Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Methadone : a potent killer

Some of you might have heard about the death of former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith. Apparently a doctor in Studio City prescribed methadone to Smith for pain treatment before she was found dead Feb. 8 in her Hollywood, Fla., hotel suite. Months earlier, Smith's 20-year-old son died in the Bahamas after taking a lethal mixture of methadone and two antidepressants, Zoloft and Lexapro.

Methadone is a synthetic opioid, used medically as an analgesic and in the treatment of narcotic addiction. It was developed in Germany in 1937, and in the USA was first brought to market by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company. Methadone is increasingly being prescribed by doctors as a pain medication and abused by drug users searching for a cheap, easy way to get high, physicians and federal drug officials say.

Methadone can linger in body tissue for an unusually long time — 24 to 59 hours in some cases. Sometimes users assume it has worn off, then take other drugs or more methadone, leading to respiratory depression, coma and eventual death. Here is the methadone factsheet from White House Drug Policy.

Truly an ironic turn in the history of methadone, which for years has been used to treat heroin addiction.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Brain functions actually improve with age

The aging brain is subject to a dreary litany of changes. It shrinks, Swiss cheese-like holes grow, connections between neurons become sparser, blood flow and oxygen supply fall. That leads to trouble with short-term memory and rapidly switching attention, among other problems. And that's in a healthy brain.

But it's not all doom and gloom. An emerging body of research shows that a surprising array of mental functions hold up well into old age, while others actually get better. Vocabulary improves, as do other verbal abilities such as facility with synonyms and antonyms. Older brains are packed with more so-called expert knowledge _ information relevant to your occupation or hobby. (Older bridge enthusiasts have at their mental beck-and-call many more bids and responses.) They also store more "cognitive templates," or mental outlines of generic problems and solutions that can be tapped when confronting new problems.

Eric Kandel, 77 years old, who shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in medicine, maintains an active lab at Columbia University and mentors younger scientists. "I think I do science better than I did when I was younger," he says. "In science, judgment is so important, and I now have a better understanding of which problems are important and which aren't."

Growing awareness that old brains aren't necessarily senile brains is already fueling a slew of consumer offerings. Brain exercises developed for older adults by Posit Science Corp. in San Francisco are being offered by retirement communities, senior centers and assisted-living facilities, as well as by insurers such as Humana to their Medicare enrollees. The computer-based program includes exercises intended to improve memory and attention, as well as sharpness of hearing. Continuing, peer-reviewed studies conducted by Posit scientists suggest it can roll back the mental agility calendar by at least a decade.

Some retirement communities and assisted-living centers are installing a touch-screen-based cognitive fitness program developed by Dakim Inc. of Santa Monica, Calif., that gives seniors practice on seven cognitive skills, including language and the kind of visual-spatial processing that helps you read a map. The system uses "age-appropriate" film and audio clips, such as Jimmy Stewart movies, as the basis for short-term memory exercises and adds new exercises every 24 to 48 hours.

Discoveries of brain functions that hold up, or even improve, through the decades could affect corporate and public policy. As baby boomers age, many are resisting mandatory retirement. In January, a special committee of the New York State Bar Association recommended that law firms abandon the practice. Air-traffic controllers are asking federal agencies to reconsider the requirement that they retire at age 55, and the Federal Aviation Administration in January proposed pushing back the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots, which is currently 60.

The emerging neuroscience is on their side. One of the most robust cognitive abilities is semantic memory, which is recollection of facts and figures. "Semantic memory is relatively resistant to the effects of aging," says psychology professor Arthur Kramer of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Semantic memory includes vocabulary, which increases with age so reliably (at least in people who continue reading) that a younger person should never challenge a sharp 75-year-old to a crossword puzzle.

Expert knowledge _ information about an occupational or even hobbyist specialty _ resists the effects of aging, too, which is why mumbling "accrued postretirement liabilities" to an 80-year-old actuary makes his relevant synapses fire as robustly as they did at age 40. Synapses that encode expert knowledge "are written in stone," says neuroscientist John Morrison of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

The longevity of expert knowledge and cognitive templates lies behind the finding that air-traffic controllers in their 60s are at least as skilled as those in their 30s. When Prof. Kramer of Illinois and a colleague at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave older controllers standard lab tests for reaction speed, memory, attention and the like, they found the usual: Performance declined compared with that of 30-somethings.

But on more fast-paced, complex _ and hence realistic _ tests in which they juggled multiple airliners and handled emergencies, the senior controllers did as well as or better than the young ones. They kept simulated planes safely away from each other, and when they ordered planes to change their altitude, heading or speed to avoid a collision, they used fewer commands than younger ones. It was as if their experience had equipped them with the most efficient algorithm for keeping the planes safely spaced.

"Their experience and their knowledge of aircraft types and strategies they've used for years can compensate for a decline in these other abilities," says Prof. Kramer, who has submitted the study to a science journal. The findings, he says, suggest the need to revisit "the whole notion of when we need to retire people, since their ability to do these complex tasks resists decline."

That 60-somethings can mentally juggle multiple 747s seems to go against the idea that aging hurts the ability to pay attention. But studies show that selective attention, the ability to focus on something and resist distractions, doesn't decline with age. For controllers, that means they can focus on planes in their sector despite a hubbub of activity in the control tower. For other seniors, it means no problem keeping eyes and mind on a highway despite flashing road signs or noisy passengers.

The biggest benefit of an older brain is that fewer real-life challenges require deliberate, effortful problem-solving. Where once it took hours of methodical scrutiny to understand a prospectus, for instance, older lawyers and investment bankers can zoom in on crucial sections and fit them into what they already know.

Elkhonon Goldberg, a neuropsychologist who has a private practice and is a professor at New York University School of Medicine, finds that he can also grasp the essence of data presented in scientific papers more readily than he once could, something that more than makes up for losses in other mental realms. "I am not nearly as good at laborious, grinding, focused mental computations," he says, "but then again, I do not experience the need to resort to them nearly as often."

While younger brains solve problems step-by-step, older brains call on cognitive templates, those generic outlines of a problem and a solution that worked before. It's the feeling you get when you see that a new situation or problem belongs to a class of situations or problems you have encountered before, with the result that you don't have to attack them methodically. Yes, older people forget little things, and may have occasional attention lapses, but their cognitive templates are so rich that they more than hold their own. Their brains can keep up even with a diminished supply of blood and oxygen.

As a result, older professionals can readily separate what's important from what's not, a big reason so many of them fire on all cognitive cylinders well past age 65. "I'd say that the ability to make a significant contribution as a lawyer actually increases with time, experience and age," says attorney Mark Zauderer, 60, a partner in the New York law firm Flemming Zulack Williamson Zauderer.

In complex business litigation, he says, where pretrial discovery can yield enough documents to fill a warehouse, "a lawyer must be able to sort the wheat from the chaff, to take all these facts and extract only those that support winning themes. A senior lawyer is in the best position to do that, and to have the courage to discard facts _ even those on your side _ that will only distract the court or the jury."

"Some things you just need to grind into your system for many years until they become automatic and seemingly effortless," says Naftali Raz of the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University in Detroit. "That may be the key. Automatic functions are least sensitive to aging. So, if the decisions are based on knowledge and skill, older folks may have an advantage over younger decision makers just because they have to do less mental heavy lifting."

More research is coming. Although studies on aging have long focused on diseases such as Alzheimer's, scientists are increasingly investigating healthy aging, trying to discover which factors allow some people to resist the usual ravages of time, and to get a better sense of how well older adults can function. The National Institutes of Health, the nation's leading funder of biomedical research, doesn't break out "healthy aging" as a separate budget item, but spokeswoman Linda Joy says that more funding is going to studies of people who reach their 60s, 70s and beyond with little or no disease. Scientists hope that by identifying which mental functions are largely untouched by aging, they will be able to develop treatments or exercises to shore up functions that do deteriorate.

The benefits that come to the mind and brain with age extend beyond thinking. They also include a greater ability to put yourself in another person's mind, empathizing and understanding his thought processes _ emotional wisdom. Civil engineer Samuel Florman, 81, remains active in his Scarsdale, N.Y., construction company and says that as he has grown older, he "has gotten better with people, more understanding of young people and more patient with aggressive ones. I'm more savvy about when to rush and when not to."

That likely reflects the older brain's greater control over emotions, especially negative ones such as impatience and anger. A 2006 study of 250 people ranging in age from adolescence to their late 70s documented for the first time "positive changes in the emotional brain," according to the Society for Neuroscience, which publishes the Journal of Neuroscience. In the experiment, Leanne Williams of the University of Sydney showed the volunteers pictures of faces expressing emotions. Using fMRI brain imaging, it was found that circuits in "medial prefrontal" areas _ right behind the forehead _ were more active in older people than younger people when processing negative emotional expressions. The greater activity suggests better control of reactions to other people's anger, fear and the like. This greater sensitivity seems to translate into decreasing neuroticism, and greater emotional equanimity.

That doesn't mean older brains flatline when it comes to sensitivity. Instead, they often show a keen emotional intelligence and ability to judge character. Elderly volunteers given a list of behaviors that describe a made-up person ignored irrelevant information (favorite color, place of birth) when asked to judge the person's character and focused on revealing traits better than younger people did, according to research by Thomas Hess, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University. They were more likely to infer correctly that the person was dishonest, kind or intelligent _ a skill that is arguably more important than the ability to memorize a list of words in a lab experiment.

Source : The Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Gene Association Studies Typically Wrong

Gene Association Studies Typically Wrong...Trikalinos and other researchers are working to understand why so many studies can't be replicated.

read more | digg story

Monday, February 19, 2007

Scientists Grow Teeth From Single Cells

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Japanese researchers said on Sunday they had grown normal-looking teeth from single cells in lab dishes, and transplanted them into mice.They used primitive cells, not quite as early as stem cells, and injected them into a framework of collagen, the material that holds the body together.After growing them, they found their structures had matured into the components that make teeth, including dentin, enamel, dental pulp, blood vessels, and periodontal ligaments.They were "arranged appropriately when compared with a natural tooth," the researchers reported in the journal Nature Methods.The teeth grew and developed normally when transplanted into a mouse, said Takashi Tsuji of the Tokyo University of Science in Chiba, Japan and colleagues.They said their method was the first to show an entire organ could be replaced using just a few cells."To restore the partial loss of organ function, stem cell transplantation therapies have been developed," they wrote."The ultimate goal of regenerative therapy, however, is to develop fully functioning bioengineered organs that can replace lost or damaged organs after disease, injury or aging."The researchers went after the "organ germ" -- the early cells made using partially differentiated cells known as epithelial and mesenchymal cells. In this case the cells were taken from what is known as the tooth germ, the little bud that appears before an animal grows a tooth."Our reconstituted tooth germ generates a complete and entirely bioengineered tooth," they wrote."This study thus provides the first evidence of a successful reconstitution of an entire organ via the transplantation of bioengineered material," they added."Our present findings should also encourage the future development of organ replacement by regenerative therapy."*Reuters.com

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Study Finds 2 New Genetic Links to Autism - Better Treatment Follows?

In the most extensive findings to date on the genetics of autism, scientists have pinpointed two new genetic links that may predispose children to develop the complex brain disorder. The scientists hope that nailing down the genetics of autism will lead to better ways to diagnose it and focus efforts on developing drugs to treat it.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Doctors seek to regrow parts of fingers

Doctors seek to regrow parts of fingers from PhysOrg.com

Doctors at a Texas military base are testing a procedure on wounded Iraq veterans that may allow them to regrow portions of lost fingers.

Doctors at a Texas military base are testing a procedure on wounded Iraq veterans that may allow them to regrow portions of lost fingers.
The procedure involves treatments with a fine powder called extracellular matrix, which is taken from the bladders of pigs, the Wall Street Journal said. The substance is what cells latch on to in mammals to allow them to divide and grow into tissue.

Scientists who developed the procedure say the substance appears to activate latent biological processes in humans that encourage healing and tissue regeneration. They said the processes are active in human fetuses, which have the ability to regenerate and grow new parts, but the ability becomes dormant after birth.

"Fetuses can regenerate just about everything," said Stephen Badylak, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. "If those signals are there, how can we turn them back on?"

David Baer, manager of the U.S. Army unit's bone and soft-tissue program, said the team does not expect soldiers to regrow whole fingers.

"We'd love to see bone, but we don't know," Baer said. The hope is for an inch of soft tissue, with blood vessels and nerves, that soldiers can pinch their thumbs against and restore some function.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Why The Ugly Girl is Pretty When You're Drunk

LOL.... funny isn't it... read it.Many of us have heard of the so-called "beer goggle" effect. It's the phenomenon that occurs when someone's had a few alcoholic drinks and suddenly, all of those people who looked semi-attractive on entering the bar look really, really appealing. Scientists have shown that it's not just a lowering of standards -- alcohol actually stimulates the part of the brain that judges facial attractiveness.In 2002, researchers at St. Andrews University and Glasgow University in Scotland took 80 college students and had half of them drink a "moderate" amount of alcohol -- between one and four servings, depending on gender and body weight. The other half, the control group, remained sober. Scientists showed each subject pictures of people of the opposite sex. In all cases -- male and female alike -- the experimental (tipsy) group rated each picture an average of 25 percent more attractive than the sober group did.

read more | digg story

Friday, February 9, 2007

Doctors Don't Always Tell You All Treatment Options

According to a new survey conducted by the University of Chicago, a meaningful subgroup of physicians feel that they do not have an obligation to tell patients about treatments, such as abortion and birth control for minors, they oppose on religious or moral grounds.

read more | digg story

Autism : Early diagnosis and intervention is key to improvement

More than half-million U.S. children autistic

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

One out of every 150 American eight-year-olds has some form of autism, meaning that 560,000 children in the country have the disorder, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday.

That's a higher prevalence than prior estimates, drawn from a number of countries, that had pegged rates at between 1 in 500 and 1 in 166 children, according to the CDC.

"Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a major public health issue," Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, CDC's chief of the Developmental Disabilities Branch, said during a teleconference about the figures.

The full report is published in the Feb. 9 issue of the agency's journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Overall, some 17 percent of U.S. children have some form of developmental disability, ranging from mild disability, such as speech and language problems, to serious developmental problems, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy and autism, Yeargin-Allsopp said.

The reasons for the increase in autism spectrum disorders isn't clear, added Catherine Rice, a behavioral scientist at the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. "It is difficult to determine exactly what is going on," Rice said during the teleconference. "Is this a change in the way ASDs are identified, or is there an increase for the people at risk for ASDs, such that there is a real increase in the conditions?" she asked.

Rice noted that the definition of these disorders has changed over time. It now includes, in addition to classic autism, Asperger syndrome and other pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified.

The CDC data also suggest that there are widespread delays in diagnosing autism spectrum disorders. "The majority of children with an ASD had documented concerns by a parent or a professional before three years of age," Rice noted. "But the median age of earliest ASD diagnosis was approximately four and a half to five and a half years," she said.

To establish the nationwide prevalence of autism spectrum disorders, the CDC looked at school and medical records of children in 2000 and 2002. In 2002, their survey included 10 percent of U.S. eight-year-old children born in 1994 in 14 states, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The researchers calculated that a total of 2,685 eight-year-olds had autism or a related disorder.

There was a difference in the prevalence of these conditions across states, Rice noted. In 2000, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders ranged from 4.5 per thousand in West Virginia to 9.9 per thousand in New Jersey, she said.

"Autism prevalence is higher in boys aged eight years than in girls the same age," Rice added. The data indicate that for every girl with an autistic condition, there are three to seven boys with such a disorder, she noted.

In addition, autism spectrum disorders are common among mentally retarded children -- those with an IQ of 70 or less, Rice said. "Between 33 percent and 62 percent of children with an ASD had cognitive impairment," she said.

The CDC is now conducting a study to try to identify the environmental factors that may put children at risk for autism.

One expert believes that earlier diagnosis is essential to help these children.

"This tells us there are an enormous number of children with autism," said Dr. Gary Goldstein, chair of the scientific affairs committee at the advocacy group Autism Speaks, and president and CEO of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, which focuses on pediatric mental health.

Goldstein is particularly concerned that most children with an autism spectrum disorder aren't diagnosed until they start school, despite parents raising concerns years before. "We know that early intervention can be helpful for these children, and it's not going to happen if you're not diagnosed until you are five years old," he said.

These problems can be diagnosed as early as age two, Goldstein said. "It isn't that children begin to show signs of autism at four and five -- all of them who have it at six, had it at two. With proper screening, many more children would be recognized," he said.

In addition, autism and disorders like it are largely genetic conditions, Goldstein said. "If you knew you had it, and you know that your child has a 10 to 15 percent risk of having it, you could use that information," he said.

However, the causes of the various forms of autism aren't known and may be different for each, Goldstein said. "Right now, we have lumped then all in one bucket," he said.

More research is needed to find the causes and treatments for autism, Goldstein said. "By doing the genetic studies and the environmental studies, within a decade, hopefully, we are going to have some real answers," he said. "We don't have prevention, and we don't have treatment right now."

Source : http://www.healthfinder.gov/

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Drinking ice water to lose weight

For anyone trying to lose weight, this question is an exciting one! If you simply want to know if your body burns calories warming up the water, the answer is yes. But if you want to know if drinking a lot of ice water can help you lose weight, or keep weight off, this "yes" needs to be qualified with some calculations.

First of all, calories are case-sensitive. There are calories and then there are Calories. Calories with a big "c" are the ones used to describe the amount of energy contained in foods. A calorie with a little "c" is defined as the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius.

What most people think of as a Calorie is actually a kilo-calorie: It takes one Calorie to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius. So when you drink a 140-Calorie can of cola, you are ingesting 140,000 calories. There is no cause for alarm, because the conversion applies across the board. When you burn 100 Calories jogging a mile, you are burning 100,000 calories.

So, considering that the definition of a calorie is based on raising the temperature of water, it is safe to say that your body burns calories when it has to raise the temperature of ice water to your body temperature. And unless your urine is coming out ice cold, your body must be raising the temperature of the water. So calories are being burned.

Let's figure out exactly what you're burning when you drink a 16-ounce (0.5 liter) glass of ice water:

  • The temperature of ice water can be estimated at zero degrees Celsius.
  • Body temperature can be estimated at 37 degrees Celsius.
  • It takes 1 calorie to raise 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius.
  • There are 473.18 grams in 16 fluid ounces of water.

So in the case of a 16-ounce glass of ice water, your body must raise the temperature of 473.18 grams of water from zero to 37 degrees C. In doing so, your body burns 17,508 calories. But that's calories with a little "c." Your body only burns 17.5 Calories, and in the grand scheme of a 2,000-Calorie diet, that 17.5 isn't very significant.

But let's say you adhere to the "eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day" nutritional recommendation. In 64 ounces of water, there are 1,892.72 grams. So to warm up all that water in the course of a day, your body burns 70,030 calories, or 70 Calories. And over time, that 70 Calories a day adds up. So, while you definitely shouldn't depend on ice water consumption to replace exercise or a healthy diet, drinking cold water instead of warm water does, in fact, burn some extra Calories!

Source : http://www.howstuffworks.com

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Dichloroacetate as an anti cancer?

According to a post on ForumSains.com, scientists might have found an anti cancer agent. Though it's not yet tested on human this sounds really promising.

Bonnet from University of Alberta, Canada tested DCA on human cells cultured outside the body where it killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but left healthy cells alone. Rats plump with tumors shrank when they were fed water supplemented with DCA. Cancer cells don't use the little power stations found in most human cells - the mitochondria. Instead, they use glycolysis, which is less effective and more wasteful.

If you really are interested you could see the discussion about DCA and cancer or go the DCA research homepage.