"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!!

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Easy Way Out 

Sick of spending all that time at the gym, and eating nothing but celery and soy protein, hoping to lose weight? Fear not, science may soon have an answer! US researchers claim that they've developed a pill that makes mice burn fat and improve muscle tone, without any exercise. The drug seems to activate PPAR-delta, which 'turns on' fat metabolism.

The drug could be useful for treating metabolic syndrome and muscular wasting disorders, but in all honesty, we all just want to eat more chocolate.

And you know what goes well with chocolate? Cherries! The good news is that tart cherries appear to have positive effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose tolerance. The study is in rats, and the doses rather impressively high, but still this could be encouraging data - and a good excuse for more cherry pie, just like you remember from when you were a kid.

You remember that, right? If you don't, there may be a pill for that too: MIT researchers have found that inhibiting HDACs could reverse memory loss associated with neurodegeneration. Which, if it works in humans, will be a GINORMOUS leap forward in treating Alzheimer's and related disorders.

Alas, there is still no pill to cure stupidity. Graham points us to a particularly stunning example of the modern trend of pathologizing everything, combined with a healthy dose of bloody moronic.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dietary Factors 

Aging baby boomers look like they may become the first generation in memory to be less healthy at retirement age than their parents. Admittedly, some of this may be due to their infinitely more incessant whining and hypochondriasis, or that the preliminary results aren't good, but it actually does make sense. This is a generation who are sedentary, eat a diet full of terrible things like high fructose corn syrup, trans-fat, and Splenda, and take myriad medications like no generation before. It's inconceivable that all this hasn't had an effect. And that effect is kinda terrifying, for those of us who are gonna have to take care of them.

One of the potential culprits is omega-6 fatty acids. Our ancestors ate omega-6 and omega-3 FA's in about a 3:1 ratio, but when food manufacturers found that omega-6's were more cost-effective in the early 20th century, Westerners' diets exploded with the stuff - we now get 15-17 times as much omega-6 as omega-3! Why is this bad? Well, it appears that higher omega-6 levels (maybe relative to omega-3 and maybe not) are linked to depression and inflammatory conditions (which can cause heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.). D'oh!

On the upside, another study has found that eating small amounts (about 3.5 oz.) of dark chocolate a day has similar blood-pressure lowering effects to beta-blockers like atenolol. This effect doesn't go for milk chocolate, as milk blocks absorption of the polyphenols responsible. A guaranteed cure? No. An excuse to eat chocolate? Of course!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Has anyone else noticed that half of the internet is down this afternoon? I can't get to Yahoo, Flickr, Myspace, Facebook, or even Wonkette, thus cutting off much of my ability to procrastinate. Or email people to scheme entertainment options. WTF? It's been like this a few hours, I would've thought something might have popped up on Slashdot by now. Hmph.

Also, I'm going to Chicago this weekend for a very good friend's wedding. The first in a flurry of the damn things this year. "Damn things" only because how is it possible that nearly all of my high school friends are getting married? Scary. The point is that when I reserved my hotel via Orbitz, and they also sold me a shuttle service to and from the airport, at a pretty good price.

The thing is, that when I called the service today to confirm, they told me that they don't serve the South side of Chicago. So I had to spend half an hour on the phone explaining this to Orbitz to get it refunded ("Brian" was very friendly and helpful, even if he had a thick accent and was clearly on a very crappy cell phone). So yeah - caveat emptor, etc.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ups and Downs 

Sometimes, especially in health, stuff designed to make things better don't work that well. The FDA has approved the first vaccine for avian (H5N1) flu, but some are concerned that it's only effective in about 45% of people. The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, given to many men to check for prostate cancer, is not very good at predicting benign versus malignant tumors. The problem there is that treatment for prostate cancer is expensive, painful, and usually has unpleasant after-effects (like impotence), and you don't want to do it unnecessarily. And then there ethanol-fueled cars.

Hailed as an eco-friendlier source, ethanol might just be better left in drinks: ethanol-fueled cars might cause a dramatic rise in ground-level ozone. I don't really buy this study, as it fails to account for why the outcome hasn't been seen in Brazil, which has a major ethanol-based fuel economy, but I also don't buy ethanol-as-fuel as a good solution to our energy woes, so...

On the upside, there's good news for those who like "natural" and herbal remedies! It seems that older women who breastfeed are less likely to develop breast cancer. So using your breasts is good for them. (insert 12-year-old snickering here) On the herbal front, it appears that the Ayurvedic blend triphala is a potent killer of pancreatic tumors, and Hopkins researchers have developed a class of oxidising compounds which mimic Artemisinin's malaria-killing powers, only much more strongly. OK, not precisely herbal, but based-on.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, April 16, 2007

Passing Blame 

The American Taliban is really obsessed with sex. They don't want people to have any fun with it, for starters, and they certainly don't want anyone who isn't Just. Like. Them. to be having it. And since they are mostly middle-aged or older, we get "abstinence-only sex ed." Which, aside from being ridiculous, is now officially ineffective. But we all knew this - if abstinence rules, as are claimed to have been followed "in the good old days," were followed, the human race would have dies out long ago. But of course these folks (who also claim to be big on "fiscal responsibility") want to keep spending hundreds of millions of dollars on abstinence-only programs.

Once you've had sex, they really, REALLY don't want you to be able to control whether or not you get pregnant. Luckily, the Washington State government has just passed a law requiring that pharmacies (though not necessarily individual pharmacists) must fill any and all legal prescriptions. This will hopefully defuse a particularly odious tactic employed by the AT - that of health care providers (all of whom took an oath of one sort or another to provide care) refusing to fill certain prescriptions or care for certain patients on "moral" grounds.

And speaking of things that you can justifiably blame for all your problems: UK researchers have found that hypertension may be due to brain inflammation, in addition to or as opposed to (it's not clear which) circulatory causes. The culprit seems to be a newly discovered protein called junctional adhesion molecule-1 (JAM-1)...for once it may be time to, errr ... pump down the JAM.

Speaking of blame and stomach-turning puns, Pittsburgh researchers have identified three more genes which appear to contribute to Crohn's disease: PHOX2B, NCF4, and autophagic gene ATG16L1. Cool!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, April 13, 2007

Makin Ladies 

I have no idea who Los Amigos Invisibles are, mostly because they can't possibly be what we see in this hilarious video. Because they're invisible, right? Those have to be actors. Yeah. My brain esta frito.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Watch Out for Coughing Cowboys! 

This ain't your grandfather's gonorrhea. Due to careless antibiotic use and of course to careless sexual practices, the US is seeing a ginormous rise in proportion of drug-resistant strains of this STD. Currently only one class of antibiotic seems to remain effective, and how long that will last no one can guess.

Speaking of making babies, a UK group claims to have grown immature sperm from bone marrow stem cells, potentially hinting at future fertility treatment advances. Gives new meaning to the concept of "boning" somebody...

But what genes get passed on? Hopefully not a faulty copy of FTO, which greatly increases risk of obesity. We may also soon know a good bit more about how genes evolve and change over time from the newly sequenced macaque genome.

Finally, if you thought bird flu and monkey pox were bad, wait till you hear about cow tuberculosis! It appears that this potentially lethal infection is, contrary to previous thought, transmissable from human to human. D'oh!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What Butt? 

Via the always-entertaining Jessica Cutler:

Also, I would really like to thank a visitor from Austria for informing me that this blog is currently the number one Google result for "sperm good for hair"...Awesome.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, April 09, 2007

Figuring it out 

I know they're written to describe nearly anyone (hell, I even took a class in how to write this way), but I hate it when the internet personality quizzes fit.

Which Trainspotting Character Are You?

Except for the heroin bit. I already gave that up.

Labels: , , , , ,


We all know that being too fat is bad for you, and a UCSD study may help understand pert of why. The researchers found that human colon cancer cells have leptin receptors which, when activated, cause the cancers to grow. The more body fat you have, the more leptin you have, which could explain why obesity is such a strong risk factor for colon (and maybe other types of) cancer.

Another problem with being too fat is the likelihood of developing the beetis. Well, if you do, there may be good news: New Zealand doctors say that a man who had piglet islet cells injected into him ten years ago to help control his diabetes still has some of them alive and producing insulin in him. This result is quite promising for future xenotransplantation procedures, which could perhaps actually cure, rather than merely reduce the symptoms of, disease.

But, if taking insulin remains necessary, that drug may soon be cheaper and easier to get: a Canadian firm claims that it's gotten safflower plants to produce human insulin in their oil. If true, this would be a massive breakthrough. And yes, I understand the environmental concerns (and am very wary of corporatizing food production), but I think this is worthwhile.

Speaking of plants, it appears that an herbal remedy may be helpful in clearing urinary tract infections: Duke researchers found that high doses of forskolin (which agonizes c-AMP receptors in the bladder) seem to force E. coli out of hiding to be cleared. Now remains the question of whether this works in humans too. And of course the question of what side effects such potent c-AMP agonism might have.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, April 06, 2007


Well, it's one option. Definitely better off will be the women (and ultimately the men too) of Eritrea, which has just officially banned the practice of female circumcision. Unlike male circumcision, which has generally no ill-effects and may or may not be good for you, female circumcision is just mutilation and torture, plain and simple. So good for you, Eritrea! (P.S. - please send someone to open a restaurant in Atlanta...I miss my Harambe!)

The good news for older folks (and younger too) is that it seems Tai Chi may help improve immunity. The study focused on resistance to varicella (shingles, chickenpox), but it's likely that the effect is not so specific. Granted, they didn't seem to control for the effects of exercise alone, but in that I think Tai Chi is amazing, I say people should do more of it! (Including me)

Also potentially good for all of us is a New Zealand group's proof-of-concept breakthrough in solar power: they've found a way to make solar cells that don't need direct light, and can be pigmented in ways to look good. Awesome!

Cancer patients may get some good news from the bad today; researchers have confirmed how cancer treatments can spur the disease's spread, but also how that process seems to work, and a possibly way to stop it. It seems that primary tumors release TGF-beta, which inhibits secondary tumors' growth until the primary is removed. Treating patients with TGF-beta could, in the future, suppress growth of these (and maybe even of the primary) tumors.

The real bad news today may be for HIV, which means good news for HIV patients, and maybe the rest of us!
A Spanish study tested a new protease inhibitor in advanced HIV patients, and found that it resulted in significant viral load decreases and improved CD4 counts. This is pretty early data, but still super encouraging! Secondly, US researchers used a rabies vector to deliver SIV/HIV proteins to monkeys, resulting in a good immune response to viral challenge. The vaccine doesn't protect from infection, but it did appear to reduce disease development, and could direct future work to find a preventative vaccine.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, April 02, 2007

Go Play in the Mud 

While the BBC article is short on details, some UK researchers have apparently found that playing in the dirt could be good for both your mood and you immune system. An interesting finding, and one that I'd really love to wave in the faces of all those obnoxiously over-clean mothers out there. You know who I mean - the ones who hover over their child's every move, waving antibacterial wipes (breeding resistant strains) and then go home to scream at the maid because there might be three molecules of dust in the nursery (where the 8-year-old still lives).

These are often the same people who demand that the pediatrician prescribe antibiotics for everything, again helping to evolve super-bugs resistant to all treatment. Sinusitis, it seems, may be a big contributer to this problem: US doctors are prescribing antibiotics at a very high rate, relative to the proportion of infections likely to be bacterial as opposed to viral. Much of this is due to a combination of provider ignorance, but a substantial chunk is that patients demand drugs, and providers have neither the time nor the expertise to explain why they don't need them.

On the upside, doctors worldwide may soon have two major concerns fewer to worry about, as researchers move to neutralizing donated blood types and growing organs for transplant. In the former case, a US team has identified a pair of enzymes for removing the A and B antigens from blood, effectively rendering it type O - the universal donor type. While not solving the blood shortage entirely, this would take immense pressure off of the supplies of rarer types.

Second, UK doctors say that they've grown heart valves in culture from marrow cells. If this technology can be applied to human hearts, and is effective, it would set the stage for a major revolution in transplant treatments. Cool!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?