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We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for 2014

A surprising discovery about fast food portion sizes

fast food size

Since the noticeable expansion of most of the worlds waistlines, people have come to lay the blame (amongst other things) almost squarely on fast food and ever increasing portion sizes. While the world and it’s leaders are dealing with this mysterious problem by trying to help push fast food chains in the direction of change, it might be surprising to know that according to new research, fast food portion sizes have changed little since 1996.

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Steak raises cancer risk and now we know why

steak

Some of you may remember a recent study showing why red meat is bad for the heart, while now there is a study showing why steak — or in particular red meats — raise the risk of cancer. To be clear, I am still very much a red meat eater and this is no way intended to change anyones opinions on steak consumption, but it is nice to understand the science behind what we put in our mouths.

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Estrogen worsens allergic reactions

allergies

Are you a woman? Do you find yourself allergic to everything, but water (and sometimes that is up for debate)? Worse, does your husband, boyfriend, or male friend seem to be impervious to any sort of allergy? Well I have good news and bad news, the good news is it isn’t you — or him. The bad news, is it’s your hormones…

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Insights into the scientific gatekeepers: A fight for the status quo?

peer review

A new study has found that well respected peer reviewed journals have rejected manuscripts that could discuss outstanding or breakthrough work. The researchers found that some manuscripts rejected by three leading medical journals went on to receive a large number of citations after publication in other journals. The study, which if course was peer reviewed itself, offered insight into the process that the typical researcher might not see.

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Evolution of whooping cough and the anti-vaccination movement

whooping cough

When I was your age, whooping cough wasn’t what it is today. I’m sure we all know the stereotypical grandfather telling stories like that, but — at least in this case — if he started his story off like that then he is actually right. Over the last few years, this once-common childhood illness, has evolved in response to its own vaccine, in other words this isn’t your parents’ pertussis.

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Nanoparticles could deliver drugs to the brain

stroke fast

Science has already shown that when it comes to strokes, the sooner you treat it the better your outcome. Well now, stroke victims could have more time to seek treatment that could reduce harmful effects on the brain, thanks to tiny blobs of gelatin that could deliver the medication to the brain. The best part, this would be done noninvasively.

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mTOR and the fountain of youth

anti aging

The fountain of youth might be just right around the corner, I know here at the labs we’ve reported several different ways to get to that fabled place, but now we have one more. New research shows that seniors received a significant boost to their immune systems when given a drug that targets a genetic signaling pathway linked to aging and immune function.

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Obesity and a high-fat diet might be hurting your baby

fetus

We’ve seen it on the news, we’ve probably even read some articles about it, the “western” diet is awful. Yet, despite the warnings, Americans as a whole still eat awfully. Unfortunately, the health effects are very real and a new study shows that it may not just be effecting an expected mothers health, it may be harming the unborn child as well.

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The science of dietary restriction and it’s benefits (or what to do after the holidays)

diet

In a new study, researchers have identified a key molecular mechanism behind the health benefits of dietary restriction — or reduced food intake without malnutrition. Also known as calorie restriction or simply a diet, dietary restriction is best known for its ability to slow aging in laboratory animals. The findings here show that restricting two amino acids, methionine and cysteine, results in increased hydrogen sulfide (H2S) production and protection against ischemia reperfusion injury, or damage to tissue that occurs following the interruption of blood flow as during organ transplantation and stroke. Increased H2S production upon dietary restriction was also associated with lifespan extension in worms, flies, and yeast.

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Autism presentation and genetic variance

autism

People with autism have a wide range of symptoms, with no two people sharing the exact type and severity of behaviors. This has made finding a cause (or causes) difficult, leaving pseudoscientists to claim vaccines are the cause as if it were that simple (hint: vaccines do not cause autism). Now a large-scale analysis of hundreds of patients and nearly 1000 genes has started to uncover how diversity among traits can be traced to differences in patients’ genetic mutations.

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Vaccine against prion disease, not for humans… yet

mad cow

Prions, misfolded proteins that wreak havoc on the brain, may have finally met their match. Best known for things like mad cow disease (and possibly alzheimer’s disease) scientists have had no luck stopping prions, until now. Researchers say that a vaccination they have developed to fight a brain-based, wasting syndrome among deer and other animals may hold promise on two additional fronts: Protecting U.S. livestock from contracting the disease, and preventing similar brain infections in humans.

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Antidepressants and the effects on your unborn child

Are-Antidepressants-Safe-During-Pregnancy

Think you know what causes depression? Well unfortunately scientists don’t have the exact answer, surprised? That’s not the only problem, there is an ever growing concern that we live in an over medicated society and a newly released study doesn’t paint a better picture. About 15 percent of women in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders and depression during their pregnancies, and many are prescribed antidepressants. However little is known about how early exposure to these medications might affect their offspring as they mature into adults.

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Why “fat shaming” makes things worse

eating disorder mirror

Thanks to the internet age we have lost touch with the fact that there is a human out there reading these words. Because of this, the golden rule –treat others the way you want to be treated — went out the window. Making fun of “fat” people now seems to be a internet hobby and that insensitivity can (and does) bleed over into “normal” non-internet life. Now a new study shows that women whose loved ones are critical of their weight tend to put on even more pounds, which is probably no surprise to people who have experienced this behavior.

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Gene fragments linked to brain development and autism

autism genetics

While the anti-vaccine movement enjoys the simple (and very wrong) answer to the cause of autism, there are people who want the actual truth. This drive had lead to a slew of causes (and risk factors) for autism in recent times. Now scientists have found that very small segments of genes called “microexons” influence how proteins interact with each other in the nervous system. In turn, this opens up a new line of research into the cause of autism.

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Epigenetic changes and autism

autism

Despite what you may think, the supposed “explosion” of children diagnosed with autism can directly attributed to better diagnosing techniques and — more importantly — the change of definition to make Autism spectrum disorders more broad. Thankfully more causes of autism have been found, none of them remotely related to vaccines and now scientists have found that chemical modifications to DNA’s packaging—known as epigenetic changes—can activate or repress genes involved in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and early brain development.

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Methamphetamine use and the onset of parkinson’s

Meth advertisement

We’ve all seen the PSA’s trying to show the effects of meth use and in particular, what it does to your teeth. Typically, when it comes to drug use, people will not look at the long term side effects from their addiction instead thinking in the short term. This is unfortunate because as it turns out, methamphetamine users are three times more at risk for getting Parkinson’s disease than non-illicit drug users with even worse news for women, new research shows.

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Finding the neurons that deal with distraction

infooverload

What’s that over there!? The next time you are around people, count how many people are on their phone? Distractions invade every aspect of our lives. Status updates, text messages, popup notifications, all threaten to steal our attention away from the moment. While we fight the urge to check the phone, our brains are making constant judgment calls about where to focus attention. The brain must continually filter important information from irrelevant interference.

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Scientists find a drug (currently used) to turn white fat to brown

weight loss

It seems like we’ve been on a weight loss campaign here at the labs, but there just has been so much new and interesting research on the subject to report on; this is no exception. Researchers have uncovered the mechanism by which white fat cells from humans (an important distinction) gets reprogrammed to become browner.

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High fat diet leads to brain inflammation and obesity

brain_on_fire

The stomach strikes again, or so it seems. We’ve already covered how your stomach seemingly controls your brain and your blood-brain barrier, but now it seems that what you eat –not too indirectly related to your stomach– might make you fatter, but not in the way you might be thinking thinking. What you are eating may be causing inflammation in the brain.

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A new type of memory storage on the horizon

memory storage

For those of us old enough to remember the days of the Apple II, you know that storage has exponentially increased. Even just 10 years ago 20+ gigs of data seemed huge, now my cellphone has 64 gigs. Yet we still need more data storage and we are looking for new ways to get it. Now a way to use weak molecular bonding interactions to create well-ordered and stable metal–organic monolayers with optoelectronic properties has been found. The development could form the basis for the scalable fabrication of molecular optoelectronic devices.

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What makes us fat, OR food vs. physiology

weight-gain

There is a heir of mystery surrounding weight loss and fat in general. Have you ever heard you have all the fat cells you’ll ever have — that’s false by the way. Then there is fad diets like gluten free — proven to do nothing unless you actually have a diagnosed gluten allergy — or adkins, but now researchers believe they’re on track to solve the mystery of weight gain – and it has nothing to do with indulging in holiday eggnog.

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Worms’ “mental GPS” could help improve mental health

gps

Imagine this, you’ve misplaced your cell phone. You start by scanning where you remember leaving it: on your bureau. You check and double-check the bureau before expanding your search around and below the bureau. Eventually, you switch from this local area to a more global one, widening your search to the rest of your room and beyond.

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Depressed? Laughing gas might help

laughing gas

Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, has shown early promise as a potential treatment for severe depression in patients whose symptoms don’t respond to standard therapies. In other words, it might actually live up to it’s name and as they say laughter is the best medicine. The pilot study is believed to be the first research in which patients with depression were given laughing gas.

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Scientists find a hormone that makes you fatter

obesity

Our waistlines are expanding, it’s no secret that around the world despite rampant hunger people are also getting fatter. While there are many things that are contributing to this — our increased food security, the cost of food, fast food, the increasing sugar supplied in food, etc — there are other theories as to why we are getting so heavy. Scientists have pointed towards bacteria, gut microbiota, and many other causes for our increased weight, now add to that list a common hormone that we all produce.

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Study suggests lefties actually earn less

left handed

Much has been thrown at left-handed people—they are quick to anger, quickly scared and, with the exception of heads of state, are more or less life’s losers. There was even a time where left handedness was “beaten out” of children in school. Conversely, there have been much bestowed upon left-handed people—they are creative and score highly on certain tests. Obviously, scientists need to rely on more than popular notions to make connections, if any, between left-handed people and success.

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Mapping the spinal circuitry to fight phantom pain

spine pain

Pain typically has a clear cause–but not always. When a person touches something hot or bumps into a sharp object, it’s no surprise that it hurts. But for people with certain chronic pain disorders, including fibromyalgia and phantom limb pain, even a gentle caress can result in agony and for some — like my sister — the pain can be almost never ending.

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Move over solar pannels, introducing spray-on solar cells

spray paint solar cell

Solar panels, they are big, heavy, cannot flex, and are still very inefficient. While efficiency isn’t the big issue, flexibility has relegated solar panels to rooftops and solar farms. Well that is until now, researchers have just invented a new way to spray solar cells onto flexible surfaces using miniscule light-sensitive materials known as colloidal quantum dots (CQDs)—a major step toward making spray-on solar cells easy and cheap to manufacture.

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Finding the real cost of climate change

 

climate change

How much does global warming really cost the world? Determining the Social Cost of Carbon helps put a actual dollar value on the climate damages per ton of CO2 released, and is used by — among others — policymakers to help determine the costs and benefits of climate policies. Remember, even on a global scale, the bottom line will always be profit. But now a group of economists and lawyers urge several improvements to the government’s Social Cost of Carbon figure that would impose a regular, transparent and peer-reviewed process to ensure the figure is reliable and well-supported by the latest facts.

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New peptide might treat spinal cord injury

nerve regeneration

In nature there are plenty of animals that can regenerate nerves, even some mammals have the ability to regenerate them, but unfortunately we do not. However, there is some great news on the horizon, scientists have developed a new chemical compound that shows extraordinary promise in restoring function lost to spinal cord injury. The compound, which the researchers dubbed intracellular sigma peptide (ISP), allowed paralyzed muscles to activate in more than 80 percent of the animals tested.

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Synthetic biology breakthrough: The world’s first artificial enzymes

synthetic biology

Like mad scientists working away in some secret location we have created life… well sort of. It may sound like something out of a Sci fi movie, but scientists have created the world’s first enzymes made from artificial genetic material. Their synthetic enzymes (which are made from molecules that do not occur anywhere in nature) are capable of triggering chemical reactions in the lab and are the building blocks for life.

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Our increased carbon dioxide output causes global warming and now we have proof

global warming

Global warming, it’s a bigger deal than some people seem to realize. For years science has pointed to the increased carbon dioxide output as the main reason for man-made global warming. However, there has been no evidence to directly link CO2 output to global warming, well until now. Research has identified, for the first time, how global warming is related to the amount of carbon emitted.

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Even more bad global warming news

global warming

While everyone (but seemingly the media) is on basically the same page with the fact that global warming is a human caused problem — and one we need to fix the effects of this change are still coming to light. Human-induced changes to Earth’s carbon cycle – for example, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide and ocean acidification – have been observed for decades. However, a new study showed human activities, in particular industrial and agricultural processes, have also had significant impacts on the upper ocean nitrogen cycle.

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Vegetable oil in the fight against gastric disease

ulcer

The bacterium Helicobacter pylori is strongly associated with gastric ulcers and cancer. Unfortunately, treating the bacteria with antibiotics is difficult and with the increase in antibiotic resistance it can be a dangerous fight to take on. Given the high rate of ulcers and stomach cancers, the need for a better treatment is becoming more apparent. New research may bring hope (and of all things) in the form of vegetable oil.

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New discovery sheds light on the forming brain

Brain-waves

The cerebral cortex, which controls higher processes such as perception, thought and cognition, is the most complex structure in the mammalian central nervous system. Although much is known about the intricate structure of this brain region, the processes governing its formation remain uncertain. Research has now uncovered how feedback between cells, as well as molecular factors, helps shape cortical development during mouse embryogenesis.

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Fragile X and a new autism treatment

autism

There are many roads to autism, none of them involve vaccination. I get tired of saying that, but it’s simple science, vaccines do not cause autism. Thankfully science knows this and is looking at not only what actually causes autism (Since again there are many different ways to develop on the spectrum). Well they may have found a new treatment for people affected by a common inherited form of autism by using a drug that is being tested as a treatment for cancer.

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Need to turn off the pain? Well now we can!

pain medicine My sister suffers from chronic pain issues. I’ve written several posts about how her autoimmune disease is a special brand of pain that you will thankfully (almost certainly) never have to feel. While great strides have been made in pain management, there are still relatively few options that do not carry the risk of being extremely addictive. Well thankfully there is some new research and it offers hope, not just for my sister, but for the millions of people suffering from chronic pain that has been poorly managed.

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Blu-ray solar power

 

bluray

So here’s something you don’t see everyday. Blu-ray disks, you know the stuff we use for video games or DVDs also improve the performance of solar cells—suggesting a second use for unwanted discs—according to new research from Northwestern University. As surprising as this was, there is even better news, we know why they improve performance.

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Hiding cells to prevent HIV transmission

HIV

The fight against HIV is ongoing and despite our rapid progression against the disease we still lack a cure or even adequate treatment for people infected. However, new research suggests that cloaking immune cells with antibodies that block T cell trafficking to the gut can substantially reduce the risk of viral transmission, at least in a non-human primate model of HIV infection. If it works out, this could help slow down the spread of HIV and give people a better shot at a normal life.

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Love, it’s in your genes

love

Most kids worry about passing tests, winning games, lost phones, fractured bones—and whether or not they will ever really fall in love. While the first few things are of relatively low value in the scientific pursuit, three Chinese researchers have focused on that last question. All in a bid to find out some of the more interesting questions about our genes: Why do some students stay single? What factors determine if a young adult falls in love?

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Mental Health- The invisible barrier for women’s care

mental health

A while back I wrote a post about mental health and jail sentences, it seems like no one takes mental health seriously and that leads to lack of care for the individual. Well a new study offers even more bad news on the mental health front. Women with symptoms of serious mental illness are significantly less likely to receive three routine cancer screenings – Pap tests, mammograms and clinical breast exams – than women in the general population, despite being at elevated risk for medical comorbidities and early death, a new study indicates.

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The impact of powered prosthetic failures on the user

Helen-Huang-Image1

Huang’s work focuses on technology that translates electrical signals in human muscle into signals that control powered prosthetic limbs. Photo credit goes to: Helen Huang.

 

Prosthetics have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. With the ongoing wars in the middle east the need for better prosthetics technologies has become more apparent, to this end we now have prosthetics that will allow a person to “feel”, we even have motorized prosthetics that will help allow a more fluid walk, but while powered lower limb prosthetics hold promise for improving the mobility of amputees, errors in the technology may also cause some users to stumble or fall. Because of this, new research examines exactly what happens when these technologies fail, with the goal of developing a new generation of more robust powered prostheses.

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Designing a better flu vaccine

flu season ahead

We all hate getting sick and the seasonal flu vaccine can help prevent a time of serious illness. Unfortunately the vaccine is usually an educated guess as to which strains of the flu are going to be most prevalent that year. Well now an international team of researchers has shown that it may be possible to improve the effectiveness of the seasonal flu vaccine by ‘pre-empting’ the evolution of the influenza virus.

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How gut microbiota changes the blood-brain barrier

Photo credit goes to: NPR

Photo credit goes to: NPR

Don’t be alarmed, but we are outnumbered. When figuring out what makes us, “us” we need to remember that there are far more bacteria genes in us than human genes, by recent counts it’s something like 360 to 1. We also know that your stomach can change your cravings, but now we know that your stomach affects more than just your thoughts. Your stomach can control what can get to your brain.

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Does brain training really work?

brain train

Ever wonder if you could be the next Einstein if only you could do some brain training? Well as it turns out, while computer based ‘brain training’ can boost memory and thinking skills in older adults, many programs promoted by the $1 billion brain training industry are ineffective.

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The (Re)discovery of a major brain pathway

brain

It was like something out of a mystery movie, a couple of years ago a scientist, looking at dozens of MRI scans of human brains noticed something surprising. A large, fiber pathway that seemed to be part of the network of connections that process visual information showed up on the scans, but the researcher couldn’t find it mentioned in any of the modern-day anatomy textbooks he had.

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Soldiers and Suicide: A familiar tale

marine suicide

I know, Marine not soldier, but I really like the image. Photo credit goes to: USMC
Semper fi

As a Marine, there is a special place in my heart for all things military. While most protesters are busy arguing about the people who are dying overseas, there is an even more disheartening statistic — the suicide statistics of service members here at home. Suicide is an ugly word, so it’s no surprise that there is not a large movement fighting for better care and a new study done on soldiers doesn’t help.

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Telomeres, Epigenetics, and Aging: the new found complexities in your genes

epigenetics

Telomere length is associated with aging, this isn’t a new statement, but interestingly enough there is more to this story than just the size of your telomeres. Telomere lengths have now been shown to cause epigenetic changes, this new discovery may help explain the aging of cells and how they initiate and transmit disease.

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Chlamydia and Cancer: A new connection

Infections due to the sexually transmitted bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis often remain unnoticed. The pathogen is not only a common cause of female infertility; it is also suspected of increasing the risk of abdominal cancer. A new study has now observed the breakdown of an important endogenous protective factor in the course of chlamydial infection. In other words, the pathogen can cause an increased risk of certain cancers.

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Limitless: The science behind remembering everything

limitless remembering everything

limitless

If you could remember everything, you saw, learned, or did, would it be a blessing or a curse? Well an even better question would be, it even possible to upgrade the storage capabilities of the brain? The answer is strangely enough, maybe, according to a new study we might just be able to remember quite literally everything.

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Ever wonder how the brain maps our world?

Well played brain, well played.

Well played brain, well played.

Sometimes we go into automatic, that “new” coffee shop on your way to work you just noticed, well it has been there for weeks. We can gauge where we are from just about anywhere we have already been. Giving directions, well some of us can never do that, yet we can still get from point A to B easy enough. Yet if we were to drive or even walk backwards and the world wouldn’t feel quite right, things would feel and seem just a little weird — not just because we are used to seeing things pass us by as we go forward.

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