Friday, May 28, 2010

Study Finds Supplements Contain Contaminants

Checking Up on the Doctor

Physicians as a group are leaner, fitter and live longer than average Americans. Male physicians keep their cholesterol and blood pressure lower. Women doctors are more likely to use hormone-replacement therapy than their patients. Doctors are also less likely to have their own primary care physician—and more apt to abuse prescription drugs

Scanning Babies for Autism

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to peer at images of the children's brains, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, found that autistic children as young as 14 months use different brain regions than youngsters with more typical development when hearing bedtime stories.
The findings suggest that even very early on, the brains of those with autism work differently than typical babies. They also help explain why failure of language comprehension is a "red flag" for babies with autism, according to the study's author, Eric Courchesne, director of the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence.
This type of work "is going to tell us an awful lot about how the brain goes wrong in the first place and then gives us insight into how we'll be able to help at an earlier age," says Dr. Courchesne.
Learning when and where brain changes occur can also help rule out some suspected causes of autism. For instance, if brain differences are already present at birth, then environmental toxins or vaccine exposure in childhood can't be responsible, according to Dr. Courchesne.
This study showed that in the typically developing babies, both the right and left temporal regions of the brain—parts that help us understand different aspects of language—were activated. In older children, there was evidence that the left side became even more active compared with the right side.
But in the babies and children with autism-spectrum disorders the use of the right brain was far stronger.
The left temporal region of the brain usually deals with understanding the meaning of words, in a "dictionary" manner, he says. The right side helps us understand social language based on context, like how people sound when they are angry rather than happy, even if they're speaking the same words.
One theory is that in autism, the right side is needed to learn the basic definitions of words, crowding out the ability to develop skills to process more social, nuanced aspects of language, Dr. Courchesne says.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Vision for Blind Musicians

Raul Midon is a phenomenal musician. I am glad that he is featured in this article on technological advances relevant to musicians with decreased vision.

Raul Midón has been blind since birth. Still, he grew up to excel at guitar, work as a session musician, launch a solo career, release albums on a major label and collaborate with acts like Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder.

Musician Raul Midon has collaborated with stars like Herbie Hancock. But until recently, the blind singer and guitarist has been held back in one respect -- he hasn't been able to operate the computer technology that makes high quality recordings possibly.
Despite his accomplishments, Mr. Midón's blindness once prevented him from joining one of the biggest revolutions in music history. Digital technology transformed bedrooms and basements into recording studios on par with professional facilities, but Mr. Midón, 44, couldn't see the computerized controls that sighted musicians operate to enhanced their music.

Now, Mr. Midón is off the sidelines, armed with new software made for blind musicians. The software essentially translates the visual display of a recording program into computerized speech. By following cues from a robotic voice, Mr. Midón can navigate through the labyrinth of windows and control panels that make up the program. Tapping away at a keyboard, he sets microphone levels and layers the guitar, drum and vocal parts he records in the basement of his Laurel, Md., home.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Roz Savage: Why I'm rowing across the Pacific

Inspirational talk by this management consultant turned ocean rower.

via Presentation Zen

Congo Pastor Loses 9 Out of 10 Children in War

MWESO, Congo (AP) -- First, the rebels killed four of Joseph Munyaneza's children in 1997. The family fled to another village.
The following year, that village came under siege. Another four children died of gunshot wounds. Then the baby, from malnutrition.
More than half a million children die each year in Congo, one out of every five before they reach the age of 5, according to the U.N. Children's Fund. Of those who survive, 40 percent are stunted, according to the World Health Organization. There is only one doctor and five nurses or midwives for every 10,000 people in the country.
And that's before factoring in deaths from war fueled by massive mineral resources that have brought misery instead of development. UNICEF estimates that children account for half of the more than 4 million deaths blamed on conflicts in east Congo that have raged for more than a decade.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Scientists Create Synthetic Organism

Heralding a potential new era in biology, scientists for the first time have created a synthetic cell, completely controlled by man-made genetic instructions, researchers at the private J. Craig Venter Institute announced Thursday.
"We call it the first synthetic cell," said genomics pioneer Craig Venter, who oversaw the project. "These are very much real cells."
Created at a cost of $40 million, this experimental one-cell organism, which can reproduce, opens the way to the manipulation of life on a previously unattainable scale, several researchers and ethics experts said. Scientists have been altering DNA piecemeal for a generation, producing a menagerie of genetically engineered plants and animals. But the ability to craft an entire organism offers a new power over life, they said.
"This is literally a turning point in the relationship between man and nature," said molecular biologist Richard Ebright at Rutgers University...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Virtual reality used to transfer men's minds into a woman's body

Researchers projected men's sense of self into a virtual reality woman, changing the way they behaved and thought.

The Power of a Gentle Nudge

I am a solitary exerciser--don't even listen to music--working out my mind as I am working out my body...
What about you?


Phone Calls, Even Voice Recordings, Can Get People to Go to the Gym.
But surveys show that about 60% of Americans prefer working out alone, especially people who have reached middle age and older who may socialize less frequently in groups. Many lone runners say they come up with solutions to personal and professional problems while exercising

Can Dirt Do a Little Good?

Infants are enchanting all over the world, as the new movie "Babies" shows. But their standards of hygiene sure vary.

The film captures the first year of life for four diverse babies. In a nomadic family in Namibia, Ponijao drinks from muddy streams, chews on dry bones and uses her many siblings' body parts as toys.

On a small family farm in Mongolia, a rooster struts around little Bayar's bed, a goat drinks from his bathwater and livestock serve as babysitters.

Aside from some really adorable footage, the movie "Babies" starkly illustrates the differences in hygiene standards around the world. WSJ's Melinda Beck says the documentary also raises the question whether its possible to be "too clean."

By contrast, Mari, growing up in high-rise, high-tech Tokyo, and Hattie, whose doting parents live a "green" lifestyle in San Francisco, both have modern conveniences and sanitation.

Statistically, Mari and Hattie are healthier. Some 42 out of 1,000 children in Namibia, and 41 out of 1,000 in Mongolia die before their 5th birthday; compared with only 8 in 1,000 in the U.S. and only 4 in Japan.

Yet the upscale urban infants are at higher risk for some health problems—including allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease—than the babies in the rural developing world.
Allergies and autoimmune diseases were virtually unknown in the U.S. before the turn of the last century, but they began to emerge as modern sanitation, decontaminated water, food refrigeration and antibiotics became more widespread. "There's a whole series of diseases that just emerged in the 20th century," says Dr. Weinsto.
Some scientists are searching for ways to harness the immune-priming effects of microorganisms without the fatal diseases. Parasitic worms known as helminthes are leading the way.
Clinical trials are under way in the U.S. and Europe testing Trichuris Suis Ova (TSO)—-a species of pig whipworm—as a treatment for peanut allergies, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and MS. A study is being designed to test it with asthma. It's also being tested with adults who have autism, which some researchers believe could be related to immunological function.

Monday, May 17, 2010

IPhone apps for the traveler

The world of travel apps is expanding exponentially, covering nearly every aspect of a trip. Here are  15 apps (and cost per use) recommended in the Washington Post.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Buffett and the Prince

After losing billions on U.S. stocks beginning in 2000, Alwaleed Bin Talal says he may become richer than the Oracle of Omaha. His strategy: holding an IPO for his luxury hotels and building the world’s tallest tower in his homeland.

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal sits under an almost full moon near a campfire at his rustic retreat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He’s surrounded by a zoo with zebras and giraffes, an artificial lake and a lodge that has an indoor pool, saunas and steam rooms. Three hooded falcons are perched on stands in front of him.
Five young women, dressed in black miniskirts and jackets and orange knee-high boots that match their nail polish, serve clove-and-cardamom tea to Alwaleed and his entourage, which includes his personal physician.
On this evening in late March, the prince perks up in his easy chair as a newscast on a large-screen television behind the campfire reports on a rally in global hotel stocks -- a sign of hope for the billionaire investor who’s trying to revive his slumping fortune, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its June issue.

Eye photos

Nice photos of eyes here.

Wall Street Journal Report on Saudia Arabia

The WSJ has 10 articles on the economy, culture, and future os Saudi Arabia here.

They Walk. They Work. New DNA Robots Strut Their Tiny Stuff.

For the first time, microscopic robots made from DNA molecules can walk, follow instructions and work together to assemble simple products on an atomic-scale assembly line, mimicking the machinery of living cells, two independent research teams announced Wednesday.

These new construction projects bring researchers a step closer to a time when, at least in theory, scientists might be able to build test-tube factories that churn out self-assembling computers, rare chemical compounds or autonomous medical robots able to cruise the human bloodstream.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Elegant technology for a Napa Valley vineyard.

Go to this link for a nice video of two of my favorite things: Quintessa wine and the Iphone.
The Quintessa winery is truly beautiful as seen in the video...
At Quintessa winery in Napa Valley, California, rows of green vines roll over gentle hills, warming in the afternoon sun and cooling in the evening fog. It’s an elegant landscape, where Quintessa’s winemaker works closely with the soil, wind, and weather to grow unique, intensely flavored grapes

Robot arm controlled by the mind

Every morning Christian Kandlbauer wakes up, dresses himself, and gets in his car to drive to work.
This may sound mundane, but for the 21-year-old Austrian these are remarkable feats.
Doctors say he is the first person in the world to drive a car using a mind-controlled robotic limb

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Study first to analyze individual's genome for risk of dozens of diseases, potential responses to treatment

For the first time, researchers have used a healthy person's complete genome sequence to predict his risk for dozens of diseases and how he will respond to several common medications. The risk analysis, from the Stanford University School of Medicine, also incorporates more-traditional information such as a patient's age and gender and other clinical measurements. The resulting, easy-to-use, cumulative risk report will likely catapult the use of such data out of the lab and into the waiting room of average physicians within the next decade, say the scientists.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mutation Points to Possible Tourette Treatment

Researchers identified a rare genetic mutation that may open a new avenue for treating Tourette syndrome in a study published Wednesday that examined a family in which the father and all eight children suffer from the neurological disorder.

The family's mutation affected a gene required to produce histamine. Pharmaceutical companies are already developing drugs for other conditions that target the brain's histamine system. The study's researchers are planning a clinical trial of adults with Tourette to see if those drugs would help control the motor and vocal tics that characterize the condition.

Photo Gallery: African Marriage Rituals

Beautiful photos here.

Afar Daughter, Djibouti

New Ways to Treat Pain

Tricking the Brain, Blocking the Nerves in Patients When All Else Has Failed

Monday, May 10, 2010

Start with Why

The Data-Driven Life

For a long time, only one area of human activity appeared to be immune. In the cozy confines of personal life, we rarely used the power of numbers. The techniques of analysis that had proved so effective were left behind at the office at the end of the day and picked up again the next morning. The imposition, on oneself or one’s family, of a regime of objective record keeping seemed ridiculous. A journal was respectable. A spreadsheet was creepy.

And yet, almost imperceptibly, numbers are infiltrating the last redoubts of the personal. Sleep, exercise, sex, food, mood, location, alertness, productivity, even spiritual well-being are being tracked and measured, shared and displayed
But I soon realized that an emphasis on efficiency missed something important. Efficiency implies rapid progress toward a known goal. For many self-trackers, the goal is unknown. Although they may take up tracking with a specific question in mind, they continue because they believe their numbers hold secrets that they can’t afford to ignore, including answers to questions they have not yet thought to ask.
Watch out for those machines, though. Humans know a special trick of self-observation: when to avert our gaze. Machines don’t understand the value of forgiving a lapse, or of treating an unpleasant detail with tactful silence. A graph or a spreadsheet talks only in numbers, but there is a policeman inside all of our heads who is well equipped with punishing words. “Each day my self-worth was tied to the data,” Alexandra Carmichael, one of the founders of the self-tracking site CureTogether, wrote in a heartfelt blog post about why she recently stopped tracking. “One pound heavier this morning? You’re fat. Skipped a day of running? You’re lazy. It felt like being back in school. Less than 100 percent on an exam? You’re dumb.” Carmichael had been tracking 40 different things about herself. The data she was seeing every day didn’t respect her wishes or her self-esteem. It was awful, and she had to stop.

Is night vision the next mobile must-have?

U. FLORIDA (US)—Engineers have developed a night vision imaging device that’s paper-thin, lightweight, and inexpensive to produce, making it a possible add-on to cell phone cameras—and even eyeglasses—once it is enlarged.

Standard night vision goggles use a photocathode to convert invisible infrared light photons into electrons. The electrons are accelerated under high voltage and driven into a phosphorous screen, producing greenish images of objects not visible to the eye in darkness.
The process requires thousands of volts and a cathode ray vacuum tube made of thick glass. That is why the goggles tend to be bulky and heavy.
So’s device replaces the vacuum tube with several layers of organic semiconductor thin film materials. The structure is simple: It consists of a photodetector connected in series with an LED.
When operating, infrared light photons are converted into electrons in the photodetector, and these photo-generated electrons are injected into the LED, generating visible light.

Friday, May 07, 2010

New Alarm Bells About Chemicals and Cancer

The President’s Cancer Panel is the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream, so it is astonishing to learn that it is poised to join ranks with the organic food movement and declare: chemicals threaten our bodies.


Traditionally, we reduce cancer risks through regular doctor visits, self-examinations and screenings such as mammograms. The President’s Cancer Panel suggests other eye-opening steps as well, such as giving preference to organic food, checking radon levels in the home and microwaving food in glass containers rather than plastic.
In particular, the report warns about exposures to chemicals during pregnancy, when risk of damage seems to be greatest. Noting that 300 contaminants have been detected in umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, the study warns that: “to a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted.’ ”
It’s striking that this report emerges not from the fringe but from the mission control of mainstream scientific and medical thinking, the President’s Cancer Panel.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Underdog

Over at Slate, Daniel Engber has a fascinating (and thorough) investigation of why we root for the underdog. There are numerous factors at work, from the availability heuristic to our deep desire for equality. But I was most intrigued by this research, which tries to explain why we associate underdogs with virtuous characteristics, like effort and teamwork:
The irony is that it remains unclear whether underdogs actually try harder. For instance, last month I wrote about the superstar effect, which suggests that golfers playing against Tiger Woods played significantly worse. Jennifer Brown, an applied economist at Northwestern who performed the analysis, argues that this is due to reduced motivation and effort:
In other words, underdogs who really believe they are underdogs - and know that they probably won't win - are less likely to put in the required effort. Why waste blood, sweat and tears on a probable loss? If that's the case, then the coaches of underdog teams play an extremely important role in helping to counteract the superstar effect. This guy deserves a raise.
But there is one group that seems resistant to the underdog bias: referees. In fact, it seems that referees are easily swayed by the emotions of the crowd, which is why they tend to give better calls to the team with home-field advantage.

High illumination levels may protect against myopia

This experimental study involving chicks suggests that the apparent protective effect against myopia afforded to children who spend more time outdoors can be explained, at least in part, by exposure to higher ambient illumination.

The study's authors concluded that it is not necessarily the type of illumination - natural or unnatural - that matters in the protection against the development of myopia but rather the intensity of illumination, although it is still unclear exactly how illumination does this.

From Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science

BC Government prepared to blind its citizens by outlawing routine eye exams for glasses & contacts

Dr. Scherzer, a glaucoma specialist in Vancouver comments on a new Canadian regulation,  with potentially ominous results for patients...

Please visit the British Columbia Association of Optometrists website to read a very important posting regarding new regulations set to be implemented in our province that will serve to blind our population by ignorance. The change in the Health Professions Act will permit opticians to dispense glasses or contact lenses without the need for anything more than computerized eyesight testing to estimate the required strength. By no longer requiring a proper examination by an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist, the people of our province will no longer be screened for asymptomatic eye diseases like glaucoma, retinal tears, and other conditions that will lead to permanent visual loss if not found and treated early.

Famine Persists in Niger, but Denial Seems in the Past

Once again Niger is facing a food crisis, a grimly familiar predicament in a vast desert country with an explosive birthrate and rudimentary agriculture. Rains and crops failed last year — rainfall was about 70 percent below normal in the region — and now half the population of 15 million faces food shortages, officials say. Thus it was in 2005, 1985 and 1974.
Thousands of children are being pulled out of schools because parents have left their villages to search for food, and a handful have closed. “Exceptionally, this year, we’ve had this departure,” said Salissou Hachimou, the director of the school in Kongomé, where 43 out of 232 children have left.
In the countryside, ribs poke from under the taut skin of livestock. The animal fodder supply is 66 percent below normal. Mangy camels range, nuzzling the denuded tops of trees.
About 12 percent of the country’s children are acutely malnourished, according to Unicef. A handful of tiny babies with feeble limbs populated a ward in an intensive nutrition clinic in the desert town of Tanout. But the atmosphere was calm and the clinic was not overwhelmed, as Mr. Holmes noted.
The arid region was 11,000 tons short of its expected cereal production last year. The crop failed entirely in the village of Dalli. “Yes, I am hungry now,” said Safia Joulou, 26, who prepares one meal per day, boiling leaves gathered in the endless surrounding sand and scrub.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

It’s Complicated: Making Sense of Complexity

 AS WENT THE ROMANS? Thomas Cole’s “Course of Empire: Destruction.”

The increasing speed of complexity in terms of knowledge is exciting in my field, but in terms of the beaurocracy of U.S. health care is counter productive...

Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our union is stumped.
Christoph Niemann

The Great Recession and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, arguably the toughest problems we’ve confronted in decades, are nothing if not spectacularly complicated. Trying to size up these puzzles is like gaping at a homemade contraption that has mysteriously evolved into something even its designers can no longer fathom, let alone operate and dismantle. Is there an owner’s manual for this thing? Can it be unplugged? If we figure out where it’s getting fuel, can we starve it and hope it expires?
Look at the military’s PowerPoint slide of the Afghanistan war, a labyrinth of cross-thatching lines and arrows swirling around words like INSURGENTS and COALITION CAPACITY & PRIORITIES. (Please click on the link for the powerpoint slide--uvealblues)
“When we understand this slide,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who leads the American effort in Afghanistan, “we’ll have won the war.”
You sense that the march toward complexity has turned into a sprint in the debate about health care reform and even the gargantuan oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, challenges so baroque, and with so many disparate and moving parts, the best you can do is hope that someone in charge understands them. Complexity used to signify progress — it was the frisson of a new gadget, the riddle of some advance in technology. Now complexity lurks behind the most expensive and intractable issues of our age. It’s the pet that grew fangs and started eating the furniture.
Of course, a nagging sense of incomprehension is a perennial feature of the human experience.

“Complexity creeps up on you,” he said in an interview. “It grows in ways, each of which seems reasonable at the time. It seemed reasonable at the time that we went into Afghanistan. It’s the cumulative costs that makes a society insolvent. Everything the Roman emperors did was a reasonable response in the situation that they found themselves in. It was the cumulative impact that did them in.”

Which gets to the worrisome part of the complexity of problems we face today. Instead of improving our lives, it’s vexing them.
What we need, suggests Brenda Zimmerman, a professor at Schulich School of Business in Ontario, is a distinction between the complicated and the complex.
“We get seduced by the complicated in Western society,” Ms. Zimmerman says. “We’re in awe of it and we pull away from the duty to ask simple questions, which we do whenever we deal with matters that are complex.”

via Simoleon Sense

Gates Rethinks His War on Polio

There is an interesting interactive map at the link below, showing the spread of polio from Nigeria to other countries..
Next week, the organizations behind the polio fight, including WHO, Unicef, Rotary International and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plan to announce a major revamp of their strategy to address shortcomings exposed by the outbreak.
Polio is a centerpiece of Mr. Gates's charitable giving. Last year the billionaire traveled to Africa, one of the main battlegrounds against the disease, to confer with doctors, aid workers and a sultan to propel the polio-eradication effort.
"There's no way to sugarcoat the last 12 months," Bruce Aylward, a WHO official, told Mr. Gates in the meeting in the underground pandemic center last June. He described how the virus was rippling through countries believed to have stopped the disease.
That question goes to the heart of one of the most controversial debates in global health: Is humanity better served by waging wars on individual diseases, like polio? Or is it better to pursue a broader set of health goals simultaneously—improving hygiene, expanding immunizations, providing clean drinking water—that don't eliminate any one disease, but might improve the overall health of people in developing countries?
The new plan integrates both approaches. It's an acknowledgment, bred by last summer's outbreak, that disease-specific wars can succeed only if they also strengthen the overall health system in poor countries.
In many respects, Mr. Gates remains a tech geek at heart. Aboard his plane, he expounded on an array of scientific topics: From developments in genotyping, to research showing that Bangladesh's high disease-immunity rates are due to "oral-fecal" transmission (when people build immunity by ingesting contaminated food or water).
In Nigeria, Mr. Gates scored a diplomatic triumph. He won commitments from the sultan, and from Nigeria's governors, to take a more active role in polio vaccinations. "We really stand at the threshold of global health success on polio," he told the assembled governors at the close of the trip.
However, just three days later, a new front opened 2,000 miles away in Uganda. There, a woman walked into a hospital to say her son couldn't move his left leg. It was Uganda's first polio case in 12 years.
Cases also popped up in Mali, Togo and Ghana and Cote d'Ivore, which hadn't reported polio for four years. A girl in Kenya became that country's first polio case since 2006.

Fluorescent compounds make tumors glow

VANDERBILT (US)—A series of novel imaging agents could light up tumors as they begin to form—before they turn deadly—and signal their transition to aggressive cancers.

The compounds could have broad applications for detecting tumors earlier, monitoring a tumor’s transition from pre-malignancy to more aggressive growth, and defining tumor margins during surgical removal.

Four Rules to Get Us Through Tough Times - Capturing Wisdom Before It Fades From Memory

Words spoken from the heart, will enter the heart.

                   -The Talmud-

Rabbi Kroloff's Four Practices to Get You Through Life's Tough Times and Keep Your Head on Straight and Your Heart in the Right Place

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