Thursday, December 29, 2005

Words to love

I love words. An easy way to learn a new word each day is to sign up for Word of the Day on Google's new personalized home page. Here are some words from the past week. It would be great to hear these words used more often in our day-to-day speech, or at least see them in an email or two:

digerati: persons knowledgeable about computers. confrere: a colleague, comrade, or intimate associate. querulous: habitually complaining; also, expressing complaint. vociferous: clamorous; noisy. firmament: the sky; the heavens. jollification: merrymaking; revelry. benefaction: the act of conferring a benefit; also, a benefit conferred. apposite: of striking appropriateness and relevance. cynosure: a center of attention.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Electromagnetic waves = fast minus circuitry

If you are trying to imagine just how fast information will move in the future, check this out:

Georgia Tech [this is one awesome place] says, "By using electromagnetic waves instead of electrical current for switching, researchers have operated an optical modulator at terahertz frequencies – an accomplishment that could one day facilitate data transmission rates in the trillions of bits per second.

To gain those higher rates, researchers at GT and at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the NASA Ames Research Center "used very high-frequency waves from a free-electron laser to control the modulator. These electromagnetic waves consist of an oscillating electric field and have the advantage of being able to move through free space without the need for circuitry."

This is some cool finding - and the work represents a key step toward a new generation of optical communication systems that would be as much as 100 times faster than current technology. For more information, visit

Nanotechnology supervised

Recent nanotechnology conversations point to understanding what happens to nano materials when used in the human body.

Now, scientists at Northwestern University have "devised a noninvasive method of imaging these nanostructured materials within the body, providing a way of tracking the fate of these materials in a living organism. These researchers have been developing a toolbox of synthetic amino acids (related to building blocks of proteins) that assemble themselves into complex structures that may prove useful in drug delivery and tissue engineering applications. To learn more, visit

In addition, watchdog Pew Charitable Trusts recently launched "Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to ensure that the federal government and the private sector address the potential human health and environmental risks as well as the benefits of emerging nanotechnologies. The project works with industry, the government, and the scientific and public interest communities to identify gaps in nanotechnology risk-assessment research and oversight and to develop strategies to address them." To learn more, visit Pew Charitable Trusts.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent design violates Constitution

Here's one for science:

A report on CNN says, "Pennsylvania school district cannot teach in science classes a concept that says some aspects of science were created by a supernatural being, a federal judge has ruled. In an opinion issued Tuesday, US District Judge John Jones ruled that teaching "intelligent design" would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. 'We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents,' Jones writes in his 139-page opinion posted on the court's Web site. 'To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions,' Jones writes.
Intelligent design claims the complexity of some systems of nature cannot be explained by evolution but must be attributed to a designer or supernatural being."

That's all, just the judge on this one.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Evo devo - mutations, passive evolution benefits

Taking a look at genetics topics today, and I am intrigued by what scientists are intrigued by and what gets them going - so here is some news that excites some geneticists.

According to a news release from Georgia Tech, biologists there have "provided scientific support for a controversial hypothesis that has divided the fields of evolutionary genomics and evolutionary developmental biology, popularly known as 'evo devo," for two years. Appearing in Trends in Genetics, researchers find that the size and complexity of a species’ genome is not an evolutionary adaptation per se, but can result as simply a consequence of a reduction in a species’ effective population size."

Scientists Soojin Yi says, “The interesting thing here is that biological complexity may passively evolve. We show that at the origins, it’s not adaptive mutations, but slightly bad ones that make the genome larger. But if you have a large genome, there is more genetic material to play with to make something useful. At first, maybe these mutations aren’t so good for your genome, but as they accumulate and conditions change through evolution, they could become more complex and more beneficial.”

Scientist J. Todd Streelman says, “As a general rule, more complex organisms, like humans, have larger genomes than less complex ones. You might think this means that animals with the largest genomes are the most complex – and for the most part that would be right. But it’s not always true. There are some species of frogs and some amoeba that have much larger genomes than humans.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Genome mapping leads to atlas for cancer

A lot of work went into mapping the human genome, and now an ambitious team of scientists will take this knowledge and apply it to new cancer discoveries.

The National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute today launched a comprehensive effort to accelerate the understanding of the molecular basis of cancer through the application of genome analysis technologies, especially large-scale genome sequencing. The overall effort, called The Cancer Genome Atlas, will begin with a pilot project to determine the feasibility of a full-scale effort to systematically explore the universe of genomic changes involved in all types of human cancer.

According to National Intitutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni, “This atlas of genomic changes will provide new insights into the biological basis of cancer, which in turn will lead to new tests to detect cancer in its early, most treatable stages; new therapies to target cancer at its most vulnerable points; and, ultimately, new strategies to prevent cancer.” Find the government's news release at the NIH web site.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Dust-speck size container delivers drugs

Back to the topic of small delivery channels for medical purposes.

A Eurekalert press release from Johns Hopkins says researchers have "devised a self-assembling cube-shaped perforated container, no larger than a dust speck, that could serve as a delivery system for medications and cell therapy." The researchers report in Biomedical Microdevices that "the relatively inexpensive microcontainers can be mass-produced through a process that mixes electronic chip-making techniques with basic chemistry. Because of their metallic nature, the cubic container's location in the body could easily be tracked by magnetic resonance imaging."

One Hopkins scientist says, "We're talking about an entirely new encapsulation and delivery device that could lead to a new generation of 'smart pills.' The long-term goal is to be able to implant a collection of these therapeutic containers directly at the site or an injury or an illness."

Check out this new nanotechnology advances of David Gracias' at his Hopkins web site.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Blue Brain and the eServer Blue Gene

As I have mentioned before, researchers in Switzerland recently launched an ambitious project called Blue Brain, which uses IBM's eServer Blue Gene, a supercomputer capable of processing 22.8 trillion floating point operations per second (TFLOPS).

States the Computerworld article: The Blue Brain project is modeling the behavior of 10,000 highly complex neurons in rats' neocortical columns (NCC), which are very similar to the NCCs in a human brain. The NCCs run throughout the brain's gray matter and perform advanced computing. The first objective of Blue Brain is to build an accurate software replica, or template, of an NCC within two to three years.

What I find interesting is that the researchers say that "some major brain experiments could be done in silicon rather than in a "wet" lab. A simulation that might take seconds on the supercomputer could replace a full day's worth of lab research. Ultimately, simulated results of brain activity could be matched with recorded brain activity in a person with a disease in order to "reverse-engineer" the circuit changes in diseases. The real value of a simulation is that researchers can have access to data for every single neuron," IBM researcher say.

The future of acadmic medicine is anyone's guess - can these academics keep up with the new technoglogy available?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Electronic ink: packaging messages

I am intrigued by this technology and what it will look like in our everyday lives in the future. In a story in Fortune magazine:

"Digital paper has a long history of unfulfilled promise. But the wait for "electronic ink" may be coming to an end. E Ink, a spinout from MIT's Media Lab, announced in October that it has, together with LG Philips LCD, built a new flexible 10.1-inch display that is about the thickness of construction paper and has the resolution of a standard desktop monitor. Already last spring Microsoft used a color version of E Ink's technology to light up the packaging of Xbox game Jade Empire. Siemens is using an entirely different technology—electrochromatic polymers - a "wafer thin" color display that can deliver video, something the slightly higher-resolution E Ink technology can't yet manage. "I've gotten a lot of interest from advertising agencies," says Norbert Aschenbrenner of Siemens. So, long before Tolstoy fans get a one-page, foldable version of War and Peace, grocery shoppers should see Tony the Tiger waving madly at them from the Frosted Flakes box on aisle four. "

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Measurement nails greenhouse effect

I am back on the global warming beat with a new report from Science.

The new study states that global ocean levels are rising twice as fast today as they were 150 years ago, and human-induced warming appears to be the culprit.

While the speed at which the ocean is rising, almost two millimeters per year today compared to one millimeter annually for the past several thousand years, affirms scientific concerns of accelerated global warming, the scientists say.

The press release on Eurekalert says, Rutgers professor of geological sciences Kenneth G. Miller reports on a new record of sea level change during the past 100 million years based on drilling studies along the New Jersey coast. The findings establish a steady millimeter-per-year rise from 5,000 years ago until about 200 years ago. In contrast, sea-level measurements since 1850 from tidal gauges and more recently from satellite images, when corrected for land settling along the shoreline, reveal the current two-millimeter annual rise.

"Without reliable information on how sea levels had changed before we had our new measures, we couldn't be sure the current rate wasn't happening all along," says Miller. "Now, with solid historical data, we know it is definitely a recent phenomenon. The main thing that's changed since the 19th century and the beginning of modern observation has been the widespread increase in fossil fuel use and more greenhouse gases," he adds. "Our record therefore provides a new and reliable baseline to use in addressing global warming."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sound and the modern hospital

Sometimes the obvious gets studied. This study's findings show that hospital noise levels have grown steadily over the past five decades, disturbing patients and staff members, raising the risk of medical errors and hindering efforts to modernize hospitals with speech recognition systems. Some studies even indicate that excessive noise can slow the pace of healing and contribute to stress and burnout among hospital workers.

Now that hospitals are competing for patients, they are looking for the competitive advantage. This means that a hospital that reduces its noise level may improve satisfaction and outcomes. Researchers say, "A noisy intensive care unit introduces patient, family and staff dissatisfaction. It has also been reported that noise can contribute to lapses in short-term memory, which could then introduce safety concerns. "

Check out the study by Johns Hopkins researchers and learn more about James West who "turned a tiny microphone into a very big career. The Hopkins research professor has already revolutionized the field of electroacoustics. Now he's setting his sights on medicine, the Internet, and beyond."

Saturday, November 12, 2005

What rats and humans have in common

I have reported scientific findings for quite some time, but I am always intrigued by how scientists extrapolate findings from mice and rats to humans.

Actually, these rodents are good models to study, but I love the reporting when when a new finding emerges, such as this one:

Scientists at McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida say (or at least their public relations reps say) "People don't have to run marathons to keep their brain cells in shape - regular, light activity may do the trick. In the first study to show that lifelong exercise decreases cellular aging in the brain, scientists say that moderately active rats have healthier DNA and more robust brain cells than their less active counterparts." In just one sentence we moved from rats to people - both with "regular, light activity" with improved brain cell activity.
The research was presented at the Society for Neuroscience's 35th annual meeting.

I do love this quote from one researcher: "The difference between humans and rats is that it isn't as easy to get humans to exercise. Put an exercise wheel in a rat cage and a rat will zoom around on that thing all the time, unless it's sleeping. But putting an exercise machine in your family room doesn't mean you're going to use it."

Monday, November 07, 2005

NCI uses nanotech to find molecular signatures

Everything is pointing to nanotechnology in medicine, including on the cancer front:

Wired Magazine covers nanotechnology and cancer. It states that "the National Cancer Institute, which recently announced two waves of funding for nanotech training and research, sees nanotechnology as vital to its stated goal of 'eliminating suffering and death from cancer by 2015.'"

Wired continues with, "The first cancer nanotech applications will likely involve detection. Nanoparticles could recognize cancer's molecular signatures, gathering the proteins produced by cancerous cells or signaling the presence of telltale genetic changes. Researchers have already used a protein called albumin -- considered a naturally occurring nanoparticle -- to detect proteins found in ovarian cancer tissue. Other nanoparticles could adhere to cancerous cells and, when viewed under a magnetic resonance imager or fluorescent light, reveal cancers now hidden to our eyes. How soon these cancer nanotechnologies will be commercially available is hard to guess. Though the NCI's Cancer Nanotechnology Plan calls for clinical trials on out-of-body applications within three years, and trials on in-body therapies and diagnostics within five years, researchers are cautious about promising too much."

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Brain's internal clocks and timing

Let's take a look at an interesting finding on the brain - from a new Nature Reviews Neuroscience article. This report gives new meaning to "internal clock!"

"The brain is a 'time machine,' say Duke neuroscientists Catalin Buhusi and Warren Meck. And understanding how the brain tracks time is essential to understanding all its functions. The brain's internal clocks coordinate a vast array of activities from communicating, to orchestrating movement, to getting food. Buhusi and Meck discuss the current state of understanding of one of the brain's most important, and mysterious, clocks - the one governing timing intervals in the seconds to minutes range. Such interval timing occupies the middle neurological ground between two other clocks - the circadian clock that operates over the 24-hour light-dark cycle, and the millisecond clock that is crucial for such functions as motor control and speech generation and recognition."

Meck says, "We're addressing two challenges. One is to find the molecular processes that underlie this internal clock. And the second challenge is to build more realistic models of how this timing process works, with constant, parallel input from throughout the brain." In these studies, the researchers say they "face the daunting process of trying to monitor the intricate swirling of neural activity throughout the entire brain."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Nanotechnology and buckypaper

On the topic of nanotechnology, FSU researchers provide some fun facts below.

Among the possible uses for buckypaper that are being researched at FAC2T at FSU:

If exposed to an electric charge, buckypaper could be used to illuminate computer and television screens. It would be more energy-efficient, lighter, and would allow for a more uniform level of brightness than current cathode ray tube (CRT) and liquid crystal display (LCD) technology.

As one of the most thermally conductive materials known, buckypaper lends itself to the development of heat sinks that would allow computers and other electronic equipment to disperse heat more efficiently than is currently possible. This, in turn, could lead to even greater advances in electronic miniaturization.

Because it has an unusually high current-carrying capacity, a film made from buckypaper could be applied to the exteriors of airplanes. Lightning strikes then would flow around the plane and dissipate without causing damage.

Films also could protect electronic circuits and devices within airplanes from electromagnetic interference, which can damage equipment and alter settings. Similarly, such films could allow military aircraft to shield their electromagnetic "signatures," which can be detected via radar.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Neuromarketers test thoughts

According to my scan of the news, marketers already seem to know a lot about how we think, but what if they could actually watch our brains work as they test their products?

In an experiment last year, a researcher scanned volunteers' brains as they drank samples of Coke and Pepsi. When the colas were not identified, the tasters showed no particular preference for either. But when they were shown the iconic red-and-white label, they expressed a huge preference for Coke, irrespective of which cola they were actually sampling.

Coke's logo, the scans showed, lit up areas in the brain associated with pleasure expectation in a way that Pepsi's did not. Montague's conclusion: Coke's more pervasive brand marketing affected volunteers' preferences in ways they didn't realize - even if they were normally Pepsi drinkers.

And, neuroimaging is also extending into the fields of politics and commerce. FKF Applied Research, a company that uses fMRI to study decision making, found differences in brain activity between Bush and Kerry voters when they were shown political advertisements. Leadership qualities are under study by looking at how people's brains respond to an image of someone they would be willing to follow compared with that of someone they would not.

To learn more about neuromarketing, go to TIME.

Friday, October 07, 2005

AI covers doctor's post

Here is an interesting story about using artificial intelligence to mimic doctors in the an intensive care unit of a hospital.

The coverage on Biotechnology Channel says, "A team of systems engineers from the University of Sheffield is developing an intelligent computer system which imitates a doctor's brain to make treatment decisions for intensive care patients. The system will take some of the workload from emergency medical teams by monitoring patients' vital signs and then evaluating and administering the right amounts of different drugs needed - a job usually carried out by specialist medical doctors.

The system models all the possible interactions between different drugs and patients' bodies, and then makes intelligent decisions about the best way to treat patients during heart bypass operations, and post-operatively. This unique system can decide on the types and quantities of drugs to give to patients in a matter of seconds.

The researchers say the system's ability to learn, adapt, and make informed decisions is unique: This new system not only monitors and treats critical patients, but it can also learn from the experiences of medical staff, who can override the machine at any time. If overridden, the system assimilates the doctor's input and uses the new information to make decisions about similar cases in the future."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

More clues on recent hurricanes' intensity

More on the recent hurricanes in the Gulf:

Scientists monitoring ocean heat and circulation in the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have a new understanding of how these tropical storms can gain intensity so quickly: The Gulf of Mexico's "Loop Current" is likely intensifying hurricanes that pass over eddies of warm water that spin off the main current.

The Loop Current is a horseshoe-shaped feature that flows clockwise, transferring warm subtropical waters from the Caribbean Sea through the Yucatan Straits into the Gulf of Mexico.
After Hurricane Katrina and a week before Hurricane Rita scientists deployed Airborne Expendable Conductivity, Temperature and Depth profilers; Current Profilers; and Bathythermographs to obtain information on water temperature to depths of up to 3,300 feet.

Learn more about these studies at the National Science Foundation web site.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Nanotechnology - how small?

Here is a companion item on nanotechnology to the story below.

Physicists have directly measured how close speeding atoms can come to a surface before the atoms' wavelengths change.

The scientists at the University of Arizona say, "The measurement tells nanotechnologists how small they can make extremely tiny devices before a microscopic force between atoms and surfaces, called van der Waals interaction, becomes a concern. The result is important both for nanotechnology, where the goal is to make devices as small as a few tens of billionths of a meter, and for atom optics, where the goal is to use the wave nature of atoms to make more precise sensors and study quantum mechanics."

Learn more about this interesting study by visiting the University of Arizona's news story. The work is reported in Physical Review Letters.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Nanotechnology finds cancer with a finger prick

This is important work in the detection of cancer with a simple prick of the finger for blood - and it is another win for nanotechnology. You can read about it in Nanotechnology Now ("your gateway to everything nanotech").

Scientists at Harvard say molecular markers indicating the presence of cancer in the body are readily detected in blood scanned by special arrays of silicon nanowires, even when these cancer markers constitute only one hundred-billionth of the protein present in a drop of blood. And the minuscule devices also promise to pinpoint the exact type of cancer with greater speed than exists today.

Reporting in Nature Biotechnology author Charles M. Lieber says in a press release on Eurekalert, "A nanowire array can test a mere pinprick of blood in just minutes, providing a nearly instantaneous scan for many different cancer markers. It's a device that could open up substantial new possibilities in the diagnosis of cancer and other complex diseases."

While initial rounds of cancer testing today identify only whether or not cancer is present, nanowire arrays have the potential to immediately fill in details on exactly what type of cancer is present. Nanowires could also track patients' health as treatment progresses. Because the arrays detect molecules suspended in fluids, drops of blood could be tested directly, in a physician's office, without any need for biochemical manipulation.

And to find more about what Dr. Lieber is up to with nanotechnoloy, go to the Leiber Research Group.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Intense hurricanes linked to global warming

I guess I will be covering global warming from time to time because this trend is getting front and center more and more.

A new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Center for Atmospheric Research says the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide has nearly doubled over the past 35 years, even though the total number of hurricanes has dropped since the 1990s. The shift occurred as global sea surface temperatures have increased over the same period,the scientists say.

This research appears this week in Science.

The only region that is experiencing more hurricanes overall is the North Atlantic, say the researchers, where they have become more numerous and longer-lasting, especially since 1995. The North Atlantic has averaged eight to nine hurricanes per year in the last decade, compared to the six to seven per year before the increase. Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the North Atlantic have increased at an even faster clip: from 16 in the period of 1975-89 to 25 in the period of 1990-2004, a rise of 56 percent.

Find more about this troubling trend at the Georgia Tech hurricane research web site.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Start sleeping with behavioral therapy

Back to the basics this time - getting a good night's sleep.

According to a HealthDay story, a new online, six-week behavioral therapy program that costs $35 could help.

The HealthDay story goes on to say, "Insomnia, to a large extent, is a learned problem," explains developer Gregg Jacobs, an insomnia specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston. "It is due to the way people think about their sleep and their sleep behaviors. These actually cause the insomnia, but they can be changed to eliminate the insomnia."

Although medications can help people sleep, they are no cure for insomnia, Jacobs says. He says that an NIH consensus panel of experts endorsed cognitive behavioral therapy as being more effective, and the preferred treatment for chronic insomnia over sleeping pills.

Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches poor sleepers how to modify stressful thought about their sleep, modify negative or disruptive sleep behaviors, improve relaxation skills, and improve lifestyle practices, Jacobs says.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina cancer patients' resources

Many organizations are coming together to provide medical help to Katrina survivors. One of these is the American Cancer Society.

Visit the Society web site to find out where many of the resources can be found for cancer patients in need both in the areas affected by Katrina and locations where survivors have been relocated.

The web site says, "As we face the aftermath of this storm, the Society is working to continue providing patient services and programs in those areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

"Individuals in need of American Cancer Society services in the affected area should contact our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-ACS-2345. Cancer information specialists are available to answer calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. "

And, "Download a list of Hurricane Katrina Resources - This document is a list of public resources available nationally as well as in the affected regions for those displaced by the storm."

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Da Vinci right, again

One of the things that interests me in science is when a theory from hundreds of years ago is finally proven - scientists have proven a theory of the great Leonardo Da Vinci, scientist and artist.

The Ames Laboratory of the US Department of Energy report says, Leonardo Da Vinci continues to inspire even 500 years after his remarkable life. His theories on friction are helping a group of scientists unlock the mystery of friction at the molecular level.

The press statement says, "In a nutshell, Da Vinci proposed that if two contacting surfaces are geometrically similar, they will have a much higher coefficient of friction than two geometrically dissimilar surfaces, due to the fact that the similar surfaces have a tendency to interlock. To test this theory at the molecular level, the research team looked at a quasicrystalline material that exhibits both periodic and aperiodic configurations in its crystal structure. What they found, and reported in the journal Science, was that friction along the periodic surface was about eight times greater than the friction along the aperiodic axis.

Okay, so it's cool to see the old guys were right most of the time, but why is understanding friction so important... well there are tons of reasons if you google "friction" and "molecular."

But here is one interesting explanation from meteorologist Jeff Haby from Weather "Friction is an extremely important force to meteorology. Not only does friction decrease the wind speed, it also changes the direction of the wind. Two types of friction occur in the atmosphere. One is molecular friction (friction between individual air molecules, called viscosity) and friction between two surfaces (i.e. friction between air and land). Since air molecules are free to move about, friction by viscosity is much less significant than friction between two surfaces."

There you go - so much good science, so little time to learn more about it!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

PlaceLab follows daily behaviors

This is taking big brother into the 21st century... and if you are a fan of CBS's Big Brother show this will sound familiar.

According to a story on the Technology Review web site, "Think back on the last two weeks: try to remember how you spent your time at home. How many hours did you watch television?

"How many times did you open the refrigerator, and what exactly did you eat? How much water did you use? And did you remember to take your vitamins? Out of context, these questions may seem trivial. But together, they create a comprehensive portrait of everyday activity. And that could lead to better indoor air quality and energy management, technologies that simplify - rather than complicate - everyday tasks, and advances in personalized home health care.

"The only problem is that gathering this kind of mundane data is often difficult and tedious. But MIT's PlaceLab aims to get around that problem by inviting volunteer test subjects to live in a sensor-rich apartment where researchers can monitor everything from how long they leave a window open to exactly what time they wake up. This information will make it easier for researchers not only to study everyday human behavior but also to develop better tools with which to do so."

The story continues, "The PlaceLab is, by all outward appearances, a typical one-bedroom, Ikea-clad Cambridge apartment near Central Square. Volunteers spend 10 to 14 days living there as they would in their own homes. But behind the sleek cabinetry and wall panels are more than 350 sensors and dozens of cameras and microphones that can record every movement and activity of the apartment's inhabitants," say the researchers.

Tune in the the last few weeks of CBS's Big Brother 6 to get a taste of the 24/7 on people's daily habits.

Heart surgery and Alzheimer's linked

I think this finding is significant, and I am certain researchers will continue to look into the link between heart surgery and Alzheimer's disease.

The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease reports that researchers have discovered that patients who have either coronary artery bypass graft surgery or coronary angioplasty are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. They say that the findings pinpoint stress and trauma of surgery as the major cause for the increased risk.

"The coronary bypass patients had a 70 percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease," the scientists say. They say early cognitive impairment is an immediate reaction to the stress of surgery.

Researchers believe this early cognitive impairment is an immediate reaction to the stress of surgery. "Heart bypass surgery represents a traumatic insult to the brain, particularly by reducing oxygen supply to the brain and increasing the stress response," the scientists say.

"We believe that the compensation that occurs by one year masks an underlying deficit in the central nervous system caused by the heart surgery," says Boston University School of Medicine's Benjamin Wolozin. "As individuals age, this underlying deficit might exacerbate progressive cognitive deficits associated with mild cognitive impairment, a precursory phase before diagnosis of Alzheimer's."

Go to Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease or Eurekalert for more information.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Brain and gut linked

The New York Times covers an interesting topic this week on the connection between the brain and the gut, so check it out:

"Two brains are better than one. At least that is the rationale for the close - sometimes too close - relationship between the human body's two brains, the one at the top of the spinal cord and the hidden but powerful brain in the gut known as the enteric nervous system.

For Dr. Michael D. Gershon, the author of "The Second Brain" and the chairman of the department of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia, the connection between the two can be unpleasantly clear. 'Every time I call the National Institutes of Health to check on a grant proposal,' Dr. Gershon said, 'I become painfully aware of the influence the brain has on the gut.'

In fact, anyone who has ever felt butterflies in the stomach before giving a speech, a gut feeling that flies in the face of fact or a bout of intestinal urgency the night before an examination has experienced the actions of the dual nervous systems."

To read the whole article go to "The Other Brain Also Deals With Many Woes."

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Tweaking the speed of light

This looks interesting, as it flies in the face of an expression we have heard all of our lives - traveling at the speed of light. Constant, right, something to count on.

Well now researchers have shown, for the first time, that it is possible to control the speed of light – both slowing it down and speeding it up.

Researchers were successful in controlling the speed of light in a simple optical fiber. They were able to make light go faster than the speed of light.

The press statement says that "this is not the first time that scientists have tweaked the speed of a light signal. Even light passing through a window or water is slowed down a fraction as it travels through the medium. In fact, in the right conditions, scientists have been able to slow light down to the speed of a bicycle, or even stop it altogether."

Okay, I'm listening...

"In 2003, a group from the University of Rochester made an important advance by slowing down a light signal in a room-temperature solid. But all these methods depend on special media such as cold gases or crystalline solids, and they only work at certain well-defined wavelengths." With the publication of their new method, the scientists have used a technique to slow light with "off-the-shelf optical fibers, without requiring costly experimental set-ups or special media."

Find more about tweaking the speed of light by scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Applied Physics Letters.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Blogging moves to business

You are going to learn alot more about science and medicine as more blogs are started on these topics, but this story today is more on the business of blogging.

Today I noticed a interesting article on Corante’s Get Real blog - on the business of blogs! Stowe Boyd says about writing blogs (and notice he has a book coming out):

"As the number of blogs and bloggers continues to double every three months, some paradoxical realities are beginning to show up. Like here, at Business Blog Summit, where I was puzzled to see that there is less and less maturity in the attendees: I don't mean that they are young, but that they are newbies. I mean, these folks don't know very much. And I am not knocking the conference folks. It's just simple numbers.

When you a show with an absolute number of attendees -- 200 or 250 attending -- and an additional 5 million blogs went live last quarter, and 10 million this quarter -- guess what? A lot more rank beginners are going to show up.

That also means that the time is right for advanced seminars and symposia to start, and that's where Corante will be pushing in the upcoming months. In an environment where six or seven of the folks speaking at this conference have "Business Blogging" books in press or in process, it is time for more specialization and depth. For example, I could see a conference dedicated just to the technical issues of blogging on Movable Type, or a one day Master Class on Blog Writing for non-newbies who want to dramatically improve the quality of their writing."

I guess it is time journalism schools started up classes on writing blogs....

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Support clean water around the world

Why don't you join fellow Americans and others around the globe in supporting CARE and its efforts to help address the issues of poverty around the world.

CARE operates 150 water projects in 43 countries around the world, working to expand access to safe water and help communities manage resources for future generations.

The House of Representatives recently acknowledged the importance of this work by introducing a piece of legislation that promotes access to safe water and sanitation across the globe: The Water for the Poor Act of 2005 (H.R.1973).

Find your member of Congress and make a difference by showing support for this bill as it makes its way to the House floor and a vote for final passage.

Contact CARE Action Network now.

Still searching for women in science

I have been around the medical and science world for a couple of decades, and this is one finding that seems to repeat: "Bias has created a significant barrier to women and under-represented groups from pursuing technological or scientific careers, according to the upcoming report "More Women in Science," published in the journal Science.

The research shows that for many fields, such as biology, the balance of men and women faculty is quite uneven despite the fact that women make up almost half of their graduating PhDs.

"Evidence shows that women faculty members are more often asked to provide campus service on committees and as student advisers, not necessarily the best activity to win tenure approval in Research I institutions," the press statement on Eurekalert states.

Essentially, the climate has always been challenging for women would-be scientists, and although progress has been made in small ways, much is left to do. Recently Georgia Tech developed a tool to help address this issue with a Web-based kit called Awareness of Decisions in Evaluating Promotion and Tenure as part of a National Science Foundation grant. This program is designed to help promotion and tenure committee members, chairpersons, and deans to better understand biases related to gender, race, and disability.

Although incremental steps may seem inadequate to tackle this major problem, at least the issue is still addressed in some way.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

More on Yahoo Blog for Hope

I am reading more Yahoo Blog for Hope blogs today, and I have appreciated the thoughtful way celebrities are bringing attention to cancer.

I like the post by Tom Green, who had testicular cancer. He says, "When I noticed my cancer, I personally didn't go to the doctor right away. I waited about two weeks. But they say the average young person waits as much as six months, usually hoping it will go away, before going to a doctor. This is when the cancer can spread. If you feel any sort of pain, numbness, or whatever in your er... private area... just go to a doctor."

He reached out to young men with a program on MTV, and now he is again helping men learn about testicular cancer with his blog on Yahoo. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Yahoo Blog for Hope

You should take a minute and visit the Yahoo Blog for Hope today - sponsored by Yahoo and the American Cancer Society!

I like Deepak Chopra, one of the bloggers and a well-known health guru, and here is a short excerpt from one of his entries: "The process of releasing emotional toxins is similar to that for releasing physical ones. You must first have a clear intention that you want to replace life-depleting emotions with life-enhancing ones. The metabolism of regret and resentment into compassion and forgiveness can dramatically awaken your body, mind, and spirit to you primordial vital energy."

His premise is always that a happy heart helps support a healthy body.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Emotional ads appeal to skeptics

I like this study on advertising claims and how people respond.

The study, reported in the Journal of Advertising, says that consumers who are very skeptical about the truth of advertising claims are more responsive to emotionally appealing ads than ones peppered with information. Emotional ads are characterized as providing an emotional experience that is relevant to the use of the brand; informational ads predominantly provide clear brand data.

The scientists looked at consumers' responses to advertising, including brand beliefs, responses to informational and emotional appeals, efforts to avoid advertising, attention to ads, and reliance on ads versus other information sources. They found that skeptical consumers like advertising less, rely on it less, and respond more positively to emotional appeals.

And I like this part in the press statement: "Skeptics are not, however, immune from the influence of advertising. The researchers said that this finding may appear counter-intuitive, as many consumers are inclined to express skepticism about overtly emotional ads, which they view as manipulative. And, such ads are successfully manipulative."

You can find more about the study "Ad skepticism: the consequences of disbelief" at the University of Washington web site.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Downy chick feathers and tufted branches

I am always facinated by researchers when they study for years at a time a very specific and undoubtedly esoteric question, and I continue to admire the patience it takes.

A study about how bird feathers are formed was reported in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

In a previous study, according to the press statement (yes reporters are really interested in this stuff) John F. Fallon showed that Sonic hedgehog (Shh) and bone morphogenetic protein 2 (Bmp2) must be expressed in order to produce barb ridges, which are among the first structures to form in the tufted branches of the simple downy chick feather. The two proteins, which tend to play off each other in organ development, also are involved in the embryonic development of limbs, lungs, teeth and the gut.

In the current study, a team of scientists showed that "during the development of barbs-filamentous structures that form the feather, the function of these two proteins interact. SHH up-regulates its own expression and that of Bmp2, and Bmp2 then signals the down-regulation of Shh expression. This dynamic signaling interaction fits a longstanding mathematical model known as an activator-inhibitor mechanism," says the press statement.

Researchers say these findings suggest that simple relationships between developmental genes can provide the basis for the formation of complex forms. They predict that a more complicated version of the model can be applied to the formation of more complex feathers.

Bottom line: "Our model supports paleontologic evidence that pennaceous feathers are more advanced than plumalaceous feathers." I know, you are going to consider becoming a paleontologist after this exciting news!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Choose your words wisely

A new study looks at "Do Speakers Avoid Ambiguities During Dialogue?" I was curious about the topic, but I found the press release could have been clearer in looking at ambiguities in public speaking!

It starts with an example: if someone told you to "put the apple in the basket on the table," what would you do? Depending on how many apples and baskets are in your kitchen, it might not be clear. Would you move the apple in the basket to the table, or move the apple to the basket on the table?

The researchers say some studies have shown that speakers choose their sentences based, in part, on how easy those sentences are to produce for themselves while not taking ease of comprehension into account.

"An ambiguous phrase is often easier to construct than an unambiguous one, so some people will speak ambiguously even if they are likely to be misunderstood," the statement says.

To learn more about "optional disambiguating words" you can read the full report in Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society.

What about my coverage of this report - hopefully not too ambiguous!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Driving breast cancer to the lungs

I don't cover basic science research in cancer all that much, but some news this week was significant when researchers pinpointed genes that drive the spread of breast cancer to the lungs.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have identified a telltale set of genes that causes breast cancer to spread and grow in the lungs, where cancer cells often flourish with lethal consequences.

The researchers say that the genes are more than markers that identify the presence of metastatic cancer. These genes are mediators that enable fragments of breast cancer tumors to take root in the lungs, according the HHMI press statement.

“It's all about selection, but it’s a combination of Darwin and Murphy," says the study's senior author Joan Massagué, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "These cells are mutating in a largely random fashion, so mutation that gives a cell an advantage will be selected for in a Darwinian manner. And like Murphy’s Law, if a cell can get nasty, it will get nasty.”

The scientists are hopeful that their research will give clinicians a new set of molecular tools to test tumor biopsies for the activity of these specific genes. This, in turn, should help guide treatment by permitting the early diagnosis of breast cancers that will ultimately metastasize to the lung.

Research that will undoubtedly be followed with more research.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Art worth viewing today

One of my interests is new art, and the flickr web site points to amazing work I want to share today.

Go to flickr to see more of antimethod's inspiring and beautiful photography.

Ice shelf collapses in Antarctica

I must be developing a greater interest in global warming, or I am just coming across some amazing news (to me).

Today, scientists say that the Antarctic Peninsula is undergoing greater warming than almost anywhere on Earth, a condition that may be linked with human-induced greenhouse effects.

Says the journal Nature this week, "The spectacular collapse of Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf, an area roughly the size of Rhode Island, is unprecedented during the past 10,000 years."

Here is the gist of it from a press statement: "Evidence shows that the break-up of the ice shelf was caused by a combination of long-term thinning (by a few tens of meters) over thousands of years and short term (multi-decadal) cumulative increases in surface air temperature that have exceeded the natural variation of regional climate during the Holocene period (the last 10,000 years since the end of the last Ice Age)."

Eugene Domack, professor of geosciences at Hamilton College, authors this new report. He says that the Larsen B ice shelf is not alone in its demise. In recent years, the Antarctic Peninsula has lost ice shelves totaling over 4,825 square miles.

According to the G8 Summit Gleneagles 2005 in July, our "climate is changing. Over the past century average global temperatures have risen by 0.6° Celsius – the 10 warmest years on record have all been since 1990. There is now scientific consensus that this warming has been brought about by the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which in turn has been caused by human activities - primarily the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use."

Something to think about.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Response to advertising, the new frontier

This entry is back to my usual pursuits - how the brain works.

I stumbled on a new company that uses brain response measurement to aid the marketing industry. I am not promoting this company's services, but I am intrigued with the new twist.

Called Neuroco, this United Kingdom-based company launched to the marketing communications industry by combining brain science with conventional qualitative research.

The Neuroco web site says it is "a pioneer in the use of modern Electroencephalography (EEG) technology to measure human response to a broad range of marketing stimuli. Neuroco's leadership in the new science of Neuromarketing is due in large part to its in-house development of patented software capable of analysing and benchmarking brain patterns."

The company's execs say that by "totally re-assessing how consumers think, act, and behave towards brands, and delivering new and deeper layers of insight to guide marketing strategy, the new technology can transform the effectiveness of a company's marketing communications."

And this comment from its leadership intrigues: "To date, most Neuromarketing activity has used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). To my mind this is a deeply flawed approach to monitoring brain function for Neuromarketing purposes. The environment is uncomfortable, noisy, and completely unnatural. Further the images produced represent only a snapshot of the brain's response at a specific moment in time. This significantly limits the understanding of what is happening across time, for example when watching a television commercial. In contrast, modern EEG equipment is small, light, unobtrusive, and easily portable, providing freedom to measure human response in a wide range of environments. It allows us to record and analyse brain activity on a second by second basis and so gain a remarkable insight into what's going on in people's minds."

The future looks like it will be filled with more biological examination of consumers' brains and discovering their wants and needs!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Web site describes lab tests

I found a new web site today that is about lab tests and has very credible scientific groups partnering to present the information. Lab Tests Online is an excellent site, one to bookmark for the future.

The About This Site section reads: "The work of the clinical laboratory professional - who analyzes chemical indicators in the body to provide the doctor with a clearer picture of a patient's health - has long been an unseen aspect of health care. Yet, clinical lab tests often provide the link between the patient's presentation of symptoms and the doctor's diagnosis of and prescribed treatment for a particular condition or disease.

"Through preventative screening, lab tests also aid in the early detection of potentially fatal conditions, and in so doing, lead to early treatment. In short, lab tests can help both to save lives and to improve the quality of life."

Lab Tests Online has been designed to help patients and caregivers to better understand the many clinical lab tests that are part of routine care as well as diagnosis and treatment of a broad range of conditions and diseases.

Check it out!

Friday, July 29, 2005

Blue Brain Project: modeling the neocortex

Back to the topic of artificial intelligence - this is a new tweak to the saga.

IBM and The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne are collaborating on a major joint research initiative, called Blue Brain Project, to use the huge computational capacity of IBM’s eServer Blue Gene supercomputer to create a detailed model of the circuitry in the neocortex – the largest and most complex part of the human brain.

By expanding the project to model other areas of the brain, scientists hope to eventually build an accurate, computer-based model of the entire brain, the press statement says.

And the project's relationship to future medical discovery: "Relatively little is actually known about how the brain works. Using the digital model scientists will run computer-based simulations of the brain at the molecular level, shedding light on internal processes such as thought, perception, and memory. Scientists also hope to understand more about how and why certain microcircuits in the brain malfunction – thought to be the cause of psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, and depression."

Stay tuned!

Ice oceans reveal new life

Explorations of "ice oceans" and discovering never-before-seen life - I just had to look closer at this story released this afternoon - even though I am off on a science tangent not all that related to medical discovery.

A historic expedition of Census of Marine Life explorers to the earth's most northern reaches has revealed a surprising density and diversity of Arctic Ocean creatures, some believed new to science, the scientists report.

Sheltered for millennia under a lid of ice currently one to 20 meters thick, unexpectedly high numbers and varieties of large Arctic jellies, squid, cod, and other animals have been found thriving in the extreme cold.

Scientists sailed aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy and "returned to port with thousands of specimens from the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and the Canada Basin, a vast bowl walled by steep ridges and lidded with ice," say the Census of Marine Life explorers.

“Modern technology has opened a window on this amazing world for the first time,” says scientist Dr. Russ Hopcroft of University of Alaska Fairbanks. “The imagery obtained of the mid-water and seafloor shows many life forms, such as soft bodied zooplankton, deep sea cucumbers and soft corals. The few explorers in this area before us had no adequate tools to collect or see these creatures."

This story has alot to do with marine evolution and something to do with concerns about the affects of global warming, as these scientists who traveled to the Artic say the planet's polar regions are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of global climate change.

And, again, catching the excitement from a scientist: "What continues to facinate and motivate us all is the chance to record species never known before, to accurately map their range and understand their rapidly-changing habitat."

Be sure to check out the link above for more fantastic photographs.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Focus: is it tissue or is it snot?

I like the creative way this was communicated, so I decided to cover "Chronic sinus infection thought to be tissue issue, Mayo Clinic scientists show it's snot."

Mayo Clinic researchers have found that the cause of chronic sinus infections lies in the nasal mucus not in the nasal and sinus tissue targeted by standard treatment.

The findings will soon be published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, according to the Mayo Clinic press release.

The researchers say that physicians might need to take not only the tissue but also the mucus into account when trying to understand what causes chronic sinus infections and probably other airway diseases.

Chronic sinus infection is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States, affecting 32 million adults, according to the National Center of Health Statistics. Chronic sinus infection produces nose and sinus problems characterized by stuffy nose, loss of sense of smell, postnasal drip, nasal discharge, and head and face pain lasting three months or longer.

"This has far-reaching implications," says lead researcher and Mayo Clinic ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Jens Ponikau. "This suggests a beneficial effect in treatments that target primarily the underlying and presumably damage-inflicting nasal and sinus membrane inflammation, instead of the secondary bacterial infection that has been the primary target of treatments for the disease."

I really enjoy the enthusiasm each researcher has for her or his own work. So, today sinus tissue and snot take center stage!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Species-specific chromosomes after dinosaurs

Here's a quick note on an National Human Genome Research Institute discovery reported in Science - another gene story, but this one is animals and the knowledge will be translated to humans.

Researchers at the NHGRI have discovered that mammalian chromosomes have evolved by breaking at specific sites rather than randomly as long thought - and that many of the breakage hotspots are also involved in human cancer.

By aligning and comparing the mammals’ genetic material, or genomes, the team determined that chromosomes tend to break in the same places as species evolve, resulting in rearrangements of their DNA.

Chromosomal breakages, also referred to as translocations, are thought to be important in terms of evolution. In addition to their evolutionary implications, chromosomal translocations are known to contribute to the development or progression of many types of cancer.

Here is the part I am facinated with: Based on an analysis that included a computer-generated reconstruction of the genomes of long-extinct mammals, researchers found the rate of chromosomal evolution among mammals dramatically accelerated following the extinction of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.

Okay, so....

Says the NHGRI, "Before the sudden demise of dinosaurs and many other types of animals, which is thought to have resulted from a massive comet or asteroid striking Earth, mammals shared fairly similar body plans and also fairly similar genomes. Researchers speculate that the mass extinction opened new ecological niches for mammals, spurring their diversification and the emergence of new mammalian orders. This situation would have facilitated opportunities for the isolation of mammals into more distinct breeding groups, speeding the development of species-specific chromosomes."

“This study has revealed many hidden secrets on the nature and timing of genome evolution in mammals, and it demonstrates how the study of basic evolutionary processes can lead to new insights into the origin of human diseases,” says Harris A. Lewin, director of the Institute of Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Corn takes a new (old) shape

I wanted to share this story even though it really is not about medical discovery, but it is about genetics. I loved the photo, so I thought I would cover this. You can find more information at Eurekalert in a press release.

The story goes: "In 1909, while harvesting a typical corn crop (Zea mays) in Illinois, a field worker noticed a plant so unusual that it was initially believed to be a new species. Its "peculiarly shaped ear" was "laid aside as a curiosity" and the specimen was designated Zea ramosa."

Due to the alteration of a single gene, later named ramosa1, both the ear and the tassel of the plant were more highly branched than usual, leading to loose, crooked kernel rows and to a tassel that was far bushier than the tops of normal corn plants.

Now, researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York have isolated the ramosa1 gene and shown how it controls the arrangement and length of flower-bearing branches in corn, related cereal crops, and ornamental grasses.

The study indicates that during the domestication of corn from its wild ancestor (teosinte), early farmers selected plants with special versions of the ramosa1 gene that suppressed branching in the ear, leading to the straight rows of kernels and the compact ears of modern-day corn on the cob.

Dr. Robert Martienssen, who led the study, says, "The ramosa1 gene appears to be a key player in the domestication of corn, and we've shown that it acts by signaling cells to form short rather than long branches."

The findings are described in the journal Nature.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Alzheimer's finding promises

I keep finding stories related to the brain and how it functions, this just seems to be my favorite topic. Today I am looking at a news item that reflects the promise the future holds for bringing basic science into treatment.

The exciting news today, communicated on Eurekalert, is about three molecules scientists have discovered out of 58,000 compounds that appear to inhibit a key catalyst of Alzheimer's disease.

Each of the three molecules they found protects the protein called "tau," which becomes amazingly tangled in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's.

The scientists say that the neurofibrillary tangles of neurons in the brain, along with senile plaques, characterize Alzheimer's disease. The tangles are made of "tau," a protein that is also present normally in the brain.

In terms of future directions, Ken Kosik, co-director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says "There is lots to do here, lab testing, testing in animals, etc. But we have made an important step forward toward developing treatments for this disease."

More information on this finding can be found in the journal Chemistry & Biology.

Honestly, once this gets into more detail I cannot keep up with the science, but I am facinated with the kind of knowledge the researchers gain and the level of detail of these molecular findings. I appreciate the patience scientists have and the amount of time spent in the lab to dig this deep.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Medical device approved for depression

I thought I would mention that a pacemaker-like treatment for depression finally made it through a lengthy approval process by the FDA.

The Cyberonics' vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS, device for what is called "treatment-resistant depression" is the first implantable device approved in the US for treatment of depression.

The FDA has approved this device for chronic depression for adults who are experience a major depressive episode and have not had a good response to four or more antidepressant treatments, according to the press statement.

This device is actually implanted just under the skin in the left chest area. It sends mild, intermittent electrical impulses through a wire to the left vagus nerve, which in turn sends signals to the brain.

The cost is about $20,000 for the device and implantation. The device is already approved for epilepsy and has been implanted in over 30,000 patients.

Experts say this type of device will help with treatment adherence, which can be a challenge for depressed patients.

Implantable devices for various medical problems have been in use for decades, and this technology has final found a place for helping treat depression.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

"Sleeping Beauty" helps find cancer genes

I wanted to cover this story for a couple of reasons, and one of them is the use of common language to describe a scientific concept. I love the term "Sleeping Beauty" in relationship to scientists finding genes that have a cancer connection.

The finding really is significant, and reported in the science journal Nature.

Researchers have discovered a new method that could accelerate the way cancer-causing genes are found and lead to a more accurate identification of the genes.

The gene identification method uses a piece of jumping DNA, called Sleeping Beauty.

Jumping genes, or transposons, insert themselves into or between genes and can activate or inactivate a gene’s normal function.

Now stick with me to follow how it came to be called Sleeping Beauty, as it is intriguing.

The scientists say, in an NIH press release, that related transposons are natural to the genetic makeup of humans, animals and fish, but through millions of years of evolution, most transposons became inactive dead-ends.

A few years back researchers took defunct jumping genes from fish and made the genes jump again. This research had reactivated the element in jumping genes from millions of years of evolutionary sleep, and thus the name Sleeping Beauty, the NIH states.

Researcher David Largaespada says, “Current cancer gene identification methods, such as microarrays, give correlations typically of thousands of genes, and it’s hard to know from the correlations which genes relate to cancer and which do not. By comparison, the jumping gene has attached itself to cancer genes in the tumors we studied and thereby allows us to focus in on smaller numbers of genes - genes that we know are important to the genesis of tumors. The result is a quicker, more efficient, and accurate identification of cancer-causing genes.”

Says Largaespada, “About 300 human cancer-related genes have thus far been reported in the scientific literature. There may be as many as 1,000 or more cancer genes that still need to be identified.”

Researcher Nancy Jenkins says, "The outcome of the new Sleeping Beauty method could be a major leap forward in understanding cancer’s weak points and subsequently lead to thousands more cancer patients joining the ranks of survivors.”

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Circadium rhythm likes serotonin

More on darkness, serotonin, and circadium rhythm...

This week researchers report how serotonin decreases the body’s sensitivity to light and that exposure to constant darkness leads to a decrease in serotonin levels in the brain of fruit flies.

Remember, scientists study fruit flies alot because they provide the model system for examining "entrainment," the synchronization of the internal clock to the environment.

They say the findings suggest that serotonin may play a role in maintaining circadian rhythm, as well as modulating light-related disorders such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

The body’s 24-hour (circadian) clock controls cycles of wakefulness and sleep, as well as the rhythm of other physiological functions, such as body temperature and blood pressure. Although the body functions on roughly a 24-hour schedule, this cycle is capable of being reset by environmental disturbances.

Senior author Amita Sehgal, at Penn and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, reports her findings in Neuron.

“In humans, a light pulse in the early evening delays rhythm-if it stays light later, you stay up later,” says Sehgal. “Disturbances in the late evening advance the body clock-an early dawn leads to an early rise. You do not want your clock to be so supersensitive to light that small fluctuations are going to throw it out of whack. Serotonin appears to modulate the response of the body clock to light.”

There is no doubt about serotonin being a good thing!