Monday, September 30, 2013

Growing Up in a Kenyan Slum Taught Me the Real Value of Stuff

It was only after experiencing the abundance of stuff in the United States that Simon Okelo learned to value life with less, the way he grew up.


Instead of being attracted by anything that is on sale, I find myself thinking how fortunate I am to be in a place where there are so many options. I also feel lucky that I am likely the only person from Manyatta in any Costco store in the world at that moment. Such reminders make me appreciate my purchases and use them sparingly, because I find joy in simplifying my lifestyle. I don’t aim to match the living standards in Manyatta or to live up to the expectations of society in Seattle—I actively practice being conscious about my choices.
Memories of my childhood help—like my neighbors enjoying a cup of water after a long wait, taking each sip as if it were the most delicious and expensive drink in the world. Like them, we could savor our possessions, share what we don’t need, and take pleasure from others’ enjoyment. Consuming just enough.

Steve Jobs Left a Legacy on Personalized Medicine

A type of DNA test the Apple CEO hoped might save his life is becoming widely available.

If you need proof of how information technology is influencing biotech, take a look at Foundation Medicine, the Boston-area diagnostics company that went public on Wednesday.
Its stock price quickly doubled after the IPO. And one reason is surely its links to stratospheric tech names from the West Coast. The company is backed by both Google and Bill Gates, and the core idea behind its technology was once tried out on Apple founder Steve Jobs.
Foundation sells a $5,800 test that looks in detail at the DNA of a person with cancer. The concept is that a comprehensive catalogue of genetic mutations in a person’s tumor will show exactly what’s driving the cancer and help doctors choose what drug will work best (see “Foundation Medicine: Personalizing Cancer Drugs.”)

When Will Gene Therapy Come to the U.S.?

Several gene therapies are or will soon be in late-stage human trials. One of them could be the first to get FDA approval for sale in the U.S.
There are several groups that could be the first to develop a U.S.-approved gene therapy (see table). High’s team is one; they are enrolling patients in a late-stage trial of a treatment for a disorder that causes blindness at an early age. The patients in this trial have previously been given the gene therapy in one eye, and now the other will be tested.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Brain activity shows that some people who invest during financial bubbles are not reckless. They actually think a great deal before jumping in.
The finding is contrary to what some economists have suggested—that financial bubbles are driven by confusion or denial on the part of investors and traders.
“What we find is that the people who are most susceptible to bubbles are not just reckless traders getting caught up in a frenzy,” says Colin Camerer, a professor of behavioral economics at Caltech. “Instead, when there are unusual patterns in trading activity, these people are actually thinking a lot about what it means, and they’re deciding to jump in.”

When Smartphones Do a Doctor’s Job

A simple, cheap way to measure eyesight may face resistance.
The device, called the Netra-G, is based on some clever optics and software Pamplona came up with—a way to measure the refractive error of the eye using a smartphone screen and an inexpensive pair of plastic binoculars. The whole setup might cost a few dollars to make. It does the job of a $5,000 instrument called an autorefractor.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

DNA Double Take

But scientists are discovering that — to a surprising degree — we contain genetic multitudes. Not long ago, researchers had thought it was rare for the cells in a single healthy person to differ genetically in a significant way. But scientists are finding that it’s quite common for an individual to have multiple genomes. Some people, for example, have groups of cells with mutations that are not found in the rest of the body. Some have genomes that came from other people.
One woman discovered she was a chimera as late as age 52. In need of a kidney transplant, she was tested so that she might find a match. The results indicated that she was not the mother of two of her three biological children. It turned out that she had originated from two genomes. One genome gave rise to her blood and some of her eggs; other eggs carried a separate genome.
Women can also gain genomes from their children. After a baby is born, it may leave some fetal cells behind in its mother’s body, where they can travel to different organs and be absorbed into those tissues. “It’s pretty likely that any woman who has been pregnant is a chimera,” Dr. Randolph said.
For genetic counselors helping clients make sense of DNA tests, our many genomes pose more serious challenges. A DNA test that uses blood cells may miss disease-causing mutations in the cells of other organs. “We can’t tell you what else is going on,” said Nancy B. Spinner, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania, who published a review about the implications of mosaicism for genetic counseling in the May issue of Nature Reviews Genetics.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?

Wade’s approach — used schoolwide at Garfield Elementary, in Oakland, Calif. — is part of a strategy known as social-emotional learning, which is based on the idea that emotional skills are crucial to academic performance.
“Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn,” Marc Brackett, a senior research scientist in psychology at Yale University, told a crowd of educators at a conference last June. “They affect our attention and our memory. If you’re very anxious about something, or agitated, how well can you focus on what’s being taught?”
Once a small corner of education theory, S.E.L. has gained traction in recent years, driven in part by concerns over school violence, bullying and teen suicide. But while prevention programs tend to focus on a single problem, the goal of social-emotional learning is grander: to instill a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions.
In the years since, a number of studies have supported this view. So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


A new study contradicts previous research that suggests overweight people have a harder time delaying gratification compared to people who are more lean.
Published in the journal Appetite, the findings show that behavioral interventions designed to improve delay of gratification can work just as well with overweight and obese women as with lean women.
In a study published earlier this year, Epstein and his colleagues demonstrated that overweight and obese women ate less when they were imagining themselves in enjoyable future scenarios and reduced their inclination to engage in delay discounting.
“In the current study, we show that episodic future thinking works equally well in overweight and obese women in comparison to lean women,” says Epstein. “That’s important since several studies have shown that overweight/obese women are more impulsive.
“The fact that projecting oneself into the future and imagining future scenarios works equally well for lean and overweight/obese women is important for designing interventions to reduce impulsive decision making in women who need to lose weight.”

Timing Your Teeth Brushing

Timing Your Teeth Brushing
When It May Be Better to Rinse and Wait

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Value of Suffering

A reflection on suffering by Pico Iyer..Link
And the tear I’d witnessed made me think that you could be strong enough to witness suffering, and yet human enough not to pretend to be master of it. Sometimes it’s those things we least understand that deserve our deepest trust. Isn’t that what love and wonder tell us, too?

The New Science of Mind

In fact, recent newspaper articles have argued that psychiatry is a “semi-science” whose practitioners cannot base their treatment of mental disorders on the same empirical evidence as physicians who treat disorders of the body can. The problem for many people is that we cannot point to the underlying biological bases of most psychiatric disorders. In fact, we are nowhere near understanding them as well as we understand disorders of the liver or the heart.
But this is starting to change.
These results show us four very important things about the biology of mental disorders. First, the neural circuits disturbed by psychiatric disorders are likely to be very complex.
Second, we can identify specific, measurable markers of a mental disorder, and those biomarkers can predict the outcome of two different treatments: psychotherapy and medication.
Third, psychotherapy is a biological treatment, a brain therapy. It produces lasting, detectable physical changes in our brain, much as learning does.
And fourth, the effects of psychotherapy can be studied empirically.
Matthew State, at the University of California, San Francisco, has discovered a remarkable copy number variation involving chromosome 7. An extra copy of a particular segment of this chromosome greatly increases the risk of autism, which is characterized by social isolation. Yet the loss of that same segment results in Williams syndrome, a disorder characterized by intense sociability.

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