Pathogens move fast.
You wake up one morning feeling ready to take on the world. On your way to work, you notice your throat’s a bit scratchy, your forehead a bit warm. By lunch you’ve got a pounding headache and it hurts to breathe. Co-workers agree, you’ve got whatever’s been going around. You end the day early, using the last of your strength to drag yourself to bed. Read More
In the long view, modern history is the story of increasing rights of control over your body – for instance, in matters of reproduction, sex, where you live and whom you marry. Medical experimentation is supposed to be following the same historical trend – increasing rights of autonomy for those whose bodies are used for research.
Indeed, the Nuremberg Code, the founding document of modern medical research ethics developed after the Second World War in response to Nazi medical experiments, stated unequivocally that the voluntary, informed consent of the human subject is essential. Every research ethics code since then has incorporated this most fundamental principle. Exceptions to this rule are supposed to be truly exceptional. Read More
The concept of being able to predict the sex of a baby during early pregnancy or even influence it by eating or doing certain things when trying to conceive has been the subject of public fascination and debate for many centuries. But surely the sex of a fetus is exclusively determined by the father’s sperm, carrying an X chromosome for girls and a Y chromosome for boys?
It turns out this is not the full story. Since the 17th century, it has been recognized that slightly more boys are born than girls. This is strange – if the sex were determined solely by chromosomes, the probability of either should be 50 percent and not variable. This must mean that, although the same number of boys and girls are conceived initially, more female fetuses than male ones are lost during the pregnancy. Read More
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