MIT researchers devise world’s toughest tongue twister

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  • Merriam Webster Science.jpg

    Dec. 2, 2013: The word “science” on a page of a Merriam-Webster dictionary — the publisher’s word of the year. (AP PHOTO/BEBETO MATTHEWS)

Those seven silver snakes should step to the side.

A nonsense string of words devised by MIT researchers investigating speech errors and brain functions proved so difficult that no test subjects could repeat the phrase — clearly marking it as the world’s toughest tongue twister.

The phrase was “pad kid poured curd pulled cod.” When volunteers tried it, according to MIT psychologist Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel, some of them simply stopped talking altogether.

‘If anyone can say this [phrase] ten times quickly, they get a prize.’

– MIT psychologist Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel

“If anyone can say this [phrase] ten times quickly, they get a prize,” she said.

Shattuck-Hufnagel plans to present the tongue-tripping line along with her research into “alternating repetitive tongue twisters” at the 166th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America Thursday in San Francisco.

To study the challenging combinations of words, Shattuck-Hufnagel and colleagues recorded volunteers saying combinations of words that fell into two categories: simple lists of words, such as “top cop,” and full-sentence versions of the same sounds with an inversion, such as “the top cop saw a cop top.”

They found that in the word list tongue twisters, there was a preponderance of errors in which the “t” and the “c” seemed to arrive almost at the same time — making a “t’kop” sound. In contrast, the sentence twisters induced more errors in which there was a delay between the two letters, with space for a vowel: “tah-kop.”

The fact that both types of errors occur for sentences as well as word lists suggests that there is some overlap between the brain processes used to produce these two types of speech, Shattuck-Hufnagel said. “You can get both kinds of errors in both kinds of planning,” she said.

Take that, Peter Piper.

How men’s brains are wired differently than women’s

LiveScience
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    Brain networks showing significantly increased intra-hemispheric connectivity in males (Upper) and inter-hemispheric connectivity in females (Lower). Intra-hemispheric connections are shown in blue, and inter- hemispheric connections are shown in orange. (RAGINI VERMA ET AL, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA)

Men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus, but their brains really are wired differently, a new study suggests.

The research, which involved imaging the brains of nearly 1,000 adolescents, found that male brains had more connections within hemispheres, whereas female brains were more connected between hemispheres. The results, which apply to the population as a whole and not individuals, suggest that male brains may be optimized for motor skills, and female brains may be optimized for combining analytical and intuitive thinking.

“On average, men connect front to back [parts of the brain] more strongly than women,” whereas “women have stronger connections left to right,” said study leader Ragini Verma, an associate professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania medical school. But Verma cautioned against making sweeping generalizations about men and women based on the results. [10 Surprising Facts About a Man’s Brain]

Previous studies have found behavioral differences between men and women. For example, women may have better verbal memory and social cognition, whereas men may have better motor and spatial skills, on average. Brain imaging studies have shown that women have a higher percentage of gray matter, the computational tissue of the brain, while men have a higher percentage of white matter, the connective cables of the brain. But few studies have shown that men’s and women’s brains areconnected differently.

In the study, researchers scanned the brains of 949 young people ages 8 to 22 (428 males and 521 females), using a form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) known as diffusion tensor imaging, which maps the diffusion of water molecules within brain tissue. The researchers analyzed the participants as a single group, and as three separate groups split up by age.

As a whole, the young men had stronger connections within cerebral hemispheres while the young women had stronger connections between hemispheres, the study, detailed today (Dec. 2) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found. However, the cerebellum, a part of the brain below the cerebrum that plays a role in coordinating muscle movement, showed the opposite pattern, with males having stronger connections between hemispheres.

Roughly speaking, the back of the brain handles perception and the front of the brain handles action; the left hemisphere of the brain is the seat of logical thinking, while the right side of the brain begets intuitive thinking. The findings lend support to the view that males may excel at motor skills, while women may be better at integrating analysis and intuitive thinking.

“It is fascinating that we can see some of functional differences in men and women structurally,” Verma told LiveScience. However, the results do not apply to individual men and women, she said. “Every individual could have part of both men and women in them,” she said, referring to the connectivity patterns her team observed.

When the researchers compared the young people by age group, they saw the most pronounced brain differences among adolescents (13.4 to 17 years old), suggesting the sexes begin to diverge in the teen years. Males and females showed the greatest differences in inter-hemisphere brain connectivity during this time, with females having more connections between hemispheres primarily in the frontal lobe. These differences got smaller with age, with older females showing more widely distributed connections throughout the brain rather than just in the frontal lobe.

Currently, scientists can’t quantify how much an individual has male- or female-like patterns of brain connectivity. Another lingering question is whether the structural differences result in differences in brain function, or whether differences in function result in structural changes.

The findings could also help scientists understand why certain diseases, such as autism, are more prevalent in males, Verma said.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Just 2 genes from Y chromosome needed for male reproduction

LiveScience
  • two-Y-genes

    An image showing the injection procedure (ROSI) used on spermatids of a normal male mouse performed by researcher Yasuhiro Yamauchi. The same procedure was used in the study in mice that lacked the Y chromosome. (SCIENCE)

The Y chromosome is often thought of as defining the male sex. Now scientists find that only two genes on the Y chromosome are needed in mice for them to father offspring.

These findings could point to ways to help otherwise infertile men have children, the researchers said. Men with a condition called azoospermia, who cannot produce healthy sperms cells, could one day benefit from treatments based on these findings, they said.

In the study, researchers injected two Y-chromosome genes into mouse embryos that lacked a Y chromosome, and found the embryos grew into adult mice that could produce offspring not through the typical get-together with a female mouse, but through assisted reproduction techniques.

“Only two Y-chromosome genes are needed to have children with the help of assisted reproduction,” study author Monika Ward, a reproductive biologist at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, told LiveScience. The scientists detailed their findings online Nov. 21 in the journal Science. [Sexy Swimmers: 7 Facts About Sperm]

Past research showed that when a gene called Sry was inserted into mouse embryos that are genetically female, “it changed the fate of the mice,” Ward told LiveScience. “Even though they had two X chromosomes, they developed into males.”

These mice developed testicles and produced sperm precursor cells known as spermatogonia; however, these cells did not develop into sperm cells.

In the new work, the researchers added other Y-chromosome genes, one at a time, into such mice. The trial-and-error process eventually revealed a gene called Eif2s3y helped spermatogonia occasionally develop into spermatids, or immature sperm.

Spermatids are round cells, lacking the whiplike tails that mature sperm use to swim toward and fertilize egg cells. This means that although mice with Sry and Eif2s3y are male and can generate sex cells, they cannot normally have offspring.

To see if males with this pair of Y genes could reproduce with a little help, Ward and her colleagues injected these spermatids directly into egg cells. They found they could successfully fertilize the eggs with this method, resulting in viable offspring.

The researchers emphasized the whole Y chromosome is likely needed for normal reproduction its other genes help mature sperm develop.

“We’re not trying to eliminate Y chromosomes with our work or men, for that matter,” Ward told LiveScience. “We’re just trying to understand how much of the Y chromosome is needed, and for what.”

The female offspring resulting from this method of reproduction were fertile, capable of giving birth to healthy young. The researchers did not test if the males resulting from this method also could have viable offspring presumably, these males would not be able to have progeny the conventional way, but their spermatids may also be capable of fertilizing eggs if they were injected directly into them, Ward said.

The researchers noted these findings may not hold up in humans. Still, Ward said the success of spermatid injection seen in this work could support it as an option for overcominginfertility in men in the future.

“It could offer otherwise infertile men the possibility of fathering children,” Ward said.

The scientists now want to see how many Y genes are needed to generate mature sperm that could fertilize eggs without assistance.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Necrotizing fasciitis: New treatment discovered for deadly flesh-eating disease

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    Dr. John Crew, vascular surgeon and wound specialist at Seton Medical Center in Daily City, Calif., examines Lori Madsen’s now-healed arm in spring of 2012.

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    Madsen and Crew pose with a bottle of Neutrophase, the disinfectant Crew believes helped cure Madsen of necrotizing fasciitis, a deadly flesh-eating disease.

In January 2012, Lori Madsen, then 51, was walking through a parking lot, when she fell and skinned her arm. Initially, she didn’t think much about the rugburn-like abrasion on her arm – but later that night, Madsen’s arm began to swell.

Two days later, the pain was so bad she couldn’t get out of bed.

“My husband had to take me to the ER and my blood pressure wasn’t reading and everything was shutting down,” Madsen told FoxNews.com. “I was in septic shock.”

Madsen was admitted to the intensive-care unit, where the infection in her arm raged on – causing fevers, blistering and swelling. A week later, Madsen was taken into surgery for the first time.

“They opened my arm up for the first time and excised some of the dead tissue in there,” Madsen said. “I got better for a couple days. My fever went down, but then I took another turn for the worse.”

At this point, Madsen feared she would lose her arm – or even worse – her life. Finally, she was introduced to Dr. John Crew, a vascular surgeon and wound specialist at Seton Medical Center in Daily City, Calif., where she was receiving treatment. Crew told Madsen he might know what was causing her health problems: A deadly disease known as necrotizing fasciitis.

The flesh-eating disease

Necrotizing fasciitis, commonly known as the flesh-eating disease, results from a bacterial infection and rapidly destroys the body’s soft tissue. The condition garnered national attention in 2012, when 24-year-old Aimee Copeland underwent a quadruple amputation after contracting necrotizing fasciitis in the aftermath of a zip lining accident.

Typically, necrotizing fasciitis is treated with antibiotics and surgical excision of the infected areas of the body. Though rare, the disease can carry a fatality rate of up to 70 percent – and those that survive are often left with devastating handicaps due to loss of limbs.

“They excise (the dead tissue), and (sometimes) you excise the hands and the legs and that’s a lousy way to end up,” Crew said.

Desperate to save Madsen’s limbs and life, Crew, director of the hospital’s Advanced Wound Care Center, devised a plan in which he would excise the dead tissue from Madsen’s arm and then regularly irrigate the area with an FDA-approved wound cleanser called NeutroPhase. Crew is a paid consultant for NovaBay Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufactures NeutroPhase, and he had been using the product to sterilize wounds for many years. NeutroPhase contains hypochlorous acid, a common chemical disinfectant.

“Hypochlorous acid is produced by the body’s white blood cells when it fights infection,” Dr. Harvey Himel, medical director of the wound program at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, told FoxNews.com. “(It) is one of the common chemicals found to purify water in swimming pools and is used as a disinfectant in food preparation.”  Himel was familiar with the study, but not involved in Madsen’s treatment.

Luckily, Madsen’s initial surgical treatment –coupled with the NeutroPhase irrigation – appeared successful.

However, six days later, Crew noticed another infected spot in a different area on Madsen’s arm. This time, Crew decided to simply insert a catheter and irrigate the area with NeutroPhase – without performing surgery to excise any more of the tissue in her arm.

Remarkably, this area of Madsen’s arm healed just as quickly as the area that underwent the standard surgical excision. Additionally, using NeutroPhase bypassed the severe scarring that now covered much of the rest of her limb.

Madsen noticed a difference in her condition almost immediately after being treated by Crew.

“Before they started NeutroPhase, the pain was unbearable. You can’t describe the way the pain is, and the fever I had was just unbelievable,” Madsen said. “But then, after they started the NeutroPhase and started killing all of the toxins in my arm, the fever subsided and went away. The pain wasn’t as bad…It wasn’t the kind of pain that you feel when it’s infected, and your arm is dying.”

‘People don’t have to lose their limbs or their lives’

Madsen eventually made a full recovery, and while she sustained some nerve damage in her arm, she has regained full function in the limb and now lives a normal life.

After Madsen’s recovery, Crew set out to discover what it was about NeutroPhase that had halted the infection.

“We had to go back to the lab after Lori was healed,” Crew said. “They isolated five or six of the toxins involved in this kind of necrotizing fasciitis, and individually, they treated cells in the lab… and it killed them.”

Crew and his fellow researchers discovered that NeutroPhase seemed to effectively neutralize the toxins produced by the infection, halting the body’s inflammatory-reaction and allowing the patient to begin to heal normally.

Crew recently published his findings in the peer-reviewed journal,Wounds, and he hopes to convince other doctors to begin using NeutroPhase to treat necrotizing fasciitis. Since Madsen’s case, Crew said he has successfully treated several other patients with necrotizing fasciitis using NeutroPhase – even avoiding surgery, in some cases.

“I had one 95-year-old, (and) when I just put in a catheter and irrigated it with NeutroPhase, she healed from that standpoint,” Crew said. “We didn’t need a big massive operation to drain or excise necrotic tissue. We’re looking to tell people this is the way to treat this problem. We won’t make big massive incisions, but small incisions to get the irrigation going as quick as we can.”

Himel warned that while this case appeared to be successful, more research is still needed.

“Since this is a single case report, it is hard to say if this treatment was instrumental in the patient’s recovery,” Himel said. “In order to scientifically prove the value of this additional treatment, they would need to conduct more extensive research.”

For Madsen, her hope is that this treatment will eventually help prevent others in her situation from going through the same agony she did.

“I don’t want to see anyone go through what I went through. I want the word out there that this stuff works on this necrotizing fasciitis,” Madsen said. “People don’t have to lose their limbs or their lives.”

Medical Qigong: An alternative therapy for pain

FoxNews.com

Today, many individuals are achieving stress relief, better health and physical fitness through various disciplines within the branches of Chinese medicine like yoga or Tai Chi and acupuncture.

Medical Qigong is another branch of traditional Chinese medicine emerging as a cornerstone of many Eastern-influenced alternative medicine practices. Pronounced “chee-kung,” the phrase, literally translated, means “energy of life.”

Qigong has been long been practiced in China as a means of regulating personal health by people of all ages and skill levels, much like yoga is practiced in America as a physical discipline or therapeutic activity.

However, Medical Qigong goes beyond self-cultivation, enlisting the assistance of a highly-trained and disciplined practitioner. Medical Qigong practitioners study and train for years, not only learning about the human anatomy and physiology, but cultivating their own energy through Qigong practice.

For patients, Medical Qigong can be used to address many common ailments or health concerns, including mental, physical or emotional stressors, physical pain, high blood pressure, headaches, anxiety or depression. Relief may happen quickly for some or can occur slowly over time – every patient’s experience is unique.

Some patients, like Tarja Toikkanen, who came to my practice after years of traditional medical treatments failed to address her migraines, seek pain relief but end up finding emotional relief as well.

“I was taking prescription medicines, but a one month supply would only last me a couple weeks,” Toikkanen, a 48-year-old nurse in South Florida, said.  “A friend of mine suggested acupuncture and recommended Dr. Perdue. I was willing to try anything just to feel better.”

The acupuncture treatments proved effective for treating Toikkanen’s migraines, but during her sessions, it was obvious that there was more going on than just migraine pain.

“While treating me for migraines, Dr. Perdue observed the difficult time I was going through in my personal life and she recommended Medical Qigong,” Toikkanen said. “She was right, I had been seeing a therapist and was on depression medication.”

For Toikkanen, her initial pain was addressed within a few months, but the wounds of her emotional battle were more difficult to unlock. However, she was determined to feel better.

“I was skeptical, but nonetheless, I started Medical Qigong treatments and going to Qigong classes every week. I even practiced Qigong at home,” Toikkanen said.  “After a full year [of Medical Qigong treatments], not only could I see a difference in myself, but other around me could too. I was happier, I felt good – inside and out. I was off my depression meds. I knew how to handle stress, remain calm and avoid panicking in tough situations at work and at home. Today, my life is more peaceful.”

Medical Qigong can be beneficial for everyone – young or old, healthy or sick. Gain a better understanding of Medical Qigong with these answers to commonly asked questions about the discipline:

What is a Medical Qigong session like?
An initial consultation and first treatment can last between one and a half to two hours, depending on the patient’s medical history and comfort discussing their health concerns. Follow-up sessions are one hour in length and most general treatment plans begin with weekly visits. As the patient progresses in his or her treatment, the frequency of visits changes accordingly.

After discussing health concerns, the patient lies down on a massage table, fully clothed, and is instructed on how to “Qigong breathe.”  This is a deep belly breathing, through the nose, that is performed throughout the duration of their treatment.

The practitioner will observe and scan the body – moving their hands across both the patient’s physical and energetic body, feeling for temperature differences and the quality of any sensations that may be present. Once this is complete, the practitioner begins energizing the meridian systems or energy pathways of the body by facilitating free energy flow.  This process moves along the same pathways, or meridians, as in acupuncture treatments, however involves no needles.

Why does Medical Qigong work?
Medical Qigong is a system of energetic medicine that, through natural processes, allows the body to balance itself for optimal health. The body rids itself of unwanted imbalances to efficiently function in harmony.

The results vary from person to person, as with any treatment, but the more you put into the discipline, the more you will get out of it. Daily practice of qigong between treatments and beyond treatment with a practitioner will help deliver long term, lasting results.

Where can you experience Medical Qigong?
Medical Qigong is a growing field for many alternative medicine practitioners and there are practitioners across the United States. Be certain to look for a practitioner that has pursued education and training in the Medical Qigong discipline and completed their required clinical hours as well. Most importantly, make sure you feel comfortable with the practitioner. Medical Qigong is a practice that delves not only into the physical, but the emotional as well. Your practitioner should be someone that resonates positively with you.

Lisa K. Perdue is a Japanese-American Acupuncture Physician, board certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She seeks to integrate the branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Medical Qigong and other healing modalities, alongside each patient’s conventional western medical treatments, assisting them in reaching their highest potential for optimal health. She has her own private practice, Asian Integrative Medicine, Inc. in Boca Raton, Florida. For more than ten years, she has been in practice in South Florida, dividing her time among her private practice, as the on-staff Acupuncture Physician at Palm Beach Fertility and teaching qigong classes with the Boca Raton Parks Department.

10 medical breakthroughs that sound like science fiction

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The news that comes out of research universities and hospitals often sounds too hopeful: Here’s a gene that maybe, could potentially end obesity. This newly discovered protein pathway might sort-of, some day cure cancer. Do any of the thousands of studies published each year really result in a meaningful change in someone’s life?

Here’s your answer: For the eighth consecutive year, the Cleveland Clinic has selected 10 technologies and discoveries that are already making an impact. “We look for innovations that are somewhat disruptive, so a new medication isn’t just a little better, it’s substantially better,” says Dr. Michael Roizen, who headed the panel of 30 medical professionals that selected this year’s finalists. Check out the technology of the future that’s already on our doorstep.

The Bionic Eye

The “Argus II” takes a video signal from a camera built into sunglasses and wirelessly transmits that image to implants in the retinas of people who have lost their vision. Though it’s been available in Europe since 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only approved the eye earlier this year. “This really is like Star Trek technology,” Roizen says.

The system isn’t perfect. It lets a blind person regain basic functions like walking on a sidewalk without stepping off a curb, and distinguishing black from white socks, but only lets you read one giant-sized word at a time on a Kindle. Plus, as the retina itself heals over the implant, the quality of vision decreases. The Argus II is currently only approved for people who have lost their sight from retinal pigmentosis—which affects 1 in 4,000 Americans. But the technology could soon help the more than 1.75 million people who suffer from macular degeneration. (The eyes are the window to the…mind? Find out what insights your eyes have on the brain.)

The Cancer Gene Fingerprint

Not all cancers are equally lethal—cancer in your prostate means a longer survival rate than a malignancy in your brain, for example. But even prostate cancer comes in multiple flavors ranging from manageable to very bad. By analyzing the mutated genome of a tumor, doctors can now pinpoint whether a cancer is sensitive to a certain chemotherapy, or one that doesn’t respond at all to current treatments. Knowing the subtype might mean jumping directly to a clinical trial that could save your life. (Discover 8 stealth strategies to Cancer-Proof Your Body.)

The Seizure Stopper

For the 840,000 epileptics suffering from sudden, uncontrollable seizures, the NeuroPace is like “a defibrillator for your brain,” Roizen says. The system includes sensors implanted in the brain that can spot the first tremors of an oncoming seizure. Then it sends electrical pulses that counteract the brain’s own haywire signals, stopping the seizure in its tracks. Even more impressive: The NeuroPace can be fine-tuned by doctors based on its performance. In the first year it was available, seizure episodes were reduced by an average of 40 percent—but 2 years later, they dropped by 53 percent. (Know what symptoms warrant a trip to your doctor: Learn the 7 Pains You Shouldn’t Ignore.)

The Hepatitis Cure

Until recently, treatment for hepatitis C fell into the good-but-not-great category, with only around 70 percent of patients being cured. And that was after as much as 48 weeks of a strict anti-viral drug regimen, including injections of interferon—which causes a number of debilitating side effects. But the new drug Sofosbuvir is a much more potent killer of hep C, with success in as many as 95 percent of patients. Even more, the medication only has to be administered for 12 weeks, sans interferon injections.

The Anesthesiologist’s iPad

Surgeons may get more glory, but anesthesiologists probably play the most vital role in keeping you alive during surgery. They’re the last face you see before you’re put into a medicated sleep so deep you don’t even notice that your body is being peeled open. Between keeping track of your heart rate, breathing, and brain functions, an anesthesiologist also needs to be familiar with the ins and outs of the procedure so they can adjust sedatives and painkillers—without causing complications.

The new “perioperative information management systems” include software on touchscreen-enabled computers that can warn doctors if things are going south, keep track of the surgeon’s workflows, and document every step of the procedure. All are essential when surgeries last up to 16 hours and docs need to pass the reins to a fresh pair of eyes.

The Fecal Transplant

The idea of taking someone else’s poop and giving it a new home in your own colon may sound repulsive, but the treatment has proven remarkably effective in curing infections of C. difficile—a nasty bacteria that kills 15,000 people each year. Take heart: The digested food waste in feces isn’t itself the cure. You’re simply gaining some of the helpful bacteria living in the donor’s gut—like a farmer choosing the hardiest crops to seed next year’s fields.

“The bacteria produce proteins that are involved in a lot more diseases than we realized,” says Roizen. Still grossed out? Researchers in Canada have developed a method to deliver just the bacteria—no feces—via an oral pill, skipping the need for a poo enema.

The Heart-Saving Hormone

Around one in four people who are hospitalized for heart failure don’t last much longer than a year. But a new drug called Serelaxin has upped the odds of survival by as much as 37 percent, according to a University of California, San Francisco study. It’s a synthetic version of the hormone relaxin, which is produced by pregnant women to help with the increased stress carrying a fetus places on the heart. “It not only opens up your blood vessels to supply your organs oxygen, but it has anti-inflammatory properties,” Roizen says. Serelaxin’s life-saving potential is profound enough that in June, the FDA dubbed it a “breakthrough therapy,” putting it on a faster track for approval in hospitals.

The Robot Doctor

If you’re undergoing a colonoscopy, you’ll want something to take the edge off (for obvious reasons). But even a light sedative to help you snooze while doctors spelunk your butt requires the presence of an anesthesiologist—which translates to $1 billion in additional medical expenses, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Enter the Sedasys: a computer with an attachment on the IV that meters out the correct amount of sedative and monitors vitals. It even includes an earpiece to wake patients up if necessary. That allows docs to administer “light to moderate” sedation on their own, with a single anesthesiologist supervising multiple patients. “If Michael Jackson’s doctor had this and knew how to use it, then Michael Jackson would still be alive today,” says Roizen.

The Better Heart-Attack Risk Test

Today you get a cholesterol test to assess your risk of heart attack, but soon you’ll be more worried about your trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) levels. Why? People with the highest levels of TMAO in their blood have 2.5 times the risk of a heart attack compared to those with the lowest levels, according to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine. TMAO is a compound produced by intestine bacteria—yep, the same ones involved in fecal transplants—after you eat choline, which is found in eggs, red meat, and dairy.

Once in your bloodstream, TMAO accelerates the process of cholesterol forming into plaques in your arteries. “We’re learning why red meat is hazardous, and what could be done to avoid that hazard,” Roizen says. Beyond simply avoiding red meat, preventive steps could include probiotics or medications that pinch off TMAO-producing pathways. (Cholesterol is so 2012. Meet today’s artery enemy with The New Heart Threat.)

The Precision-Guided Cancer Treatment

The difficult goal in any cancer treatment is to kill the tumor while leaving healthy cells alone. Recently, a better understanding of what makes cancer cells tick has allowed scientists to develop a class of drugs that pinpoint a weakness in cancer’s uncontrolled growth. For example, in lymphomas and leukemias, scientists have determined that the growth is controlled by a protein called Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK). After years of experimentation, doctors developed a new drug called Ibrutinib that blocks BTK.

A pair of studies in the New England Journal of Medicine this summer found that the oral pill helped 71 percent of chronic leukemia patients and 68 percent of patients with a type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Most importantly, Ibrutinib killed off the lymphoma while leaving the rest of the immune system alone. “Hopefully this will lead to a whole new class of drugs that will be cancer cell-specific,” says Roizen. (When you get the worst news of your life, seek out one of The Best Cancer Hospitals in the U.S.)

Your pee could power future robots

LiveScience
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    Researchers have found a way to turn urine into electric power that could drive a robot. (BRISTOL ROBOTICS LABORATORY)

There’s a new use for artificial hearts, and it involves a more taboo bodily fluid than blood.

A device that mimics the squeezing action of the human heart has been used to pump urine into a microbial fuel cell, which could power robots that convert the waste into electricity.

“In the future, we hope the robots might be used in city environments for remote sensing,” where they could help to monitor pollution, said study researcher Peter Walters, an industrial designer at the University of the West of England. “It could refuel from public lavatories, or urinals, ” Walters said.

 

‘It could refuel from public lavatories or urinals.’

– Peter Walters, an industrial designer at the University of the West of England

 

Walters and colleagues at the University of Bristol have created four generations of these so-called EcoBots over the past decade. Previous versions of the robots ran off energy from rotten produce, dead flies, wastewater and sludge. [Super-Intelligent Machines: 7 Robotic Futures]

Each is powered by a microbial fuel cell, containing live microorganisms like those found in the human gut or sewage treatment plants. The microbes digest the waste (or urine) and produce electrons, which can be harvested to produce electrical current, Walters said.

The researchers have already proved the microbial fuel cells can use urine power to charge a mobile phone.

Now, the team has developed a device, made of artificial muscles, that delivers real human urine to the robot’s microbial power stations. The pump is constructed from smart materials, called shape memory alloys, which remember their shape after being deformed.

Heating the artificial muscles with an electric current causes them to compress the soft center of the pump, forcing urine through an outlet that pumps it up to the height of the robot’s fuel cells. Removing the heat allows the muscles to revert to their original shape, allowing more fluid to enter the pump much as a heart relaxes to suck in more blood.

Twenty-four of these fuel cells stacked together were able to produce enough electricity to charge a capacitor, which was used to trigger contractions of the artificial heart pump, the researchers report Nov. 8 in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

Whereas conventional motor-powered pumps tend to get clogged, the artificial muscle pump has larger internal orifices, Walters said.

While the new pump does produce more electricity than it consumes (since some of the electricity comes from urine that’s converted to electrons), it’s still not extremely efficient. The researchers hope to improve the pump’s efficiency for use in future generations of the EcoBot.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Genetics breakthrough enables scientists to edit any part of human genome, report claims

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A new technique has enabled scientists to engineer parts of the human genome with extreme precision, a breakthrough which could mean new treatment possibilities for maladies such as cancer, HIV, and inherited genetic disorders.

According to the report, published in Thursday’s edition of The Independent in Britain, the technique, known as Crispr, enables the most detailed and specific possible alteration to any part of DNA of the 23 pairs of human chromosomes without introducing unintended mutations or flaws.

“Crispr is absolutely huge. It’s incredibly powerful and it has many applications, from agriculture to potential gene therapy in humans,” Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, a 2006 Nobel Prize winner, told the paper.

“It’s one of those things that you have to see to believe. I read the scientific papers like everyone else but when I saw it working in my own lab, my jaw dropped. A total novice in my lab got it to work.”

The Independent reports that Crispr could be used to hasten the development of genetically-modified crops and livestock, but many experts are most excited about its possibilities in humans.

Crispr works by using an RNA guide molecule that can be programmed to match any unique DNA sequence in the human genome. The molecule is attached to a special enzyme that cut both strands of the DNA double helix. Once that is done, the copied DNA is inserted into the double helix and defective DNA is deleted.

According to the Independent, some scientists believe the technique could be used to eliminate certain genetic diseases, like Down syndrome or Huntington’s Disease, by altering the DNA of an embryo before implanting it in the mother’s womb.

“It would be difficult to argue against using it if it can be shown to be as safe, reliable and effective as it appears to be,” Dr. Daga Wells, an IVF scientist at Oxford University, told the paper. “Who would condemn a child to terrible suffering and perhaps an early death when a therapy exists, capable of repairing the problem?”

Click for more from the Independent

Oldest female runner in NYC Marathon reportedly dies one day after race

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    Joy Johnson, 86, of San Jose, Calif., who appears in this undated family photo, died just one day after finishing the New York City Marathon. (EXCLUSIVE FOXNEWS.COM, COURTESY DIANA BOYDSTON)

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    Nov. 3, 2013: Runners pass under a bridge on Fourth Avenue in the Brooklyn borough of New York during the New York City Marathon. (AP/Peter Morgan)

An 86-year-old California woman — the oldest female to complete Sunday’s New York City Marathon — reportedly died just one day after finishing the grueling race.

Joy Johnson, of San Jose, Calif., stumbled and struck her head around the 20th mile of the 26.2 mile race, according to her 83-year-old sister, Faith Anderson, who accompanied Johnson to the Big Apple. Medics wanted to take Johnson to the hospital, but she insisting on finishing the marathon, the New York Daily News reports.

“At least she was running, the way she wanted to go,” said Johnson’s daughter, Diana Boydston, also of San Jose.

 

“I always say I’m going to run until I drop. I’m going to die in my tennis shoes. I just don’t know when I’m going to quit.”

– Joy Johnson

 

Johnson finished the race in 7 hours and 57 minutes, or three hours longer than her time during her peak in the early 1990s. Then, on Monday, Johnson said she was she was tired and wanted to lay down in her room at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. She did not wake up and was later declared dead at Bellevue Hospital, Anderson said.

Johnson, who completed the marathon 25 times, had been the oldest woman running the New York City Marathon since 2011, the newspaper reports. Just 31 of the race’s 50,000-plus participants this year were age 80 or older, according to organizers.

Prior to the race, Johnson said she would simply stick to her pace and walk once she became fatigued.

“I’ll be at the back of the pack, but I don’t mind,” she said. “I just praise the Lord I can get out of bed each morning and run. A lot of people my age are in wheelchairs.”

Johnson was part of a growing trend of elderly runners, according to Don Lein, an official record keeper for USA Track and Field. Lein told USA Today that more than 2,600 people ages 60 and older took part in Sunday’s marathon.

“There is very definitely both an increase in terms of those who want to participate and get fit and those who want to compete,” Lein said.

Fauja Singh, 100, became the oldest person on record to complete a full-length marathon in Toronto last month, the newspaper reports.

Eerily, Johnson made a macabre prediction while runners half her age took photographs with her on Saturday, just two days before her death.

“I always say I’m going to run until I drop,” she told the newspaper. “I’m going to die in my tennis shoes. I just don’t know when I’m going to quit.”

Surgeons discover new ligament in human knee

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The human knee has more components than previously thought.

Two Belgian knee surgeons have discovered a previously unknown ligament located in the muscles and tendons of the human knee – a part they have named the anterolateral ligament (ALL).  According to the surgeons, the ALL is present in 97 percent of all human knees and may play a significant role in how patients recover from anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.

After undergoing successful ACL repair surgeries, many patients will continue to suffer from a condition known as “pivot shift,” in which the knee “gives way” during activity.  In order to better understand this strange occurrence, Dr. Steven Claes and Dr. Johan Bellemans from University Hospitals Leuven have been conducting research into ACL tears over the past four years. They looked into a theory made by a French surgeon in 1879, which claimed that an unknown ligament existed on the anterior of the human knee.

After conducting a broad cadaver study using macroscopic dissection techniques, Claes and Bellemans found this theory to be correct.  Their research showed that pivot shift occurs when there is additional injury in the ALL.

The discovery, which was detailed in the Journal of Anatomy, could signal a breakthrough for the future of treatment for ACL injuries.

Click for more from the University Hospitals Leuven.