Wednesday, March 30, 2011

When a Girl Is Executed … for Being Raped

Shocked, outraged--wondering how people get more excited about the Final Four than this kind of thing that happens everyday... Thanks to all those who strive mightily to fight injustice... (and grateful for those of my friends who fight against this kind of stuff everyday--you know who you are)
We’re all focused right now on Libya and budget battles at home, but this story from Bangladesh just broke my heart and outraged me — and offers a reminder of the daily human rights struggles of so many women and girls in villages around the world. A 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl, Hena,allegedly was ambushed when she went to an outdoor toilet, gagged, beaten and raped by an older man in her village (who was actually her cousin). They were caught by wife of the alleged rapist, and the wife then beat Hena up.

Why Getting 'High' Increases Acts of Charity

Want to persuade people to give more? Then get them "high" first — physically that is. New research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology shows that people act twice as nice when they have just ridden up an escalator or walked up stairs. On higher ground, people's thoughts are apparently more elevated.
Why would height make such a difference? A spate of new research suggests that humans are enormously susceptible to such metaphors because of the way our brains work in the context of our bodies: that is, the thoughts and concepts in our minds are shaped by the experiences of the body. The theory is called "embodied cognition." So, for example, giving someone a warm drink actually makes people feel and behave more "warmly" toward others, while a cold drink evokes the "cold shoulder" and promotes distant behavior.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tipping Doesn't Reward Good Behavior

So why do we do it? It turns out that our most common understanding—that tipping is meant to reward and encourage good service—doesn't hold much water.

Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin

How Your Schedule Can Help (or Hurt) Your Health

Ophthalmologists have long been cognizant of the importance of circadian rhythms. One of the drivers to maintain as much vision as possible in say a severely traumatized eye is to help maintain such rhythms...

New research shows that each of our organs contains cells with their own circadian-clock genes that help bodily processes, such as digestion, operate with maximum efficiency at certain times of day.
When a person's circadian clock is thrown off—by jet lag or shift work or eating at the wrong time—it can, over time, contribute to weight gain and depression. It may even increase the likelihood of heart and liver problems.
The brain used to be thought of as the body's master clock, sending signals telling organs when to operate. But over the past decade or so, as scientists discovered clock genes in cells in different organs in the body, the brain has come to be seen as the conductor of an orchestra. Each organ operates on its own internal clock, producing enzymes and molecules at different levels depending on the time of day; the brain works to make sure all the clocks are synchronized. Dyssynchrony between the brain and the rest of the organs, or between individual organs, can lead to problems. For example, if the pancreas is out of sync with the liver, insulin production may be too low or too high, Dr. Turek says.
It isn't clear exactly how disruptions in circadian rhythm could influence body weight. One theory is that at certain times of day, intestinal bacteria may be more or less active at breaking down food into molecules to be absorbed by the intestine. Eating fat at a time when the bacteria are less active could lead to poorer food breakdown and more fat stored, Dr. Turek says.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Regimens: Drug Is Seen to Limit Progression to Diabetes

People at high risk of developing diabetes may be able to ward off the disease by taking the drug pioglitazone, a new study suggests, but critics say the potential side effects of the medication may outweigh the benefits for those who are still disease-free.

'Gamifying' The System To Create Better Behavior

Gamification "is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems," says Gabe Zichermann, co-author of the book Game-Based Marketing and chairman of the Gamification Summit.
He tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen that the speed-camera lottery in Sweden turns the whole idea of fines and penalties on its head, in a way that only "game people" think of.
Instead of being structured around punishment and negativity, he says, the speed-camera lottery is "all about positive reinforcement." If you drive the speed limit, or under it, you may win some money.
"Now, what's interesting about Biggest Loser and other gamified examples of weight loss, is they hue to a model for user rewards that I call SAPS," he says.
SAPS stands for Status, Access, Power and Stuff. Zichermann says those are things people want in their lives as rewards — in that order. "It turns out," he says, "that cash isn't that good of a reward. Status is a fantastic motivator for getting people to do stuff."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Second Sight

My role model in ophthalmology, David Paton, has just published an autobiography! He was chairman at Baylor (where I completed my residency training), started the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital (where I spent 8 years as a Senior Consultant) and was the founder of Orbis (with whom I have participated in numerous charity ventures across the globe). He is a tour de force, who has had a huge influence on global eye care, as well as on me personally as an ophthalmologist. You can purchase his book here.

You can learn more about Orbis here.

In a Brazilian Town, a Rogue Gene and a Boom in Twins

I had heard many "outlandish theories" about this town and its twin population, as described further in the article...glad to see it is all in the genes!

SANTIAGO, Chile — For years, so many twins have been born in the small southern Brazilian town of Cândido Godói that residents wonder whether something mysterious lurks in the water, or even if Josef Mengele, the Nazi physician known as the Angel of Death, conducted experiments on the women there.
But a group of scientists now says it can rule out such long-rumored possibilities. Ursula Matte, a geneticist in Porto Alegre, Brazil, said a series of DNA tests conducted on about 30 families since 2009 found that a specific gene in the population of Cândido Godói appears more frequently in mothers of twins than in those without. The phenomenon is compounded by a high level of inbreeding among the population, which is composed almost entirely of German-speaking immigrants, she said.
“We analyzed six genes and found one gene that confirms, in this population, a predisposition to the birth of twins,” Dr. Matte said. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tools Suggest Earlier Human Arrival in America

For many years, scientists have thought that the first Americans came here from Asia 13,000 years ago, during the last ice age, probably by way of the Bering Strait. They were known as the Clovis people, after the town in New Mexico where their finely wrought spear points were first discovered in 1929.

But in more recent years, archaeologists have found more and more traces of even earlier people with a less refined technology inhabiting North America and spreading as far south as Chile.
Archaeologists and other scientists report in Friday’s issue of the journal Science that excavations show hunter-gatherers were living at the Buttermilk Creek site and making projectile points, blades, choppers and other tools from local chert for a long time, possibly as early as 15,500 years ago. More than 50 well-formed artifacts as well as hundreds of flakes and fragments of chipping debris were embedded in thick clay sediments immediately beneath typical Clovis material.

The Aurora

 Incredible video of the Aurora Borrealis by
Terje Sorgjerd
I spent a week capturing one of the biggest aurora borealis shows in recent years.

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

the graveyard

Another poignant piece of writing from the always insightful Bongi, a surgeon from South Africa, Mpumalanga province. All of us as physicians have our Bongi recounts in a painfully honest, personal post. The subsequent commentary is also worth reading....

this is a difficult story to tell but if i am to be true to the complete experience of a surgeon, i do need to tell it.

one of my seniors used to say that every surgeon has a graveyard hidden away somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind. he went on to say it was unfortunately normal, so long as you remember all the names engraved on the tombstones. at the time i thought he was being a bit melodramatic, especially seeing as though i could barely remember the names of any of my living patients. somewhat like one of our consultants i used to refer to them as the guy with the pancreatitis or the lady with the bleeding peptic ulcer. unfortunately i learned what he meant.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How Free Is Your Will?

Fascinating article in the realm of perceptual control theory...

A clock face, advanced neurosurgery--and startling philosophical questions about the decision to act.
Scientists from UCLA and Harvard -- Itzhak Fried, Roy Mukamel and Gabriel Kreiman -- have taken an audacious step in the search for free will, reported in a new article in the journal Neuron. They used a powerful tool – intracranial recording – to find neurons in the human brain whose activity predicts decisions to make a movement, challenging conventional notions of free will.

They had their patients look at a hand sweeping around a clock-face, asked them to press a button whenever they wanted to, and then had them indicate where the hand had been pointing when they decided to press the button. This provides a precise time for an action (the push) as well as the decision to act. With these data the experimenters can then look for neurons whose activity correlated with the will to act.
Such neurons, they found, abound in a region of the frontal lobe called the supplementary motor area, which is involved in the planning of movements. But here is the interesting thing: about a quarter of these neurons began to change their activity before the time patients declared as the moment they felt the urge to press the button. The change began as long as a second and a half before the decision, and as early as seven tenths of a second before it, this activity was robust enough that the researchers could predict with over 80 percent accuracy not only whether a movement had occurred, but when the decision to make it happened.
Other interpretations might require that we reconstruct our idea of free will. Rather than a linear process in which decision leads to action, our behavior may be the bottom-line result of many simultaneous processes: We are constantly faced with a multitude of options for what to do right now – switch the channel? Take a sip from our drink? Get up and go to the bathroom? But our set of options is not unlimited (i.e., the set of options we just mentioned is unlikely to include “launch a ballistic missile”). Deciding what to do and when to do it may be the result of a process in which all the currently-available options are assessed and weighted. Rather than free will being the ability to do anything at all, it might be an act of selection from the present range of options. And the decision might be made before you are even aware of it. Think about that next time you reach for the remote.

How Sports May Focus the Brain

Who can cross a busy road better, a varsity wrestler or a psychology major? That question, which seems to beg for a punch line, actually provided the motivation for an unusual and rather beguiling new experiment in which student athletes were pitted against regular collegians in a test of traffic-dodging skill.
The results were revelatory.

Baylor Guard Regains Vision and Sees a Title

Interesting story of a college basketball player treated for optic neuropathy with intravenous steroids for 30 hours! All studies have shown no benefit from steroids for optic neuropathy that I am aware of. In any case this is great news for Melissa Jones!

Career Counselor: Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why to Eat Like a Greek

The Mediterranean diet is high in monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and also relies heavily on whole-grain cereals, fruits and vegetables, fish and low consumption of animal fats. It has been shown in numerous studies and clinical trials to reduce mortality from such causes as cardiovascular disease and cancer.Experts believe the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of the foods associated with the diet confer health benefits across a variety of diseases.
In a new analysis that pooled findings from 50 different studies involving a total of more than 500,000 patients, researchers led by Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos of Harakopio University, Athens, found the diet had beneficial effects against five components of a prediabetic condition called the metabolic syndrome. The analysis found that adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 31% reduction in risk of developing the syndrome.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Losing Sight, Then Losing Touch

At least 50% of the patients I see in the States have Macular Degeneration. (In much of the developing world where I worked in the past macular degeneration is an unknown entity). It really can have a devastating impact on people psychologically and in terms of their independence. This article touches on the frustration experienced and also offers a link to a good website (

When you’re past 80 and losing your central vision to macular degeneration, as the eight members of this support group are, life throws up plenty of roadblocks.
Happily, a very comprehensive Web site called provides not only a ton of information but links to more than 120 affiliates that operate hundreds of support groups in 33 states (and more overseas), plus telephone and online support groups, Webcasts and more. Rehab facilities, vision organizations and medical centers offer support groups, too.

Is Fitness All in the Genes?

That question has bedeviled countless people who’ve started exercise programs. It has also motivated a major new study of the genetics of fitness. 
The researchers looked at 324,611 individual snippets over all. Each of the volunteers had already completed a carefully supervised five-month exercise program, during which participants pedaled stationary bicycles three times a week, at controlled and identical intensities. Some wound up much fitter, as determined by the increase in the amount of oxygen their bodies consumed during intense exercise, a measure called maximal oxygen capacity, or VO2max. In others, VO2 max had barely budged. No obvious, consistent differences in age, gender, body mass or commitment marked those who responded well and those who continued to huff and struggle during their workouts, even after five months.
But there was a divergence in their genomes. The researchers identified 21 specific SNPs, out of the more than 300,000 examined, that differed consistently between the two groups. SNPs come in pairs, since each of us receives one paternal copy and one maternal copy. So there were 42 different individual versions of the 21 SNPs. Those exercisers who had 19 or more of these SNPs improved their cardiorespiratory fitness three times as much as those who had nine or fewer.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Longevity Project: Decades of Data Reveal Paths to Long Life

Worrying is always bad for your health." Wrong. A study lasting for more than 80 years debunks conventional wisdom.
In The Longevity Project (Penguin, $25.95, March 3) the psychology professors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie Martin describe their two-decade-long odyssey to answer that question using Terman's data. Eventually publishing about 50 scholarly papers on the subject, they discovered that many adages promising long life—get married, exercise regularly, think happy thoughts, don't work so hard—are not shortcuts to immortality, and for certain groups of people, they can actually have the opposite effect. 

via Simoleon sense

More evidence of the benefits of fish oil in Macular Degeneration

Dietary {omega}-3 Fatty Acid and Fish Intake and Incident Age-Related Macular Degeneration in Women
(From the latest issue of Archives of Ophthalmology-subscription required)

About 40,000 women in the health care profession were followed for 10 years prospectively and 235 cases of Macular Degeneration developed.
It was found that women who consumed either omega 3 fatty acids or a serving of fish once a week had relative risk of macular degeneration of about .6, i.e. a 40% reduction in risk for macular degeneration.

Gene Work Yields New Treatment For Lupus

The Food and Drug Administration approved the first new drug for lupus in more than 50 years, a milestone in the effort to mine data from the human genome to discover and develop new medicines.

Benlysta is a bioengineered antibody that blocks a protein called BLyS, or B-lymphocyte stimulator, which is elevated in lupus and other autoimmune diseases and is believed to contribute to production of cells that attack blood vessels and other healthy tissue.
Human Genome Sciences discovered the drug under its founder William Haseltine through a then-novel strategy of mining a library of human DNA that its scientists compiled. A $125 million investment from Glaxo's predecessor company, SmithKline Beecham, supported the effort.
Researchers hunted for genes whose function wasn't necessarily known, but whose characteristics indicated they played a role in health and disease. Conventional wisdom then, said Dr. Haseltine, was that you couldn't use a gene to find a drug without knowing what the gene did.
Ultimately it took only a few weeks to find the BLyS gene—one that others had spent years hunting for without success, Dr. Haseltine said.

The Tragedy of the Tsunami in Japan

This picture says it all...

In Tsunami’s Wake, Much Searching but Few Are Rescued

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Study: Diet May Help ADHD Kids More Than Drugs

Hyperactivity. Fidgeting. Inattention. Impulsivity. If your child has one or more of these qualities on a regular basis, you may be told that he or she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. If so, they'd be among about 10 percent of children in the United States.
Kids with ADHD can be restless and difficult to handle. Many of them are treated with drugs, but a new study says food may be the key. Published in The Lancet journal, the study suggests that with a very restrictive diet, kids with ADHD could experience a significant reduction in symptoms.

Ex-Starbucks Exec Helps Develop Global Eye Banks

Some 10 million people suffer from corneal blindness. It's relatively rare in the U.S., and if you have it, you're likely to have a corneal transplant and your vision will be restored. But in the developing world, where most corneal blindness occurs, it's a different matter.
Now, a Seattle-based nonprofit is applying lessons learned in the coffee business in its efforts to bring sight to as many people as it can.
Tucked away in a downtown Seattle office building is one of the largest eye banks in the world. It's run by an organization called SightLife. It finds organ donors, collects the corneas from the newly deceased and prepares the tissue for surgery.

What if, he wondered, his organization could help create 900 eye banks around the world to meet the local demand? Just about everyone thought his idea was crazy — except Schottman.
"[He] looked at it and said, 'Ah, only 900 — that's not that hard,'" Montoya says.
Schottman had been part of the global strategy team at Starbucks. "There were times we were putting plans together to open five, six, seven stores in a day," he says. "So to me, 900 over a 10- to 20-year time period seemed very modest in terms of its ambition."

Making Genome Sequencing Part of Clinical Care

Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin are taking pioneering steps to make whole-genome sequencing a standard part of diagnostic testing for children with rare inherited disorders not easily diagnosed by traditional methods. The technology has come far in the decade since the $3 billion human genome project was published—so far, in fact, that a health insurer has offered to cover the sequencing in cases where it would be cheaper than conventional genetic testing.
Whole-genome sequencing—reading a patient's entire DNA code—now costs about the same as sequencing just a few genes through commercial diagnostic tests, says Howard Jacob, director of the college's Human and Molecular Genetics Center.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Happiest Man in America, Annotated

This is an interesting article looking at demographic correlates of happiness...(link)
Gallup also asks its survey respondents other questions about their demographics, like age, gender and religion. Using the data, we asked Gallup to come up with a statistical composite of the happiest person in America, based on what demographic characteristics are most closely correlated with higher levels of well-being. Gallup said that the happiest person would be: male, Asian-American, a religious Jew, self-employed, living in Hawaii, married, has children, receiving a household income of at least $120,000.
Given this, I figured I’d write a profile of a fictional person, whom I nicknamed Moishe Chang (or sometimes Deng Xiao Shapiro). But then, lo and behold, it turned out that a real person fulfilling all these requirements actually exists! His name is Alvin Wong, and he lives in Honolulu. He says he is indeed a very happy person.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Urge to Own That Clapton Guitar Is Contagious, Scientists Find

It took me a while (and a considerable amount of money later) to overcome the subliminal belief that my playing would improve if I played the same guitar as one of my guitar heroes...
One of their conclusions is that the seemingly illogical yearning for a Clapton relic, even a pseudorelic, stems from an instinct crucial to surviving disasters like the Black Death: the belief that certain properties are contagious, either in a good or a bad way. Another conclusion is that the magical thinking chronicled in “primitive” tribes will affect bids for the Clapton guitars being auctioned at Bonhams in Midtown Manhattan.
“Cultural practices such as burning voodoo dolls to harm one’s enemies are consistent with a belief in the law of similarity,” Dr. Newman said. “An identical Clapton guitar replica with all of the dents and scratches may serve as such a close proxy to Clapton’s original guitar that it is in some way confused for the real thing. Of course, the replica is worth far less than the actual guitar that he played, but it still appears to be getting a significant amount of value for its similarity.”

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

How anger can make us more rational

magine you're in a room with four people, one is lip-snarling angry, the others are calm. Who among them would you consider the most likely to think rationally? A surprising new study suggests that in at least one important respect it's actually the angry individual who will be the more rational decision maker. How come? Because they'll be less prone to the confirmation bias - our tendency to seek out information that supports our existing views.
via Simoleon Sense

Monday, March 07, 2011

Hugs Follow a 3-Second Rule

Ever wondered how long a hug lasts? The quick answer is about 3 seconds, according to a new study of the post-competition embraces of Olympic athletes. But the long answer is more profound. A hug lasts about as much time as many other human actions and neurological processes, which supports a hypothesis that we go through life perceiving the present in a series of 3-second windows.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

A cheaper way to scan for cancer

A conversation in a hotel lobby led to a cancer detection breakthrough.

Doctors rely on positron-emission tomography (PET) scans to see tumors. But PET machines cost more than $2.5 million apiece and are usually found only in major medical centers. Bryant's employer, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, had developed a chemical that could light up a tumor on a common SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) camera. He wanted Colip, 62, a pharmaceutical industry veteran, to help turn it into a product.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Smartphone apps can eventually save us billions in health care costs

Search Appolicious Advisor Advisor-bar Smartphone apps can eventually save us billions in health care costs Posted February 13, 2011 1:26pm by Kevin Maney Tags: Demascopes, healthcare, medical, stethoscopes Apps mentioned: * handyscope * iStethoscope Pro Buzz up! Apps just might be able to cure health care.
One major barrier to health care reform is the costly, age-old practice of making patients physically visit a doctor for everything from a hypertension screening to a follow-up visit to see if an injury is healing.
Smartphone apps could change that. The industry is seeing some of the first apps that point the way toward giving you a doc in your pocket. And we’re not just talking about apps that provide health information from the web. These new apps do some medical heavy lifting.
Nobody suggests apps are going to replace doctors. But if they can reduce in-person doctor visits by even a small percentage while at the same time catching problems like skin cancer a bit earlier, the nation would spend billions of dollars less on health care.

New Microscope Produces 3-D Movies of Live Cells In Action

It’s been a big week for the world of the small. In a new microscope breakthrough, researchers have figured out how to use a minuscule sheet of light to produce movies of living cells, revealing mitosis in action and illuminating cells' three-dimensional architecture with the greatest detail ever seen.
The technique uses a highly focused, super-thin beam of light similar to the type used in supermarket checkout scanners. It could allow cell biologists to watch the molecular underpinnings of cell action as they unfold.
“In looking at living systems, you want to be God. You want to have this omniscient power and be able to look at all time scales — not just single cells sitting on a microscope cover slip, but observe what’s happening in a single molecule in a single cell that is inside your heart right now. That’s the dream,” said Eric Betzig, research leader at the Janelia Farm Research Campus, part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “You want to have this (omniscience) in a way that the organism is completely unaware and unaffected by that observation.”

Friday, March 04, 2011

Obesity Shocker: Pacemaker Zaps Stomach Internally to Prevent Overindulging

Forget stomach stapling and lap band surgery. The next big thing in weight loss surgery may be the stomach pacemaker.
Designed by pacemaker manufacturer Intrapace, the abiliti stomach pacemaker is purportedly the first "intelligent" form of obesity intervention. Instead of simply constricting the stomach, the surgically-implanted pacemaker detects when a patient downs food or drink, and zaps the stomach with a series of electrical impulses to generate a feeling of fullness (the system utilizes the nerves around the stomach that signal fullness to the brain). As a result, patients eat less than they would normally.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

For Tendon Pain, Think Beyond the Needle

Two time-honored remedies for injured tendons seem to be falling on their faces in well-designed clinical trials.

The first, corticosteroid injections into the injured tendon, has been shown to provide only short-term relief, sometimes with poorer long-term results than doing nothing at all.
The second, resting the injured joint, is supposed to prevent matters from getting worse. But it may also fail to make them any better.
Rather, working the joint in a way that doesn’t aggravate the injury but strengthens supporting tissues and stimulates blood flow to the painful area may promote healing faster than “a tincture of time.”
And researchers (supported by my own experience with an injured tendon, as well as that of a friend) suggest that some counterintuitive remedies may work just as well or better.

Toward computers that fit on a pen tip: New technologies usher in the millimeter-scale computing era

Can Exercise Keep You Young?

Related Posts with Thumbnails