Category Archives: medicine

What Can We Learn From The Retraction of the Mediterranean Diet Study?

Remember that landmark 2013 study that found that people on a Mediterranean diet had a 30% lower chance of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular disease than people on low-fat diets? An anonymous reader quotes Vox: Last June, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine pulled the original paper from the record, issuing a rare retraction. It also republished a new version [of the PREDIMED study] based on a reanalysis of the data that accounted for the missteps... But after spending several days talking with some of the brightest minds in nutrition research and epidemiology, I now feel the PREDIMED retraction is actually cause for hope -- maybe even a new beginning for the field. Yes, studies with big flaws pass peer review and make it into high-impact journals, but the record can eventually be corrected because of skeptical researchers questioning things. It's science working as it should, and the PREDIMED takedown is a wonderful example of that. This process should bring us a step closer to what really matters: informing people who want to know how to eat for a healthy life.

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New Drug Rapidly Repairs Age-Related Memory Loss, Improves Mood

A team of Canadian scientists has developed a fascinating new experimental drug that is purported to result in rapid improvements to both mood and memory following extensive animal testing. It's hoped the drug will move to human trials within the next two years. New Atlas reports: Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a key neurotransmitter, and when altered it can play a role in the development of everything from psychiatric conditions to cognitive degeneration. Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax or Valium, are a class of drugs well known to function by modulating the brain's GABA systems. This new research describes the development of several new molecules that are structurally based on benzodiazepines, but with small tweaks to enhance their ability to specifically target certain brain areas. The goal was to create a new therapeutic agent that can effectively combat age-related mood and memory alterations caused by disruptions in the GABA systems. In animal tests the drug has been found to be remarkably effective, with old mice displaying rapid improvements in memory tests within an hour of administration, resulting in performance similar to that of young mice. Daily administration of the drug over two months was also seen to result in an actual structural regrowth of brain cells, returning their brains to a state that resembles a young animal. The new study was published in the journal Molecular Neuropsychiatry.

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Common Weed Killer Glyphosate Increases Risk of Cancer By 41 Percent, Study Says

A broad new scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides, the most widely used weedkilling products in the world, has found that people with high exposures to the popular pesticides have a 41% increased risk of developing a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The Guardian reports: The evidence "supports a compelling link" between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides and increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), the authors concluded, though they said the specific numerical risk estimates should be interpreted with caution. Monsanto maintains there is no legitimate scientific research showing a definitive association between glyphosate and NHL or any type of cancer. Company officials say the EPA's finding that glyphosate is "not likely" to cause cancer is backed by hundreds of studies finding no such connection. But the new analysis could potentially complicate Monsanto's defense of its top-selling herbicide. Three of the study authors were tapped by the EPA as board members for a 2016 scientific advisory panel on glyphosate. The new paper was published by the journal Mutation Research /Reviews in Mutation Research, whose editor in chief is EPA scientist David DeMarini. [...] The study authors said their new meta-analysis evaluated all published human studies, including a 2018 updated government-funded study known as the Agricultural Health Study (AHS). Monsanto has cited the updated AHS study as proving that there is no tie between glyphosate and NHL. In conducting the new meta-analysis, the researchers said they focused on the highest exposed group in each study because those individuals would be most likely to have an elevated risk if in fact glyphosate herbicides cause NHL.

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Eating Processed Foods Tied To Shorter Life, Study Suggests

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The study, in JAMA Internal Medicine, tracked diet and health over eight years in more than 44,000 French men and women. Their average age was 58 at the start. About 29 percent of their energy intake was ultraprocessed foods. Such foods include instant noodles and soups, breakfast cereals, energy bars and drinks, chicken nuggets and many other ready-made meals and packaged snacks containing numerous ingredients and manufactured using industrial processes. There were 602 deaths over the course of the study, mostly from cancer and cardiovascular disease. Even after adjusting for many health, socioeconomic and behavioral characteristics, including scores on a scale of compliance with a healthy diet, the study found that for every 10 percent increase in ultraprocessed food consumption, there was a 14 percent increase in the risk of death (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). The authors suggest that high-temperature processing may form contaminants, that additives may be carcinogenic, and that the packaging of prepared foods can lead to contamination.

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New Study Finds More Post-Surgery Deaths Globally Than From HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria Combined

schwit1 shares a report from UPI: About 4.2 million people worldwide die every year within 30 days of surgery -- more than from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined, a new study reports. The findings show that 7.7 percent of all deaths worldwide occur within a month of surgery, a rate higher than that from any other cause except ischemic heart disease and stroke. "Although not all postoperative deaths are avoidable, many can be prevented by increasing investment in research, staff training, equipment and better hospital facilities," lead author of the study, Dr. Dmitri Nepogodiev, said in a university news release. Along with finding that 4.2 million people a year die within a month of having surgery, his team discovered that half of those deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. "Although not all postoperative deaths are avoidable, many can be prevented by increasing investment in research, staff training, equipment and better hospital facilities," Nepogodiev said in a university news release. "To avoid millions more people dying after surgery, planned expansion of access to surgery must be complemented by investment in to improving the quality of surgery around the world," he noted.

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Nearly All US Teens Short On Sleep, Exercise

UPI reports: Too little sleep. Not enough exercise. Far too much "screen time." That is the unhealthy lifestyle of nearly all U.S. high school students, new research finds. The study, of almost 60,000 teenagers nationwide, found that only 5 percent were meeting experts' recommendations on three critical health habits: sleep; exercise; and time spent gazing at digital media and television... "Five percent is a really low proportion," said study leader Gregory Knell, a research fellow at University of Texas School of Public Health, in Dallas. "We were a bit surprised by that...." "If kids are viewing a screen at night -- staring at that blue light -- that may affect their ability to sleep," Knell said. "And if you're not getting enough sleep at night, you're going to be more tired during the day," he added, "and you're not going to be as physically active." Experts recommend a minimum of 8 hours of sleep at night for teenagers, plus at least one hour every day of "moderate to vigorous" exercise. One professor of adolescent medicine points out that some high school homework now even requires using a computer -- even though too much screen time can affect teenagers' abiity to sleep.

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Hundreds Rally For Their Right To Not Vaccinate Their Children

CBS News reports that as Washington state confronts a measles outbreak which has sickened at least 56 people, "hundreds rallied to preserve their right not to vaccinate their children." They packed a public hearing for a new bill making it harder for families to opt out of vaccination requirements, reports The Washington Post: An estimated 700 people, most of them opposed to stricter requirements, lined up before dawn in the cold, toting strollers and hand-lettered signs, to sit in the hearing.... The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the nation's most vocal and organized anti-vaccination activists. That movement has helped drive down child immunizations in Washington, as well as in neighboring Oregon and Idaho, to some of the lowest rates in the country, with as many as 10.5 percent of kindergartners statewide in Idaho unvaccinated for measles. That is almost double the median rate nationally.... One activist who spoke Friday, Mary Holland, who teaches at New York University law school and said her son has a vaccine-related injury, warned lawmakers that if the bill passes, many vaccine opponents will "move out of the state, or go underground, but they will not comply." The sponsor of a similar bill in Oregon says that anti-vaxxers "have every right to make a bad decision in the health of their child, but that does not give them the right to send an unprotected kid to public school. So if they want to homeschool their kid and keep them out of other environments, that's their decision." But there are still 17 U.S. states that allow "personal or philosophic exemptions to vaccination requirements," reports the Post, "meaning virtually anyone can opt out." (Though some states are now considering changes.) "The enablers are state legislators in those states, that have allowed themselves to be played," complains Dr. Peter Hotez, a co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The World Health Organization estimates that measles vaccines have saved over 21 million lives since 2000. But last year in the European region's population of nearly 900 million people, at least 82,600 people contracted measles, reports Reuters. "Of those, 72 cases were fatal."

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Scientists Are Working On Ways To Swap the Needle For a Pill

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: One team of scientists, from MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital, developed a system to deliver insulin that actually still uses a needle -- but is so small you can swallow it and the injection doesn't hurt. They built a pea-size device containing a spring that ejects a tiny dart of solid insulin into the wall of the stomach, says gastroenterologist Carlo Giovanni Traverso, an associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "We chose the stomach as the site of delivery because we recognized that the stomach is a thick and robust part of the GI tract," Traverso says. Once the device gets into the stomach, the humidity there allows the spring to launch the insulin dart. As the researchers report in the journal Science, they've tested the device on pigs, and it can deliver a therapeutic dose of insulin provided the pig has an empty stomach. On the other side of the U.S., nanoengineer Ronnie Fang of the University of California, San Diego and his colleagues have a different delivery system. Theirs is a kind of ingestible microrocket, about the size of a grain of sand, that is designed to zip past the stomach and into the small intestine. "It actually propels [itself] using bubbles in a reaction of magnesium with biological fluids," Fang says. The rocket has a coating that protects its payload from the acidic and enzyme-filled environment of the stomach. Once the rocket enters the small intestine, the change in acidity causes the coating to dissolve and lets the rocket stick to the intestinal wall to release its payload, in this case a vaccine protein. As Fang and his colleagues report in Nano Letters, their delivery system works in mice, but human testing is probably many years off.

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Colin Kroll, Founder of HQ Trivia and Vine, Died of Accidental Drug Overdose

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC New York: Colin Kroll, the co-founder of HQ Trivia and Vine, died of an accidental overdose, the city's medical examiner announced Tuesday. According to the autopsy results, Kroll died of "acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, fluoroisobutyryl fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine." Kroll, 34, was found dead in his SoHo, Manhattan, apartment on Dec. 16, 2018. Police responded to a 911 call for a welfare check at the Spring Street apartment where they found Kroll unconscious and unresponsive in a bedroom of the apartment, a New York Police Department spokesman previously told NBC News. Kroll was named the chief executive of HQ Trivia, a phone-based trivia platform, in September. Prior to that, Kroll co-founded Vine, the popular short-form video service acquired in 2012 by Twitter. Vine was discontinued four years later.

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Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate Kids Tend To Be Affluent, Better Educated

schwit1 quotes ABC News: Vaccines are universally backed by respected scientists and federal agencies, but that isn't enough to convince every parent to vaccinate their children. The decision to fly in the face of near universal scientific opinion doesn't come as a result of a lack of intellect, however, as experts who have studied vaccines and immunology acknowledge that many parents who don't vaccinate their children are well-educated. They also appear to be the victims of a widespread misinformation campaign, the experts said. Daniel Salmon, who is the director of the Institute of Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University, said that existing research suggests that there are some common attributes that many parents who choose not to vaccinate their children share. "They tend to be better educated. They tend to be white, and they tend to be higher income. They tend to have larger families and they tend to use complementary and alternative medicine like chiropractors and naturopaths," Salmon said. Salman also says outbreaks typically start when an American returns from a visit to Europe, where there are much higher rates of measles than in the U.S. But lower vaccination rates help it spread. One study in August reported Russian trolls "seem to be using vaccination as a wedge issue, promoting discord in American society," though their campaign on Twitter failed to gain traction. "I blame Amazon Prime," writes long-time Slashdot reader destinyland. "That 'misinformation' they're talking about is the pseudoscience documentary Vaxxed -- and Amazon is one of the top site's pushing it. The movie is not only free for all Prime members -- Amazon's actually featuring it on the front page showing free-with-Prime movies."

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New US Experiments Aim To Create Gene-Edited Human Embryos

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: A scientist in New York is conducting experiments designed to modify DNA in human embryos as a step toward someday preventing inherited diseases, NPR has learned. For now, the work is confined to a laboratory. But the research, if successful, would mark another step toward turning CRISPR, a powerful form of gene editing, into a tool for medical treatment. Dieter Egli, a developmental biologist at Columbia University, says he is conducting his experiments "for research purposes." He wants to determine whether CRISPR can safely repair mutations in human embryos to prevent genetic diseases from being passed down for generations. So far, Egli has stopped any modified embryos from developing beyond one day so he can study them. "Right now we are not trying to make babies. None of these cells will go into the womb of a person," he says. But if the approach is successful, Egli would likely allow edited embryos to develop further to continue his research. Egli's research is reviewed in advance and overseen by a panel of other scientists and bioethicists at Columbia. Specifically, Egli is trying to fix one of the genetic defects that cause retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited form of blindness. "If it works, the hope is that the approach could help blind people carrying the mutation have genetically related children whose vision is normal," reports NPR.

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University of Columbia Researchers Translate Brain Signals Directly Into Speech

dryriver writes: There is good news for people who have limited or no ability to speak, due to having suffered a stroke for example. Researchers at Columbia University have managed to turn brain signals in the auditory cortex of test subjects into somewhat intelligible speech using a vocoder-like system with audio output cleaned up by neural networks. The findings have been published in the journal Nature. Here's an excerpt from the Zuckerman Institute's press release, which contains example audio of a number sequence being turned into robotic speech: "In a scientific first, Columbia neuroengineers have created a system that translates thought into intelligible, recognizable speech. By monitoring someone's brain activity, the technology can reconstruct the words a person hears with unprecedented clarity. This breakthrough, which harnesses the power of speech synthesizers and artificial intelligence, could lead to new ways for computers to communicate directly with the brain. It also lays the groundwork for helping people who cannot speak, such as those living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or recovering from stroke, regain their ability to communicate with the outside world."

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Giving the Humble Stethoscope an AI Upgrade Could Save Millions of Kids

the_newsbeagle writes: The stethoscope is a ubiquitous medical tool that has barely changed since it was invented in the early 1800s. But now a team of engineers, doctors, and public health researchers have come together to reinvent the tool using adaptive acoustics and AI. Their motivation is this statistic: Every year, nearly 1 million kids die of pneumonia around the world, with most deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The death toll is highest among children under the age of 5. The researchers, from Johns Hopkins University, designed a smart stethoscope for use by unskilled workers in noisy medical clinics. It uses a dynamic audio filtering system to remove ambient noise and distracting body sounds while not interfering with the subtle sounds from the lungs. And it uses AI to analyze the cleaned-up signal and provide a diagnosis.

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Mind-Altering Cat Parasite Linked To Schizophrenia in Largest Study Yet

Scientists claim they have found new evidence of a link between infection with the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, and schizophrenia, in what is described as the largest study of its kind. From a report: T. gondii, a brain-dwelling parasite estimated to be hosted by at least 2 billion people around the world, doesn't create symptoms in most people who become infected -- but acute cases of toxoplasmosis can be dangerous. Healthy adults are generally thought to not be at risk from T. gondii infections, but children or people with suppressed immune systems can develop severe flu-like symptoms, in addition to blurred vision and brain inflammation. Pregnant women need to be careful too, as the parasite can cause foetal abnormalities or even miscarriage. Aside from the known physiological dangers, however, the stranger and more ambiguous risks associated with the parasite remain largely hypothetical -- although a huge body of research suggests something weird is going on. Causation remains very much disputable, but the brain-dwelling parasite -- commonly carried by cats and present in their faeces -- has been linked to a huge host of behaviour-altering effects. Virtually all warm-blooded animals are capable of being infected, and when T. gondii gets inside them, unusual things happen. In rodents, animals seemingly lose their inhibitions, becoming more exploratory and losing their aversion to cat odours.

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Internet Addiction Spawns US Treatment Programs

SpzToid shares a report from Reuters: When Danny Reagan was 13, he began exhibiting signs of what doctors usually associate with drug addiction. He became agitated, secretive and withdrew from friends. He had quit baseball and Boy Scouts, and he stopped doing homework and showering. But he was not using drugs. He was hooked on YouTube and video games, to the point where he could do nothing else. As doctors would confirm, he was addicted to his electronics. "After I got my console, I kind of fell in love with it," Danny, now 16 and a junior in a Cincinnati high school, said. "I liked being able to kind of shut everything out and just relax." Danny was different from typical plugged-in American teenagers. Psychiatrists say internet addiction, characterized by a loss of control over internet use and disregard for the consequences of it, affects up to 8 percent of Americans and is becoming more common around the world. "We're all mildly addicted. I think that's obvious to see in our behavior," said psychiatrist Kimberly Young, who has led the field of research since founding the Center for Internet Addiction in 1995. "It becomes a public health concern obviously as health is influenced by the behavior." At first, Danny's parents took him to doctors and made him sign contracts pledging to limit his internet use. The "Reboot" program at the Lindner Center for Hope offers inpatient treatment for 11 to 17-year-olds who, like Danny, have addictions including online gaming, gambling, social media, pornography and sexting, often to escape from symptoms of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. âoeRebootâ patients spend 28 days at a suburban facility equipped with 16 bedrooms, classrooms, a gym and a dining hall. They undergo diagnostic tests, psychotherapy, and learn to moderate their internet use.

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LSD Changes Something About the Way People Perceive Time, Even At Microdoses

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Tonic: The perception of time is a fundamental process of the brain, linked tightly to attention, emotions, memory, psychiatric and neurological disorders, and even consciousness -- but while scientists have been anecdotally noting how drugs can change time perception for decades, very few have been able to address the question rigorously with tightly designed studies. Cognitive neuroscientist Devin Terhune says he's been interested in understanding the neurochemical mechanisms involved in the distortions in the perception of time, and these drugs are one way to do that. Psychedelics act on specific pathways and chemicals in the brain, and if they also change the perception of time, we could learn exactly how it happens. At the end of November, Terhune and his co-authors published a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in Psychopharmacology on the effects of microdoses of LSD on people's perception of time. They found that even at small doses, LSD seems to change the way people interpret time, though the specifics of how and when are still to be determined. In the new work, 48 healthy people were split up into four groups. One group got a placebo, and the other three received different small doses of LSD: 5, 10, or 20 micrograms. Then, they did what's called a temporal reproduction task. In this task, you see something on a screen for a certain amount of time -- in the study it was a blue circle -- and are asked to remember and recreate how long you saw it. The participants were shown a blue circle for periods of time from 800 milliseconds all the way up to 4,000 milliseconds, in increments of 400 milliseconds. Terhune and his colleagues looked to see how accurate the different groups of people were in reproducing those intervals, and found that the people in the LSD groups tended to hold down the space bar for significantly longer periods of time than the placebo condition. The researchers call this "over-reproduction." "Terhune says that they saw these changes in time perception without any major conscious effects from the drug," the report adds. "They asked people to report if they felt anything from taking the LSD, like perceptual distortions, unusual thoughts, if they felt high, or if it affected their concentration. There were a couple of weak effects, but statistically, the change in time perception happened independent of any subjective influence of the drug."

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State of Emergency Declared in Washington State Over Measles Outbreak

An anonymous reader quotes CBS News: The governor of Washington state declared a state of emergency Friday over a measles outbreak that has sickened dozens of people in a county with one of the state's lowest vaccination rates. Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement that the outbreak in Clark County "creates an extreme public health risk" that could spread throughout the state... Clark County Public Health has confirmed 30 measles cases since January 1 and identified another nine suspected cases. Twenty-six of the confirmed cases were people who were not immunized for measles, the agency said... Only 77.4 percent of all public students there complete their vaccinations, according to state records cited by the Oregonian...Most of the confirmed cases -- 21 -- were with children between 1 and 10 years old. Eight cases involved people 11 to 18 years old, and one case was someone 19 to 29. Time magazines also reports that authorities in the neighboring states of Oregon and Idaho "have issued warnings to residents." In November the World Health Organization warned that measles cases worldwide had jumped more than 30% from 2016 to 2017, according to AFP, "in part because of children not being vaccinated."

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Electrical Stimulation of Brain Trialed As Aid To Treating Stutter

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: People who stutter are being given electrical brain stimulation in a clinical trial aimed at improving fluency without the need for grueling speech training. If shown to be effective, the technique -- which involves passing an almost imperceptible current through the brain -- could be routinely offered by speech therapists. The latest treatment, which is combined with fluency training, is not expected to completely cure people of their stutter but could potentially give them more control over it. The brain stimulation, known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), involves strapping electrodes on each temple and then passing a current through the head. The current is weak enough that people are either oblivious to the electrodes being switched on or feel just a slight tingling. The stimulation increases the firing rate of neurons in certain brain regions, which scientists believe could make it quicker to learn thought patterns associated with fluent speech, and make the effects of training more permanent. In the trial, the 40 participants are asked to speak in time with a metronome, saying one syllable on every beat. During this task, people who stutter typically become completely fluent. "The idea is that if you stimulate them while they're fluent, you're reinforcing that fluent speech process," said Jennifer Chesters, a speech and language researcher at the University of Oxford who is involved in the trial. "And hopefully that will make it more likely for them to use that process in their normal life." Each time a neuron fires in the brain, its connections with neighbouring neurons are strengthened or weakened slightly -- this is how learning occurs. With stimulation, the threshold for neurons firing is lower, so this could accelerate the rewiring that occurs during fluency training.

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Muscles May Preserve a Shortcut To Restore Lost Strength

New research reviewed in the journal Frontiers in Physiology suggests that muscle nuclei -- the factories that power new muscle growth -- could give older muscles an edge in regaining fitness later on. "Muscles need to be versatile to meet animals' needs to move," reports NPR. "Muscle cells can be sculpted into many forms and can stretch to volumes 100,000 times larger than a normal cell. Muscle cells gain this flexibility by breaking the biological norm of one nucleus to a cell; some muscle cells house thousands of nuclei. In mammals, these extra nuclei come from stem cells called satellite cells that surround the muscle. When demands on the muscle increase, these satellite cells fuse with muscle cells, combining their nuclei and paving the way for more muscle." From the report: Physiologists had thought that a single nucleus supported a certain volume of cell. As a muscle cell grew, it needed more nuclei to support that extra volume. But as a muscle shrinks from lack of use, it gets rid of those unnecessary extra nuclei. This view found support in studies that found nuclei were scrapped as muscles atrophied. But [Kristian Gundersen, a muscle biologist from the University of Oslo] and [Lawrence Schwartz, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts] say those experiments overlooked what was really happening. Take a cross section of muscle tissue and you'll find a sort of marbled mishmash of muscle cells surrounded by numerous other cell types, such as satellite cells and fibroblasts. Researchers could have been measuring the death of cells that support muscle and incorrectly inferred that muscle cells lose their nuclei, according to Gundersen and Schwartz. Gundersen and colleagues developed another method that zoomed in on individual muscle cells. The researchers injected a stain into muscle cells that mice use to flex their toes. The stain spreads throughout the muscle cells, illuminating their nuclei. Gundersen could then track the nuclei over time as he induced muscle growth by giving the mice testosterone, a steroid hormone. Later, after stopping the testosterone, he could watch what happened as those muscles atrophied. Unsurprisingly, testosterone boosted nuclei number. But those extra nuclei stuck around, even as the muscle shrank by half. Gundersen thinks the results contradict the dogma that nuclei disappear when muscles atrophy. "Nuclei are lost by cell death," he says, "just not the actual muscle nuclei that confer strength." What's more, he says these retained extra nuclei might explain how a muscle remembers its past fitness.

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Neglected-Disease Research Funding Hits Record High

Reader schwit1 shares a report: Research funding for diseases that predominantly affect people living in poverty hit a record high in 2017, according to a report released on 23 January by Policy Cures Research, a global-health think tank in Sydney, Australia. At US$3.6 billion, investments into 'neglected' diseases were higher than in any year since 2007. A surge from 2016 to 2017 included a rise in funding to fight neglected diseases generally, as opposed to targeting individual maladies. Anna Doubell, director of research at Policy Cures Research, says that the launch of several trials testing new Ebola drugs, diagnostics and vaccines in response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa between 2014 and 2016 might be giving donors hope that investments into neglected diseases pay off. "The amount of progress made in a short period of time after the Ebola outbreak might have brought in optimism about what is possible," Doubell says.

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Is Lack of Sleep a Public Health Crisis?

According to The Washington Post, "a growing number of scientists, not normally known for being advocates, are bringing evangelical zeal to the message that lack of sleep is an escalating public health crisis that deserves as much attention as the obesity epidemic." "We're competing against moneyed interests, with technology and gaming and all that. It's so addictive and so hard to compete with," said Orfeu Buxton, a sleep researcher at Pennsylvania State University. "We've had this natural experiment with the Internet that swamped everything else." From the report: The sleep research community, formerly balkanized into separate sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea, has begun to coalesce around the concept of "sleep health" -- which for most adults means getting at least seven hours a night. But time in the sack has been steadily decreasing. In 1942, a Gallup poll found that adults slept an average of 7.9 hours per night. In 2013, the average adult had sheared more than an hour off that number. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a third of adults fail to get the recommended seven hours. In the blink of an eye, in evolutionary terms, humans have radically altered a fundamental biological necessity -- with repercussions we are still only beginning to understand. For years, animal studies have shown that learning activities are reactivated during sleep, a critical part of how lasting memories are formed. More recently, Princeton postdoctoral researcher Monika Schonauer asked 32 people to sleep in the lab after they had been asked to memorize 100 pictures of houses or faces. By analyzing their patterns of electrical brain activity, she found she could effectively read their minds, predicting which images they had been studying while awake -- because they were replaying them. [...] Sleep problems have long been recognized as a symptom of psychiatric and neurological disorders, ranging from depression to Alzheimer's. But increasingly, researchers are exploring the two-way street between disrupted sleep and disease. And researchers who started out interested in cognitive functions such as memory or brain development are finding themselves focused on sleep because it is so fundamental.

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