Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wine in Two Words

Good post on wine tasting from Eric Asimov at the NYTimes!
While it may seem heretical to say, the more specific the description of a wine, the less useful information is actually transmitted.
But the general character of a wine: now, that’s another matter. A brief depiction of the salient overall features of a wine, like its weight, texture and the broad nature of its aromas and flavors, can be far more helpful in determining whether you will like that bottle than a thousand points of detail. In fact, consumers could be helped immeasurably if the entire lexicon of wine descriptors were boiled down to two words: sweet or savory.

How to Make Oatmeal . . . Wrong

Raw oats with milk and honey is my favorite way!

There’s a feeling of inevitability in writing about McDonald’s latest offering, their “bowl full of wholesome” — also known as oatmeal. The leading fast-food multinational, with sales over $16.5 billion a year (just under the GDP of Afghanistan), represents a great deal of what is wrong with American food today. From a marketing perspective, they can do almost nothing wrong; from a nutritional perspective, they can do almost nothing right, as the oatmeal fiasco demonstrates.
Like so many other venerable foods, oatmeal has been roundly abused by food marketers for more than 40 years. Take, for example, Quaker Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal, which contains no strawberries, no cream, 12 times the sugars of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats and only half of the fiber. At least it’s inexpensive, less than 50 cents a packet on average. (A serving of cooked rolled oats will set you back half that at most, plus the cost of condiments; of course, it’ll be much better in every respect.)
Others will argue that the McDonald’s version is more “convenient.” This is nonsense; in the time it takes to go into a McDonald’s, stand in line, order, wait, pay and leave, you could make oatmeal for four while taking your vitamins, brushing your teeth and half-unloading the dishwasher. (If you’re too busy to eat it before you leave the house, you could throw it in a container and microwave it at work. If you prefer so-called instant, flavored oatmeal, see this link, which will describe how to make your own).
If you don’t want to bother with the stove at all, you could put some rolled oats (instant not necessary) in a glass or bowl, along with a teeny pinch of salt, sugar or maple syrup or honey, maybe some dried fruit. Add milk and let stand for a minute (or 10). Eat. Eat while you’re walking around getting dressed. And then talk to me about convenience.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Brain Reacts to Cellphones

Cellphone use appears to increase brain activity in regions close to where the phone antenna is held against the head, according to a new study, but researchers said the implications for health are still unknown.

The main concern is that radiation from phones could cause DNA mutations or changes to chemicals in the brain, leading to tumors or cognitive decline. But to date there is no known evidence that the frequency of the waves emitted from phones are powerful enough to cause such changes, according to Reto Huber, a professor at the University Children's Hospital Zurich who has published several studies on electromagnetic fields and cellphones but wasn't part of this latest study.
In Tuesday's study, researchers from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York measured glucose metabolism—how much sugar a cell takes in to fuel activity—in the brains of 47 adults, the largest study of its kind to date.

Brains of Blind People Reading in Braille Show Activity in Same Area That Lights Up When Sighted Readers Read

ScienceDaily (Feb. 22, 2011) — The portion of the brain responsible for visual reading doesn't require vision at all, according to a new study published online on Feb. 17 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. Brain imaging studies of blind people as they read words in Braille show activity in precisely the same part of the brain that lights up when sighted readers read. The findings challenge the textbook notion that the brain is divided up into regions that are specialized for processing information coming in via one sense or another, the researchers say.

"The brain is not a sensory machine, although it often looks like one; it is a task machine," said Amir Amedi of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "A brain area can fulfill a unique function, in this case reading, regardless of what form the sensory input takes."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


via Placebo Journal blog

Painful Shingles Can Strike More Than Once

Having shingles can be a miserable experience. Now, to make matters worse, the long-held notion that people can only get shingles once in their lives appears to be false, according to a study in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings this month. Link (WSJ)

The CDC has urged all Americans age 60 and older to get the shingles vaccine—whether they've had shingles or not. But supplies of the vaccine are on back order in some areas. Merck & Co., the only company that makes it, has encountered frequent supply problems since the vaccine was approved in 2006.
In rare cases, shingles has other serious consequences. Blisters can become infected. A rash on the face can spread shingles into eyes, which can lead to loss of vision, sometimes permanent. A rash around the ear can cause a complication known as Ramsey Hunt syndrome, which can include deafness and weakness of the facial muscles.
A big unknown is whether people who got the chicken-pox vaccine as children will be susceptible to shingles in later years or protected from it—or even vulnerable to full-blown chicken pox if their immunity has weakened. Since the chicken-pox vaccine was only approved in 1996, it will be several decades before the first generation of Americans to be widely vaccinated reaches the typical shingles years.

Grand Rounds is up at "The Covert Rationing Blog"

Lot's of good medical blogging at Grand Rounds hosted at the Covert Rationing Blog here

Some of the highlights for me:

the pay for performance fiasco (and the impact on further erosion of the on going patient-physician relationship)

pay for performance and patient harm

bureaucrats and bioethicists

The reductive monotony of electronic medical records worsening patient notes

Snooky the Cat and the Metronome

A little humor to start your morning

via Dr. Mercola

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why There's No Turning Back in the Middle East

Will history fail to turn in the Middle East? Will these protests in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and beyond peter out, and in a few years, will we look back at 2011 and realize that very little actually changed? It's certainly possible, but there are two fundamental reasons the tensions that have been let loose in the Middle East over the past few weeks are unlikely to disappear, and they encompass two of the most powerful forces changing the world today: youth and technology

Ecuadorean Villagers May Hold Secret to Longevity

People living in remote villages in Ecuador have a mutation that some biologists say may throw light on human longevity and ways to increase it.

The villagers are very small, generally less than three and a half feet tall, and have a rare condition known as Laron syndrome or Laron-type dwarfism. They are probably the descendants of conversos, Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal who were forced to convert to Christianity in the 1490s but were nonetheless persecuted in the Inquisition. They are also almost completely free of two age-related diseases, cancer anddiabetes.

The Laron patients’ mutation means that their growth hormone receptor lacks the last eight units of its exterior region, so it cannot react to growth hormone. In normal children, growth hormone makes the cells of the liver churn out another hormone, called insulinlike growth factor, or IGF-1, and this hormone makes the children grow. If the Laron patients are given doses of IGF-1 before puberty, they can grow to fairly normal height.
This is where the physiology of the Laron patients links up with the longevity studies that researchers have been pursuing with laboratory animals. IGF-1 is part of an ancient signaling pathway that exists in the laboratory roundworm as well as in people. The gene that makes the receptor for IGF-1 in the roundworm is called DAF-2. And worms in which this gene is knocked out live twice as long as normal.
The Laron patients have the equivalent defect — their cells make very little IGF-1, so very little IGF-1 signaling takes place, just as in the DAF-2-ablated worms. So the Laron patients might be expected to live much longer.
Dr. Longo said that some level of IGF-1 was necessary to protect against heart disease, but that lowering the level might be beneficial. A drug that does this is already on the market for treatment of acromegaly, a thickening of the bones caused by excessive growth hormone. “Our underlying hypothesis is that this drug would prolong life span,” Dr. Longo said. He said he was not taking the drug, called pegvisomant or Somavert, which is very hard to obtain.
A strain of mice bred by John Kopchick of Ohio University has a defect in the growth hormone receptor gene, just as do the Laron patients, and lives 40 percent longer than usual.

For Cold Virus, Zinc May Edge Out Even Chicken Soup

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Molecular discovery could lead to prevention of geographic atrophy

Lexington, KY—A team of researchers has discovered a molecular mechanism implicated in geographic atrophy that may lead to the development of ways to prevent the condition.
The investigators’ article, “DICER1 deficit induces Alu RNA toxicity in age-related macular degeneration,” was published online by the journal Nature on Feb. 6. The study also elaborates, for the first time, a disease-causing role for a large section of the human genome once regarded as non-coding “junk DNA.”
The team, led by University of Kentucky (UK) ophthalmologist Jayakrishna Ambati, MD, discovered that an accumulation of a toxic type of RNA, called Alu RNA, causes retinal cells to die in patients with geographic atrophy. In a healthy eye, a “DICER” enzyme degrades the Alu RNA particles.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What Is Synesthesia Like? Watch These Videos for a Taste

Fantastic videos in which artist Michel Levy, recreates what she sees when she listens to music.. link
(via Amy Capellazzo)

One from Michal Levy on Vimeo.

Pete Eckert – seeing without sight

A photographer with Retinitis Pigmentosa who takes amazing images...

Nice video at this link

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Wired Science News for Your Neurons Previous post Next post Video: Uncontacted Tribe in Brazilian Jungle

Video of an uncontacted tribe spotted in the Brazilian jungle has been released, bringing them to life in ways that photographs alone cannot.
The tribe, believed to be Panoa Indians, have been monitored from a distance by Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, a government agency charged with handling the nation’s indigenous communities. Many of the world’s 100 or so uncontacted tribes live in the Amazon.

A Loose Grip Provides Better Chemotherapy

ScienceDaily (Feb. 5, 2011)Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have developed a little bomb that promises a big bang for cancer patients.
Preliminary tests show an anti-cancer drug loosely attached to gold nanoparticles starts accumulating deep inside tumors within minutes of injection and can be activated for an effective treatment within two hours. The same drug injected alone takes two days to gather and attacks the tumor from the surface -- a far less effective route.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Water flea’s 31,000 genes top humans

The animal with the most genes—about 31,000—is the water flea, a near-microscopic freshwater crustacean. By comparison, humans have about 23,000 genes.
Water vision
“We were surprised to find the incredibly high level of complexity of the set of Daphnia vision genes,” says co-author Todd Oakley, an associate professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Oakley’s team focused on vision genes in the tiny creature.
“While humans have four light-sensing proteins (opsins), the Daphnia genome has 46 opsins,” says Oakley. “A possible explanation for this complexity is that Daphnia use these genes to understand the complex light regime of their aquatic environment.”

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Appendix: Apps for Free Calls to Regular Phones

I reviewed a bunch of apps (Google Voice, Skype, Line2 and so on) in the column. But in the hours since the column was posted online, readers have flooded my in-box to let me know about some other options. In some cases, these additional apps disprove my thesis that “there’s still no app that offers all three of these elements: free calls, to regular phone numbers, from your cellphone.”
Here, then, is an appendix to today’s column.

Forget Bombs, Dogs Can Now Smell Cancer

One Donor Cornea, Two Patients Helped: New Surgical Approach May Help Meet Demand for Donor Corneas

German researcher Claus Cursiefen, MD, also affiliated with Harvard School of Medicine, reports good results with a new surgical strategy that uses a single donor cornea to help two patients with differing corneal diseases. In the United States keeping pace with demand for donated corneal tissue for use in transplant surgery is a cause for concern, while in Europe and Asia shortages lead to treatment delays.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Taxi Driver Imitates Michael Jackson, Delights the Internet [VIDEO]

A Sharper Future for Retinal Implants

Researchers grow neurons on a photosensitive polymer hybrid.
A retinal implant restores vision by sending a signal from a video camera attached to a pair of glasses to electrodes implanted on the back of a person's retina. But the silicon or platinum components typically used to for the electrodes tend to produce images of limited quality, and can leave the retina scarred.
Organic semiconducting polymers are softer and more flexible than silicon, and they have useful mechanical and electrical properties, making them ideal for biomedical applications. In fact, they are already used in some medical devices such as glucose sensors and the electrodes that record neural activity in the brain. Researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology have now shown how organic polymer could be used to make better electrodes for retinal implants.
One of the first possible applications for a polymer-neuron interface could be in optogenics, says Guglielmo Lanzani, a professor at IIT who led the research, which is published in the January 18 issue of Nature Communications. "Our short-term goal was to establish communication between an [organic] semiconductor and a neuron," says Lanzani. 
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