Thursday, December 20, 2007

Designs for the poor

Very inspiring. A good thing to read when you're feeling repulsed by being a human being.

updated 9:12 a.m. EST, Thu December 20, 2007
By Steve Mollman, CNN

But for an increasing number of designers, the stakes are even higher elsewhere: global poverty.

Imagine taking the industrial design smarts behind the iPod and applying it to the far more basic technology needs of the extremely poor. In the past, few top designers would have bothered. But that's changing.

At MIT, Stanford, and other universities, young design and engineering talents are eagerly enrolling in courses that teach them how to meet the technology needs of the developing world. Stanford offers a course called "Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability." One of the teachers, David Kelley, is the founder of IDEO, the industrial design firm behind such tech classics as the Palm V PDA and the first production mouse for the Lisa and Macintosh computers from Apple.

Amy B. Smith, an inventor who lectures at MIT, said her course on design for the developing world gets about a hundred applicants, but she can only take 30.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cat Fleas' Journey Into The Vacuum Is A 'One-way Trip'

ScienceDaily (Dec. 17, 2007) — Homeowners dogged by household fleas need look no farther than the broom closet to solve their problem. Scientists have determined that vacuuming kills fleas in all stages of their lives, with an average of 96 percent success in adult fleas and 100 percent destruction of younger fleas.

There are over 2,000 described species of fleas in the world. The most common domestic flea is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis felis). The dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis) appears similar to the cat flea, but is rare in the United States. The sticktight flea (Echidnophaga gallinacea) can become a problem if pets frequent areas associated with poultry.

Girl born with 8 limbs goes home after surgery

updated 11:11 p.m. ET, Sat., Dec. 15, 2007
BANGALORE, India - A 2-year-old girl who was born with four arms and four legs left a hospital in southern India on Saturday little more than a month after surgeons there successfully removed her extra limbs.

The surgeon who led more than 30 doctors in the marathon surgery said Lakshmi was making good progress and should be mobile soon.

"Lakshmi is fine and stable," chief surgeon Dr. Sharan Patil told The Associated Press. "She should face no problem in walking."

U.S. childhood cancer death rate drops sharply

updated 1:48 p.m. ET, Thurs., Dec. 6, 2007
WASHINGTON - The cancer death rate for children in the United States has declined sharply — down 20 percent from 1990 to 2004 — thanks to better treatment of leukemia and other cancers, health officials said on Thursday.

Cancer stands as the leading disease-related cause of death for U.S. children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report. Better treatments are improving survival rates, the CDC said.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Top 11 Warmest Years On Record Have All Been In Last 13 Years

ScienceDaily (Dec. 13, 2007) — The decade of 1998-2007 is the warmest on record, according to data sources obtained by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The global mean surface temperature for 2007 is currently estimated at 0.41°C/0.74°F above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.20°F.
The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850.

Other remarkable global climatic events recorded so far in 2007 include record-low Arctic sea ice extent, which led to first recorded opening of the Canadian Northwest Passage; the relatively small Antarctic Ozone Hole; development of La NiƱa in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific; and devastating floods, drought and storms in many places around the world.


the dog diverged from our ancient common ancestor earlier than the mouse

So we're more closely related to mice than to dogs.

Giving a squirrel a personality test

It takes all kinds, even for squirrles.

Mom's Personality Means Survival For Her Squirrel Pups
ScienceDaily (Dec. 14, 2007) — A recent study indicates that mother squirrels have personalities, and they are essential for the growth rate and survival of her pups.

Researchers at the Kluane Red Squirrel Project found that red squirrels have a range of personalities, from exploratory and aggressive to careful and passive. Both kinds of squirrels persist in the population because neither personality type offers an exclusive advantage for survival.
In years with abundant food, McAdam said, more active squirrels use their extra energy to their advantage and the pups grow faster. When food is sparse, their high-energy lifestyle is costly and the offspring of passive squirrel mothers have the advantage.

“There is a range of personalities in squirrels because the personality that is better for fitness depends on the year,” McAdam said.

Mother squirrel personalities also affected pup survival rates. Pups from aggressive mothers had lower survival rates when they were in their mother’s nest, but it wasn’t clear if it was a result of maternal style or other environmental effects. Once they left the nest, they had better survival rates through the first winter. McAdam said it’s likely that this is because they are better at competing for territories than other pups.

Pre-natal alcohol exposure shapes sensory preference, upping odds of later alcohol use and abuse

Public release date: 12-Dec-2007
Contact: Pam Willenz
American Psychological Association

Pre-natal alcohol exposure shapes sensory preference, upping odds of later alcohol use and abuse
2 studies help explain why teens exposed to fetal alcohol are at high risk for heavy drinking and perpetuating a family cycle of alcohol addiction
WASHINGTON – Young people whose mothers drank when pregnant may be more likely to abuse alcohol because, in the womb, their developing senses came to prefer its taste and smell. Researchers with the State University of New York Developmental Ethanol Research Center have found that because the developing nervous system adapts to whatever mothers eat and drink, young rats exposed to alcohol (ethanol) in the womb drank significantly more alcohol than non-exposed rats.

These findings, covered in two related studies, appear in the December issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association (APA). The studies contribute a critical biological piece to the complex puzzle of why teens with a family history of drinking may themselves drink more. Lead author Steven Youngentob, PhD, observes that a biologically instilled preference for alcohol’s taste and smell can make young people much more likely to abuse alcohol, especially in light of social pressures, risk-taking tendencies and alcohol’s addicting qualities.

These more subtle consequences of fetal alcohol exposure come on top of the potential for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which leads to profound neurodevelopmental problems including mental retardation.

Shooting ourselves in the foot

Public release date: 13-Dec-2007
Contact: Christian Basi
University of Missouri-Columbia

New study suggests why vaccines directed against cancer, HIV don't work
Mizzou, Imperial College London researchers found that chemical markers prevalent on cancer and HIV-infected cells can fool the body and make immune cells and antibodies leave them untouched
COLUMBIA, Mo. ¬— Researchers from the University of Missouri and Imperial College London have found evidence suggesting why vaccines directed against the virus that causes AIDS and many cancers do not work. This research is being published in the Dec. 14 edition of The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

In research spanning more than a decade, Gary Clark, associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health in the MU School of Medicine, and Anne Dell, an investigator at Imperial College London, found that HIV, aggressive cancer cells, H. pylori, and parasitic worms known as schistosomes carry the same carbohydrate sequences as many proteins produced in human sperm.

“It’s our major Achilles heel,” Clark said. “Reproduction is required for the survival of our species. Therefore we are ‘hard-wired’ to protect our sperm and eggs as well as our unborn babies from any type of immune response. Unfortunately, our results suggest that many pathogens and tumor cells also have integrated themselves into this protective system, thus enabling them to resist the human immune response.”

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Antibacterial Chemical Disrupts Hormone Activities

ScienceDaily (Dec. 8, 2007) — A new UC Davis study shows that a common antibacterial chemical added to bath soaps can alter hormonal activity in rats and in human cells in the laboratory--and does so by a previously unreported mechanism.

The findings come as an increasing number of studies -- of both lab animals and humans -- are revealing that some synthetic chemicals in household products can cause health problems by interfering with normal hormone action.

Called endocrine disruptors, or endocrine disrupting substances (EDS), such chemicals have been linked in animal studies to a variety of problems, including cancer, reproductive failure and developmental anomalies.

That's on top of the problem of anti-bacterial soap encouraging the spread of resistant bacteria.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Smaller babies more prone to depression, anxiety later on

Turns out there might be some truth to the popular wisdom that plump babies are happy babies. A landmark public health study has found that people who had a low birth weight are more likely to experience depression and anxiety later in life.

“We found that even people who had just mild or moderate symptoms of depression or anxiety over their life course were smaller babies than those who had better mental health,” said lead author Ian Colman of the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health. “It suggests a dose-response relationship. As birth weight progressively decreases, it’s more likely that an individual will suffer from mood disorders later in life.”

The study, published in the December 2007 issue of Biological Psychiatry, analyzes information drawn from the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development, one of the longest-running cohort studies in the world. The survey tracked more than 4,600 people born in Great Britain in 1946 for symptoms of anxiety and depression over a 40-year period.
The researchers emphasize they are not saying all small babies will experience poor mental health in the future. They also say this study is not about babies born full-term versus babies born premature, since the data collected back in 1946 made no mention of gestational age at birth.

“Being born small isn’t necessarily a problem. It is a problem if you were born small because of adverse conditions in the womb—and low birth weight is what we looked at in this study because it is considered a marker of stress in the womb. When a mother is really stressed, blood flow to the uterus is restricted and the fetus gets fewer nutrients, which tends to lead to lower birth weight,” explained Colman.

At the same time, because the mother is stressed, stress hormones are passing through the placenta to the fetus and may affect the fetus’s neurodevelopment and stress response. “Under these conditions, the part of the child’s brain that deals with stress could be programmed incorrectly in utero—the brain doesn’t develop as it would under ideal circumstances. If this theory is correct, you would find that when stressful events occur, the people who were smaller babies would be more likely to become depressed or anxious,” said Colman.

The hypothesized causes for the correlation are reasonable, and I expect are at least partly responsible. A factor not mentioned is that small babies are more likely to be born to poor mothers. Being poor can make a person more depressed and anxious.

'tween a rock and a hard place

Calcium level may signal risk of mental decline
Those with higher amounts have more cognitive problems, study says

updated 1:49 p.m. ET, Tues., Dec. 4, 2007
NEW YORK - In elderly people, higher levels of calcium in the blood are associated with poorer mental function and faster decline in cognitive ability, Dutch researchers have shown.

Some diseases that increase blood calcium — such as kidney failure, cancer and excessive parathyroid gland activity — could be a factor in the relationship, although it’s also possible that an individual’s calcium “set point” plays a role in cognitive decline with age, note Dr. Miranda D. Schram and colleagues in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Several studies have shown that small but long-term elevations of calcium within nerves and brain cells can kill them, Schram of Leiden University Medical Center and her team point out. Calcium can pass from the blood stream into the brain, they add, but it has not been clear whether blood calcium levels have any relationship to cognitive function.

I take extra calcium/magnesium/D3 because I am a small Caucasian female of a certain age, at risk for osteoporosis. My mother broke her hip and had to have it replaced. Fortunately for my risk factors, I'm not a smoker, which is associated with a higer risk of osteoporosis. Since extra calcium increases the need for magnesium and zinc, both of which I take, perhaps that will lessen the chance of a bad effect on cognitive ability. I sure hope so!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Caffeine Cream Tones Thighs

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – December 5, 2007 -- A new study recently published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology reports on the discovery of caffeine’s novel benefit in slenderizing thighs.

The Brazilian researchers studied 99 women treated with a cream consisting mostly of a 7 percent caffeine solution. The women used the cream twice daily for 30 days.

When the researchers took their subjects’ measurements at the end of the study, the slimming effect was clear. More than 80 percent of the women had a reduction in the circumference of their upper and lower thighs. Nearly 68 percent also reduced their hip measurements.

If this is a true effect, how does it relate to finding of increased IQ in curvy women and their babies?

Nuclear Medicine Procedures Can Trigger Radiation Alarms

RESTON, Va.—Twenty million nuclear medicine procedures that detect and evaluate heart disease, brain disorders and cancer—and that use radiopharmaceuticals to treat overactive thyroids and some cancers—are performed each year.
"Patients undergoing diagnostic procedures are less likely than patients undergoing therapeutic procedures to be informed that they could activate radiation alarms in public places," said Armin Ansari, a health physicist in the radiation studies branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.
Some are even unaware that their procedure involved trace amounts of radioactive materials and that they could indeed trigger radiation detection equipment in public places," said Ansari.

It sounds humorous, but could also lead to a scary situation if they are mistaken for a terrorist.

More Babies Born Prematurely, New Report Shows

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., DECEMBER 5, 2007 – The preterm birth rate rose again in 2005 and preliminary data for 2006 show a continued increase
The preterm birth rate has increased more than 20 percent since 1990. The data can be found at

Prematurity is the leading cause of death in the first month of life, and even late preterm infants have a greater risk of respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), feeding difficulties, temperature instability (hypothermia), jaundice and delayed brain development.

In 2005, preterm birth costs the nation more than $26.2 billion in medical and educational costs and lost productivity. Average first year medical costs were about 10 times greater for preterm than for term infants.

Hiring Practices Influenced by Beauty

Birmingham, U.K. – December 06, 2007 – A new study published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences finds that the attractiveness of interviewees can significantly bias outcome in hiring practices, showing a clear distinction between the attractive and average looking interviewees in terms of high and low status job packages offered.
Female interviewers were found to allocate attractive looking male interviewees more high status job packages than the average looking men. Female interviewers also gave more high status job packages to attractive men than to attractive women. Average looking men also received more low status job packages than average looking women. Male interviewers did not differ in the number of high or low status job packages that were given to attractive looking interviewees of either sex, though the male interviewers gave out more low status job packages overall, irrespective of the sex of the interviewee.

I admit I'm surprised that the "Male interviewers did not differ in the number of high or low status job packages that were given to attractive looking interviewees of either sex", although males tending to be more competitive, it's not surprising that "the male interviewers gave out more low status job packages overall, irrespective of the sex of the interviewee", although I can't claim I had ever thought about that aspect of the situation.

However, since the article also sited an increased electrodermal response (EDR), showing increased emotion, when a male interviewer assigned the low status job packages to the attractive female candidates, it wouldn't be interesting to know whether things might be different if the males were in a natural setting, and not being part of an experiment.