• Will wearable kidneys spell the end of dialysis forever? And do they come in pink?
• At last! A scientific explanation for why you get chills down your spine during that Jimmy Page solo.
• The animal kingdom’s most gruesome weapon: The Spanish ribbed newt “pushes out its ribs until they pierce through its body, exposing a row of bones that act like poisonous barbs.”
• If we can put a man on the moon, we can put a video ad in a print magazine.
• What movies are the ISS residents watching in space? Hint: It ain’t all The Right Stuff.
The non-stick coating that coats cookware like frying pans, known as Teflon, has a new purpose: Repairing a faulty windpipe.
A British physician used Teflon to repair a 70-year-old woman’s collapsed windpipe in the first procedure of its kind—although he’d also previously used Goretex, a waterproof fabric, to do the same thing. The Telegraph reports:
[Surgery patient] Mrs Butterwick, a former hotline operator… said she was amazed when she heard medics would use the substance in the procedure.
She said: “I said to doctors, but I just want to be able to breathe again, I don’t need to cook a full English on my windpipe.”
The three-hour operation seems to have put an end to Mrs. Butterwick’s 30-year cough, which was due to a condition known as Flat Trachea Syndrome.
Discoblog: Want No-Cut Brain Surgery? Use Ultrasound Waves
Discoblog: Will Drilling a Hole in Your Head Cure Alzheimer’s?
Discoblog: Possible Cure For Blindness: Implanting a Telescope in Your Eye
Image: flickr / Yogi
Not that we need an excuse to eat chocolate, but if you’ve had a heart attack, you may want to grab the Ghirardelli. Scientists know that eating dark chocolate (not milk—that’s the obesity-feeder) can reduce person’s risk of stroke and heart disease. Now researchers have found that eating chocolate can increase a person’s chances of survival after they’ve suffered a heart attack.
In the Journal of Internal Medicine, Boston researchers published a study finding that when people who’d had a heart attack ate chocolate two to three times a week, they significantly reduced their risk of dying from heart disease.
The scientists studied over 1,000 non-diabetic Swedish men and women between the ages of 45 and 70, all of whom had suffered from a heart attack in the 1990s. They were asked about their diet over the past year and about how much chocolate they ate. The researchers compared their heath exam from the three months after their initial hospital stay to their condition eight years later. They found that “the incidence of fatal heart attacks correlated inversely with the amount of chocolate consumed.”
So what’s the secret in dark chocolate? The researchers believe the antioxidants in cocoa keep free radicals from damaging cells the body. Plus it tastes so darn good.
Image: flickr/ eszter
Bone implants are typically made of metal or ceramic materials made of aluminum oxide or zirconium oxide. However, when these implants are actually implanted into the body, they can lead to a serious problem—when the bone tries to grow into the implant, it may cause more bone breaks than it prevents.
Now, Italian scientists have developed a way to make artificial bone from wood— red oak, rattan, and sipo to be exact. The process involves heating a block of wood until turns into charcoal, then spraying it with calcium. Then the wood is processed until it is ready to be shaped into any sized bone you require.
This wood-derived bone would heal faster and be more secure than the implants used today. Discovery Channel reports:
“Our purpose is to convert native wood structures into bioactive, inorganic compounds destined to substitute portions of bone,” said Anna Tampieri, a scientist at the Instituto Di Scienza E Techologia Dei Materiali Ceramici in Italy.
The price tag for one bone implant would be $850—not bad considering the cost of continually treating more broken bones. Though keep in mind, these implants have only worked in sheep so far. The developers have many more to try out on other large animals before this idea makes its way into hospitals.
Image: flickr/ cleema
We know that obesity levels aren’t going anywhere near down. We also know that the biggest increase is among the lower-income segment of the population. Now we have data that proves a logical assumption from these two facts: Being on food stamps makes you more likely to be obese.
New research in the current issue of Economics and Human Biology (hat tip: Sci Am) found that people who receive food stamps have, on average, a BMI of more than 1 point higher than people not participating in the food stamp program. “Every way we looked at the data, it was clear that the use of food stamps was associated with weight gain,” said Jay Zagorsky, co-author of the study.
Why is this? Because food stamps offer a very small amount of credit—$81 a month for the average recipient in 2002—with which to purchase food. As such, people relying on the stamps have a strong incentive to buy cheap foods that are filling—in other words, the exact type of foods contributing to the obesity epidemic.
As we’ve said before, there are two camps when it comes to fighting obesity: punishing or restricting bad behavior (like oh, say, banning new fast food restaurants in poorer neighborhoods) and rewarding good behavior. We’ve come out in favor of the second option before, and this time is no exception. Rather than penalize food stamp recipients who buy unhealthy foods, we should offer incentives and rewards for purchasing produce, whole grains, and other ingredients that don’t pack on the pounds.
Luckily, we’re not the only ones who think this is a good idea.
Reality Base: Will Obesity Regulation Turn the U.S. Into a Police State?
Reality Base: Carrots Might Work Better Than Sticks (Plus They’re Low in Calories)
Reality Base: Who’s the Fattest of Them All? Obesity Rates Rise in 37 States
Condoms are effective at preventing HIV infection, but they are not foolproof: They can break, be used ineffectively, or not be used at all. Now, University of Utah scientists are developing a “molecular condom” gel that could help women eliminate (or, at least, reduce) the remaining and persistent risk of HIV infection.
The gel would be inserted into the vagina, and would turn semisolid when semen touches it, responding to pH levels in the vaginal tissues and forming a mesh of cross-linked polymers to trap the virus. It might also prevent other STDs like herpes and HPV, and even act as a means of birth control. All a woman would need to do is insert the gel a few hours before sex. Science Daily reports:
“The first step in the complicated process of HIV infection in a woman is the virus diffusing from semen to vaginal tissue. We want to stop that first step,” says Patrick Kiser, an associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Utah’s College of Engineering. “We have created the first vaginal gel designed to prevent movement of the AIDS virus. This is unique. There’s nothing like it.”
With infection in women soaring as high as 60 percent in areas like sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia, the power to wear condoms ultimately rests in the hands of their partners. This new gel could potentially give the women more control over their own infection rates.
Clinical trials will begins in a few years—and while we’ll remain hopeful, it’s hard to forget the disappointing path that other microbicides trials have taken, by not preventing HIV and even increasing the risk of its transmission.
Image: flickr/ chi cowboy
Lazarus Syndrome was in the news a few months ago when a 23-year-old man was pronounced dead, only to have his heart start beating again a half hour later. While that story had a tragic end (the man eventually died) now there’s another Lazarus story, this time with a joyous outcome.
A baby born 16 weeks premature at a hospital in Paraguay was pronounced dead—that is, until he “woke up” right before his own funeral. MSNBC reports:
Dr. Ernesto Weber, head of pediatric care at the state-run hospital in the capital of Asuncion, said the baby weighed just 500 grams when he was born.
“Initially, the baby didn’t move, he practically didn’t have any respiratory reflexes, nor did we hear a heartbeat and, as a result, we declared a premature fetus of 24 weeks dead,” Weber told Reuters Television….
But when the family took him from the hospital to prepare him for his funeral, the unbelievable happened.
“I opened the box and took the baby out and he cried. I got scared and I said “the baby’s crying” … and then he started moving his arms, his legs and I got scared, we got very scared,” said one member of the family, Liliana Alvarenga
UPDATE: Unfortunately, the child died shortly after awakening. The medical staff at the Paraguayan hospital where he was born stated that his vital organs were not strong enough to survive.
Discoblog: Man, Pronounced Dead, Spontaneously Comes Back to Life
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Christopher Wall spent the first three years of his life in a hospital because he was born with ectopia cordis (pictured at left), a rare birth defect that made his heart form outside his chest. Considering most babies born with the condition only live for about two weeks, it’s a testament to modern medicine that Wall is alive.
The condition is incredibly rare—it only happens around eight times out of every million births. As a consequence, there is not much known about the cause of the disease except that it may be associated with Turner Syndrome [ed. note: Which, as one commenter pointed out, occurs only in females]. In some cases, the heart can end up by the neck, or on top of the chest area, or in the abdominal cavity. These days, ultrasounds and sonograms would detect the defect, and it would not be an total surprise for the expecting mother.
Life hasn’t been easy for Wall: By the time he was one and a half, he had undergone 15 surgeries. ABC reports:
“[W]e don’t know exactly why some children may carry a particular gene [for the condition] and others don’t,” said Dr. Victoria Vetter, a pediatric cardiologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who was on staff at the time of Christopher’s birth.
[Wall’s mother] was immediately warned that Christopher was born with a severe case of the condition and he may never survive. Her newborn son was rushed to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. Without the enhanced medical procedures used today, Christopher’s condition came as a “complete surprise.”
Despite his incredible adversity, Wall’s outlook appears to remain positive—when asked about his life goals, he told ABC, “I just wanna be a good person.”
Discoblog: Child With Rare Disorder Has Backward Organs, Heart In Her Back
Image: Courtesy of Annals of Thoracic Medicine
Neurosurgeons might soon be able to say goodbye to the scalpel: A new technique uses ultrasound waves to remove parts of the brain. High-intensity ultrasound—a different type than what’s used in prenatal screening—heats up parts of the brain, thereby killing sections of tissue that are damaged.
Similar technology is already used to obliterate uterine fibroids, but until now, it’s been difficult to harness the technique for brain surgery, because the skull interferes with the waves. According to Technology Review:
The…device consists of an array of more than 1,000 ultrasound transducers, each of which can be individually focused. “You take a CT scan of the patient’s head and tailor the acoustic beam to focus through the skull,” says Eyal Zadicario, head of InSightec’s neurology program. The device also has a built-in cooling system to prevent the skull from overheating.
The ultrasound beams are focused on a specific point in the brain—the exact location depends on the condition being treated—that absorbs the energy and converts it to heat. This raises the temperature to about 130 degrees Fahrenheit and kills the cells in a region approximately 10 cubic millimeters in volume. The entire system is integrated with a magnetic resonance scanner, which allows neurosurgeons to make sure they target the correct piece of brain tissue.
A decade ago, doctors put a new heart in the chest of Hannah Clark, a two-year-old British girl whose own ticker was failing. But instead of removing her faulty heart, the surgeons simply implanted the donor organ over her original one. Why? Because she also needed a lung transplant, and her doctors wanted to avoid doing two risky transplants at once.
About five years later, the girl’s original ticker had healed on its own, and doctors were able to remove the second heart. The AP reports:
In 1994, when Clark was eight months old, she developed severe heart failure and doctors put her on a waiting list to get a new heart…
Sir Magdi Yacoub of Imperial College London, one of the world’s top heart surgeons, said that if Clark’s heart was given a time-out, it might be able to recover on its own. So in 1995 Yacoub and others grafted a donor heart from a 5-month-old directly onto Clark’s own heart.
After four and a half years, both hearts were working fine, so Yacoub and colleagues decided not to take out the extra heart.
Some doctors speculate that the regeneration may have been due to stem cells in the heart that leaped into action during a crisis, healing the damaged tissue.