Sep 25, 2009 | 7
Living whales may seem scarce in the world's vast oceans—and their carcasses even more rare. But to animals and bacteria that feed on these graveyards, they are a rich source of life. And to one doctoral researcher in Sweden, they proved to be a source of several new species.
In her dissertation for the University of Gothenburg, Helena Wiklund describes nine new species of polychaete worms found living in whale carcasses and other nutrient-rich areas off the coast of Sweden, Norway and California.
A whale carcass can bring as much nutrition to the seafloor as would otherwise take some 2,000 years to filter down. Wiklund and her coauthors note that although the worms seem to be especially adapted to live in environments such as whale falls, where they feed off the bacteria that cover the bones, they seem to also be thriving in bacteria-rich areas of waste resulting from human activity, such as below fish farms and even pulp mills.
Sep 24, 2009 | 14
In an early-morning announcement today, researchers reported that an experimental HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) vaccine effectively reduced the number of people who contracted the virus by nearly a third.
Tested in a U.S.-sponsored trial that involved more than 16,000 volunteers in Thailand, the vaccine was administered in six injected doses starting in 2006 to half of the group, and the other half received a placebo. Seventy-four people in the placebo group had contracted HIV by the end of the trial, whereas only 51 of the vaccinated group tested positive.* The injections consisted of two vaccines that had proven unsuccessful on their own: Sanofi-Aventis SA's ALVAC and VaxGen Inc.'s AIDSVAX.
The results came as a surprise to HIV-vaccine skeptics in the AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) research field, whose numbers have increased after years of failed vaccine trials. "It's safe to say that the scientific community is caught off-guard," Mitchell Warren, director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, told Bloomberg News. Before the announcement, Marie-Paule Kieny, director of the World Health Organization's Initiative for Vaccine Research, told the news service: "I don't think that there is a lot of expectation that the efficacy of this vaccine will be very high." A 2007 clinical trial of a vaccine made by Merck was stopped when researchers found that, in fact, more people who received the active vaccine (49) than the placebo (33) had contracted HIV.
Sep 24, 2009 | 2
BALTIMORE—Deep in the brain, buried in the hippocampus and subventricular zone, reside adult neural stem cells, cells that retain the ability to become other types of neural cells and could serve as possible treatments for ailments ranging from vision impairment to Parkinson's to spinal cord injuries. Doctors, scientists and patients, however, are understandably hesitant to go digging around for them, their location being "a great deterrent," Sally Temple, founder of the New York Neural Stem Cell Institute, said at the 2009 World Stem Cell Summit here on Wednesday.
Researchers, therefore, are anxious to uncover other, more accessible neural stem cell candidates. Temple and her team have turned their sights to the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a layer of tissue at the base of the retina that comes into being within 30 to 50 days of conception, before many other parts of the neural system differentiate. Cells from this area of the eye can be easily harvested from retinal fluid that is usually discarded during retinal surgery, she explained.
Sep 23, 2009 | 6
BALTIMORE—In the decades-long war on cancer, as of late, researchers had been making little progress in comparison to colleagues treating other conditions, such as cardiac or infectious diseases. "Cancer research has really plateaued out," William Matsui, an associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine, said at the 2009 World Stem Cell Summit here on Tuesday. But pushing cancer stem cell research "gives us a novel way to study cancer," said Matsui, who also runs a lab at the university's Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Cancer and stem cells have had a fraught relationship—not in the least because of early concern that stem cell treatments could in fact spur on cancer through their encouragement of undifferentiated cell growth. But cancer stem cells themselves have gained a more solid toe-hold in the past several years as a potential new target for cancer research.
Sep 21, 2009 | 6
Paying bills or counting change may seem like basic life skills to most, but for those who are about to slip into older-age dementia, the tasks can become increasingly difficult. And as fiscal functionality begins to fail, Alzheimer's disease might be less than a year away, a new study suggests.
"Impairments in financial skills and judgments are often the first functional changes demonstrated by patients with incipient dementia," wrote the authors of the paper, which was published online today in Neurology.
Although the relationship between money management skills and dementia has been established for some time, the researchers' focus on declining skills as an early indicator showed that once these abilities start to slip, the diagnosable disease is likely not far behind.
Sep 21, 2009 | 14
The ethics of enhanced interrogation techniques, detailed in a series of White House memos earlier this year, have come under growing fire in Washington and around the world. And the effectiveness of these practices—including sleep deprivation and waterboarding—have drawn increasing scrutiny in the scientific community.
A new review paper, published online today in Trends in Cognitive Science, investigates whether such intense approaches, labeled as torture by some, might be counterproductive to obtaining accurate information from suspects.
The use of coercive interrogation "is based on the assumption that subjects will be motivated to reveal veridical information to end interrogation, and that extreme stress, shock and anxiety do not impact memory," Shane O'Mara, a professor at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin and the paper's lead author, said in a prepared statement. "However, this model of the impact of extreme stress on memory and the brain is utterly unsupported by scientific evidence."
Sep 18, 2009 | 12
Runoff from agriculture is the biggest polluter of the country's river and stream water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and it has been fingered for hypoxic dead zones and toxic red tide algae blooms.
But how much of that runoff makes it into people's drinking water closer to home? In agricultural areas, it can be enough to cause persistent health problems, including diarrhea and other infections, according to a report today in The New York Times.
"Sometimes it smells like a barn coming out of the faucet," Lisa Barnard, a Wisconsin resident told the Times. Barnard's well water tested positive for various contaminants and bacteria, including E. coli—which point not just to any runoff, but that coming from excess manure, according to the Times piece.
Sep 17, 2009 | 48
Going without health insurance can delay when people obtain primary and preventative care, potentially resulting in poorer health. Even more gravely, a lack of private health insurance brings an increased risk of death; uninsurance is to blame for some 44,789 adult deaths across the U.S. every year, according to a new study published online today in the American Journal of Public Health.
The findings show that uninsured Americans—between the ages of 17 and 64—have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have private insurance. (Those enrolled in government insurance programs, such as Medicaid and Department of Veterans Affairs insurance, were excluded from the study.) About 46.3 million Americans didn't have health insurance as of 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the number is estimated to be higher now since the recession has forced many off of employer health plans.
Sep 17, 2009 | 11
A 60-year-old Mississippi woman who had been blind for nine years can now see again after doctors implanted one of her teeth into her eye—the first time the surgery had been performed in the U.S. Two weeks after several sessions of intensive surgery, she now has 20/70 vision in one of her eyes, which is predicted to continue improving as it heals.
In 2000, Sharon Thornton was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare disease that can destroy skin—and corneal—cells. Even after she recovered from the disease, brought on by a reaction to her medication, her corneas—the surface of the eye—were too scarred to allow her to see, or obtain a transplant.
After stem cell treatment in 2003 failed to restore her vision, doctors went looking for alternatives. Victor Perez, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Miami Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, decided to attempt modified osteo-odonto keratoprosthesis (MOOKP), what he called a procedure "of last resort," in a prepared statement.
Sep 16, 2009 | 7
Despite the American Medical Association's (AMA) previously hearty lobby against public options for health insurance, only 27 percent of doctors are in favor of limiting coverage to private options.
More than half of doctors (about 63 percent of 2,130) in a recent survey preferred a public-private blend, which would allow for expansion of coverage both through tax credits to pay for private insurance and expanded public health plans. The survey results were published online in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this week.
"The results of the study demonstrated that the majority of physicians support a public option," Dalomeh Keyhani told National Public Radio (NPR) on Monday. She is the lead author on the report and a researcher at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
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