stuff.

Of course, the above statement has to be understood within the context of the popular understanding of the Maya. I mean, “normal stuff”? What’s normal for people who flew around in spaceships, predicting the end of the world?

Let’s take a look, hmm?

This part of the mural, at first glance, seems to show a man in a wide, sombrero-like hat dishing out ul, a traditional maize gruel, to another man, who is drinking it. Obviously things aren’t so simple as this. The wide hat? It’s no hat. That man is wearing a satellite dish, so that he can stay in contact with teams of Mayan astronaut-priests, as they divine the future from high orbit. And the drinking guy—yes, he’s drinking, but it’s not corn gruel. He’s drinking magic potion. The mural does have a hieroglyphic caption that says “maize-gruel person,” but that must be a type. The lords of destiny don’t eat. And they especially don’t eat corn.

Here, we see the color version of the above image, as well as several other scenes of ancient Mayan life, including a man labeled “tobacco person,” who is holding a vessel full of what may be tobacco, or possibly Tobacco-brand ancient Mayan rocket fuel. There’s also the woman labeled “clay vessel person,” who may be holding a stack of clay vessels, or perhaps a stack of crystal balls, still in their brown paper wrappers. The murals also seem to show a woman making tamales, and a man eating them. But that’s just one interpretation. Another way to look at it might be, like, she’s making little pieces of the future. And he’s eating them. He could be eating the 2012 piece right there. The expression on his face may hold key information for us.

It just shows to go you. Some people are going to look at this and think, “Hey, look, normal ancient Maya people doing normal stuff and wearing normal clothes. What a fascinating glimpse into the lives of a seldom-depicted portion of a long-passed society.” And they’re free to think this way, but they’ll have no excuse for acting all surprised in three years.

Oct
23
2009

Stay sober, stay stimulated: Stay off sensory deprivation! Oh... wait... that wasn't the point of the study?
Stay sober, stay stimulated: Stay off sensory deprivation! Oh... wait... that wasn't the point of the study?Courtesy mikebaird
Stay in school, little dudes. That’s important. Also, stay off drugs. That’s also important.

Why? Because school embiggens your brain. And because drugs interfere with the brain embiggening process. Your uppers, your downers, your sliders, your narcotics, your kool-aid/cough syrup concoctions, your hallucinogens… they’re all dangerous, they will all keep you from focusing your brainwaves and chi and stuff.

But it’s easy avoiding those effects, right? The secret is to just not do drugs, right?

Wrong! Just 15 minutes of sensory deprivation can trigger hallucination! That’s just you and your brain, alone together in a totally quiet and dark room, making each other craaaaazy!

200 participants were given a questionnaire to determine how prone each person was to hallucinations. 9 of the highest scorers (that is, they had a high propensity for hallucination) and 10 of the lowest scorers (the least likely to hallucinate) were then (after volunteering) placed individually into an anechoic chamber. The anechoic chamber is build to muffle as much external sound as possible, and there’s no light inside, so once the participants were shut inside, they were in complete darkness and silence for the 15-minute duration of the test.

The study found:

“Of the nine volunteers who had high scores on the first questionnaire, almost all reported experiencing something "very special or important" while inside the chamber. Six saw objects that were not there, five had hallucinations of faces, four reported a heightened sense of smell, and two felt there was an evil presence in the chamber with them.”

Even the participants who scored low on the first test experienced hallucinations and delusions, although not as heavily as the first group.

The research seems to support the idea that hallucinations (or some hallucinations) are caused by the brain misidentifying its own thoughts and activity as something that comes from outside the body. So… you bring your crazy with you into the sensory deprivation chamber, I guess.

You hear that kids? If you’re not careful, and, like, accidentally fall into a sensory depravation chamber, your straightedge lifestyle will suddenly count for nothing! And you won’t get into your favorite ivy-league college, you little junky, you. So, whatever you do, stay stimulated! And if you ever do get trapped in an anechoic chamber, try to create your own sensory experiences until help arrives. I can't recommend whistling, because you’ll need your mouth for the arm-licking that I do recommend. But I think you should be able to hum and lick your arm at the same time, so do that. And, if you’re able, fart like crazy. With all this stimuli, you should be able to maintain some level of sobriety until a fireman axes the box open to find you sanely humming, licking your arm, and farting.

The more you know. You know?

Oct
04
2009

Sirtuins: Silent Information Regulator Two (Sir2) proteins Sirtuins have been implicated in influencing aging and regulating transcription, apoptosis and stress resistance.
Sirtuins: Silent Information Regulator Two (Sir2) proteins Sirtuins have been implicated in influencing aging and regulating transcription, apoptosis and stress resistance.Courtesy Boghog2

Fountain of Youth

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.

Metformin and Rapamycin

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.

Eat less and live long

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.

Better than wine

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.

Sources:
Long Life Gains Scientific Respect New York Times
Scientists find path to 'fountain of youth' Yahoo News

Sep
27
2009

H1N1 vaccination
H1N1 vaccinationCourtesy AJC1

How do I know it is safe?

"The recurring question is, 'How do we know it's safe?'" said Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic. What if, after getting a flu shot, a person goes home. then suddenly has a heart attack. Was the heart attack a side effect of the flu shot?

More than 3,000 people a day have a heart attack. This happens when no flu shots are given. When no flu shots are given, from 14,000 to 19,000 miscarriages happen every week.
When we start giving flu shots to 100s of millions of people, how do we differentiate side effects caused by the vaccination, from what would have happened even without the vaccination?

Intensive monitoring of side effects planned

This year there will be intense new monitoring.

Harvard Medical School scientists are linking large insurance databases that cover up to 50 million people with vaccination registries around the country for real-time checks of whether people see a doctor in the weeks after a flu shot and why. The huge numbers make it possible to quickly compare rates of complaints among the vaccinated and unvaccinated, said the project leader, Dr. Richard Platt, Harvard's population medicine chief.

Johns Hopkins University will direct e-mails to at least 100,000 vaccine recipients to track how they're feeling, including the smaller complaints that wouldn't prompt a doctor visit. If anything seems connected, researchers can call to follow up with detailed questions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is preparing take-home cards that tell vaccine recipients how to report any suspected side effects to the nation's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting system.

However the flu season turns out, the extra vaccine tracking promises a lasting impact.

"Part of what we hope is that it will teach us something about how to monitor the safety of all medical products quickly," said Harvard's Platt.

Source: Associated Press

Sep
19
2009

Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic CancerCourtesy jasoneppink

Patrick Swayze dies from pancreatic cancer

A close friend of mine died from pancreatic cancer last year. Last week Patrick Swayze died from pancreatic cancer. Approximately 42,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. Nearly all of them will die within a year of its discovery. My friend had less than 3 months. With pancreatic cancer, by the time you supect something is wrong, it is too late.

Earlier cancer detection needed

What is needed is a test to detect cancer early from a urine, saliva, or blood sample. I recently wrote about a Lung cancer breathalyzer test.

MicroRNA in body fluids provides early cancer detection

A similar approach might work for pancreatic and other types of cancer. Certain small pieces of genetic code called microRNA have been associated with various cancers.

For pancreatic cancer, scientists have cataloged dozens of microRNAs whose levels are different than in healthy samples.
Out of the dozens of choices, researchers at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center picked four microRNAs to measure. Not only did the group detect these microRNAs circulating in the blood, they found their levels were higher in the blood of pancreatic cancer patients compared with healthy control subjects. Their results were published last week in Cancer Prevention Research. Scientific American

Learn more about microRNA markers for pancreatic cancer

MicroRNAs in Blood May be Biomarkers of Pancreatic Cancer National Institue of Health

Sep
19
2009

FluMist inhaler for H1N1 flu
FluMist inhaler for H1N1 fluCourtesy garrisonpao

Vaccine for swine flu is ahead of expectations

October is almost here, and so are more than 3 million doses of H1N1 flu vaccine. The vaccine is a the FluMist nasal spray type which is inhaled rather than injected. The nasal spray contains a weakened live virus, while injections contain killed and fragmented virus. The inhalation method gives a stronger immune reaction and is not recommended for pregnant women, people over 50 or those with asthma, heart disease or several other problems. The earlier than expected delivery will be be great for people in other high-risk groups though (health care workers, people caring for infants, and healthy young people).

Any type of flu can be deadly

In the United States a typical flu season is believed to kill about 36,000. The Asian flu of 1957 was blamed for the deaths of about 70,000 Americans. The pandemic H1N1 or 2009 H1N1 flu (we are not supposed to call it the swine flu) so far has not been bad. Flu activity is now “widespread” in 21 states, up from 11 a week ago. (Read more here - New York Times)

2009 H1N1 flu vaccine approved

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Sept. 15 that it has approved four vaccines against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus. The vaccines will be distributed nationally after the initial lots become available, which is expected within the next four weeks.
As with any medical product, unexpected or rare serious adverse events may occur. The FDA is working closely with governmental and nongovernmental organizations to enhance the capacity for adverse event monitoring, information sharing and analysis during and after the 2009 H1N1 vaccination program." FDA News Release

Sep
17
2009

A memorial statue of Alan Turing
A memorial statue of Alan TuringCourtesy Kurt Seebauer
This has been in the news recently, but it didn’t occur to me until just now that it really has a place on Science Buzz.

Alan Turing was an English mathematician, and one of the fathers of computer science. He developed some of the earliest computers, and created the very first designs for a “stored-program” computer (a computer that keeps data and instructions inside of it, as opposed to one that required the operator to input every step.)

He was also interested in artificial intelligence, and proposed an experiment called the Turing test, meant to determine if a machine was truly intelligent. (Basically, a computer that could fool a human into thinking that he or she was talking with another person would pass the Turing test.)

Turing was also a code breaker, which is where the “war hero” part comes in. The day after the United Kingdom entered World War 2, Alan Turing went to work for the Government Code and Cypher School, an organization meant to break enemy codes. At GCCS, Turing and his colleagues developed automatic code breaking machines to decipher the elaborately encrypted messages of the Axis forces.

Turing’s work in collecting German military secrets through code breaking has been said to have shortened WWII by as much as two years, saving thousands of lives.

Alan Turing was also gay, and when he admitted this to the police after his home was broken into, he was charged with “gross indecency,” a law that essentially made homosexuality a criminal offense. Turing was given the choice of going to prison or accepting probation on the condition that he undergo chemical castration. Chemical castration involves the administration of drugs that change the subject’s hormone balance. This can cause the loss of sexual drive, as well as loss of hair, and muscle and bone density.

Two years after his conviction, Alan Turing killed himself.

It was a pretty awful way to treat someone who had contributed so much to the peace and safety of the world, as well as to the revolutionary discipline of computer science. This month the British government finally issued an apology to Alan Turing, acknowledging the scientist’s great contributions to humankind, as well as the shameful way he had been treated by his own government.

So there you go. Let’s not let it happen again.

Sep
13
2009

H1N1 vaccination
H1N1 vaccinationCourtesy AJC1

Making sure vacinations are safe

Before giving H1N1 flu vaccinations to millions of people, clinical trials are needed. What is an effective dose for people of various ages and body types. What are the side effects.

No second shot required for H1N1 flu

Clinical trials are showing that the new H1N1 swine flu vaccine protects with only one dose instead of two. This is very good news. The vaccinations can be given to twice as many people at half the cost.

"Healthy adults got one 15-microgram shot, and their blood was tested 21 days later. By that time, 97 percent of the 120 adults had enough antibodies to be considered protected."
“This is definitely a big deal,” said Dr. John J. Treanor, a vaccine expert at the University oRochester. “People had been planning for a scenario that would require two doses.” New York Times

Pregnant women first

The vaccinations are proving to be effective only 8-10 days after being administered. This may allow all 159 million people in the high risk group (pregnant women, people under 24 years old or caring for infants, people with high-risk medical conditions and health-care workers) to be protected before the swine flu reaches its expected mid-winter peak.

Learn more about H1N1 influenza vaccine clinical trials

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) News statement: "Early Results from Clinical Trials of 2009 H1N1Influenza Vaccines in Healthy Adults".

Sep
11
2009

An old Japanese guy: His secret? Hamburgers. Lots of hamburgers.
An old Japanese guy: His secret? Hamburgers. Lots of hamburgers.Courtesy isado
You heard it here first, folks, unless you heard it somewhere else already: There are a ton of really old people in Japan. And when I say really old, I mean older than 100 years old. And when I say a ton of people, I mean more than 40,000 people. Considering that the average weight for a Japanese centenarian (people over 100) is about 110-118 pounds, “a ton” is really way too small an amount. There are actually about 2,280 tons of really old people in Japan.

Although the US still blows Japan out of the water with the number of 100+ people in the country (We’re creeping up on 100,000. USA! USA!), your chances of living to be a super old dude or lady are much higher if you’ve lived your life in Japan. And people on the Japanese island of Okinawa are five times more likely to live to be 100 than even the rest of the Japanese population.

Plenty of research has been done on centenarians to isolate what factors might have allowed them to live for so long, and… the results aren’t super surprising. Certain genes are associated with long life, but so are certain diets and certain lifestyles. Basically, if you want to live to be one hundred, you should walk a lot, think a lot, poop a lot, don’t eat a lot, and hope your parents live to be one hundred. Or you could just start counting your age in dog years.