Friday, March 31, 2006
- Me, to the mid-level executive manager-type, sitting next to me on my flight back from Atlanta, who insisted on taktaktaking on his Blackberry the entire flight - taxi, takeoff, through landing - despite the oft-repeated ban on communications devices and electronics in general during parts of the flight.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
As cool as it is, it does remind me of a rather poor Steven King book.
Researchers have successfully powered a helicopter jet engine with a largely coal-based fuel. While this in and of itself is cool, the claim is that this will help us be independent of foreign oil is preposterous. Coal is at least as limited a resource as oil, and the US certainly has no monopoly on its production. Still, an interesting concept.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Monday, March 27, 2006
A review of randomized-controlled trials suggests that the much-touted health benefits of oily fish are not so clear. There's lots of data in this study, and I haven't the time to properly look at it now, but the basic message is clear: the Omega-3 fad is, like every other miracle food, just a fad. Eat a balanced diet, kids.
Something else that we've all known forever, that drinking milk helps build stronger bones and is a Health Food, may not be true. Women who got a high proportion of calcium from milk were more prone to fractures than others, a few studies have linked dairy products to cancer, and then there's the question of how much pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics get passed on to milk drinkers. Eat a balanced diet, kids.
One of the long-standing tenants of the pro-marijuana campaign, and certainly part of pot smokers' dogma, is that smoking pot is less "bad for you" than smoking cigarettes. There is certainly some debate on that matter, but a French study suggests that this is not the case. They found that cannabis smoke contains "seven times more tar and carbon monoxide...twice the amount of benzene and three times as much toluene" as tobacco smoke. The question on studies like this is always the methodology - how do the studied joints compare to what real people smoke, how do smokers smoke pot and cigarettes differently, etc., but the implication (if the study is even a little valid) is that smoking pot is bad for you. Smoking is bad for you. duh.
German researchers seem to have gotten embryonic stem cell-like cells from testicular biopsy. Hopefully the cells will turn out to work like proper stem cells, and be used to treat disease. (Yes, I said "testicular biopsy." As in "chopping bits of the balls to get cells.")
Identification of the gene for a receptor which seems to be responsible for sensing the spiciness of garlic, mustards, and wasabi may lead to breakthroughs in pain therapy. Or a new extreme sport.
European Space Agency scientists seem to have discovered a strong "gravitomagnetic field." Physics has always been my weakness, so I don't really get much of the detail, but it's clear that this is really cool. I want my anti-gravity car!
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Cigarette smoking seems to be linked to impotence in men aged 16-59. Not a shock, given that it damages your cardiovascular system and affects NO metabolism and transmission, but a good excuse not to light up.
And workers with various cold-like symptoms - coughs, sneezes, tiredness, etc. - who thought that poor physical working conditions were to blame may now get the infinitely more satisfying chance to blame their bosses. "Sick building syndrome" seems to really be caused by bad vibes at work.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Exposure to high levels of ozone seems to lower mens' sperm counts. The effect seems to be indirect, via some inflammatory response, but could lead to interesting follow-up.
And in the world of extreme art, a Chinese artist used a single rabbit hair to paint a panda onto a single human hair. Who wouldn't want a head covered in Butterstick?
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
It makes sense, I guess - one of the reasons asbestos is so bad is because it gets lodged in the deep lungs where you can't cough it up - but I also wonder if maybe this also contributes to its virulence/high mortality rates? Would a person's inability to cough up the particles (so that all newly released ones are just tossed directly on to neighboring lung cells) expose them to an inherently higher dose than they'd get if the virus lived where it could be coughed out? Or am I being totally far-fetched?
*Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Partners Healthcare, and UHS, etc., I know you're here!
A study from Purdue suggests that overproduction may not be the problem - instead, it's possible that underclearance is. They've also discovered a new place that clearance happens: at the choroid plexus. This body, part of the brain's vascular system, acts as filter for things coming in to the brain, but the new research suggests that it also helps clear thing out.
This is really cool, not only because it may provide a totally new target for intervention in AD, but also because it's yet another reminder that there is so much more going on with every organ in our bodies than we can even imagine.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Another gene, which is related to aggressive behavior in men seems also to lead to weakened impulse control and increased alarm responses. But, the men were only really more prone to violence if they'd been abused as children.
Monday, March 20, 2006
That may be changing: NIH researchers have found that neuronal activity - specifically the electrical impulses that myelin facilitates - seems to stimulate myelination. But there are steps involved. They found that electrical signal transmission causes the active neurons to release ATP (I presume into the extracellular space), where it binds receptors on astrocytes, which in turn release leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), which stimulates oligodendrocytes to myelinate the active neurons.
It's a pretty classic example of how neuronal survival is linked to activity: the ones involved in a worthwhile pathway will be active, and thus myelinated, those in less useful ones won't be.
Those Vermont folks really take their maple syrup seriously. The University of Vermont has opened a new research center dedicated to testing whether and how more efficient modern production techniques affect syrup's taste. Do you think they pay the taste testers?
Researchers have found a pair or new DNA repair proteins which seem to also destroy invading HIV cDNA. This is a very exciting possible new target for HIV treatments.
Case Western researchers have discovered that a previsously-unstudied type of neuron, Blanes cells, are critical to formation and maintenance of olfactory perception and memory. As we all know, smell is the most potent memory stimulus, so this is really cool.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
The offender: a young-ish (probably 35-40) woman and her 5-year-old.
The crime: the woman is walking through the (narrow) aisles, attempting to push two carts - hers, containing her groceries, and the one claimed by her son, containing a GI Joe - with her left hand and hold on to her kid with her right hand. She takes up the whole aisle, and makes no real effort to move aside when anyone wants to go the other way.
I'm all for letting kids be kids - I think we should do more of it. We should even allow them some license with adult rules of conduct. I draw the line, however, at disruptive rudeness in the name of indulgence. If the kid wants to push the cart, let him do so, but if he cannot do so, he does not need his own cart.
Friday, March 17, 2006
A large, longitudinal study suggests that ginseng may improve survival and quality of life ratings for breast cancer patients. There are lots of confounds, but this is a first step towards getting a real clinical trial done, which is what's needed.
UMn and Hopkins researchers have found a type of the amyloid-beta protein - famous for its accumulation in Alzheimers Disease - that seems to be a direct cause of memory loss in mice. If this pans out, it could lead to a breakthrough in targeted drug development and treatment of AD and other cognitive disorders. Cool!
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Do I have AIDS now?
Answer/PSA: Go get tested, and also, "I'm not even gay" is not an good way of saying 'no.' "Please refrain from fucking me in the ass" will be more effective.
And the double-helix galaxy? So cool!
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
UK researchers claim that a painful Achilles tendon could be a warning sign that you have high cholesterol. Yes, and it also may be a sign that you need to stretch more. There are far too many confounds for this to be a useful guideline.
Capsaicin, the chemical that makes hot peppers burn, seems to induce apoptosis in prostate cancer cells. Pass the habaneros!
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
My personal favorite, of course, is Mr. Groundhog Day. This client calls me, reliably, every 4-5 weeks, claiming that he has never received his password. I have nearly two years of assistance tickets documenting that he has, repeatedly and consistently, received his password, logged in once or twice, and forgotten that any of it ever happened. MGD is also famous for falling asleep and snoring (loudly) at meetings.
There's also Ms. Subject Line, who only reads that part of emails. She has yet, as far as I know, to discover that the Outlook's preview pane is only that. I try to deal with her on the phone.
Today, I got an email from a new client, and while not as dramatic or annoying as MGD or MSL, it combined with my recent abandonment of the caffeine holiday to make me laugh out loud. This character is a librarian, and a fairly accomplished one at that. Yes, I too was shocked to learn that there was a pecking order among librarians. Anyways, IL sent me an email today which contained 27 words, four of which were fabulously misspelled. "bag," "tanning," "hasp," and "kilts."
I know that IL uses Outlook, and I know that Outlook has splices. Thus, IL stands for Illiterate Librarian, who demonstrates the value of a PhD.
A study of rosuvastatin (Crestor) suggests that high doses of the drug may not only slow the process of arterial deterioration, but could reverse it as well. Crestor has serious side effects, even at normal doses - so much so that some experts say it oughtn't be on the market at all - but the concept is intriguing.
It seems that infants who are treated with antibiotics are more likely to develop asthma later on. I am fully in support of doctors being more cautious about prescribing antibiotics, especially in kids, but I also worry about this becoming the latest parental craze, wherein people ignore doctors' advice (fail to give their kid prescribed treatments) and/or start suing.
Nanofibre scaffolding has been successful in partially regrowing the optic nerve (restoring vision) in blinded hamsters. Cool!
A small, retrospective study suggests that long-term marijuana use may damage cognitive ability. Not great data, and pretty poorly controlled, but worth taking note.
Coffee continues to be good for you. Researchers have discovered how caffeine acts to protect against pancratitis: it closes calcium channels inside the cells, preventing the CAM-Kinase cascade leading to cell death. Yay coffee!
Monday, March 13, 2006
I did the obvious, and played video games. I payed for it in college, when such tricks were not effective, and I think the residual 'catching up' on work habits still lingers over me.
But, you see, there was another incident in the 8th grade that I pretty much wrote off as an excuse after the 9th grade. I won't go into it, but the relevant result is that I have persistent tinnitus in my right ear. An Australian study suggests that chronic tinnitus may impair performance on demanding working memory and attention tasks. No wonder all that ADD medication didn't work!
Now all I want is my bionic ear.
Via Queerty, we find a 60 Minutes piece about research into how sexual orientation develops. It's basic, not attempting to delve into the meat of the research (which I would love, but which would be confusing and drive away most readers), but doesn't fall into the trap of politics. There is mention of how much a hot-button issue sexual orientation can be, but from the first paragraph it's clear that this has nothing to do with that: "It's not only a political, social, and religious question but also a scientific question, one that might someday have an actual, provable answer."
That's the key that science journalism misses all to often. This in not politics, this is not a debate. This is about reliable, replicable evidence. The article discusses some of that evidence, saying what's well established (birth order effects) and what isn't (how hormones affect things), and presents it as an exciting, interesting field (that needs more funding).
A group at UIUC has successfully synthesized and characterized the antibiotic nisin in test tube. This is a major step, promising faster development of new antibiotics (as opposed to stumbling upon them in nature), which could help treat antibiotic-resistant disease strains. Cool!
Researchers have found that overweight people seem to have higher levels of sE-selectin, an inflammatory protein produced by artery vessel walls. Blood vessel inflammation can contribute to many serious conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, but it's possible that anti-inflammatory treatments might help people who are unable to lose weight. Interesting.
Friday, March 10, 2006
I actually learned this on the phone yesterday, but I decided that I would wait until I had actual physical evidence to get really excited about it.
After being (unsurprisingly) shot down by Berkeley, I got my first grad school acceptance: the Michigan School of Public Health's Epidemiology program. It's probably my first choice, so I figure it's the best one to get into first. I'm going to wait for it to sink in (and for what will hopefully be three or so more acceptance letters), and then decide what I'm gonna do about it.
Anyone who knows anything about the program: your thoughts are most appreciated!
Drinking will commence later tonight, probably at The Agenda. I hope to see you there!
Oy, science makes you feel your age faster than anything else: I remember hearing about PCR in high school as this hallowed higher art that only really well funded NIH mukkity-mucks got to use. heh.
The real question is, though, how many words per
Thursday, March 09, 2006
The thing about this kind of study is that they very explicitly can only find good news for the pro-life folks. It did not measure illegal (read: "most likely unsafe") abortions, or the effects on the young girls and their families who had unwanted kids. Let alone examine the effects of being unwanted on the kids themselves.
Abortions are pretty obviously a bad thing; I'm all for reducing the number of abortions people have. The thing is, that to really do that, you have to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and the only realistic way of doing that is to have honest, reality-based education about How Things Work. Faith-based sex ed doesn't work. I wonder if this lesson will ever penetrate?
J'aime bien sa disque, Joker, et puis quelquefois je me demande que trouverai-je si je fais Blingo de quelque chose. Donc, j'ai encontré cette petite entrevue avec Clairka qui me fait l'aimer encore plus. Et bien, je pense que "Joker" c'est maintenant ma chanson préférée sur la disque.
Also this week, the FDA agreed to begin trials of a potential MS vaccine. The vaccine does not prevent people from developing MS, but instead reduces flare-ups. It works like this: clinicians take a sample of the MS patient's blood, including the myelin-specific white blood cells that cause MS. The cells are grown in culture, inactivated, and re-injected. The healthy immune system then becomes sensitized to these 'renegade' cells, and seems to kill off even new non-inactivated ones. That is really cool.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Somewhat similarly, MIT researchers have found a compound which could help stem the progress of Huntington's Disease. Not a good month if you're a neurodegenerative disorder!
Children in Ecuador whose mothers were exposed to pesticides while pregnant show higher blood pressure and lower shape-copying ability than others. The study is small, and there are a few confounds that seem to linger, but I'd be confident suggesting that pregnant women (or anyone, for that matter) avoid exposure to pesticides as much as possible.
And the good news? This cutie pie:
Meet Kiwa hirsuta, the only member of an entirely new family of crustacean. This character lives in the extreme depths and toxic thermal vents of the South Pacific. Cool!
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
I've also never been able to sleep more than, say, 10 hours at the extreme, and am baffled by people who can (much less want to) sleep for 12 or 14 hours in a stretch. And now I get to feel smug about this for reasons beyond all those early-morning loads of laundry: long sleeping may be a sign of serious health problems. A study in progress at the University of South Carolina is testing how sleep restriction affects long sleepers, who research suggests may be at risk of increased cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mortality. Pass the CX717 please!!
It certainly seems that organic farming should be less harmful to the environment than is artificial-fertilizer agrobiz style farming, but perhaps only because we woolley-headed liberals like to think that anything natural is inherently better. Lucky for us, research suggests that organic farming really is better for the environment. Yay.
Last but not least, BoingBoing tempts me with a new toy: a kitchen freezing table. So awesome!
Monday, March 06, 2006
So, basically, bad parenting is involved: parents who have hyperactive kids and don't want to take the time to, you know, raise them, end up with older kids with worse (more frequently diagnosed) ADHD....hey, let's go ride our bikes!
Friday, March 03, 2006
But, doesn't S. pneumoniae cause strep throat too? Getting rid of that would be awesome. Since I get it three times a year.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Evidence suggests that some of humans' 'higher' social traits may be more ancient than believed - so much so that we share them with chimpanzees. Cool.
The Royal Society of Chemistry has opened its archives to Africa for free. Hopefully, other publishers will follow suit, and soon open access to the scientific literature will become the norm, instead of a rarity. That would, hopefully, lead to much improved science across the globe.
Finally, in what could be the best news I've heard all week, UC-Irvine researchers believe that they may have found the first chemical to block progression of Alzheimer's disease. Theh compound, AF267B, is an acetylcholine analog, and not only relieved cognitive impairment in mice, but also reduced the appearance of AD's characteristic plaques and tangles, thus slowing the disease process. Very cool!