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Medicine

New Study Shows Marijuana Users Have Low Blood Flow To the Brain (eurekalert.org) 560

cold fjord writes: State level marijuana legalization efforts across the U.S. have been gaining traction driven by the folk wisdom that marijuana is both a harmless recreational drug and a useful medical treatment for many aliments. However, some cracks have appeared in that story with indications that marijuana use is associated with the development of mental disorders and the long-term blunting of the brain's reward system of dopamine levels. A new study has found that marijuana appears to have a widespread effect on blood flow in the brain. EurekAlert reports: "Published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), a sophisticated imaging study that evaluates blood flow and activity patterns, demonstrated abnormally low blood flow in virtually every area of the brain studies in nearly 1,000 marijuana users compared to healthy controls, including areas known to be affected by Alzheimer's pathology such as the hippocampus. According to Daniel Amen, M.D., 'Our research demonstrates that marijuana can have significant negative effects on brain function. The media has given the general impression that marijuana is a safe recreational drug, this research directly challenges that notion. In another new study just released, researchers showed that marijuana use tripled the risk of psychosis. Caution is clearly in order.'"
Medicine

Religious Experiences Have Similar Effect On Brain As Taking Drugs, Study Finds (cnn.com) 228

A new study published in the journal Social Neuroscience finds through functional MRI scans that religious and spiritual experiences can trigger reward systems like love and drugs. "These are areas of the brain that seem like they should be involved in religious and spiritual experience. But yet, religious neuroscience is such a young field -- and there are very few studies -- and ours was the first study that showed activation of the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain that processes reward," said Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, a neuroradiologist at the University of Utah and lead author of the study. CNN reports: For the study, 19 devout young adult Mormons had their brains scanned in fMRI machines while they completed various tasks. The tasks included resting for six minutes, watching a six-minute church announcement about membership and financial reports, reading quotations from religious leaders for eight minutes, engaging in prayer for six minutes, reading scripture for eight minutes, and watching videos of religious speeches, renderings of biblical scenes and church member testimonials. During the tasks, participants were asked to indicate when they were experiencing spiritual feelings. As the researchers analyzed the fMRI scans taken of the participants, they took a close look at the degree of spiritual feelings each person reported and then which brain regions were simultaneously activated. The researchers found that certain brain regions consistently lit up when the participants reported spiritual feelings. The brain regions included the nucleus accumbens, which is associated with reward; frontal attentional, which is associated with focused attention; and ventromedial prefrontal cortical loci, associated with moral reasoning, Anderson said. Since the study results were seen only in Mormons, Anderson said, more research is needed to determine whether similar findings could be replicated in people of other faiths, such as Catholics or Muslims.
Medicine

Sugar-Free Products Might Actually Stop Us From Getting Slimmer (dw.com) 172

Nutritionists suspected that artificial sweeteners weren't really helping people lose weight, according to a new article submitted by schwit1. Now there's hints of proof in a new aspartame study by the Massachusetts General Hospital. "We found that aspartame blocks a gut enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase," explains Professor Hodin. IAP is produced in the small intestine. "We previously showed [this enzyme] can prevent obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome [a disease characterized by a combination of obesity, high blood pressure, a metabolic disorder and insulin resistance]. So, we think that aspartame might not work because, even as it is substituting for sugar, it blocks the beneficial aspects of IAP...."

The researchers confirmed their suspicions via a variety of tests on mice. In one case, they fed IAP directly to mice, who were also on a high-fat diet. It turned out that the IAP could effectively prevent the emergence of the metabolic syndrome. It also helped relieve symptoms in animals that were already suffering from the obesity-related illness.

Medicine

Researchers Successfully Achieve Suspended Animation With Mouse Embryos (engadget.com) 28

"It was completely surprising. We were standing around in the tissue culture room, scratching our heads, and saying 'Wow, what do we make of this?'" An anonymous reader quotes Engadget's report on new research with "huge implications": A team of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco only wanted to slow down mice embryos' cell growth in the lab. Instead, they managed to completely pause their development, putting the blastocysts (very early embryos) in suspended animation for a month. What's more, they found that the process can put stem cells derived from the blastocysts in suspended animation as well, [and] the researchers were able to prove that the embryos can develop normally even after a pause in their growth. Team member Ramalho-Santos from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research said... "To put it in perspective, mouse pregnancies only last about 20 days, so the 30-day-old 'paused' embryos we were seeing would have been pups approaching weaning already if they'd been allowed to develop normally."
The new research could lead to better treatments for damaged organs and even aging, according to the article. (Besides, of course, its science fiction-y implications for long-distance space travel...)
Biotech

Brain Cancer Patients Live Longer By Sending Electric Fields Through Their Heads (ieee.org) 74

IEEE Spectrum reports on a "radical new weapon" against brain tumors -- only available since 2015. They profile a typical patient who "wears electrodes on her head all day and night to send an electric field through her brain, trying to prevent any leftover tumor cells from multiplying [and] goes about her business with a shaved head plastered with electrodes, which are connected by wires to a bulky generator she carries in a shoulder bag." the_newsbeagle writes: The Optune system, which bathes the brain tumor in an AC electric field, is the first new treatment to come along that seems to extend some patients' lives. New data on survival rates from a major clinical trial showed that 43% of patients who used Optune were still alive at the 2-year mark, compared to 30% of patients on the standard treatment regimen. At the 4-year mark, the survival rates were 17% for Optune patients and 10% for the others.
Patients have to re-shave their heads every few days and re-apply all the electrodes, but that's never been a problem, according to one patient. "If you have a condition which has no cure, it's a great motivator."
Medicine

Scientists Believe There's Finally A Cure For The Common Cold (dailymail.co.uk) 193

schwit1 writes: After decades of research, the fabled cure for the common cold could be on its way in the form of a nasal spray called SynGEM, the brainchild of a Dutch biotechnology company. After successful tests on mice and rats (yes, they get colds too), 36 human volunteers at London's Imperial College are now trying out the spray.
While colds can be caused by hundreds of different viruses, just three viruses are responsible for 80% of them -- and yet colds are responsible for 40% of the sick days taken in the U.S., according to another article, as well as 75 million doctor visits (costing $7.7 billion) every year, plus another $2.9 billion for cold medications. One experimental medicine professor at London's Imperial College London has spent the last 30 years researching colds and flu, and though a cure has never been found, he now tells the Daily Mail, "I think we are on the verge of it. I really do."
Medicine

US Dementia Rates Drop 24%, New Study Finds (cnn.com) 105

A new study involving more than 21,000 people across the country finds that dementia rates in people over age 65 fell from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012 -- a decline of 24 percent. CNN reports: The decline in dementia rates translates to about one million fewer Americans suffering from the condition, said John Haaga, director of behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the new study. Dementia is a general term for a loss of memory or other mental abilities that's severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's disease, which is believed to be caused by a buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain, is the most common type of dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and occurs after a stroke. The study, which began in 1992, focuses on people over age 50, collecting data every two years. Researchers conduct detailed interviews with participants about their health, income, cognitive ability and life circumstances. The interviews also include physical tests, body measurements and blood and saliva samples. Although researchers can't definitively explain why dementia rates are decreasing, Langa said doctors may be doing a better job controlling high blood pressure and diabetes, which can both boost the risk of age-related memory problems. High blood pressure and diabetes both increase the risk of strokes, which kill brain cells, increasing the risk of vascular dementia. Authors of the study found that senior citizens today are better educated than even half a generation ago. The population studied in 2012 stayed in school 13 years, while the seniors studied in 2000 had about 12 years of education, according to the study. People who are better educated may have more intellectually stimulating jobs and hobbies that help exercise their brains, Langa said. The study has been published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Medicine

The US Government is Finally Telling People that Homeopathy is a Sham (vox.com) 297

Not a good news for people who trust homeopathic drugs. The Federal Trade Commission has issued an enforcement policy statement that requires over-the-counter (OTC) homeopathic drugs and products makers to disclose in their advertisement and labeling that there is no evidence that Homeopathic products are effective and also mention that modern medical experts don't recognize any claims of effectiveness only based on homeopathic theories. From a report on Vox: This FTC ruling is definitely a step in the right direction of raising awareness about the lack of evidence behind homeopathy. "This is a real victory for reason, science, and the health of the American people," said Michael De Dora, public policy director for the Center for Inquiry, a science-based advocacy and education group that's been pushing for more homeopathy oversight. "The FTC has made the right decision to hold manufacturers accountable for the absolutely baseless assertions they make about homeopathic products." But it doesn't mean these "medicines" will disappear from store shelves. The FTC only has the right to crack down on misleading marketing claims, and if the makers of homeopathic remedies clearly state that their products are based on no science, they can still sell them.
Biotech

First Color Images Produced By an Electron Microscope (sciencemag.org) 46

Slashdot reader sciencehabit quotes Science magazine: Imagine spending your whole life seeing the world in black and white, and then seeing a vase of roses in full color for the first time. That's kind of what it was like for the scientists who have taken the first multicolor images of cells using an electron microscope. Electron microscopes can magnify an object up to 10 million times, allowing researchers to peer into the inner workings of, say, a cell or a fly's eye, but until now they've only been able to see in black and white. The new advance -- 15 years in the making -- uses three different kinds of rare earth metals called lanthanides...layered one-by-one over cells on a microscope slide. The microscope detects when each metal loses electrons and records each unique loss as an artificial color.
Medicine

Male Birth Control Shot Found Effective (bbc.com) 372

An anonymous reader quotes the BBC: A hormone injection has been shown to be a safe and effective method of contraception -- for men. U.S. researchers say the jab was almost 96% effective in tests on around 270 men who were using it, with four pregnancies among their partners. However, a relatively high number developed side effects, including acne and mood disorders... Because men constantly produce sperm, high levels of hormones are needed to reduce levels from the normal sperm count of over 15 million per milliliter to under one million/ml.
One professor pointed out that despite the side effects, "75% of the men who took part in the trial would be willing to use this method of contraception again."
Medicine

Harvard Researchers Print World's First Heart-On-A-Chip (gizmodo.com) 20

Harvard University researchers have successfully 3D printed the first heart-on-a-chip with integrated sensors that are capable of measuring the beating of the heart. Gizmodo reports: The printed organ is made of synthetic material designed to mimic the structure and function of native tissue. It is not designed to replace failing human organs, but it can be used for scientific studies, something that is expected to rapidly increase research on new medicine. The medical breakthrough may also allow scientists to rapidly design organs-on-chips to match specific disease properties or even a patient's cells. Organs-on-chips, also known by the more technical name microphysiological systems, replicate the structure and function of living human organs. Each is made of a translucent, flexible polymer that lets scientists replicate biological environments of living organs. The chips are also clear so that the scientists can see an inner-working into how the organs work. A large part of the breakthrough was actually developing six different printable inks capable of integrating sensors within the tissue being printed. In one continuous printing process, the team 3D printed materials into a heart-on-a-chip with integrated sensors. The sensors were capable of measuring the beating of the heart. The new study has been published today in Nature Materials.
Medicine

Nurses In Australia Face Punishment For Promoting Anti-Vaccination Messages Via Social Media (medicalxpress.com) 656

HughPickens.com writes: Medical Express reports that nurses and midwives promoting anti-vaccination messages in Australia could face punishment including being slapped with a caution and having their ability to practice medicine restricted. Serious cases could be referred to an industry tribunal, where practitioners could face harsher penalties such as having their registration suspended or cancelled. The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia released the vaccination standards in response to what it described as a small number of nurses and midwives promoting anti-vaccination via social media. The statement also urges members of the public to report nurses or midwives promoting anti-vaccination. Promoting false, misleading or deceptive information is an offense under national law and is prosecutable by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. "The board will consider whether the nurse or midwife has breached their professional obligations and will treat these matters seriously," the statement said. However Dr. Hannah Dahlen, a professor of midwifery at the University of Western Sydney and the spokeswoman for the Australian College of Midwives, worries the crackdown may push people with anti-vaccination views further underground. "The worry is the confirmation bias that can occur, because people might say: 'There you go, this is proof that you can't even have an alternative opinion.' It might in fact just give people more fuel for their belief systems."
Math

Maths Becomes Biology's Magic Number (bbc.com) 75

In the middle of a discussion about the pros and cons of statins, Sir Rory Collins, the head of clinical trials at Oxford University, noted that If you want a career in medicine these days you're better off studying mathematics or computing than biology. A report on BBC adds: It is a nice one-liner, but I didn't think much more about it until a few days later, when I found myself sitting in a press conference to mark the launch of a new initiative on cancer. Rubbing shoulders on the panel with the director of the Institute of Cancer Research, Professor Paul Workman, was a scientist I didn't recognise, but it soon became clear this was exactly what Sir Rory had had in mind. Dr Andrea Sottoriva is an astrophysicist. He has spent much of his career searching for Neutrinos -- the elusive sub-atomic particles created by the fusion of elements in stars like our sun -- at the bottom of the ocean, and analysing the results of atom smashing experiments with the Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Geneva. "My background is in computer science, particularly as it applies to particle physics," he told me when we met at the ICR's laboratories in Sutton. So why cancer? The answer can be summed up in two words: big data. What Dr Sottoriva brings to the fight against cancer is the expertise in mathematical modelling needed to mine the vast treasure trove of data the information revolution has brought to medicine. "The exciting thing is that we can apply all the new analytical techniques we've developed in physics to biology," he says. "So we have all these new quantitative technologies that allow us to process an enormous amount of data, and all of a sudden we can start to apply that to implement the paradigm of physics in biology."
Medicine

Doctors Perform Better Than Internet Or App-Based Symptoms Checkers, Says Study (sciencedaily.com) 192

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Daily: Increasingly powerful computers using ever-more sophisticated programs are challenging human supremacy in areas as diverse as playing chess and making emotionally compelling music. But can digital diagnosticians match, or even outperform, human physicians? The answer, according to a new study led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, is "not quite." The findings, published Oct. 10 in JAMA Internal Medicine, show that physicians' performance is vastly superior and that doctors make a correct diagnosis more than twice as often as 23 commonly used symptom-checker apps. The analysis is believed to provide the first direct comparison between human-made and computer-based diagnoses. Diagnostic errors stem from failure to recognize a disease or to do so in a timely manner. Physicians make such errors roughly 10 to 15 percent of the time, researchers say. In the study, 234 internal medicine physicians were asked to evaluate 45 clinical cases, involving both common and uncommon conditions with varying degrees of severity. For each scenario, physicians had to identify the most likely diagnosis along with two additional possible diagnoses. Each clinical vignette was solved by at least 20 physicians. The physicians outperformed the symptom-checker apps, listing the correct diagnosis first 72 percent of the time, compared with 34 percent of the time for the digital platforms. Eighty-four percent of clinicians listed the correct diagnosis in the top three possibilities, compared with 51 percent for the digital symptom-checkers. The difference between physician and computer performance was most dramatic in more severe and less common conditions. It was smaller for less acute and more common illnesses.
Medicine

New Study Suggests There's a Limit To How Long People Can Live (go.com) 290

Life expectancies have risen in many countries around the world thanks to breakthroughs in medical treatment and sanitation in the last century. The maximum age of death has also increased. But as these numbers continue to rise, it raises the question as to how long can people live? ABC News reports: The record for the world's oldest person is 122 years and the odds of shattering that record are slim, according to an analysis published Wednesday in the journal Nature. In the new study, researchers [at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York] analyzed mortality data from a global database. They found that while there have been strides in reducing deaths among certain groups -- children, women during childbirth and the elderly -- the rate of improvement was slower for the very old, those over 100 years old. Next they examined how old centenarians were when they died. The record holder is Jeanne Calment, of France, who lived until 122 years old. Since her death in 1997, no one has broken her record. The researchers calculated the odds of someone reaching 125 years in a given year are less than 1 in 10,000. They think the human life span more likely maxes out at 115 years. Some aging specialists said the study doesn't take into account advances that have been made in extending the life span -- and health -- of certain laboratory animals including mice, worms and flies through genetic manipulation and other techniques. The goal is to eventually find treatments that might slow the aging process in humans and keep them healthier longer.
Medicine

Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan Wins Nobel Prize In Medicine For Study of Cell Recycling (theguardian.com) 15

Dave Knott writes from a report via The Guardian: The 2016 Nobel prize in medicine has been awarded to Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi for discoveries on how cells break down and recycle their own components. Ohsumi uncovered "mechanisms for autophagy," a fundamental process in cells that scientists believe can be harnessed to fight cancer and dementia. Autophagy is the body's internal recycling program -- scrap cell components are captured and the useful parts are stripped out to generate energy or build new cells. The process is crucial for preventing cancerous growths, warding off infection and, by maintaining a healthy metabolism, it helps protect against conditions like diabetes. The report adds: "[Ohsumi] said he chose to focus on the cell's waste disposal system, an unfashionable subject at the time, because he wanted to work on something different. By studying the process in yeast cells, Ohsumi identified the main genes involved in autophagy and showed how the proteins they code for come together to build the autophagosome membrane. He later showed that a similar cellular recycling process occurs in human cells -- and that our cells would not survive without it."
Medicine

Print-On-Demand Bone Could Quickly Mend Major Injuries (sciencemag.org) 27

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: If you shatter a bone in the future, a 3D printer and some special ink could be your best medicine. Researchers have created what they call "hyperelastic bone" that can be manufactured on demand and works almost as well as the real thing, at least in monkeys and rats. Though not ready to be implanted in humans, bioengineers are optimistic that the material could be a much-needed leap forward in quickly mending injuries ranging from bones wracked by cancer to broken skulls. Researchers at Northwestern University, Evanston, in Illinois are working on a hyperelastic bone, which is a type of scaffold made up of hydroxyapatite, a naturally occurring mineral that exists in our bones and teeth, and a biocompatible polymer called polycaprolactone, and a solvent. Hydroxyapatite provides strength and offers chemical cues to stem cells to create bone. The polycaprolactone polymer adds flexibility, and the solvent sticks the 3D-printed layers together as it evaporates during printing. The mixture is blended into an ink that is dispensed by the printer, layer by layer, into exact shapes matching the bone that needs to be replaced. The idea is, a patient would come in with a nasty broken bone -- say, a shattered jaw -- and instead of going through painful autograft surgeries or waiting for a custom scaffold to be manufactured, he or she could be x-rayed and a 3D-printed hyperelastic bone scaffold could be printed that same day.
Earth

92% of the World's Population Exposed To Unsafe Levels of Air Pollution: WHO (sciencedaily.com) 115

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Daily: A new World Health Organization (WHO) air quality model confirms that 92% of the world's population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits. "The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combatting it," says Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General at WHO. It also represents the most detailed outdoor (or ambient) air pollution-related health data, by country, ever reported by WHO. The model is based on data derived from satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3000 locations, both rural and urban. It was developed by WHO in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom. Some 3 million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6% of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together. Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in WHO's South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions. Ninety-four per cent are due to noncommunicable diseases -- notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections. Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. However, not all air pollution originates from human activity. For example, air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts. The model has carefully calibrated data from satellite and ground stations to maximize reliability. National air pollution exposures were analyzed against population and air pollution levels at a grid resolution of about 10 km x 10 km. The interactive maps provide information on population-weighted exposure to particulate matter of an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) for all countries. The map also indicates data on monitoring stations for PM10 and PM2.5 values for about 3000 cities and towns. Quartz's report features a table that highlights the countries with the world's worst air pollution. The table "shows all the median levels of particulate matter in each country where the WHO collected data."
Science

World's First Baby Born With New '3 Parent' Technique (newscientist.com) 203

A five-month-old baby boy has been revealed as the first kid in the world with three biological parents, reports New Scientist. The baby boy was apparently conceived by a technique that has been legally approved in the UK, and lets parents with genetic disorders have healthy babies. Though, the method used in this particular cases was slightly different from one legalized in the UK. From the report: Zhang (a doctor) took a different approach, called spindle nuclear transfer. He removed the nucleus from one of the mother's eggs and inserted it into a donor egg that had had its own nucleus removed. The resulting egg -- with nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from a donor -- was then fertilised with the father's sperm. Zhang's team used this approach to create five embryos, only one of which developed normally. This embryo was implanted in the mother and the child was born nine months later. "It's exciting news," says Bert Smeets at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The team will describe the findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City in October.
Education

The Ig Nobel Awards Celebrate Their 26th First Annual Awards Ceremony (improbable.com) 37

Thursday Harvard's Sanders Theatre hosted the 26th edition of the humorous research awards "that make people laugh, then think...intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology." One of this year's winners actually lived as a goat, wearing prosthetic extensions on his arms and legs so he could travel the countryside with other goats. Long-time Slashdot reader tomhath writes: The Journal of Improbable announced these winners:

REPRODUCTION PRIZE [EGYPT] -- The late Ahmed Shafik, for studying the effects of wearing polyester, cotton, or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, and for conducting similar tests with human males.

ECONOMICS PRIZE [NEW ZEALAND, UK] -- Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson, for assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective...

PEACE PRIZE [CANADA, USA] -- Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called 'On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit'...

PERCEPTION PRIZE [JAPAN] -- Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.

The Improable Research site lists the rest of this year's 10 winners, as well as every winner for the previous 25 years.

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