"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

Science is best when discussed: leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!!

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

*Diet* Fatty McOversized 

New research indicates that maybe switching to Diet Coke is not the best way to lose weight. It seems that calorie-free sweets screw up the body's natural ability to judge when it's had enough, and leads to overeating.



The use of Botox for cosmetic purposes bothers me enough. But new research being carried out with it in Iran is fucking disturbing. They're using Botox as a relaxant to treat women with vaginismus...that is, to make it easier for them to have sex when they probably don't want to/aren't ready to. I guess this wouldn't bother as much if it were being done somewhere that was not Tehran. Also, the Beeb report has a creepy tone to it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Very Good Advice 

The current issue of Seattle's The Stranger (The Queer Issue) has a list of the best advice EVER for gays moving to the big city. Gays already living there should take heed as well.

Each and every one is a keeper, although I do quarrel somewhat with number 7: the last person who questioned my masculinity got punched in the face, and I'm sure he will never question again.

Numbers 1 and 24 are brilliant: "You are not a strong black woman"..."You are still not a strong black woman."
17 is a definite favorite: "Men, like lotto tickets, should not be had every day. The odds are the same."

New Alternatives - Alcoholics Edition 

Another apparent triumph for herbal medicine today: cactus extract found to reduce hangover symptoms!! Taken five hours before drinking, Prickly Pear cactus extract significantly reduced morning-after nausea, lack of appetite, and dry mouth, as well as some reduction in overall veisalgia (yay new gratuitous scientific term!!) severity.

The effect is linked to a compound called OFI, which seems to affect C-reactive protein. C-reactive protein is associated with lots of other problems, including a possible link to congestive heart disease, so this research may lead to more than just heavier drinking. Which is much more important. Really. I mean it.

Fatty McStupid 

Obesity is a major problem these days, there's no denying it. However, people are being incredibly stupid about weight issues, and that's also very dangerous. The Body Mass Index is supposed to be a way to tell if you are too heavy. You apply a formula to your height and weight and get a number. If it's over 25, you're overweight/obese.
This is Bloody Stupid. It doesn't take into account where that weight comes from, for starters: some people have denser bones than others, or muscle, or, yes, fat. BMI is a totally useless statistic. That it even gets any serious acceptance pisses me off royally.

Monday, June 28, 2004


Newsweek/MSNBC today has a very interesting bit about how neuroscience is helping economists out of their little fantasyland of rational decision making. Although full of typos, it's worth reading just for the, uhm, money quote:
there is no quantity of juice [currency] sufficient to get a male monkey to look away from the hindquarters of a female in estrus.

Having Babies 

Lots of news today on the fertility front: some good, some not.

Researchers have found that a chemical in the Khat plant, the leaves of which are commonly chewed as a social drug in East Africa, accelerated sperm development and maintained their optimal fertility for longer. This could lead to new fertility treatments, and probably some dangerous 'herbal remedies.'

Another study, not yet published, claims that a high-protein Atkins-like diet may interfere with conception and embryo development. Interesting idea, and I'd like to see it explored, but the study described may fall under DOQRAPS: it was done on mice, which are herbivores. Maybe it's more valid than it seems though.

The bad news is: a Hungarian study (again not especially robust) has found that carrying a cell phone significantly decreases mens' fertility. The study doesn't control for other important factors, like job and age, but unfortunately I'd not be surprised to see this confirmed.

And an Iranian woman has given birth to a frog. Which allegedly has 'human characteristics.' Riiiigghhhhht.

Music and Science 

I'm a music geek. I love almost all kinds, and what I don't like is frankly of little merit. Atonal music, however, took me a long time to come to appreciate, and mostly I consider it a sort of intellectual masturbation. A paper published recently looks at statistical frequencies of notes in various pieces of music, and compares them to linguistic frequencies. Pretty cool stuff, and may explain why most people don't get the atonal stuff.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Let's Do the Time Warp (Again) 

Last night I went to a preview showing of the Actors' Theater of Washington's production of The Rocky Horror Show, at Nation. There were a number of technical issues they'd not yet worked out (hopefully the mics will work by opening, for instance), and the set was a bit awkward (Nation is a great space on, say, Bjork's budget, but harder in real life), but the show was a blast.

It was really hard to dissociate the show from the movie, which I've probably seen a million times, but the show is so different in so many ways it was an incredible trip trying. I associate the specific voices, Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and especially Patrician Quinn with the characters so much, it felt wrong until I got into it. This version also has a few updated bits in it, which threw me off the rhythm some: not a problem with the show, just with the audience! A few audience members did the whole participatory bits (yelling stuff, only), which was kindof odd at a live show, but fun.

Highlights: Meagan Flannery (Janet) was the star, hands down, with Nick Blaemire (Rif) in second. Rick Hammerly's Frankenfurter didn't have the grace or subtlety of movement and expression Curry had, although his voice was quite good, especially on "I'm Goin Home." "Superheroes" was also beautifully performed.

Go see the show....but probably wait a week or two till all the kinks are out (or in, depending!)

Thursday, June 24, 2004


Not at all surprising (I've played this game more than once myself), but still dismaying. When will the fuckwads in our government learn that this is IMPORTANT?

Another Pointless Plant 

Decaf coffee is stupid anyways, and now it actually does come that way naturally. Why bother with giving yourself an ulcer if you're not awake to experience it?!?

A wise man once said that there was no such thing as a useless plant. He may have been right, since this one will easily become commercialized.


*Muscles* McOversized 

Now introducing the svelte cousin of our old pal Fatty, Muscles. Muscles is a boy who lacks the myostatin gene, which makes him naturally super-muscular. Together with previous myostatin research in mice, Muscles' condition may provide new avenues of research, particularly into muscle wasting disease treatments. He will also spur yet another branch of DOQRAPS and probably unsafe health and nutritional supplement crazes.

Not that I won't be first in line for it, mind you!


Researchers have found that a substance breast milk kills the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes warts. The killer compound gets a pretty cool name, Hamlet, which makes me happy. Plus a cure for this annoying disease would also be good.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


From the Department of Questionable Research and Pseudo-Science (DOQRAPS...say it out loud...), we get this gem: computer use "leads to a lack of self-control and an increase in animal-like, instinctive behavior."

Now, I haven't seen the data (nor has he released any), and anything's possible, but this guy has a bit of a history. So I'm highly skeptical. Why haven't we seen an increase in violent crimes among the professional classes, perhaps à la "American Psycho" (who spend all day, every day at the computer)? Also, even if people who spend lots of time at the computer *are* more violent, they're also often out of shape...and would be unable to do any real harm.

Memory and Vision, Short Cuts 

Bad news for people living near sulfur springs or paper processing plants: Hydrogen sulfide seems to inhibit memory formation.

Researchers have learned that an ancient visual mechanism still works in humans under some conditions.

Not much info given on either of these, anyone who knows more please advise!

Pain in the Brain 

Virtual reality treatment has been previously used to help patients with pain. A new study not only confirms this, but also shows that VR alters how the brain experiences pain as well: pain-related activity was reduced in the anterior cingulate cortex, primary and secondary somatosensory cortex, insula, and thalamus.
This is cool for many reasons. Pain management is a big problem: many patients refuse necessary procedures they believe will be painful, and when they do have them, it is painful. I wonder if this kind of treatment would help with chronic pain? That'd be good too.
It makes sense: when you're in pain, you focus on something else, and it bothers you less, so VR changes what you're focused on more systematically.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


A recent study has found that coffee, and other caffeinated drinks, seem to protect against liver disease. This, of course, makes me very happy...I knew there was a reason Irish Coffee was so wonderful!!!

Fatty McOversized, On and On 

What Dr. Rangel says. It makes me crazy that people, especially health scientists and researchers, keep insisting that just being thinner is the be-all-end-all goal, as opposed to being healthier. So we've learned that liposuction doesn't help disease risk. Well, duuuuuh.

Since I spend a not insignificant portion of my professional life looking at morbidity numbers for people with (too often stupid and easily preventable) conditions like obesity and hypertension, it boggles my mind. WHY THE FUCK would liposuction lower cholesterol?!?! If not purely dietary, hyperlipidemia is a liver problem. I can understand why one might suppose it might lower blood pressure: less distance to cover, less stress on heart. But, that doesn't address the state of the blood vessels (let alone the heart) themselves. This is why behavioral modification by public health education and outreach is so critical. The ONLY WAY to lower cholesterol and diabetes and heart disease risk is with diet and exercise. Drugs are probably not as safe as we're told so far, and how is that a real solution anyway?

More Extra Bits 

Donated organ and tissue shortages have been a serious problem since transplant technology was first developed. In addition to a willing donor, you also need a compatible one. Stem cell research holds a great deal of promise here, and hopefully one day we'll be able to just grow new organs of our own on demand.

A big first step in this direction was published today. Researchers transplanted rat kidney primordia into grown rats, which developed and functioned well enough to keep the rats alive for a short time when their remaining kidneys were removed. This is more of a proof-of-concept than anything else, as the rats still died fairly soon, but first steps are often the most important.

Good Dogs 

Dogs are doing pretty well in the news these days. Last week, we learned of a dog who could not only remember 200 plus words, but could also 'fast-map' new ones.

In the newest issue of Neurology, researchers report that family dogs respond to and even predict epileptic seizures in their human kids, and warn the family and protect the kids. Training programs are in the works.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Science and Politics 

In a move that will shock no one (or at least no one who's been paying attention), 48 Nobel Prize - winning scientists have endorsed John Kerry for President. Not a surprise, but more good PR...
"Every little bit helps,"
said the old woman as she pissed in the sea.

(thanks, John)

Funny Brains 

A report from Dartmouth neuroscientists: the part of your brain that 'gets' a joke seems to be different than the part that finds it funny. Makes sense, I think, since humour must involve different regions: happiness (which is presumptively tied to the experience of funniness) is an emotion, ruled by the deep, ancient parts of the brain. But for humour to happen, you need more advanced functions like memory, language, and social conditioning, which come from the cortex.

The write-up alludes to one problem, that the comedy used in the study is of the ironical, intellectual type, in form of The Simpsons and Seinfeld. It's possible that other types of humour, like an Adam Sandler movie, would not require so much cortical input.

David points out that the authors assert that "if some people don't find The Simpsons funny, it's premature to say that they have a defective frontal lobe," and says they're wrong. I disagree: it may not be their frontal lobes at all. The brain is far too complicated for such a simple diagnosis. Something is, however, terribly wrong with them.


Practice guideline systems are a big deal these days: good ones can improve care, and the much-touted electronic health systems/devices can be programmed to pop up with suggestions at key moments. The bad ones, however, are Bad News...often imposed in the name of limiting liability, they can stifle a doctor's ability to practice effectively, and can interfere with the doctor's rapport with his/her patients.

This bit is an interesting idea of how to rate guidelines, etc...I'm not awake enough just now to really get into the meat of it, but it's worth examining.

Extra Bits 

Gene therapy has for some time been the darling hope of medical scientists, but real successes have been few and marred by a few serious failures. But a number of groups is now working on a different angle in gene therapy: adding a whole chromosome, as opposed to just a gene. If this can be made to work, it promises all kinds of cool things, and some scary ones as well (last line of article, i.e.).

Friday, June 18, 2004

Special Offer 

I have a GMail invite. Who wants it?

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Love Bug 

Or actually, the Love Protein. Researchers have found that increased levels of the V1a vasopressin receptor induce monogamy in voles. 'Playboy' voles injected with the gene suddenly settle down.
A slightly frightening thought, if it translates to humans...mind control and all. But really, having a syringe of that handy might've helped out with a few of my exes. If I still wanted them, that is (and I presume the effect is reversible: kill the expression of the gene, fall out of 'love).

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


A lovely essay in the new PLOS Biology discusses the rise of computational biology as a 'real' (sub?)field. Many fascinating points, and worth multiple reads.

The beginning of the second paragraph sets the stage by pointing out what is, for me, one of the most interesting things about biology:
It is a legacy of evolution that teleology — the tendency to explain natural phenomena in terms of purposes — is deeply ingrained in biology, and not in other fields (Ayala 1999).

This tendency is one against which all biology students are constantly warned: it's convenient language to say 'X trait was selected for Y,' but remember, always, that evolution has no purpose. Some disagree: there may be some force governing it all, some divine intervention.

I say let the theologians and the occasional neuroscientist hash out gods in the brain, but let it remain fundamental to biologists to wonder "why." After all, that philosophic wondering may be what makes us so much more fun than chemists, only concerned with "how."

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


The other day, I mentioned a gizmo which recorded brain activity and allowed people to play video games with their minds alone, which is Pretty Damn Cool. Today brings news of a 'black box' for humans which records the visuals of one's life, for the memory-impaired. Adding sound records would be easy. Next thing you know, we'll all be backing up and rebooting our memories, like in a certain novel I just read. A bit distressing, yes/no/maybeso?

Reason for Further Study 

I have always had language envy: I grew up with a bunch of diplo-brats and others who were multi-lingual, but my parents' house was always firmly monolingual. Later on, I was able to study languages, and have gotten to where my French is fairly good (or was, until I stopped practicing) and I speak enough Spanish to survive.

Today, science has provided me with an excuse to work harder in this area: being bilingual protects cognitive function from age-related decline! So that's a good enough reason for me to go live somewhere and learn to be fluent in something besides English!!

Monday, June 14, 2004


From The Department of Scary Things I Learn At Work (DOSTILAW):
July is a bad time to have elective surgery. It's when new medical students begin training in hospitals, ans when everyone else is gearing up for August vacations. July typically is the month with the highest rate of medical errors.

Evolution in Action 

Thieves of a lab microwave are in for many special treats in whatever they cook: radiation and toxins and carcinogens.
Despite our opposition to the death penalty, we clearly want fewer criminals in the world, which is why we hope that these guys earn themselves one of these.

(with thanks to ss)

Return of The Fly 

A small fly with amazing directional hearing has become a model for new human hearing aids. I'm not sure how my grandmother (whose hearing may be going but whose aversion to bugs remains strong) would feel about wearing a 'fly ear,' though.

Supplemental Oops! 

For all we keep hearing about how good antioxidants are for us, it was only a matter of time before evidence to the contrary emerged. A new study has found a significant association between a selenium-containing antioxidant enzyme and Type II Diabetes. It seems the body may need some free radical types to maintain insulin sensitivity. This is only one study, and needs to be replicated, but I'm sure there are bad effects to overdosing on supplemental vitamins.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Even More Brilliance 

Soccer fans are known to be a rowdy bunch. So much so, in fact, that European officials have taken what might almost be a very American approach: medicating them. Well, sortof. In the US they'd just prescribe everyone Prozac or Valium or Ritalin, but over there fans will be encouraged to smoke pot.

Yes, that's right: fans will be put off for being drunk, but not bothered in the slightest for getting stoned. This is based on an obvious fact: drunk people fight, stoners don't.

As rcentor of MedRants says, "So why is marijuana illegal?"

Even More Killjoy 

Researchers have found that drinking canned soft drinks, particularly "un-colas" and iced tea, is detrimental to tooth enamel. I wish there were more details in this release...I only drink diet coke and home-made tea, but would like to keep my teeth. They recommend drinking water after the sodas or tea, which I guess I'll have to do, since drinking through a straw (the other recommendation) is not gonna happen.

Really Cool News 

The ability to understand and produce language, rich in context, syntax and novelty, is one of the hallmark features thought to distinguish humans from other animals. The more research done on language with animals, however, the less convincing this is. Chimps, apes, dolphins, and parrots have all be successfully taught to communicate fairly well with humans, and many more animals are known to communicate heavily with each other. A study published in today's Science shows impressive language ability for the first time in a dog. Rico has a vocabulary of around 200 words, and, much more impressively, demonstrates "fast mapping," previously only observed in human children. Even with a sample size of only one, this is a Big Deal.

Another bit of Really Cool-ness comes from Washington University. Researchers there used implanted electrocorticographs (ECoG) in patients to correlate movement and imagined movement with ECoG profiles, and then linked them up to computer games, which patients played using only their minds!!! This work is hoped to lead to thought-controlled prosthetic devices, etc., for persons with disabilities. I, however, am holding out for a fully telepathic house. You know...just think about cleaning and it happens, etc.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Cosmetic Suicide 

Carla over at Health Beat points us to this report about the prevalence of carcinogens in [not FDA-regulated] cosmetics many of us use daily. If this is a serious study, and I've no reason to think it's not, it's Fucking Horrifying. None of my products make the top 25, but still. Makes you wonder. Ugh.

More Reagan 

I didn't really want to post anything, beyond the stem cell stuff, as others have said most of what I'd say about the topic, but I feel I must. RR was president for two terms, for much of which it is arguable he was not, uhm, all there. I don't like any of his politics, really, and I was just a kid when he was in office so I don't have particular memories. All of this does not change the fact that he was President. He was nowhere near as popular as the media keep saying he was, but that's not important either. He was President and he died and he deserves some sort of recognition and respect.

But something struck me yesterday that I didn't really remark on at the time, but since Kathryn Kramer did, I figured I'd just reiterate: where is RR Junior?


University of Michigan researchers have developed a huge meta-microarray containing 67 genes found to be common to differentiated cancers, and another with 69 common to undifferentiated cancers. This tool will be extremely useful not only for furthering research, but also in the clinic for earlier diagnosis and treatment. These are the kinds of biotech studies that make me very very happy.

Stinky and Drinky, Continued 

It's not usually much fun to be a research subject. Yeah, if you're human, they pay you and maybe you get a cookie or something, but you also have to get poked and prodded (not usually in the good way). Animal subjects are just sortof there. It might, however, have been fun to be the worms tested in this experiment, as they were gotten repeatedly drunk. The experiment searched for genetic clues to varying alcohol tolerance, and found one in the form of NPR-1, the C. Elegans version of a Neuropeptide Y receptor. NPY has been associated with alcoholism in humans, so this is promising. They found that NPR-1 was more active in worms with higher sensitivity to alcohol. Given that it seems to be a receptor gene, I hope to see alcohol and GABA (among other) binding assays published shortly after this.


Ronald Reagan just died of Alzheimer's Disease (AD). I never thought I'd ever say it, but I hope Nancy gets her way: on stem cell research, that is. For all the stupid pseudo-moralizing of the science-illiterate administration and its boosters, stem cell research is one of the most promising lines of research against this disease.

But thankfully, it's not the only one. Research published today indicates that certain cognitive areas are less affected by Alzheimer's than others...contrary to expectation, implicit learning was retained in AD participants, as well as associated higher-level cognitive abilities. Hopefully, this means a new direction in cognitive, and later, pharmaceutical, treatments may be effective. This work does not, however, take the place of stem cell research, in that it may provide treatments to slow the disease and make life better for its victims, it is not anywhere near as likely to lead to a cure or vaccine as stem and embryonic cell research is.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Torture Meme 

This is the memo written whereby BushCo decided they could ignore the law. Worth a read.

These Kids Today 

A new study from the WHO and NICHD shows that American youths are no more prone to violent behavior than kids in Israel, Portugal, Sweden, or Ireland. The money quote, however, is that the "findings fail to explain international statistics showing that U.S. youth are more likely to die of violent causes than are youth in other developed countries." Maybe because kids here have guns?

A very different problem for some kids is Diabetes Type I. Researchers announced that they have a hopeful procedure for preventing the disease from developing...by blocking the destruction of insulin-producing pancreas cells. This would be a Good Thing if it works.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Eat your Pills 

There's been a bit of a media over a recent report that the ever-increasingly-popular statins may combat prostate cancer. This is very interesting, of course, because anything that fights cancer would be good. HOWEVER! One of my many problems with statins is that they're pretty 'new' drugs, and only rigorously tested in a few populations (middle-aged-and-older mostly-white men, as far as I know). Also, they have side-effects and nasty interactions with everyday stuff, particularly grapefruit. Taking statins? Grapefruit's not a good idea.

Aside from safety issues, as MedPundit points out, these studies do not, at this point, seem to have been particularly rigorous: small numbers, not prospective, not (yet?) peer-reviewed. But of course the media will tout this research as the miracle cure of the week, sending many viewers/readers to bang down their doctors' doors, demanding the stuff. That's what they do.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Happy Pills 

Antidepressants have been in the news a lot lately. A certain drug company suppressed evidence that a certain antidepressant does more harm than good for kids. Not a big surprise...we all know how sleazy these guys are. Not to mention the fact that psychiatric meds are overprescribed all over the place these days, especially to kids (for whom they're really not intended or particularly well regulated/tested). Another major problem is that how antidepressants work, in general and in specific, are not very well understood, compared to many other drugs.
Released today, a UPenn group has found that many antidepressants' activities are tied to norepinepharine (NE), aka adrenaline, despite most having apparent primary effects on Seratonin. This research could be a bloody revolution, and it looks valid from here (i.e., Penn's a good facility and PNAS is a highly regarded journal).


Ernie suggests propagating this meme over at his [brilliant] LYD, and I'm going for it. Three stick-your-head-in-an-oven bad songs: (the problem, of course, is limiting myself to three...and not repeating Ernie's worst)

Whitney Houston: "I Will Always Love You."
Even before it was overplayed to death and involved with the utterly overrated crap that was "The Bodyguard," I hated this song. Twee lyrics, over-dramatic vocals attempting to cover for lame music, and I've also never liked Whitney's voice (she was a damn fine singer, just not to my taste).

Eric Clapton: "Tears in Heaven":
I know everyone is supposed to feel for Mr. Clapton his son's death, and fine...I would, except for him exploiting it so ruthlessly in his crap easy-listening (why do they call it that...it's not!) muzak. Didn't he used to be cool?

Limp Bizkit: "Nookie":
I actually only pick this song as exemplary of Limp Bizkit and all the misspelled angry white crap out there. Growing up surrounded by the punk scene, I remember when music was angry because there was shit to be pissed off about. Minor Threat, for instance, was angry about drunk assholes and inequity. The Clash were engaging in all-out class and political warfare. If these a-holes stopped being so nasty all the time maybe they'd get laid more without paying!

Insulin and Lifespan 

Brown University scientists have found that decreased insulin signaling in fat cells increases the lifespan of fruit flies 50 percent. This makes a great deal of sense, in terms of research indicating that calorie restriction is good for you. On a restricted-calorie diet, you end up with less insulin. This is going to continue to be a very interesting research area for quite some time, I think.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

More Brilliance 

From Sweden. Reacting to an alarming increase in chlamydia cases, the Swedish health trust and condom industry has set up a number of 'Condom Ambulances,' which are on call to deliver condoms to unprepared couples. Also, there's been a media blitz to inform the public. Yet again, them pinko socialists get public health right.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Fatty McOversized de Leon 

Calorie restriction has for some time been known to prolong life (like Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth), but it's unclear why or how. We'll leave "why" to the philosophers (they need something to do, after all), but some nice people over at MIT's Department of Biology have found a beginning of an answer to "how."

They found that when the body switches into the starvation mode which triggers the health benefits of restriction, the protein Sirt1 (not a fun name) turns on a key component: fat mobilization for metabolism. So, the idea is that a drug could bind the Sirt1 receptor and start releasing stored fat, so people could get the benefits of a low-calorie regimen without working.

The problem is this: I'm all for having this drug, sign me up for the Phase I trial, etc., but what's it really going to do? Will the result be free lipids just wandering around the body? Will it actually up Leptin or Adiponectin? I'd really like a magic bullet so I could eat chocolate all the time and still be skinny, but I know better than to believe we'll ever see one. Oh well, here's hoping!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Idiots, and a Rant. 

Nowadays, for all the progress yet to be made in the womens rights movement, there are ways that women get treated much better than men, for stupid reasons: I used to belong to a gym, where they had to switch locker rooms briefly during renovation. The women complained because they thought the [usually] mens' room was nicer, and threatened to sue if they weren't switched permanently. The club agreed, because they knew they'd probably lose. Even though the mens room was bigger because: more men were members.

There are, however, times where men get stupid about the double standards. Case in point: some guy in New Jersey felt annoyed because he had to pay full price at ladies night. He complained to the state, whose civil rights official agreed. No more ladies' nights in NJ. Stupidstupidstupid. Another case of I-can't-get-laid-cuz-I'm-a-bum-so-I'll-blame-feminism. Why can't we have some action on important issues?

F'rinstance: office dress codes. In the gross, sticky heat of a Washington, DC, summer, my female coworkers are free to wear short skirts (well, shorter than pants anyways), sleeveless tops, and open-toed shoes. Men, however, are stuck with more or less the same wardrobe we have in winter: long pants, 'nice' shoes, collared shirt. Yeah, we can get away with a short sleeve here and there, but I'm lucky: my office doesn't require a jacket. Even in more formal offices, while men sweat in suits, women can wear a lightweight dress and open shoes. This pisses me off.

Oral Fixation 

From the Department of Things We Already Knew Were Bad for Us, research released yesterday indicates that 'yo-yo dieting,' losing and gaining weight repeatedly, which is pretty much how most Americans seem to diet, decreases natural killer cell function, which may lead to susceptibility to all sorts of other problems.

Oral cancer is an increasing problem these days, and most of it seems to come from easily preventable causes: tobacco. People like to think that it was just chewing tobacco that caused it (as if "it's nasty" wasn't enough reason not to use that shit!), and then cigarettes and later cigars were added to the list. Now, however, the last bastion of "but this kind is OK" has fallen: pipe smoking is associated with increased rates of oral cancer. And heart disease. And stroke. Oops.

The good news, however, is that smoking pot does not seem to increase oral cancer risk. Which is no big surprise to those of us who follow marijuana research: the studies that link use to most health problems (lung cancer, primarily) tend not to control for other factors, like that heavy pot smokers are often cigarette smokers too. Not that I'm alleging that smoking pot isn't bad for you: putting any sort of smoke in your lungs is gonna damage them. I just get pissed off about bad research getting done and promulgated in the name of dubious policy.

It *Seemed* Like a Good Idea... 

...At the time. But wait till it mutates. This hasn't happened yet, but as UK researchers show great promise with an engineered virus that will 'explode' cancer cells, one must be cautious. While usually pretty gung-ho about genetic therapies, today I'm feeling cranky, so I point out some reservations. Viruses mutate. It's what they do. Since I worry about one designed to deliver medicines mutating and getting loose, so a virus designed to wreak havoc on cells getting loose really bothers me!

The good cancer news today is that UNC researchers have found a crucial regulatory domain in FAK, a movement/trophic factor key to cancer cells' malignancy, and the demonstration that this domain (FERM) can be blocked is hopeful for new treatments.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Ambulance Chasers 

I guess it's a sad statement that I'm not surprised. I know there are sleazeballs all over who prey on the suggestible minds of trauma victims.

I know that if you're an EMT and go a year without getting sued, you're very lucky.

I know that all the ranting about malpractice tort reform is just politics, that the problem is with malpractice insurance, more than with frivolous suits. Frivolous suits tend to be dismissed, and if there was incentive to cut down on them (which includes tougher laws on faux-plaintiffs, but also things like bits of HIPAA). It's the insurance costs that are forcing doctors out of business.

Nonetheless, this shit PISSES ME OFF.

Today's Cells 

Aging is one of the Big Mysteries of science. We all know it happens, and has certain symptoms, and leads to death, but the question of which symptoms are actually causes remains. New research, however, has pointed in an interesting direction: mitchondiral DNA. Swedish researchers have found that mice with deficient mtDNA repair enzymes age faster than control mice. Hmm. Very, very interesting. I'll be interested to read more about this, as that press release doesn't give any detail as to why the effect might be necessary or sufficient as a cause of aging. It may cause it in fact, but does it do so in life?

It's a very strange idea, particularly because of what mitochondria are in the first place: not exactly part of us. I actually don't remember...do prokaryotes age?

Duke researchers have done something very cool. They've found that fat cells (adipocytes) seem to be able to be converted into nerve cells, and in fact seem to act as nerve cells, reacting to Glutamate via NMDA. Well, they should just let me know and I'll happily donate some adipocytes for their research!!

Air Quality and Power 

I've written before on air quality and pollution.
Today there's even some good news: a new company is developing a system that could harness 'waste heat' from power plants to produce more power. Shockingly, they're from Texas. Which is not known for its dedication to efficiency or to the environment. If this technology gets off the ground, it'll be a good step in the right direction for reducing pollution and fuel consumption. Also, however, while it's not stated in the article, I wonder if this sort of system couldn't be adapted to simply make other fuels more useful: solar cells, for instance, would have no problem heating things to 55 degrees even in winter. Anyone know more about this?

Also on the power front, it turns out that nasty blackout in the northeastern US last year had some good side effects: drastically reduced air pollution and acid rain levels. These data aren't at all a surprise, of course, but are a neat little proof-of-concept. It would be nice if I believed people might see this and wake the fuck up on enforcement/enhancing environmental laws.

Chocolatey Goodness 

Chocolate is one of the greatest things in the universe. Chocoholism also runs in my family. Now, science is finding more than ever that the stuff is good for you! >70% cocoa (aka dark, bittersweet) chocolate improves blood vessel dilation and lowers LDL oxidation. All this is very good, and a wonderful excuse to eat more chocolate!

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