Category Archives: medicine

Junk Food Cravings Linked To a Lack of Sleep, Study Suggests

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, Peters and colleagues describe how they recruited 32 healthy men aged between 19 and 33 and gave all of them the same dinner of pasta and veal, an apple and a strawberry yoghurt. Participants were then either sent home to bed wearing a sleep-tracking device, or kept awake in the laboratory all night with activities including parlor games. All returned the next morning to have their hunger and appetite rated, while 29 of the men had their levels of blood sugar measured, as well as levels of certain hormones linked to stress and appetite. Participants also took part in a game in which they were presented with pictures of 24 snack food items, such as chocolate bars, and 24 inedible items, including hats or mugs, and were first asked to rate how much they would be willing to pay for them on a scale. During a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan, they were asked to choose whether or not they would actually buy the object when its price was fixed -- an experiment that allowed researchers to look at participants' brain activity upon seeing pictures of food and other items. A week later, the experiment was repeated, with the participants who had previously stayed up allowed to sleep, and vice versa. The results showed that whether sleep-deprived or not, participants were similarly hungry in the morning, and had similar levels of most hormones and blood sugar. However, when participants were sleep-deprived, they were willing to pay more for a food snack than when rested, and had higher levels in their blood of a substance called des-acyl ghrelin -- which is related to the "hunger hormone" ghrelin, though its function is not clear. The fMRI results showed that when sleep-deprived, participants had greater activity in the brain's amygdala (where food rewards are processed) when food images were shown, and a stronger link between the price participants would pay for food and activity in the hypothalamus (which is involved in regulating consumption). Interactions between these two regions increased compared with when participants had slept.

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The Decline of American Peyote

dmoberhaus writes: An investigation into the decline of America's peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus that is critically important to the rituals of the Native American Church, the largest pan-tribal religious organization in the U.S. Motherboard spoke with Dawn Davis, a researcher using satellite data to track the destruction of peyote's habitat, as well as Salvador Johnson, one of only four people who is licensed to harvest and sell peyote in the U.S. by the DEA. "In 2011, Davis traveled to the peyote gardens for the first time and met with Johnson," reports Motherboard. "Davis said that Johnson was following many conservation best practices, such as cycling through the areas where peyote is harvested, but this hadn't slowed the steady decrease in the size and quantity of peyote buttons in his harvests. Today, the biggest threats to peyote continue to be rapid land development, poaching, and rooting by feral pigs -- problems that responsible harvesting by peyoteros can't solve." While there has been an increase in the number of indigenous people growing peyote in greenhouses, this is only a temporary solution to the conservation crisis. Davis is advocating for conservation easements or tax breaks for landowners to encourage the protection of peyote. She also said it will be necessary to push for the DEA to reschedule peyote, which is still considered a Schedule I substance that has "no currently accepted medical use." This makes it exceedingly hard for individuals to become licensed peyoteros.

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Scientists Develop 10-Minute Universal Cancer Test

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Scientists have developed a universal cancer test that can detect traces of the disease in a patient's bloodstream. The cheap and simple test uses a color-changing fluid to reveal the presence of malignant cells anywhere in the body and provides results in less than 10 minutes. The test has a sensitivity of about 90%, meaning it would detect about 90 in 100 cases of cancer. It would serve as an initial check for cancer, with doctors following up positive results with more focused investigations. The test was made possible by the Queensland team's discovery that cancer DNA and normal DNA stick to metal surfaces in markedly different ways. This allowed them to develop a test that distinguishes between healthy cells and cancerous ones, even from the tiny traces of DNA that find their way into the bloodstream. Healthy cells ensure they function properly by patterning their DNA with molecules called methyl groups. These work like volume controls, silencing genes that are not needed and turning up others that are. In cancer cells, this patterning is hijacked so that only genes that help the cancer grow are switched on. While the DNA inside normal cells has methyl groups dotted all over it, the DNA inside cancer cells is largely bare, with methyl groups found only in small clusters at specific locations. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the Queensland team described a series of tests that confirmed the telltale pattern of methyl groups in breast, prostate and colorectal cancer as well as lymphoma. They then showed that the patterns had a dramatic impact on the DNA's chemistry, making normal and cancer DNA behave very differently in water. The suspect DNA is added to water containing tiny gold nanoparticles, which turn the water pink. "If DNA from cancer cells is then added, it sticks to the nanoparticles in such a way that the water retains its original color," The Guardian reports. "But if DNA from healthy cells is added, the DNA binds to the particles differently, and turns the water blue."

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Apple Watch Series 4 ECG, Irregular Heart Rate Features Are Now Available

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Today, with an update to watchOS, Apple is making its electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) reading feature available to Apple Watch Series 4 owners. It's also releasing an irregular rate notification feature that will be available on Apple Watches going back to Series 1. Both are a part of watchOS 5.1.2. To take an EKG, you open up the EKG app on the Watch and lightly rest your index finger on the crown for 30 seconds. The Watch then acts like a single-lead EKG to read your heart rhythm and record it into the Health app on your phone. From there, you can create a PDF report to send to your doctor. The irregular heart rate monitoring is passive. Apple says that it checks your rhythm every two hours or so (depending on whether you're stationary or not), and if there are five consecutive readings that seem abnormal, it will alert you and suggest you reach out to a doctor. If you have been previously diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, Apple's setup process tells you not to use the feature. Apple tells me these features are most definitely not diagnostic tools. In fact, before you can activate either of them, you will need to page through several screens of information that try to put their use into context and warn you to contact your doctor if needed. They are also not the sort of features Apple expects users to really use on a regular basis. The EKG feature, in particular, should only really be used if you feel something abnormal going on, and then you should only share the resulting report with your doctor, not act on it directly. Angela Chen from The Verge notes that these features have only received "clearance" from the FDA, which is not the same thing as FDA "approval": The Apple Watch is in Class II. For Class II and Class I, the FDA doesn't give "approval," it just gives clearance. Class I and Class II products are lower-risk products -- as [Jon Speer, co-founder of Greenlight Guru] puts it, a classic Class I example is something like a tongue depressor -- and it's much easier to get clearance than approval.

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24 Amazon Workers Sent To Hospital After Robot Accidentally Unleashes Bear Spray

Joe_Dragon shares a report from ABC News: Twenty-four Amazon workers in New Jersey have been hospitalized after a robot accidentally tore a can of bear repellent spray in a warehouse, officials said. The two dozen workers were treated at five local hospitals, Robbinsville Township communications and public information officer John Nalbone told ABC News. One remains in critical condition and 30 additional workers were treated at the scene. The official investigation revealed "an automated machine accidentally punctured a 9-ounce bear repellent can, releasing concentrated Capsaican," Nalbone said. Capsaican is the major ingredient in pepper spray. The fulfillment center was given the all clear by Wednesday evening. "All of the impacted employees have been or are expected to be released from hospital within the next 24 hours. The safety of our employees is always our top priority and a full investigation is already underway. We'd like to thank all of the first responders who helped with today's incident," Amazon said in a statement Wednesday night.

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First Baby Born After Deceased Womb Transplant

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: A healthy baby girl has been born using a womb transplanted from a dead person. The 10-hour transplant operation -- and later fertility treatment -- took place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2016. The mother, 32, was born without a womb. There have been 39 womb transplants using a live donor, including mothers donating their womb to their daughter, resulting in 11 babies. But the 10 previous transplants from a dead donor have failed or resulted in miscarriage. In this case, reported in The Lancet, the womb donor was a mother of three in her mid-40s who died from bleeding on the brain. The recipient reportedly had Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome, which affects about one in every 4,500 women and results in the vagina and uterus (womb) failing to form properly. The baby girl was delivered by Caesarean section on December 15, 2017, weighing 6 pounds (2.5kg).

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Despite CRISPR Baby Controversy, Harvard University Will Begin Gene-Editing Sperm

Even as a furious debate broke out in China over gene-edited babies, some scientists in the US are also hoping to improve tomorrow's children. From a report: [...] Amid the condemnation, though, it was easy to lose track of what the key experts were saying. Technology to alter heredity is for real. It is improving very quickly, it has features that will make it safe, and much wider exploratory use to create children could be justified soon. That was the message delivered at a gene-editing summit in Hong Kong on Wednesday, by Harvard Medical School dean George Daley, just ahead of He's own dramatic appearance on the stage (see video starting at 1:15:30). Astounding some listeners, the Harvard doctor and stem-cell researcher didn't condemn He but instead characterized the Chinese actions as a wrong turn on the right path (see video). "The fact that it is possible that the first instance of human germ-line editing came forward as a misstep should in no way lead us to stick our heads in the sand," Daley said. "It's time to ... start outlining what an actual pathway for clinical translation would be."

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New Male Contraceptive Gel Enters Clinical Trials

The first clinical trial is underway to test a new male contraceptive that could be a game changer for preventing pregnancy. From a report: "(It's) a combination of two horomones: Progestin, which is the typical horomone that is found in female contraceptive pills, which they put in there to suppress sperm production, to trick the body, and testosterone, which is the male sex horomone so that there's normal circulating levels of testosterone that men don't lose their libido or sexual function or have any changes in mood," said CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula. The National Institutes of Health is enrolling about 420 couples to use an experimental gel that has been in development for more than 10 years. If proven effective, it would be the first hormonal birth control for men. The gel is applied to the back and shoulders. Researchers found that testosterone, once absorbed through the skin, stays in the system longer than testosterone taken in pill form does. Male volunteers will use the gel every day for four to 12 weeks.

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Dark Web Dealers Voluntarily Ban Deadly Fentanyl

Major dark web drug suppliers have started to voluntarily ban the synthetic opioid fentanyl because it is too dangerous. "They are 'delisting' the high-strength painkiller, effectively classifying it alongside mass-casualty firearms and explosives as commodities that are considered too high-risk to trade," reports The Guardian. From the report: Vince O'Brien, one of the NCA's leads on drugs, told the Observer that dark web marketplace operators appeared to have made a commercial decision, because selling a drug that could lead to fatalities was more likely to prompt attention from police. It is the first known instance of these types of operators moving to effectively ban a drug. O'Brien said: "If they've got people selling very high-risk commodities then it's going to increase the risk to them. There are marketplaces that will not accept listings for weapons and explosives -- those are the ones that will not accept listings for fentanyl. Clearly, law enforcement would prioritize the supply of weapons, explosives and fentanyl over, for example, class C drugs -- and that might well be why they do this. "There are also drug users on the dark web who say on forums that they don't think it's right that people are selling fentanyl because it is dangerous and kills a lot of people."

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Researchers Develop Hydrogel-Based Electrodes For Brain Implants

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Hydrogels are physical and chemical polymer networks capable of retaining large quantities of liquid in aqueous conditions without losing their dimensional stability. They are used in a whole host of applications, and in combination with other components and they acquire specific properties such as electrical conductivity. The Materials + Technology research group in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Environment of the UPV/EHU's Faculty of Engineering selected a biopolymer that had not previously been used for applications of this type: starch. They created the hydrogel for use in neural interfaces. "Due to the fact that electrodes of neural interfaces made of platinum or gold are rigid, they require conductive polymer coatings to bring their flexibility closer to that of neural tissue. Right now, however, smaller devices are required that offer better mechanical, electrical and biological properties," explained the researcher. The hydrogels "address these demands very well." To provide the hydrogel with electrical conductivity, they used graphene. "It provides electrical properties that are highly suited to the hydrogel, but this also has a drawback: It is not easily stabilized in water. We used extracts of salvia to overcome this obstacle and to render the graphene stable in an aqueous medium. These extracts also make the hydrogel even more suitable, if that is possible, for use in medicine as it also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties." The researchers used "click chemistry" to produce the hydrogel. "Unlike other means of synthesis, click chemistry does not tend to use catalysts in the reactions; in addition, no by-products are generated and they are high-performance reactions."

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Amazon Starts Selling Software To Mine Patient Health Records

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal: Amazon is starting to sell software to mine patient medical records (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source) for information that doctors and hospitals could use to improve treatment and cut costs, the latest move by a big technology company into the health care industry. The software can read digitized patient records and other clinical notes, analyze them and pluck out key data points, Amazon says. The company is expected to announce the launch Tuesday. Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud-computing division, has been selling such text-analysis software to companies outside medicine for use in areas such as travel booking, customer support and supply-chain management. The technology's health-care application is the newest effort by Amazon to tap into the lucrative market. Amazon officials say the company's software developers trained the system using a process known as deep learning to recognize all the ways a doctor might record notes. "We're able to completely, automatically look inside medical language and identify patient details," including diagnoses, treatments, dosage and strengths, "with incredibly high accuracy," said Matt Wood, general manager of artificial intelligence at Amazon Web Services. During testing, the software performed on par or better than other published efforts, and can extract data on patients' diseases, prescriptions, lab orders and procedures, said Taha Kass-Hout, a senior leader with Amazon's health-care and artificial intelligence efforts. The project is called Amazon Comprehend Medical, which "allows developers to process unstructured medical text and identify information such as patient diagnosis, treatments, dosages, symptoms and signs, and more," according to a blog post. Dr. Kass-Hout says Amazon Web Services won't see the data processed by its algorithms, "which will be encrypted and unlocked by customers who have the key," reports WSJ.

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Large Genetic Study Finds First Genes Connected With ADHD

A paper published in Nature Genetics this week looked at genetic data from more than 50,000 people, finding 12 different regions of DNA that seemed to play a role in increasing ADHD risk. Ars Technica reports: This evidence comes from a genome-wide association study, or GWAS: a close look at how the DNA of people with ADHD differs from those without. Geneticist Ditte Demontis and her colleagues used data from more than 20,000 people with ADHD, comparing them to a control group of 35,000 people without an ADHD diagnosis. They found 304 points where tiny differences in DNA -- like single letter swaps -- were distributed across their two groups in a statistically telling way. If any of those variants were very close together, the researchers counted them as representing the same stretch of DNA, grouping them together into 12 important regions. There were correlations between the genetic risk for ADHD and a range of other conditions, including depression and anorexia. That ties in with the idea that genetic variation might be important in a way that plays out system-wide. Some of the genes they identified are also known to be involved in other neurological conditions, including speech and learning disabilities, depression, and schizophrenia.

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Standing Desks Are Overrated

Standing desks have become trendy in recent years -- so much so that they have been promoted by some health officials as well as some countries. Research, however, suggests that warnings about sitting at work are overblown, and that standing desks are overrated as a way to improve health. From a report: Dr. David Rempel, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who has written on this issue, said, "Well-meaning safety professionals and some office furniture manufacturers are pushing sit-stand workstations as a way of improving cardiovascular health -- but there is no scientific evidence to support this recommendation." Let's start with what we know about research on sitting, then explain why it can be misleading as it relates to work. A number of studies have found a significant association between prolonged sitting time over a 24-hour period and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. A 2015 study, for instance, followed more than 150,000 older adults -- all of whom were healthy at the start of the study -- for almost seven years on average. Researchers found that those who sat at least 12 hours a day had significantly higher mortality than those who sat for less than five hours per day. For convenience and comfort, it's nice to have options if you have various aches and pains -- "Alternating standing and sitting while using a computer may be useful for some people with low back or neck pain," he said -- but people shouldn't be under the illusion that they're getting exercise. A 2012 study in JAMA Internal Medicine followed more than 220,000 people for 2.8 years on average and found similar results. Prolonged sitting over the course of a day was associated with increased all-cause mortality across sexes, ages and body mass index. So did a smaller but longer (8.6 years on average) study published in 2015 in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health. Another study from 2015, which followed more than 50,000 adults for more than three years, also found this relationship. But it found that context mattered. Prolonged sitting in certain situations -- including when people were at work -- did not have this same effect.

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Human Images From World’s First Total-Body Scanner Unveiled

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Medical Xpress: EXPLORER, the world's first medical imaging scanner that can capture a 3-D picture of the whole human body at once, has produced its first scans. The brainchild of UC Davis scientists Simon Cherry and Ramsey Badawi, EXPLORER is a combined positron emission tomography (PET) and X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanner that can image the entire body at the same time. Because the machine captures radiation far more efficiently than other scanners, EXPLORER can produce an image in as little as one second and, over time, produce movies that can track specially tagged drugs as they move around the entire body. EXPLORER will have a profound impact on clinical research and patient care because it produces higher-quality diagnostic PET scans than have ever been possible. EXPLORER also scans up to 40 times faster than current PET scans and can produce a diagnostic scan of the whole body in as little as 20-30 seconds. Alternatively, EXPLORER can scan with a radiation dose up to 40 times less than a current PET scan, opening new avenues of research and making it feasible to conduct many repeated studies in an individual, or dramatically reduce the dose in pediatric studies, where controlling cumulative radiation dose is particularly important.

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