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Medicine

Can Computerized Brain Training Prevent Dementia? (newyorker.com) 35

"Researchers believe they have found a link between speed-of-processing training and a reduction in cognitive decline among the elderly," reports the New Yorker. An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes an article about how this new long-term study actually contradicts much of the previous science. In October of 2014 a group of more than seventy academics published what they called a consensus statement, asserting that playing brain games had been shown to improve little more than the ability to play brain games... no brain game, nor any drug, dietary supplement, or lifestyle intervention, had ever been shown in a large, randomized trial to prevent dementia...until today, when surprising new results were announced at the Alzheimerâ(TM)s Association annual meeting, in Toronto.
Nearly 3,000 participants with an average age of 73.6 participated in the study, with some receiving "speed of processing" training -- and some later receiving four hours of additional training. "The researchers calculated those who completed at least some of these booster sessions were 48% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia after ten years than their peers in the control group." Signatories of the 2014 consensus statement panning brain games are now calling these new results "remarkable" and "spectacular".
Government

New Study Shows Why Big Pharma Hates Medical Marijuana (washingtonpost.com) 415

HughPickens.com writes: Christopher Ingraham writes in the Washington Post that a new study shows that painkiller abuse and overdose are significantly lower in states with medical marijuana laws and that when medical marijuana is available, pain patients are increasingly choosing pot over powerful and deadly prescription narcotics. The researchers "found that, in the 17 states with a medical-marijuana law in place by 2013, prescriptions for painkillers and other classes of drugs fell sharply compared with states that did not have a medical-marijuana law... In medical-marijuana states, the average doctor prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication. But most strikingly, the typical physician in a medical-marijuana state prescribed 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers in a given year."

[P]ainkiller drug companies "have long been at the forefront of opposition to marijuana reform, funding research by anti-pot academics and funneling dollars to groups, such as the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, that oppose marijuana legalization..."

Medicine

A Medical Mystery of the Best Kind: Major Diseases Are In Decline (nytimes.com) 321

Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes an article from the New York Times: Something strange is going on in medicine. Major diseases, like colon cancer, dementia and heart disease, are waning in wealthy countries, and improved diagnosis and treatment cannot fully explain it...it looks as if people in the United States and some other wealthy countries are, unexpectedly, starting to beat back the diseases of aging. The leading killers are still the leading killers -- cancer, heart disease, stroke -- but they are occurring later in life, and people in general are living longer in good health.
The Times cites one researcher's pet theory that the cellular process of aging itself may be gradually changing in humans' favor.
Medicine

After Death, Hundreds of Genes Spring Back to Life 62

Two surprising studies reveal new information about what genes do after death. Slashdot reader gurps_npc writes: You think your body stops after death, but up to two days later certain genes may turn on and start doing stuff for another two days before they give up the ghost. We are all zombies for up to four days after death.
Gizmodo reports that in fact "hundreds" of genes apparently spring back to life. "[P]revious work on human cadavers demonstrated that some genes remain active after death, but we had no idea as to the extent of this strange phenomenon."
Medicine

WHO: Drinking Extremely Hot Coffee, Tea 'Probably' Causes Cancer (usatoday.com) 274

An anonymous reader writes from a report via USA Today: The World Health Organization reports that drinking coffee, tea and other beverages at temperatures hotter than 149 degrees Fahrenheit may lead to cancer of the esophagus. These hot beverages can injure cells in the esophagus and lead to the formation of cancer cells, said Mariana Stern, an associate professor of preventative medicine and urology at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine. But scientists did say that if you drink coffee at cooler temperatures, it is not only safe but it may decrease of the risk of liver cancer by 15%, according to research published in Lancet Oncology. Previously, the International Agency for Research on Cancer ruled coffee was a "possible carcinogenic" in 1991. The research involved Stern and 22 other scientists from 10 countries, who examined about 1,000 studies on more than 20 types of cancer.
Medicine

Repurposing Drugs To Tackle Cancer (theguardian.com) 53

sackvillian writes: Many Slashdotters are aware of the infamous thalidomide birth defect crisis. What might come as a surprise is the incredible success that thalidomide and some analogs have recently found as treatments for cancer, ulcers, lupus, and more. In fact, thanks in part to their success, there's a growing research movement that's attempting to treat cancer with other existing drugs that are commonly used for totally unrelated conditions. Drugs as common as aspirin, which is in the early stages of a clinical trial that will involve over 10,000 cancer patients, are being used. As described in the article written by The Guardian, at least one major international collaboration has taken this approach: The Repurposing Drugs in Oncology (ReDO) project. However, as most of the drugs are long since off-patent, researchers are having to be creative in obtaining funding for their work. Last week, Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a public database for clinical data on cancer that aims to help researchers and doctors better tailor new treatments to individuals.
Medicine

Seattle App Summons Help When You Need CPR (geekwire.com) 55

An anonymous reader writes:Sudden cardiac arrest is usually fatal. But Seattle's Fire Department has joined with the city's Medic One Foundation to develop an app which alerts emergency dispatchers and also CPR-trained bystanders when someone needs CPR. The PulsePoint app also shows the location of the nearest defibrillator, and Seattle's mayor says he hopes it will save lives. A Spokane version of the app is already credited with helping to save the life of an infant, and the Medic One Foundation hopes to work with more local fire department to bring the app to the rest of Washington State.
Google

It's Time To Ignore Petty Politics and Focus On 'Transformative' Tech: Eric Schmidt (techcrunch.com) 141

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman at Alphabet in an interview said that we need to focus more on the possibilities of advances in biology and medicine as well as AI. But he feels people are spending "all our time arguing about political issues that are ultimately not that important." He urges people to stop doing that and work on things that are transformative. He added: "We've gone from an era where we thought about solving problems that were very, very big," he said. "We now define them as problems of special interests. Everyone's guilty. I'm not making a particular political point here." Schmidt seemed excited enough about the possibility of medical breakthroughs that Rose asked him: If he was starting over today, would he be more likely to go into computer science or biology? "Both are having a renaissance," Schmidt said.
Cellphones

Doubts Raised About Cellphone Cancer Study (vox.com) 100

Vox is strongly criticizing coverage of a supposed link between cellphones and cancer suggested by a new study, calling it "a breathtaking example of irresponsible science hype." An anonymous reader writes: A professor and research monitoring administrator at an American medical school reported that to get their results, the researchers "exposed pregnant rats to whole body CDMA- and GSM-modulated radiofrequency radiation, for 9 hours a day, 7 days a week," and the results were seen only with CDMA (but not GSM-modulated) radiofrequency. "[F]alse positives are very likely. The cancer difference was only seen in females, not males. The incidence of brain cancer in the exposed groups was well within the historical range. There's no clear dose response..."
An emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University in Britain also called the study "statistically underpowered..." according to Vox. "Not enough animals were used to allow the researchers to have a good chance of detecting a risk from radiofrequency radiation of the size one might plausibly expect."
Science

Sorry, There's Nothing Magical About Breakfast (nytimes.com) 300

Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Plenty of people certainly believe that, but according to a new report, that notion is based on "misinterpreted research and biased studies." The New York Times has run a piece authored by Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, who looked into numerous studies -- and found flaws in them -- to conclude that breakfast isn't as important after all. (Could be paywalled; alternate source) He writes: The [reports] improperly used causal language to describe their results. They misleadingly cited others' results. And they also improperly used causal language in citing others' results. People believe, and want you to believe, that skipping breakfast is bad. Carroll also points out a conflict in many of such studies: most of them have been funded by the food industry. He concludes: The bottom line is that the evidence for the importance of breakfast is something of a mess. If you're hungry, eat it. But don't feel bad if you'd rather skip it, and don't listen to those who lecture you. Breakfast has no mystical powers.
Power

Scientists Say Nuclear Fuel Pools Pose Safety, Health Risks (nbcnews.com) 166

mdsolar quotes a report from NBC News: Ninety-six aboveground, aquamarine pools around the country that hold the nuclear industry's spent reactor fuel may not be as safe as U.S. regulators and the nuclear industry have publicly asserted, a study released May 20 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine warned. Citing a little-noticed study by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the academies said that if an accident or an act of terrorism at a densely-filled pool caused a leak that drains the water away from the rods, a cataclysmic release of long-lasting radiation could force the extended evacuation of nearly 3.5 million people from territory larger than the state of New Jersey. It could also cause thousands of cancer deaths from excess radiation exposure, and as much as $700 billion dollars in costs to the national economy. The report is the second and final study of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which was pummeled from a tsunami on March 11, 2011. The authors suggest the U.S. examine the benefits of withdrawing the spent fuel rods from the pools and storing them instead in dry casks aboveground in an effort to avoid possible catastrophes. The idea is nothing new, but it's been opposed by the industry because it could cost as much as $4 billion. The latest report contradicts parts of a study by Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff released two years after the Fukushima incident. The NRC staff in its 2014 study said a major earthquake could be expected to strike an area where spent fuel is stored in a pool once in 10 million years or less, and even then, "spent fuel pools are likely to withstand severe earthquakes without leaking."
Medicine

Theranos Withdraws Two Years of Blood Test Results (cnbc.com) 100

Reader Major Blud writes: Theranos, the company valued at $9 billion that promised to revolutionize the way blood testing is done, has just announced that it has withdrawn all of the test done using its Edison machine performed in 2014 and 2015. The company recently come under fire from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for the inaccuracy and unreliability of the machine, and threatened to revoke the company's license as well as ban CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes, and its president and COO, Sunny Balwani, from blood testing.
Earth

Genetically Modified Crops Are Safe, Report Says (nbcnews.com) 378

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: Genetically modified crops on the market are not only safe, but appear to be good for people and the environment, experts determined in a report released Tuesday. "The committee delved into the relevant literature, heard from 80 diverse speakers, and read more than 700 comments from members of the public to broaden its understanding of issues surrounding GE crops," the report reads. Panel members read more than 900 reports. A lot of concern centered on health effects. The committee determined the following: there is no evidence of large-scale health effects on people from genetically modified foods; there is some evidence that crops genetically engineered to resist bugs have benefited people by reducing cases of insecticide poisoning; genetically engineered crops to benefit human health, such as those altered to produce more vitamin A, can reduce blindness and deaths due to vitamin A deficiency; using insect-resistant or herbicide-resistant crops did not damage plant or insect diversity and in some cases increased the diversity of insects; sometimes the added genes do leak out to nearby plants -- a process called gene flow -- but there is no evidence it has caused harm; in general, farmers who use GM soybean, cotton, and corn make more money but it does depend on how bad pests are and farming practices; GM crops do reduce losses to pests, and if farmers use insect-resistant crops but don't take enough care, sometimes pest insects develop resistance. The National Academics of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have put the evidence up on a website for skeptics of the report. The report also includes a 'Summarized Comments Received from Members of the Public' section for people to look up the facts to answer their concerns.
Canada

Ontario Parents Refusing To Vaccinate Their Children Could Be Forced to Take Science Class (qz.com) 499

Ontario is considering making parents who choose to not vaccinate their children for non-medical reasons take a science class. The health ministry of Canada's most populous province has proposed a bill which would force those parents sit through the education session before applying for a vaccine exemption. In the class, they will be taught about the importance of vaccination for their children. Quartz offers more context: Ontario was the first province in Canada to introduce immunization laws (PDF) in 1982, which required children attending school be vaccinated against certain diseases -- including diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and measles -- unless they have a signed exemption. After routine immunization was introduced, cases of those diseases dramatically reduced. Parents who apply for an exemption (PDF) for non-medical reasons risk having their child pulled from school if there's an outbreak, or the immediate risk of an outbreak, of a designated disease.
Earth

Scientists Grow Two-Week-Old Human Embryos In Lab For The First Time (reuters.com) 140

An anonymous reader writes: According to Reuters, "Using a culture method previously tested to grow mouse embryos outside of a mother, the teams were able to conduct almost hour by hour observations of human embryo development to see how they develop and organize themselves up to day 13."

Brave new world, here we come
From the report: "The work, covered in two studies published on Wednesday in the journal Nature and Nature Cell Biology, showed how the cells that will eventually form the human body self-organize into the basic structure of a post-implantation human embryo. As well as advancing human biology expertise, the knowledge gained from studying these developments should help to improve in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments and further progress in the field of regenerative medicine, the researchers said. But the research also raises the issue of an international law banning scientists from developing human embryos beyond 14 days, and suggests this limit may have to be reviewed. 'Longer cultures could provide absolutely critical information for basic human biology,' said researcher Zernicka-Goetz. 'But this would of course raise the next question - of where we should put the next limit.'"
Medicine

Medical Errors Are Number 3 Cause of US Deaths, Researchers Say (npr.org) 247

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine says medical errors should rank as the third-leading cause of death in the United States -- and highlights how shortcomings in tracking vital statistics may hinder research and keep the problem out of the public eye. The authors, led by Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Martin Makary, call for changes in death certificates to better tabulate fatal lapses in care. In an open letter, they urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to immediately add medical errors to its annual list reporting the top causes of death. Based on an analysis of prior research, the Johns Hopkins study estimates that more than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors. On the CDC's official list, that would rank just behind heart disease and cancer, which each took about 600,000 lives in 2014, and in front of respiratory disease, which caused about 150,000 deaths. Medical mistakes that can lead to death range from surgical complications that go unrecognized to mix-ups with the doses or types of medications patients receive. The study was published Tuesday in The BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal.
Biotech

First Successful Gene Therapy Against Human Aging? (geekwire.com) 244

An anonymous reader writes: For the first time data may show that a human being has been successfully rejuvenated by gene therapy, claims Bioviva USA. "In September 2015, then 44 year-old CEO of Bioviva USA Inc. Elizabeth Parrish received two of her own company's experimental gene therapies: one to protect against loss of muscle mass with age, another to battle stem cell depletion responsible for diverse age-related diseases and infirmities." Bypassing America's FDA, the controversial therapies were described by the MIT Technology Review as "do-it-yourself medicine," saying it "raises ethical questions about how quickly such treatments should be tested in people and whether they ought to be developed outside the scrutiny of regulators." "The treatment was originally intended to demonstrate the safety of the latest generation of the therapies," reports Bioviva's web site. "But if early data is accurate, it is already the world's first successful example of telomere lengthening via gene therapy in a human individual."
Medicine

Zika Virus Officially Causes Rare Microcephaly Birth Defects, CDC Says (cnn.com) 106

An anonymous reader writes: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday the Zika virus causes microcephaly and other birth defects. "This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak. It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly," CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden said. The CDC previously said it was likely the virus in pregnant women was the cause of the rare birth defect that results in an underdeveloped brain and that more evidence and research were needed to conclusively say it is causal. "We started using criteria about a month ago to see which ones had been met and which ones had not been met. We wanted to do this in a systematic and calculated way," said Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, lead author of the New England Journal of Medicine special report. There's was also no alternative explanation to account for the increase in these congenital defects among women who had the Zika virus during pregnancy. The CDC says they are not yet ready to conclude the virus causes Guillain-Barre syndrome. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported more than 1,000 cases of microcephaly and other fetal malformations believed to be associated with the Zika virus from six countries.
Science

Replacing Butter With Vegetable Oils Doesn't Decrease Risk of Heart Disease, Says Study (medicalxpress.com) 190

An anonymous reader writes: A research team led by scientists at the UNC School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health has unearthed more evidence that casts doubt on the traditional "heart healthy" practice of replacing butter and other saturated fats with corn oil and other vegetable oils high in linoleic acid. The findings, reported today in the British Medical Journal, suggest that using vegetable oils high in linoleic acid might be worse than using butter when it comes to preventing heart disease, though more research needs to be done on that front. This latest evidence comes from an analysis of previously unpublished data of a large controlled trial conducted in Minnesota nearly 50 years ago, as well as a broader analysis of published data from all similar trials of this dietary intervention. The analyses show that interventions using linoleic acid-rich oils failed to reduce heart disease and overall mortality even though the intervention reduced cholesterol levels. In the Minnesota study, participants who had greater reduction in serum cholesterol had higher rather than lower risk of death. Two things to note about the study: 75% of the participants left in less than a year (perhaps not uncommon, the study doesn't explain why these people left); the vegetable oils mentioned in the article are not necessarily the most commonly used (which are oils made of olive, sunflower, coconut, and palm).
Medicine

Sean Parker Announces $250 Million Grant To Fight Cancer (cnn.com) 29

Robert Mclean, reporting for CNN: Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker announced a $250 million grant on Wednesday to establish the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, which aims to increase collaboration among researchers and accelerate the development of immune therapies. Immunotherapy uses the body's own immune system to help fight cancer, and is considered one of the most promising areas of emerging cancer research. More than 40 laboratories and more than 300 researchers and immunologists will participate in the project, including six top cancer centers: Memorial Sloan Kettering, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, Stanford, UCLA and UCSF. The Institute said that under the program, intellectual property licensing, data collection and clinical trials across multiple centers will be unified for the first time. The administration of all intellectual property will be shared across teams.

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