No one wants to catch the flu, and the best line of defense is the seasonal influenza vaccine. But producing an effective annual flu shot relies on accurately predicting which flu strains are most likely to infect the population in any given season. It requires the coordination of multiple health centers around the globe as the virus travels from region to region. Once epidemiologists settle on target flu strains, vaccine production shifts into high gear; it takes approximately six months to generate the more than 150 million injectable doses necessary for the American population. Read More
Earlier this week, a story begging to go viral fell onto writers’ laps: We have a new organ called the mesentery, which is a broad, fan-shaped fold that lines the guts. Here at Discover we pounced on the story, and so did CNN, the Washington Post, LiveScience, Smithsonian, Vice News Tonight, Jimmy Kimmel and many, many more.
We got it all wrong, and it’s time for us to spill our guts.
In our reporting, one burning question we wanted answered was who, or what, determines when a hunk of tissue “officially” becomes an organ. So we posed the question to J. Calvin Coffey, the Limerick University Hospital researcher who presented evidence in The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology to “justify designation of the mesentery as an organ.”
“That’s a fascinating question. I actually don’t know who the final arbiter of that is,” he told us. Read More
Most women experience some type of morning sickness during pregnancy, but some women develop a far more serious condition.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), which causes severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, affects as many as 3 percent of pregnancies, leading to over 167,000 emergency department visits each year in the U.S.
And yet, the disease is neither well-understood nor well-known, even with the flurry of headlines when it was announced that the Duchess of Cambridge during her pregnancies suffered from the condition. Read More
Advances in reproductive technology may radically change the options we have for starting a family. We’re not too far from fundamentally redefining what it means to start a family.
Do you want to have children, but don’t have a partner? Do you want children with your partner, but it’s a same-sex relationship? Or perhaps you’re a woman who wants children without the burden of a 9-month pregnancy. You might opt for ectogenesis, or moving gestation to an artificial womb.
Here’s a glimpse of this brave new world of baby-making. Read More
Every year, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control allocate more than $35 billion to researchers to study diseases, treatments and public health. But there’s one public health concern that hasn’t received funding in nearly two decades: firearm regulations.
Firearms accounted for more than 30,000 deaths in 2014 — about the same number as died from motor vehicle accidents. With vanishingly few studies to investigate firearm deaths, however, researchers are unable to recommend the best course of action for public health officials to take.
In 1996, Congress passed legislation that specifically prohibited the use of government funds for the promotion of of gun control. Fearing funding cuts, the government agencies that hand out grants to researchers instated a self-imposed ban on any sort of research into firearms.
The CDC has funded no studies directly related to firearms, while the NIH has been only slightly less cautious — despite a 2013 memorandum from President Barack Obama instructing both agencies to begin funding research into gun violence. More often than not, researchers rely on their own resources to conduct their work.
For many people, leprosy brings to mind Biblical stories of diseased people cast out from society. It’s a condition that today is largely found in developing countries, whereas in other, mostly Western nations it’s a pestilence of the past that was eradicated decades ago. But recent research has shown the disease not only persists in Britain but, perhaps more alarmingly, is also being carried by one of our best loved and most endangered native mammals, the red squirrel.
The study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh and EPFL in Switzerland found red squirrels from England, Scotland and Ireland were infected with leprosy. In particular, a group from Brownsea Island on the south coast of England had a strain of the disease virtually identical to one that infected humans in the middle ages. Read More
“Cancer has been cured a thousand times.”
So says Christopher Austin, the director of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health. Austin should know — as the director of NCATS, his focus is on exactly these kinds of groundbreaking laboratory studies.
His proclamation comes with a significant caveat that will pop the bubbles in your champagne. Austin is so interested in these studies because they all happened in mice, in a lab. When the hundreds of different drugs that made mouse tumors disappear were carried forward to human trials, they went in and came out without doing what they promised. Or worse, they turned out to be toxic. Read More
Our bodies’ cells didn’t evolve to flourish in a petri dish. Even fast-growing skin cells stop dividing and turn thin and ragged after a few weeks outside the body. This natural obstacle limited the therapeutic potential of lab-grown cells – if you can’t grow the cells, you can’t use them to heal damaged tissue.
Then, a decade ago, Nobel Prize winner Shinya Yamanaka identified a cocktail of genes that, when added to mouse skin cells, transformed them into a new kind of cell that grew happily in ever expanding colonies. More importantly, these cells, dubbed “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSC), had their internal clocks set back to an earlier stem cell-like state, giving them the ability to grow into any other cell type found in the body. Read More
It’s spring, and I’m attending a luxurious seafood banquet. Platters of shellfish fill the tables: crab with limbs akimbo; shrimp ready to be peeled; miniature lobster-like langostino peering at my dinner plate as if knowing their fate. Raw oysters sit in the center of the platter, piled absurdly high and shimmering luminescent on the half shell.
Until now, I’ve never eaten a raw oyster. I apply a generous squirt of lemon juice and watch the white-grey flesh ripple ominously in reply. Tilting my head back, I down the shell’s contents in one shot of citrusy ocean. The gelatinous solid slides down my throat largely unchewed as I submit a silent prayer to the gods of food safety, asking not to become the subject of an ironic headline:
“Research scientist studying bacterium found in raw oysters falls ill after eating…a raw oyster.”
Thankfully, I walked away from the banquet without encountering Vibrio vulnificus, the bacterial subject of my Ph.D. Much as I want to be an academic expert on V. vulnificus, there are aspects of the microbe I hope never to attest to first-hand. But as the planet’s oceans heat up, the odds of a potentially fatal rendezvous will continue rise along with the temperature. Read More
There are multiple answers to the question of where we come from: early hominins, monkeys, primordial goo, or the Big Bang, to name a few. Today’s answer, though, has probably, just a split second ago, popped into many readers’ minds. Today’s answer is sexual intercourse, a.k.a. “bleeping.” So let’s go back to the beginning, hundreds of millions of years before we invented euphemisms and censorship, and let’s ask: How in the evolutionary world did sex begin?
Algae, the green gunk that runs amok in our fish tanks, as well as the seaweed that stinks up our summer beaches, include some of the simplest sexually reproducing organisms on Earth. These lineages go back nearly 2 billion years. Algae do it. Plants do it. Insects do it. Even fungi do it. Much of this sex involves releasing sperm into the wind or the water so they can be carried to nearby eggs (as in mosses), relying on a different species to carry male gametes to female ones (many flowers), or maneuvering two bodies so that the openings to the internal reproductive organs are close enough together for fluid exchange (most insects and most birds). Read More