Tag: health

With Neurochemical Help and Lots of Training, Paralyzed Rats Regain Movement

By Sophie Bushwick | June 2, 2012 9:00 am

Walking

Although the spinal cord can recover from minor damage, severe injuries, like those that cause paralysis, are permanent…right? When deep cuts partially sever rats’ spinal cords, they isolate the lower part of the spine from the brain. Since that part of the spine is responsible for controlling the rats’ hind limbs, it leaves the legs paralyzed. A team of Swiss scientists tackled the challenge of restoring the brain-to-limb connection, successfully re-teaching paraplegic rats to walk, run, and climb stairs.

First, the researchers injected the isolated section of spinal cord with neuron-exciting chemicals called neurotransmitters. Then, they used electrodes on the outside of the spinal cord to send continuous electrical signals to those excited nerve cells. This chemical and electrical stimulation acted as a sort of molecular prosthesis for the signals that would normally come from the brain but that couldn’t get past the spinal injury.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Study: When Doctors Predict How Long You Have to Live, They're Pretty Much Guessing

By Valerie Ross | January 19, 2012 12:43 pm

A recent column by Dr. Pauline Chen at the New York Times explores a surprising oversight in modern healthcare: Doctors don’t really have a clue how to predict how long a patient will live. In the absence of a widely accepted, systematic method of prognosis, they’re kind of making it up—an informed guess, with the benefit of education and experience, but a guess nonetheless.

Prognosis was once a diligently studied, widely practiced part of a physician’s job, Chen writes. But as treatments improved, and keeping patients alive longer became ever more possible, the unpleasant but necessary skill of predicting when patients might die fell by the wayside. A recent study, she reports, revealed just how much:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Early Farmers Were Sicker and Shorter Than Their Forager Ancestors

By Valerie Ross | June 17, 2011 2:30 pm

What’s the News: As human societies adopted agriculture, their people became shorter and less healthy, according to a new review of studies focused on the health impacts of early farming. Societies around the world—in Britain and Bahrain, Thailand and Tennessee—experienced this trend regardless of when they started farming or what stapled crops they farmed, the researchers found.

This finding runs contrary to the idea that a stable source of food makes people grow bigger and healthier. The data suggest, in fact, that poor nutrition, increased disease, and other problems that plagued early farming peoples more than their hunter-gatherer predecessors outweighed any benefits from stability.

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Discovered: Genetic Misfires That Lead to Acute Myeloid Leukemia

By Patrick Morgan | March 28, 2011 5:34 pm

What’s the News: Scientists have identified three gene mutations that lead to acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that afflicts white blood cells, which may lead to better cancer drugs in the future. As Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute hematologist George Vassiliou told the BBC, his team’s study “found critical steps that take place when the cancer develops. Identifying the biological steps … means we can look for new drugs to reverse the process.”

How the Heck:

  • The researchers discovered the major mutation by switching on the Npm1 gene in mice: They observed that about one third of the mice went on to develop leukemia.
  • They knew some other genes were involved because not all the mice contracted cancer. So next, they randomly mutated mouse genes, and then analyzed the mutations in the ones that developed cancer, identifying two other mutations in the process. The second mutation affected cell growth and division and the third affected the cell’s environment.

What’s the Context:

Not So Fast: Researchers caution that it could take decades before new cancer-fighting drugs based on this study come on the market. This present study only used mice as subjects.

Reference: George S Vassiliou et al. “Mutant nucleophosmin and cooperating pathways drive leukemia initiation and progression in mice.” Nature Genetics. doi:10.1038/ng.796

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Bruce Wetzel

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World

Daily Roundup: Robotic Moths, Cancer Battles, Electricity Vending Machines

By Patrick Morgan | March 10, 2011 9:38 pm
  • All bats aren’t created equal: Using robotic moths, scientists discovered that bats emitting non-stop radar-like calls catch more insects than their intermittent-emitting brethren—and they do this by hearing the “siren-like” echoes of flying bugs. This suggest that bats evolved their echolocation abilities to increase their nightly catch.
  • Scientists reported that ovarian cancer survival rates have doubled in the UK in the past 30 years, a change they attribute to better treatments, such as broader access to chemotherapy.
  • Cheetos, Snickers, and electricity: Japanese companies are rolling out the first vending machines capable of charging electric cars, with plans of installing at least 10,000 by the end of the year.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: News Roundup
MORE ABOUT: cancer, gadgets, health, robots

Daily Roundup: Ice Melt Wins, Backs Get a Break, Discover(y) Returns

By Patrick Morgan | March 9, 2011 5:51 pm

  • Unwelcome melt: The results are in for a 20-year study of Antarctica and Greenland ice melt, and though you shouldn’t grab your swim trunks yet, the results show that ice sheets have been melting at an accelerated pace for the past 20 years. “What is surprising,” Eric Rignot from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, told the BBC, is that ice melt will soon be the single biggest driver of sea level rise.
  • But don’t take these dripping glaciers as a reason to sit on your hands: A new report says that climatologists aren’t factoring in soot in the climate debate—and that merely reducing the output from cooking fires and industry could cut global warming by 0.5C. Food for thought (oy) the next time you barbecue.
  • Lessons from a tree: Engineers have crafted a self-repairing plastic based on the natural self-repairing traits of rubber trees—a discovery that could save energy (and the planet) by extending the lifespan of many consumer products.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: News Roundup
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