Archive for October, 2011

Obama to Sign Executive Order to Prevent Drug Shortages

By Douglas Main | October 31, 2011 1:56 pm

President Barack Obama will sign an executive order today aimed at reducing the number of drug shortages; between 2005 and 2010, the number of such shortages jumped from 61 to 178. Most of the drugs reported as coming up short are generic, injected medications like cancer drugs, antibiotics, and nutritional shots for hospitalized patients. Many of the shortages are due to manufacturing delays or quality control problems, like syringes found to contain glass particles or to be contaminated with microbes. The executive order will require the Food and Drug Administration to speed review of applications for changes in manufacturing protocol or to use new or different drugs in certain circumstances.

The order also instructs the FDA to work with the Department of Justice to report possible instances of price gouging, which could lead to prosecution of companies that illegally horde certain medications or overcharge for certain drugs in times of shortage. In one instance, a company charged $990 per vial for a leukemia drug that normal fetches only $12—an 80-fold markup.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Are Pregnant Women Subconsciously Avoiding Giving Birth on Halloween?

By Veronique Greenwood | October 31, 2011 1:13 pm

halloween
C-section and induced births dipped or spiked on
Halloween and Valentine’s Day…but so, intriguingly, did natural births.

With the rise of cesarean sections and scheduled births, it’s no surprise that expectant mothers might favor some dates over others for their children’s births. But a recent study drawing on US birth certificates from a ten-year period suggests that even with natural, spontaneous births, the mother may be able exert some kind of control over when she goes into labor. The team found that there were about 5% fewer births on Halloween and about 4% more on Valentine’s Day than there were on any day in the surrounding two weeks.

The researchers think that the frightening connotations of Halloween—skeletons, zombies, and so on—as experienced by the mother might be enough to affect the hormones that control labor, putting the birth off (and vice versa when it comes to the positive connotations of Valentine’s Day). But the specific biological connection between a mother’s holiday-influenced emotional state and labor is still an open question.

In cultures that don’t celebrate Halloween and Valentine’s Day but consider other days particularly auspicious or inauspicious, does this effect also happen? Inquiring minds want to know.

[via New Scientist]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

A Tiny Mutation Makes Fish Immune to PCB Poisoning

By Veronique Greenwood | October 31, 2011 12:07 pm

tomcod
Because of two missing amino acids, this tomcod can swim through PCBs—and survive.

PCBs are nasty pollutants—they mess with hormones and have been linked to cancer—but until they were banned in 1977, dumping them in US rivers was a common practice for companies like GE. While plenty of wildlife suffered from ingesting PCBs, some fish in the Hudson and other be-sludged rivers evolved an immunity to the poisons, a intriguing example of quick adaptation that scientists have been watching with interest. A recent Economist article focusing on this research describes the fascinating genetic ju-jitsu that allows fish in the Hudson and in the harbor at New Bedford, MA, to keep themselves alive in PCB-contaminated waters. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World

Toxic Pufferfish Invade Eastern Mediterranean, Killing People and Irking Fisherman

By Douglas Main | October 31, 2011 10:08 am

In the Eastern Mediterranean, the pufferfish has arrived. And nobody’s too happy about it. The fish, also known as the silverstripe blaasop or Lagocephalus sceleratus, was first confirmed in Turkey in 2003 and has been spreading throughout the area. The problem with this unassuming fellow is that it contains tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin that can be deadly to humans and for which there is no known antidote. Consumption of the fish has killed at least 7 people in Lebanon in the past few years, according to The Daily Star, and likely affected many more. A 2008 study found that 13 Israeli patients who ate the blaasop had to receive emergency medical attention at the hospital, where they didn’t recover for four days.

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New Study: Fukushima Released Twice as Much Radiation as Official Estimate Claimed

By Valerie Ross | October 28, 2011 2:56 pm

The nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant this spring may have released twice as much radiation into the atmosphere as the Japanese government estimated, a new preliminary study says. While the government estimates relied mostly on data from monitoring stations in Japan, the European research team behind the new report looked at radioactivity data from stations scattered across the globe. This wider approach factored in the large amounts of radioactivity that were carried out over the Pacific Ocean, which the official tallies didn’t.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Physics & Math

New Genomics X Prize: Sequence 100 Genomes of 100-Year-Olds

By Veronique Greenwood | October 27, 2011 2:41 pm

oldInsight into long life is one of the new prize’s goals.

In 2006, the Genomics X Prize competition was announced: $10 million for sequencing 100 human genomes in 10 days for $10,000 apiece, to be kicked off in 2013. The idea was to spur innovation in technology by asking the (currently) impossible, the hallmark of the X Prize Foundation.

But while sequencing has gotten cheap, it hasn’t gotten all that much faster in the last five years, and none of the eight teams who signed up have ever gotten to the point where such a short time span could be feasible. So, Archon and Medco, the two companies funding the competition, have revamped the requirements. This week they’ve announced the new, improved Genomics X prize: $10 million for sequencing 100 human genomes in 30 days—but for $1,000 apiece. (Currently, getting your genome sequenced commercially runs about $5000 at the cheapest.) The new version of the competition, which will kick off on January 3, 2013, also has clearer standards for judging: the genomes have to be 98 percent complete and have no more than one error per million nucleotides.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Wolves May Not Need to be Smart to Hunt in Packs

By Veronique Greenwood | October 26, 2011 3:31 pm

Wolves have been observed working together to ambush a prey animal, leading researchers to consider whether they are displaying foresight, planning, and other signs of impressive smarts. But new work suggests that as long as each wolf obeys a couple simple rules, the seemingly complex behavior emerges naturally, without any need for higher intelligence.

Using a computer model, researchers had each virtual “wolf” follow two rules: (1) move towards the prey until a certain distance is reached, and (2) when other wolves are close to the prey, move away from them. These rules cause the pack members to behave in a way that resembles real wolves, circling up around the animal, and when the prey tries to make a break for it, one wolf sometimes circles around and sets up an ambush, no communication required.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World

Study Links Fetal Bisphenol A Exposure to Behavioral Problems in Girls

By Douglas Main | October 26, 2011 1:06 pm

A study published this week in the journal Pediatrics found a link between levels of bisphenol-A in pregnant moms and behavioral problems such as anxiety and hyperactivity in their daughters at age 3. No such effects were seen in boys. BPA has estrogen-like activity and can lead to developmental and behavioral problems in animals—but whether or not it does the same in humans, and at what dosages, is a subject of considerable debate. This study won’t settle the debate but highlights the need to answer some basic questions about BPA that remain surprisingly unclear.

Read More

Moving to a Better Neighborhood Can Be as Effective as Drugs in Preventing Obesity and Diabetes, Study Suggests

By Veronique Greenwood | October 25, 2011 2:19 pm

poverty

Researchers have long suspected that living in a bad neighborhood can be hazardous to your health—whether because of poor access to health care and a paucity of areas to exercise in and stores that sell healthy food, or some combination of other factors, living in a poor area means you have a disproportionate chance of becoming ill and obese. But how can you tell whether that effect is intrinsic to poverty, or whether it can be reversed if people move into more well-off neighborhoods? With a giant, long-term study that gives families in poor neighborhoods a chance to move to other areas.

The results of such a study, conducted by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, have now been published, and they show that moving from low-income housing projects to a neighborhood with less than 10% of people living below the poverty line does have a positive effect on health. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: diabetes, obesity, poverty

Largest Single-Celled Organism Found 6 Miles Beneath Sea

By Douglas Main | October 24, 2011 4:06 pm

Researchers have found new examples of the strange singled-celled creatures called xenophyophores more than six miles beneath the surface of the Pacific in the Mariana Trench. At more than four inches in length, they are perhaps the largest single-celled organism on Earth. These protists make a living by sifting through sediments and can accumulate high levels of toxic metals like uranium, lead, and mercury.

Read more at LiveScience.

Image: Lisa Levin & David Checkley, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
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