2006 October 31 Tuesday
Brain Scans While Speaking In Tongues

Does God take over the language area of the brain when people speak in tongues?

Glossolalia, otherwise referred to as “speaking in tongues,” has been around for thousands of years, and references to it can be found in the Old and New Testament. Speaking in tongues is an unusual mental state associated with specific religious traditions. The individual appears to be speaking in an incomprehensible language, yet perceives it to have great personal meaning. Now, in a first of its kind study, scientists are shining the light on this mysterious practice -- attempting to explain what actually happens physiologically to the brain of someone while speaking in tongues.

Would God suppress the frontal lobes while he (she?) takes over the speech areas of the brain? Or would he take over the throat and tongue while ignoring the brain?

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have discovered decreased activity in the frontal lobes, an area of the brain associated with being in control of one’s self. This pioneering study, involving functional imaging of the brain while subjects were speaking in tongues, is in the November issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, the official publication of the International Society for Neuroimaging in Psychiatry.

Radiology investigators observed increased or decreased brain activity - by measuring regional cerebral blood flow with SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) imaging - while the subjects were speaking in tongues. They then compared the imaging to what happened to the brain while the subjects sang gospel music.

“We noticed a number of changes that occurred functionally in the brain,” comments Principal Investigator Andrew Newberg, MD, Associate Professor of Radiology, Psychiatry, and Religious Studies, and Director for the Center for Spirituality and the Mind, at Penn. “Our finding of decreased activity in the frontal lobes during the practice of speaking in tongues is fascinating because these subjects truly believe that the spirit of God is moving through them and controlling them to speak. Our brain imaging research shows us that these subjects are not in control of the usual language centers during this activity, which is consistent with their description of a lack of intentional control while speaking in tongues.”

Newberg went on to explain, “These findings could be interpreted as the subject’s sense of self being taken over by something else. We, scientifically, assume it’s being taken over by another part of the brain, but we couldn’t see, in this imaging study, where this took place. We believe this is the first scientific imaging study evaluating changes in cerebral activity -- looking at what actually happens to the brain -- when someone is speaking in tongues. This study also showed a number of other changes in the brain, including those areas involved in emotions and establishing our sense of self.”

Newberg concludes that the changes in the brain during speaking in tongues reflect a complex pattern of brain activity. Newberg suggests that since this is the first study to explore this, future studies will be needed to confirm these findings in an attempt to demystify this fascinating religious phenomenon.

Maybe God suppresses the frontal lobes so that critical analytical thoughts do not question his message?

I'm guessing speaking in tongues occurs due to some neurological abnormality. If it becomes possible to fix the abnormality will anyone see this as an attempt to defeat the will of God?

By Randall Parker 2006 October 31 09:29 PM  Brain Spirituality
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Veins Stiffen With Age

Veins get stiffer as we age just as arteries do.

As if creaking joints and hardening of the arteries weren't bad enough, a research team from the University of Delaware and the Christiana Care Health System in Newark has now confirmed that even our veins stiffen as we age.

“When you are young, your veins are nice and elastic--like rubber bands,” William Farquhar, a cardiovascular physiologist in UD's College of Health Sciences, said. “But as you grow older, we've found that your veins become more like lead pipes.”

70% of your blood is in your veins but veins have been less studied than arteries. Well, veins age too and become less able to stretch to increase blood volume.

To determine if there are age-related differences in how our veins work, the research team recruited 24 people for their study--12 healthy young adults between the ages of 18 and 30, and 12 healthy older adults between 60 and 70 years old. Each individual underwent medical screening at Christiana Hospital, which included a lipid profile, blood pressure monitoring, electrocardiogram and several other tests to ensure overall good health.

Then each participant was involved in a series of research trials at UD's Human Performance Lab on the Newark campus. While each subject lay resting on a gurney, various gauges, connected to computers, were placed on their arms and legs. An arterial cuff was attached to an upper arm to monitor blood pressure, and venous cuffs were placed around the upper thigh and upper arm to measure the blood flow to the limbs.

As the cuffs were inflated over an eight-minute period, and then slowly deflated to let blood escape from the limbs, the blood volume was measured, recorded, and graphed. The consistently lower blood volume under pressure pointed to the less springy veins of the older participants.

So what causes vein stiffening with age? Increased thickness is one possibility. Another possibility is either less nitric acid to signal them to dilate or fewer or impaired receptors for the nitric acid dilation signal. Still another possibility is scar tissue.

Yet another possibility is chemical crosslinks called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). The AGEs (also known as advanced glycosylation end-products) are obvious targets for drug development and a company called Alteon has been developing AGE breakers ALT-711 and alagebrium , drugs aimed at breaking AGE bonds in order to make aged tissues more flexible again.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 31 08:51 PM  Aging Mechanisms
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2006 October 30 Monday
Mini-livers Grown From Umbilical Cord Stem Cells

A Newcastle University team in England has grown mini-livers from umbilical cord stem cells.

Scientists have grown an artificial liver that is set to revolutionise the medical world, it was revealed today.

A team based at Newcastle University have grown a tiny liver, believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

Using stem cells taken from umbilical cords, Dr Nico Forraz and Professor Colin McGuckin made the breakthrough.

The two scientists also took a trip to Houston, Texas, to work with scientists at Nasa.

And using some skills they learned at Nasa they were able to make the miniature livers, which can now be used for drug and pharmaceutical testing, eradicating the need to test on animals and humans.

They think they are 10 years to being able to grow a full liver.

Dr Forraz said: "We have taken a little bit of umbilical cord blood, and then it is all about enhancing things that already exist.

"We cannot build a fullsized liver yet. That will take about 10 years. But this is the first important step.

"We expect this to really take off in the next 18 months or so.

Livers are relatively simpler things to grow than 3 dimensionally more complex structures such as hearts and kidneys. So I'm expecting we'll see replacement livers before replacement hearts or kidneys.

They see a series of steps with mini livers first used for pharmaceutical research and liver pieces used to repair damage.

As it stands, the mini organ can be used to test new drugs, preventing disasters such as the recent 'Elephant Man' drug trial. Using lab-grown liver tissue would also reduce the number of animal experiments.

Within five years, pieces of artificial tissue could be used to repair livers damaged by injury, disease, alcohol abuse and paracetamol overdose.

And then, in just 15 years' time, entire liver transplants could take place using organs grown in a lab.

These scientists intend to commercialize their work with their company ConoStem.

Liver replacement has applications beyond liver cirrhosis. First off, some people die from liver failure brought on by the trauma of accidents. Also, liver cancer is another kind of liver failure which kills people. Liver cancer cases that are now inoperable will become operable when it becomes possible to remove an entire liver and replace it with a new one.

For a number of types of organs replacement to treat cancer might end up saving more lives than replacement due to accidents and other diseases. Got pancreatic cancer? Replace it. Got kidney cancer? Replace it. Advances in testing will allow identification of a growing portion of all cancers before metastasis. If a cancer is still contained within a single organ then an excellent solution might some day be to just replace that whole organ. Though other ways to cure cancer might eventually avoid the need for this approach.

We can develop the technology to grow replacement parts for just about every part of the body and this can be accomplished within the lifetimes of most of the people reading this. So why aren't we trying much harder? Government research funding for stem cells and tissue engineering should be at least an order of magnitude larger.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 30 10:05 PM  Biotech Organ Replacement
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Turmeric Extract Prevents Rat Rheumatoid Arthritis

A turmeric extract has anti-inflammatory and joint protective effects.

TUCSON, Ariz. – An ancient spice, long used in traditional Asian medicine, may hold promise for the prevention of both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, according to a recently completed study at The University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Turmeric, the spice that flavors and gives its yellow color to many curries and other foods, has been used for centuries by practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine to treat inflammatory disorders. Turmeric extract containing the ingredient curcumin is marketed widely in the Western world as a dietary supplement for the treatment and prevention of a variety of disorders, including arthritis.

At the UA College of Medicine, Janet L. Funk, MD, working with Barbara N. Timmermann, PhD, then-director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Arizona Center for Phytomedicine Research at the UA, set out to determine whether (and how) turmeric works as an anti-arthritic. They began by preparing their own extracts from the rhizome, or root, of the plant, providing themselves with well-characterized materials to test and to compare with commercially available products. (Dr. Timmermann since has joined the faculty of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kan.)

Sounds like extracts sold as curcumin have the active ingredients.

Dr. Funk and her colleagues then tested in animal models a whole extract of turmeric root, only the essential oils, and an oil-depleted extract containing the three major curcuminoids found in the rhizome. Of the three extracts, the one containing the major curcuminoids was most similar in chemical composition to commercially available turmeric dietary supplements. It also was the most effective, completely inhibiting the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr. Funk, an endocrinologist in the UA Department of Medicine, says this study provides several noteworthy "firsts." Completed with the researchers' own prepared, well-defined extracts, the study represents the first documentation of the chemical composition of a curcumin-containing extract tested in a living organism, in vivo, for anti-arthritic efficacy. It also provides the first evidence of anti-arthritic efficacy of a complex turmeric extract that is analogous in composition to turmeric dietary supplements.

Turmeric extract might also help prevent osteoporosis.

In addition to preventing joint inflammation, Dr. Funk's study shows that the curcuminoid extract blocked the pathway that affects bone resorption. Noting that bone loss associated with osteoporosis in women typically begins before the onset of menopause, she has begun work on another NIH-funded study to determine whether turmeric taken as a dietary supplement during perimenopause can prevent bone loss and osteoporosis. Both of the studies are supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), both of the NIH.

Note that any compound that suppresses an inflammation response runs the risk of causing harmful side effects.

The study results also suggest a useful human dose.

The current research, which was funded by the Office of Dietary Supplements and National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Healthis the first study to document the composition of a turmeric-containing compound that is similar to commercially available products and to document the mechanisms by which it reduces the effects of arthritis. The authors were able to find an effective dose in rats that would be equivalent in humans to 1.5 milligrams per day of a portion of the turmeric root that makes up 3% of dried turmeric powder. The inhibition of NF-KB and of key inflammatory genes directly or indirectly activated by NF-KB suggests that inhibition of this protein may be an important mechanism in turmeric's anti-arthritic effects. In fact, the authors state that "it would appear that turmeric dietary supplements share the same mechanism of action as antiarthritic pharmaceuticals currently under development that target NF-KB." It is also possible that turmeric blocks other inflammatory pathways, given its chemical complexity. Turmeric seems to block early inflammatory responses, as evidenced by the fact that it was effective when started 3 days but not 8 days after arthritis was induced, the authors note.

"In summary," the authors state, "just as the willow bark provided relief for arthritis patients before the advent of aspirin, it would appear that the underground stem (rhizome) of a tropical plant [turmeric] may also hold promise for the treatment of joint inflammation and destruction." They note that the anti-inflammatory effects of botanicals can only be utilized if their chemical content is analyzed. The authors conclude: "Finally, before turmeric supplements can be recommended for medicinal use, clinical trials are clearly needed to verify/determine whether treatment with adequate doses of well-characterized turmeric extracts can indeed prevent/suppress disease flares in RA [rheumatoid arthritis] patients, as well as to explore any potential benefits of turmeric dietary supplements in the prevention or treatment of more common forms of arthritis in the general population."

If only 3% of dried turmeric powder has the useful component and you need 1.5 mg of that component that suggests you need 33 times 1.5 mg of turmeric extract powder to get a useful dose. That's about 50 mg.

The turmeric extract curcumin might also help prevent Alzheimer's Disease. See my post: Curcumin Stimulates Immune Cells To Clear Alzheimers Plaque.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 30 08:49 PM  Aging Diet Studies
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2006 October 29 Sunday
Cocaine Addicts Have Distorted Values For Money

Periodically I like to harp on the damage that addictive drugs do to brains because some libertarians (and not a few economists) imagine that we all have enough free will to make rational decisions about addictive drug use. I take a more evolutionary approach to humans and free will. Our capacity to think rationally is spotty at best and there are elements of our modern technological societies that we are so maladapted to handle that we are like dogs that want to chase cars. When dogs do it they get injured or killed and we are no different. We aren't wired up to handle some products of our societies and it is naive to pretend otherwise.

Here is yet another study showing impaired ability of addicts to make judgements that would seem like common sense to, say, a free market libertarian. Coke heads have impared abilties to perceive awards and control how they respond to rewards.

ATLANTA, GA -- People addicted to cocaine have an impaired ability to perceive rewards and exercise control due to disruptions in the brain's reward and control circuits, according to a series of brain-mapping studies and neuropsychological tests conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory.

"Our findings provide the first evidence that the brain's threshold for responding to monetary rewards is modified in drug-addicted people, and is directly linked to changes in the responsiveness of the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain essential for monitoring and controlling behavior," said Rita Goldstein, a psychologist at Brookhaven Lab. "These results also attest to the benefit of using sophisticated brain-imaging tools combined with sensitive behavioral, cognitive, and emotional probes to optimize the study of drug addiction, a psychopathology that these tools have helped to identify as a disorder of the brain."

Some day drug addicts might be treated by stem cell therapies that go in and restore some missing neurons. Imagine the power of such a therapy. If it can fix damaged brains it will also likely be able to alter the way people with undamaged brains form judgements. Development of repair therapies inevitably leads to development of enhancement therapies and also therapies that are not so much enhancement as simply alteration. For good or bad? I guess we'll find out. Probably some of each, hopefully more good than bad.

The addicts and non-addicts had their brains scanned while they were offered rewards and asked to perform tests.

Goldstein's experiments were designed to test a theoretical model, called the Impaired Response Inhibition and Salience Attribution (I-RISA) model, which postulates that drug-addicted individuals disproportionately attribute salience, or value, to their drug of choice at the expense of other potentially but no-longer-rewarding stimuli -- with a concomitant decrease in the ability to inhibit maladaptive drug use. In the experiments, the scientists subjected cocaine-addicted and non-drug-addicted individuals to a range of tests of behavior, cognition/thought, and emotion, while simultaneously monitoring their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and/or recordings of event-related potentials (ERP).

Coke addicts couldn't react differently to different levels of reward. They lacked a sense of context for their decision making.

In one study, subjects were given a monetary reward for their performance on an attention task. Subjects were given one of three amounts (no money, one cent, or 45 cents) for each correct response, up to a total reward of $50 for their performance. The researchers also asked the subjects how much they valued different amounts of monetary reward, ranging from $10 to $1000.

More than half of the cocaine abusers rated $10 as equally valuable as $1000, "demonstrating a reduced subjective sensitivity to relative monetary reward," Goldstein said.

"Such a 'flattened' sensitivity to gradients in reward may play a role in the inability of drug-addicted individuals to use internal cues and feedback from the environment to inhibit inappropriate behavior, and may also predispose these individuals to disadvantageous decisions -- for example, trading a car for a couple of cocaine hits. Without a relative context, drug use and its intense effects -- craving, anticipation, and high -- could become all the more overpowering," she said.

So glad my brain hasn't been damaged by extensive coke use.

Coke addicts didn't have their prefrontal cortexes light up in a graded fashion to different sized rewards the way non-addicts did.

The behavioral data collected during fMRI further suggested that, in the cocaine abusers, there was a "disconnect" between subjective measures of motivation (how much they said they were engaged in the task) and the objective measures of motivation (how fast and accurately they performed on the task). "These behavioral data implicate a disruption in the ability to perceive inner motivational drives in cocaine addiction," Goldstein said.

The fMRI results also revealed that non-addicted subjects responded to the different monetary amounts in a graded fashion: the higher the potential reward, the greater the response in the prefrontal cortex. In cocaine-addicted subjects, however, this region did not demonstrate a graded pattern of response to the monetary reward offered. Furthermore, within the cocaine-addicted group, the higher the sensitivity to money in the prefrontal cortex, the higher was the motivation and the self-reported ability to control behavior.

The ERP results showed a similarly graded brain response to monetary reward in healthy control subjects, but not in cocaine-addicted individuals.

Why do addicts relapse? They can't accurately judge the relative rewards of drug use and non-drug use. They simply lack the capacity to arrive at judgements that come easy to most of us.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 29 09:21 PM  Brain Addiction
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Men Subconsciously Prefer Blue Eyed Women As Paternity Test

Natural selection gave blue eyed men a preference for blue eyed women. Natural selection for women whose babies will be more obviously testable for paternity gave many men a preference for blue-eyed women.

Before you request a paternity test, spend a few minutes looking at your child’s eye color. It may just give you the answer you’re looking for. According to Bruno Laeng and colleagues, from the University of Tromso, Norway, the human eye color reflects a simple, predictable and reliable genetic pattern of inheritance. Their studies1, published in the Springer journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, show that blue-eyed men find blue-eyed women more attractive than brown-eyed women. According to the researchers, it is because there could be an unconscious male adaptation for the detection of paternity, based on eye color.

Since blue eyes are a recessive trait the reason for the preference for blue eyes by men is explainable with classical Mendelian genetics:

The laws of genetics state that eye color is inherited as follows:
1. If both parents have blue eyes, the children will have blue eyes.
2. If both parents have brown eyes, a quarter of the children will have blue eyes, and three quarters will have brown eyes.
3. The brown eye form of the eye color gene (or allele) is dominant, whereas the blue eye allele is recessive.
It then follows that if a child born to two blue-eyed parents does not have blue eyes, then the blue-eyed father is not the biological father. It is therefore reasonable to expect that a man would be more attracted towards a woman displaying a trait that increases his paternal confidence, and the likelihood that he could uncover his partner’s sexual infidelity.

Eighty-eight male and female students were asked to rate facial attractiveness of models on a computer. The pictures were close-ups of young adult faces, unfamiliar to the participants. The eye color of each model was manipulated, so that for each model’s face two versions were shown, one with the natural eye color (blue/brown) and another with the other color (brown/blue). The participants’ own eye color was noted.

Both blue-eyed and brown-eyed women showed no difference in their preferences for male models of either eye color. Similarly, brown-eyed men showed no preference for either blue-eyed or brown-eyed female models. However, blue-eyed men rated blue-eyed female models as more attractive than brown-eyed models.

That means there is a place or set of places in the genome where genetic variations give some of us our pronounced preference for blue eyes. I also prefer green eyes. Does the same set of genetic variations cause both preferences?

There's a lesson here for for future parents who will be able to use genetic engineering techniques to choose eye color for their daughters: Choose blue to maximize the appeal of their daughters. The blue color won't cost them any with the brown eyed guys but will boost their appeal to blue eyed guys.

However the very trait that increases attractiveness of women has a different effect in men: It decreases the range of women who they find attractive. If you want your son to find a larger range of women attractive then it actually makes sense to give him brown eyes.

Blue eyed men tend to have blue eyed romantic partners.

In a second study, a group of 443 young adults of both sexes and different eye colors were asked to report the eye color of their romantic partners. Blue-eyed men were the group with the largest proportion of partners of the same eye color.

According to Bruno Laeng and colleagues, “It is remarkable that blue-eyed men showed such a clear preference for women with the same eye color, given that the present experiment did not request participants to choose prospective sexual mates, but only to provide their aesthetic or attractiveness responses…based on face close-up photographs.” Blue-eyed men may have unconsciously learned to value a physical trait that can facilitate recognition of own kin.

Once offspring genetic engineering becomes possible I am expecting we will see a huge surge in births of blue eyed and blond hair daughters. They'll also have larger lips, more bottle-shaped bodies, greater symmetry, higher cheekbones, and every other feature that is considered sexy and beautiful. People will make their sons more physically attractive as well. The future will be beautiful.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 29 03:17 PM  Brain Sexuality
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Markets For Donor Eggs And Babies Face Opposition

Audacious Epigone provides a link to an article about the prices for adoption babies and the anger that some feel about prices put on humans.

When a couple seeking to adopt a white baby is charged $35,000 and a couple seeking a black baby is charged $4,000, the image that comes to the Rev. Ken Hutcherson's mind is of a practice that was outlawed in America nearly 150 years ago — the buying and selling of human beings.

My reaction to the moral objection about prices: Would you prefer that babies be seen as worth nothing? Or do you want to force people to pay much higher prices?

My more practical reaction: A measly $35k? The white baby price is still far less than the $50,000 price which some Stanford student donor eggs fetch. The donor eggs of elite school students have much higher chances of resulting in higher IQ babies.

But the prices for the babies and for the high IQ donor eggs looked at together suggest another interesting possibility for the future: Genetically engineered babies created by women who plan to sell them once the babies are born.

Think about why the Stanford and Harvard undergrad women can command such high prices for their eggs as compared to the prices for babies. First off, a lot of women who can't produce viable eggs from their own ovaries still want the experience of pregnancy and birth. Also, a couple where the woman can't produce viable eggs still typically wants to use the husband's sperm. So those factors put limits on the demand for fully developed babies.

But another limit on the demand for babies (and it is a reason you'll rarely see publically expressed) is the widely but privately held opinion (gotta watch out for the commissars) that women who are getting pregnant out of wedlock and who want to give up their babies for adoption are lower class, lower IQ, and lower quality in other ways that are at least partially genetic in origin. However, shift ahead 15 or 20 years to when DNA testing is cheap and very comprehensive in what it can reveal. Shift ahead perhaps even further to when egg, sperm, and embryo genetic engineering is practical. The ability to modify the genes of the embryo will enable even lower class women to give birth to babies that have high intelligence, great looks, great health, and assorted desired personality traits.

Biotechnology will enable the production of more customized products. The ability to basically sell a more customized product will raise demand and market prices. This will allow some women to make money producing and selling babies.

Even before embryo genetic engineering becomes possible the market for adoptive babies will go through a big shift as a result of biotechnological advances. In particular, cheap genetic testing will cause a big differentiation of the market. Babies which today are indistinguishable will come to be seen as very different from each other in mental abilities, personalities, future career prospects, and the likelihood of behavioral problems and diseases.

The ability to genetically test babies on the adoption market will change incentives for single women on whether to get knocked up and by who. Single women who get their DNA tested and find they have highly desired features will be able to select donor sperm of men who also have highly desired features and make babies which will fetch much higher prices on the adoption market. So genetic testing combined with (a preferably legal) adoption market should raise the quality of babies born out of wedlock.

But other advances in reproductive biotechnology will limit the development of the donor egg and adopted baby markets. Most notably, advances in the treatment of fertility problems will reduce the need for couples to turn to donor eggs and adoption. Stem cell manipulations will produce viable eggs and sperm made of a couple's own DNA. Most people will prefer their own DNA for producing their babies over that of strangers.

The donor egg market may, in any case, face an increasingly hostile regulatory environment. While a debate rages in Britain as to whether to loosen restrictions on payment to egg donors the wind in California is blowing in the opposite direction. Governor Schwarzenegger faces a decision on whether to sign legislation that would ban the sale of eggs by private parties.

Hoping to preempt a controversy, the authors of California's Proposition 71, approved in 2004, declared that scientists who received grants from the $3-billion state stem cell agency could not pay egg donors but merely reimburse their expenses.

A bill now on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk, sponsored by state Sens. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and George Runner (R-Lancaster), would extend those payment restrictions to privately funded laboratories.

Feminists are behind this attempt to reduce reproductive choices.

The Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland and the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research in Los Angeles are two of the most vocal supporters of the measure. Both describe themselves as staunchly feminist.

They imagine that they are protecting lower class Hispanic and black women from exploitation.

Emily Galpern, reproductive health and human rights director for the Center for Genetics and Society, said she feared that without the legislation, poor and minority women would be exploited for their eggs.

News flash to Emily Galpern: The poor black and Hispanic women aren't getting much "exploitation" from egg buyers as market prices for eggs attest. Upper class male patriarchal white capitalist exploiters with the money to spend on expensive eggs aren't beating a path to the doors of poor women wanting to buy their eggs. The big demand is for Ivy League egg and sperm donors who the upper class (correctly) see as possessing the right genetic alleles for giving birth to smarter babies with higher potential for success in the marketplace. Plus, I'm guessing the upper class parents simply want kids who have the capacity to become their intellectual peers.

That legislation mentioned above was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger

Update: Currently the US has the biggest market for genetic material.

The United States is one of many countries in which legislation and social norms proscribe the selling of body parts. It is also the world capital of the genetic material market: No other nation trades in DNA so widely and freely. Hopeful mothers and cash-strapped college students have been trading cash for eggs for 20 years, calling the ova a “donation” and the money compensation for time and discomfort, thus avoiding the ban on sales. Outside Food and Drug Administration mandates regarding the importance of testing donors for specific diseases and monitoring their progress, there are no federal laws restricting egg donors in the U.S.; elsewhere, the laws reflect a surprising lack of consensus on the issue. In Germany, Denmark, and Italy, egg donation is completely illegal. In Israel, payment for eggs can cover only the direct expenses related to the procedure. In the U.K., eggs are classified as organs, and payment is banned.

The rate of advance of reproductive biotechnology will slow if that market becomes subject to bans on the sale of eggs and sperm.

Update II: The newly enacted California legislation restricts payments for women who donate eggs for stem cell research while leaving payments for egg donors for reproduction still unregulated.

Though the group expresses some concern about exploitation of women who sell their eggs for in vitro fertilization, it notes that these donors tend to be white, well educated and well paid — often $5,000 to $50,000 because of the demand for their genetic material.

Stem cell researchers, in contrast, seek eggs only as a vehicle for someone else's DNA — so all viable eggs can be used, regardless of class or race.

Eventually stem cell researchers will need eggs with specific qualities. For example, they might want eggs from women who carry traits that cause genetic diseases. The ability to offer to pay those women could help to find and bring forward women to donate eggs with the needed genetic variations.

The stem cell researchers are not trying to use eggs that come from smart and good looking women. Some people (academics - probably left-wing) are upset that the smart and good looking women can still sell their eggs for top dollar.

Other critics say it's illogical to regulate payments to some egg donors but not others.

"Shouldn't we be worried about the women" donating eggs to fertility clinics? asked Radhika Rao, of UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and a member of a state commission that crafted guidelines for stem cell research. "If you pay women a lot and they're white, it isn't exploitation?"

To Radhika Rao: Why not decide that it is not exploitation in either case? I realize that isn't sufficiently Marxist for some tastes. But might it be true? If not, why not?

As a friend of mine likes to say: There's only one thing worse than being exploited: Not being exploited. What, no capitalist wants to pay you? Bummer when that happens.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 29 11:11 AM  Bioethics Reproduction
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2006 October 27 Friday
Ethanol Fuel Cooling Allows 30% Fuel Efficiency Increase

MIT researchers and some collaborators at Ford Motor Company have found a way to boost conventional gasoline engine fuel efficiency 20% to 30%.

MIT researchers are developing a half-sized gasoline engine that performs like its full-sized cousin but offers fuel efficiency approaching that of today's hybrid engine system--at a far lower cost. The key? Carefully controlled injection of ethanol, an increasingly common biofuel, directly into the engine's cylinders when there's a hill to be climbed or a car to be passed.

These small engines could be on the market within five years, and consumers should find them appealing: By spending about an extra $1,000 and adding a couple of gallons of ethanol every few months, they will have an engine that can go as much as 30 percent farther on a gallon of fuel than an ordinary engine. Moreover, the little engine provides high performance without the use of high-octane gasoline.

Given the short fuel-savings payback time--three to four years at present U.S. gasoline prices--the researchers believe that their "ethanol-boosted" turbo engine has real potential for widespread adoption. The impact on U.S. oil consumption could be substantial. For example, if all of today's cars had the new engine, current U.S. gasoline consumption of 140 billion gallons per year would drop by more than 30 billion gallons.

The $1000 per year cost beats the heck out of the thousands of dollars extra for a hybrid design. The fuel efficiency becomes comparable with diesel (better?) and without the need to switch to diesel and deal with diesel's emissions problems.

A car company that can beat others to market with this technology would gain a huge competitive advantage.

"There's a tremendous need to find low-cost, practical ways to make engines more efficient and clean and to find cost-effective ways to use more biofuels in place of oil," said Daniel R. Cohn, senior research scientist in the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment and the Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC).

How does it work? The researchers inject ethanol to cool the fuel and thereby prevent premature firing (i.e. knock).

For decades, efforts to improve the efficiency of the conventional spark-ignition (SI) gasoline engine have been stymied by a barrier known as the "knock limit": Changes that would have made the engine far more efficient would have caused knock--spontaneous combustion that makes a metallic clanging noise and can damage the engine. Now, using sophisticated computer simulations, the MIT team has found a way to use ethanol to suppress spontaneous combustion and essentially remove the knock limit.

When the engine is working hard and knock is likely, a small amount of ethanol is directly injected into the hot combustion chamber, where it quickly vaporizes, cooling the fuel and air and making spontaneous combustion much less likely. According to a simulation developed by Bromberg, with ethanol injection the engine won't knock even when the pressure inside the cylinder is three times higher than that in a conventional SI engine. Engine tests by collaborators at Ford Motor Company produced results consistent with the model's predictions.

Elimination of knock enables 3 optimizations of engine design.

With knock essentially eliminated, the researchers could incorporate into their engine two operating techniques that help make today's diesel engines so efficient, but without causing the high emissions levels of diesels. First, the engine is highly turbocharged. In other words, the incoming air is compressed so that more air and fuel can fit inside the cylinder. The result: An engine of a given size can produce more power.

Second, the engine can be designed with a higher compression ratio (the ratio of the volume of the combustion chamber after compression to the volume before). The burning gases expand more in each cycle, getting more energy out of a given amount of fuel.

The combined changes could increase the power of a given-sized engine by more than a factor of two. But rather than seeking higher vehicle performance--the trend in recent decades--the researchers shrank their engine to half the size. Using well-established computer models, they determined that their small, turbocharged, high-compression-ratio engine will provide the same peak power as the full-scale SI version but will be 20 to 30 percent more fuel efficient.

The favorable economics would undermine demand for hybrids.

The ethanol-boosted engine could provide efficiency gains comparable to those of today's hybrid engine system for less extra investment--about $1,000 as opposed to $3,000 to $5,000. The engine should use less than five gallons of ethanol for every 100 gallons of gasoline, so drivers would need to fill their ethanol tank only every one to three months.

Hybrids still have an important advantage: They can capture energy lost in braking by use of regenerative braking. Hybrids also are an important step down the road toward pure electric cars. Hybrids increase the demand for better batteries and therefore are spurring a great deal of research and development to produce cheaper, longer lasting, lighter, and higher energy storage capacity batteries.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 27 05:13 PM  Energy Transportation
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2006 October 25 Wednesday
Electronic Distractions Reduce Sleep In Children To Cause Obesity?

Are electronic gadgets in the environments of children so reducing their sleep that they are becoming fat as a result?

Soaring levels of obesity might be linked to children sleeping fewer hours at night than they used to, claims Dr Shahrad Taheri of the University of Bristol.

Dr Taheri, reporting in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, blames the increasing availability of computers, mobile phones, TVs and other such gadgets on the diminishing nightly quota of sleep, and suggests they should be banned from children's bedrooms.

Dr Taheri cites the emerging body of research on the impact on the body of a fall in the nightly quota of sleep, which reflects circumstances in real life, rather than sustained sleep deprivation, which tends to be more extreme.

This research shows that shorter sleep duration disturbs normal metabolism, which may contribute to obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Even two to three nights of shortened sleep can have profound effects, the laboratory data suggest.

One study indicated that insufficient sleep at the age of 30 months was associated with obesity at the age of seven, suggesting that this could programme the part of the brain regulating appetite and energy expenditure, says Dr Taheri.

But it is also a problem for teenagers in whom the need for sleep increases during this critical developmental period, he says.

Another piece of research shows that levels of leptin, a hormone produced by fat tissue when energy stores are low, were more than 15% lower in those sleeping five hours compared with those clocking up eight.

Similarly, ghrelin, a hormone released by the stomach to signal hunger was almost 15% higher in those with a five hour sleep quota.

We did not evolve in the modern environments which we have created. Just because we can put gadgets in our environment and on the surface those gadgets seem harmless that does not mean we can handle the presence of those gadgets without cost to our good health and well being. We need to adapt our technological environments to the needs of our minds and bodies.

Some day we'll be able to use genetic engineering and gene therapies to adapt humanity to our technological environments. But that day is still a long way off. We need to better adapt our environments to our needs as we exist today until we gain the ability to reengineer our bodies and minds.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 25 10:53 PM  Brain Appetite
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Industrial Nations Increase Incentives For Babies

Faced with graying populations and the need for more younger workers to pay taxes to support growing retired populations many industrial nations are adopting pro-natal policies. France has managed to achieve a fertility rate high above the average in Europe.

While falling birthrates threaten to undermine economies and social stability across much of an aging Europe, French fertility rates are increasing. France now has the second-highest fertility rate in Europe -- 1.94 children born per woman, exceeded slightly by Ireland's rate of 1.99. The U.S. fertility rate is 2.01 children.

What I'd like to know: what is the native French fertility rate and what is the Muslim fertility rate? The French need babies that'll grow up to be smart, highly skilled, and work in occupations with high pay and hence big tax revenue boosters.

French government incentives for reproduction are seen as the cause of the higher French fertility rate.

France heavily subsidizes children and families from pregnancy to young adulthood with liberal maternity leaves and part-time work laws for women. The government also covers some child-care costs of toddlers up to 3 years old and offers free child-care centers from age 3 to kindergarten, in addition to tax breaks and discounts on transportation, cultural events and shopping.

This summer, the government -- concerned that French women still were not producing enough children to guarantee a full replacement generation -- very publicly urged French women to have even more babies. A new law provides greater maternity leave benefits, tax credits and other incentives for families who have a third child. During a year-long leave after the birth of the third child, mothers will receive $960 a month from the government, twice the allowance for the second child.

Tax cuts for women who have children make sense because the taxes not paid by mom get offset in the longer run by taxes paid when the babies grow up and start working. The tax cuts should be in percentage terms so that higher income and higher tax paying people receive greater incentives to have children. People in high tax brackets tend to have children who reach higher tax brackets.

Other governments are offering financial incentives for couples that have kids.

Australia offers a $2,000 bonus to each couple that has a third child. "Go home and do your patriotic duty tonight," finance minister Peter Costello urged Australians in May.

Estonia will pay a mother a full year's wages to have a child. Singapore offers cash payments of about $10,000 for third or fourth children, and more vacation days for working parents.

In Estonia women who have babies can receive as much as 2.4 times the average $650 per month salary for a year.

Estonia's wake-up call came in 2001, when the United Nations' annual world-population report showed that Estonia was one of the fastest-shrinking nations on earth, at risk of losing nearly half its 1.4 million people by mid-century. Estonia's fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman bears -- had collapsed to 1.3 in the late 1990s, down from 2.2 under communism only a decade earlier.

In an attempt to stop that downward spiral, Estonia took a bold step: In 2004 it began paying women to have babies. Working women who take time off after giving birth get their entire monthly income for up to 15 months, up to a ceiling of $1,560. Non-wage-earners get $200 a month. The welfare perk -- known locally as the "mother's salary" -- was a sharp about-face for the radically free-market government.

Other European governments are trying money for babies.

Some European countries are experimenting with monthly cash compensation to women who leave work to have babies, including Lithuania, Austria and Slovenia. Starting next year, Germany and Bulgaria plan to pay new mothers benefits linked to their previous earnings. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who bemoaned his country's lack of children in his last state-of-the-nation speech in May, has also promised more aid to parents.

These policies need to be crafted to provide the biggest incentives for the smartest women. On average smarter women make more from their jobs. So fixed cash amounts per month tend to favor reproduction by lower income, less skilled, and less bright women. The Bulgarian and German plans to link the size of benefits to previous earnings will provide better incentives for the women who'll have - on average - higher achieving offspring.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 25 10:21 PM  Trends Demographic
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New York Subway Harmful For Hearing

Think mass transit is just plain environmentally friendly? Not for your ears. Another reason why I'm glad I do not ride subways:

In a new survey of noise levels of the New York City transit system, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that exposure to noise levels in subways have the potential to exceed recommended guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to the research, as little as 30 minutes of exposure to decibel levels measured in the New York City transit system per day has the potential to result in hearing loss. The findings have just been published in the September issue of the Journal of Urban Health, a publication of the New York Academy of Medicine.

"Noise exposure and noise-induced hearing loss is a global health problem of significant magnitude, especially in urban settings, yet published data are extremely limited," said Robyn Gershon, DrPH, professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health and lead author of the study. Dr. Gershon and co-authors report that the findings suggest that, "Daily exposure to noise on subway platforms and subway cars has the potential to cause hearing loss. At the highest level obtained on the platform (106 decibels), the allowable limit under WHO and EPA is only 30 seconds. More than 1 in 10 of the platform measurements exceeded 100 decibels -- which translates into an allowable limit of only 1.5 minutes."

They recorded even higher noise levels in the subway cars.

Subway cars could be made quieter with sound-deadening materials. Though the materials would make the cars heavier and use more fuel. But how to make subway platforms quieter? Is the noise from rails on the track? Could track in stations be made with materials that would make less noise?

If you have to subject yourself to public transportation consider getting ear plugs. They are cheap. You can also go to a gun shop and buy a muffler headset of the sort that get used on gun ranges. I bought such a headset when I worked next to a machine shop. Worked pretty well.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 25 09:13 PM  Dangers Transportation
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2006 October 24 Tuesday
Vegetables Slow Brain Aging

Hate brain aging as much as I do? Eat a few servings of vegetables a day to slow your rate of cognitive decline.

CHICAGO - Eating vegetables, not fruit, helps slow down the rate of cognitive change in older adults, according to a study published in the October 24, 2006, issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

In determining whether there was an association between vegetables, fruit and cognitive decline, researchers from Rush University Medical Center studied 3,718 residents in Chicago, Illinois, who were age 65 and older. Participants completed a food frequency questionnaire and received at least two cognitive tests over a six-year period.

“Compared to people who consumed less than one serving of vegetables a day, people who ate at least 2.8 servings of vegetables a day saw their rate of cognitive change slow by roughly 40 percent, said study author Martha Clare Morris, ScD, associate professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. “This decrease is equivalent to about 5 years of younger age.”

Of the different types of vegetables consumed by participants, green leafy vegetables had the strongest association to slowing the rate of cognitive decline. The study also found the older the person, the greater the slowdown in the rate of cognitive decline if that person consumed more than two servings of vegetables a day. Surprisingly, the study found fruit consumption was not associated with cognitive change.

Maybe vitamin E makes vegetables more beneficial for the brain than fruits.

“This was unanticipated and raises several questions,” said Morris. “It may be due to vegetables containing high amounts of vitamin E, which helps lowers the risk of cognitive decline. Vegetables, but not fruits, are also typically consumed with added fats such as salad dressings, and fats increase the absorption of vitamin E. Further study is required to understand why fruit is not associated with cognitive change.”

Then again, maybe other compounds in vegetables protect the brain.

Harvard epidemiologist Meir Stampfer thinks this study was well done.

"This is a sound paper and contributes to our understanding of cognitive decline," said Dr. Meir Stampfer of Harvard's School of Public Health.

"The findings specific for vegetables and not fruit add further credibility that this is not simply a marker of a more healthful lifestyle," said Stampfer, who was not involved in the research.

Some of the commentary about this study answers a curiosity question I've had of late: Most people eat few berries and so population studies on the health effects of fruit consumption do not capture the effects of berry consumption on aging.

Matt Kaeberlein, who conducts research on the biochemical processes of aging at the University of Washington, was surprised the study didn't show any beneficial effect of eating fruit on cognitive decline.

Studies in animals, he said, show that berries—particularly blueberries, strawberries and cranberries—seem to protect memory in aging animals. And a diet high in fruits and vegetables has been linked to protection against heart disease, cancer, stroke, diverticulosis, diabetes and obesity.

Morris agreed that animal research indicates that berries may help preserve memory but that too few people in the study consumed berries regularly to determine if they helped preserve memory and other cognitive functions.

I'm going to keep eating a few bags of dried cranberries every week.

Brain aging is the worst kind of aging. Death of brain cells amounts to the death of part of who you are. Decline in cognitive function is the worst sort of decline in an economy where brain work keeps rising in value while physical work declines in value.

Even worse, brain rejuvenation is going to be the hardest part of body rejuvenation. 20 or 30 years from now if your kidneys or liver or lungs get too old the technology will be available to grow replacements. Or if your heart has lost a lot of muscle cells then stem cell therapies might be able to repair the heart in place. But the brain is a much tougher problem.

The study author Martha Clare Morris above has previously found other dietary factors that influence the rate of brain aging. See my posts Fish In Diet Slows Rate Of Cognitive Decline and Faster Brain Decline With More Fat And Copper In Diets.

Vitamin E is not the only plausible vitamin in green leafy vegetables that might be responsible for the brain protective effects reported above. Also see my post Folic Acid Slows Cognitive Decline With Age. To get lots of folic acid eat greens and beans.

Apple juice and the curcumin in curry might both have protective effects against Alzheimer's Disease.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 24 09:28 PM  Aging Diet Brain Studies
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2006 October 23 Monday
Cellphones Boosting Incomes Of Poorest In India

Cellphones are enabling poor fisherman in India to get far more market information so that they can sell their catches for much higher prices.

"Hallo!" he shouted, struggling to hear over the big diesel engines of his 74-foot boat, Andavan. "Medium sized! Medium sized!" he said, estimating the haul for a wholesale agent calling from port, who had heard by cellphone from other skippers that Rajan had just set his nets.

Minutes later Rajan's phone rang again -- another agent at a different port.


"One element of poverty is the lack of information," Prahalad said. "The cellphone gives poor people as much information as the middleman."

The fisherman Rajan says his income has at least tripled since 2000 to $150 per month and that cellphones have enabled him to get the information he needs to make the middlemen who buy his fish to pay much more for them.

Poor people in India use cellphones in many occupations.

For less than a penny a minute -- the world's cheapest cellphone call rates -- farmers in remote areas can check prices for their produce. They call around to local markets to find the best deal. They also track global trends using cellphone-based Internet services that show the price of pumpkins or bananas in London or Chicago.

Indian farmers use camera-phones to snap pictures of crop pests, then send the photos by cellphone to biologists who can identify the bug and suggest ways to combat it. In cities, painters, carpenters and plumbers who once begged for work door-to-door say they now have all the work they can handle because customers can reach them instantly by cellphone.

Computer networks are going to enable small numbers of sharp experts and smart software to boost the productivity of billions of people around the world. What we are seeing now with cellphones and search engines such as Google is just the beginning of what is coming. Computers will provide much more useful answers than we can get from looking at pages dug up by current generation search engines.

While I think search engines and the growing size of the internet are an enormous boon current search technology still seems crude. I spend many hours every week doing searches looking for answers to questions. But the ways that searches can be phrased are much too crude. I want to say things like "Only show me pages with tables of information that have have entries which are names of foods and a column which is potassium or magnesium". I end up having to look at lots of pages that do not have the format I'm looking for before finally finding a couple that do.

This stage of search technology is going to give way to much smarter methods of looking for answers. The smarter search methods are going to enable non-experts to do tasks that currently only experts can do. If you can get very quick answers to questions you can do many more tasks. Getting answers is going to become much easier and quicker. As the answers become easier to come by labor productivity will rise dramatically.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 23 11:02 PM  Comm Tech Society
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2006 October 21 Saturday
Biochip Speeds Cell Electrical Measurements 60 Times

Advances in instrumentation are accelerating the rate at which scientists can do experiments.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University researchers have developed a biochip that measures the electrical activities of cells and is capable of obtaining 60 times more data in just one reading than is possible with current technology.

In the near term, the biochip could speed scientific research, which could accelerate drug development for muscle and nerve disorders like epilepsy and help create more productive crop varieties.

"Instead of doing one experiment per day, as is often the case, this technology is automated and capable of performing hundreds of experiments in one day," said Marshall Porterfield, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering who leads the team developing the chip.

The device works by measuring the concentration of ions — tiny charged particles — as they enter and exit cells. The chip can record these concentrations in up to 16 living cells temporarily sealed within fluid-filled pores in the microchip. With four electrodes per cell, the chip delivers 64 simultaneous, continuous sources of data.

This additional data allows for a deeper understanding of cellular activity compared to current technology, which measures only one point outside one cell and cannot record simultaneously, Porterfield said. The chip also directly records ion concentrations without harming the cells, whereas present methods cannot directly detect specific ions, and cells being studied typically are destroyed in the process, he said. There are several advantages to retaining live cells, he said, such as being able to conduct additional tests or monitor them as they grow.

One (I think mistaken) argument made against the practicality of pursuing Aubrey de Grey's SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) proposal to reverse aging is that the problems we need to solve in order to reverse aging won't become solvable in the next few decades. Specifically, one group of critics recently argued that a rate of biotechnological advance that is faster than the semiconductor industry's Moore's Law would be required in order to solve the problems needed to reverse the aging process within the lifetimes of people currently alive. But I think these critics are missing an obvious reason why biotechnology can advance more rapidly than computer semiconductor technology.

The biochip reported above is able to speed up the collection of cellular metabolic information with a leap forward that is many times greater than the rate at which Intel co-founder Gordon Moore' predicted that computers would become faster. It is very important to notice why this advance was possible: The advances made in the semiconductor industry that allow manipulations at very small scales that took decades to achieve are now being harnessed to make sensors and other automated instrumentation for biological experimentation. The development of biochips which manipulate and measure matter on a small scale can therefore happen much more rapidly than semiconductor advances.

In a nutshell, we have the technology to do lots of small scale manipulations and measurements. Scientists and engineers who apply that technology to biological problems can therefore make huge leaps in the development of capabilities to study and manipulate biological systems.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 21 10:06 PM  Biotech Advance Rates
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High Glycemic Index Diet Kidney Cancer Risk?

A retrospective study finds an association between higher glycemic index foods and kidney cancer.

Comparing the highest with the lowest quintile of intake, consumption of bread, pasta and rice, and milk and yogurt increased the risk of RCC by 94%, 29%, and 27%, respectively.

Conversely, intake of poultry, processed meat, and vegetable appeared to reduce the risk by 26%, 36%, and 35%, respectively.

Other foods such as fruits, red meats, cheese, potatoes, eggs, and fish had no effect.

The study collected information about past dietary habits - and studies of this sort suffer from faulty memories of interviewees.

The researchers included Francesca Bravi, MD, of the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche "Mario Negri" in Milan.

Between 1992 and 2004, Bravi's team interviewed 767 patients with renal cell carcinoma at Italian hospitals. They also interviewed 1,534 patients without kidney cancer.

Patients completed surveys about their diets during the previous two years. The questions covered 78 foods and beverages.

A diet of high glycemic index foods might increase the risk of cancer by elevating insulin-like growth factor hormones such as IGF-1 and IGF-2.

"As for other common cancers, the increased risk of renal cell carcinoma for elevated cereals intake may be due to the high glycemic index of these foods, and their possible involvement in insulin-like growth factors," the investigators wrote.

In lower level species such as nematodes knocking out an equivalent IGF gene increases life expectancy.

I would expect an ideal diet to lower IGF hormones, lower LDL cholesterol, boost HDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, lower inflammation markers such as C Reactive Protein (CRP), and lower markers for oxidative stress. So what would such an ideal diet look like?

If high glycemic index foods cause higher kidney cancer risk then I'm surprised that potatoes do not show up as boosting kidney cancer risk. But David Mendosa's very useful Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL) chart shows some potatoes have fairly low glycemic indexes. Though note the considerable measured variation (56 to 111) just among Russet potatoes. Do fresher potatoes have higher GI? Does boiling versus baking cause a difference in GI?

Note on rice: The glycemic index of rice varies in predictable ways. The sticky rice found in Chinese restaurants has a GI over 100. But a high 28% amylose rice tests at GI 27 and Basmati rice at 67 to 60. Uncle Ben's rice appears to vary in GI by country (different varieties sold in different places?) and different type (e.g. slower and faster cooking types). If a brand name rice seller such as Uncle Ben's would market a low GI rice I'd buy it. As things stand I'm eating Basmati and Uncle Ben's rices.

Update: Uncle Ben's converted rice has low glycemic index and in 3 experiments done in the US and Canada ranges from 38 to 50. So that's probably the most readily available low glycemic index rice in the US and Canada.

Update II: I am also surprised that pasta consumption has a positive association with kidney cancer risk. The type of wheat used to make pasta has a much lower glycemic index than the type of wheat used to make bread. Most of the pastas have glycemic indexes below 50. But even lower glycemic index foods that are carbohydrate-based do break down in the intestines and feed into the bloodstream. So eat enough and you'll get a sugar surge.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 21 12:41 PM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies
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2006 October 19 Thursday
Romulan Cloaking Device Duplicated At Duke University

Reality is every bit as strange as fiction.

Durham, NC -- A team led by scientists at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering has demonstrated the first working "invisibility cloak." The cloak deflects microwave beams so they flow around a "hidden" object inside with little distortion, making it appear almost as if nothing were there at all.

Microwave cloaking isn't as shocking as optical cloaking. But it is still very impressive.

Cloaks that render objects essentially invisible to microwaves could have a variety of wireless communications or radar applications, according to the researchers.

The team reported its findings on Thursday, Oct. 19, in Science Express, the advance online publication of the journal Science. The research was funded by the Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.

The researchers manufactured the cloak using "metamaterials" precisely arranged in a series of concentric circles that confer specific electromagnetic properties. Metamaterials are artificial composites that can be made to interact with electromagnetic waves in ways that natural materials cannot reproduce.

The cloak represents "one of the most elaborate metamaterial structures yet designed and produced," the scientists said. It also represents the most comprehensive approach to invisibility yet realized, with the potential to hide objects of any size or material property, they added.

Earlier scientific approaches to achieving "invisibility" often relied on limiting the reflection of electromagnetic waves. In other schemes, scientists attempted to create cloaks with electromagnetic properties that, in effect, cancel those of the object meant to be hidden. In the latter case, a given cloak would be suitable for hiding only objects with very specific properties.

I figure when the Terminator robots take over and start hunting us down the ability to hide from their microwave search beams will help some of us live longer.

The cloak passes microwaves around it unlike materials in stealth bombers that just absorb microwaves. Prevention of reflection in existing stealth technology is not as impressive as a design that keeps microwaves going on their natural course.

"By incorporating complex material properties, our cloak allows a concealed volume, plus the cloak, to appear to have properties similar to free space when viewed externally," said David R. Smith, Augustine Scholar and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke. "The cloak reduces both an object's reflection and its shadow, either of which would enable its detection."

The team produced the cloak according to electromagnetic specifications determined by a new design theory proposed by Sir John Pendry of Imperial College London, in collaboration with the Duke scientists. The scientists reported that theoretical work in Science earlier this year.

Are there non-military applications for this technology? If so, what are they?

By Randall Parker 2006 October 19 09:46 PM  Materials Advances
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2006 October 18 Wednesday
More Evidence Vitamin D Reduces Breast Cancer Risk

Women with less advanced breast cancer have more vitamin D in their blood than women with more advanced breast cancer.

Vitamin D may help curb breast cancer progression, suggests a small study published ahead of print in the Journal of Clinical Pathology.

The authors reach their conclusion from a study of 279 women with invasive breast cancer. The disease was in the early stages in 204 women, and advanced in the remainder.

Serum levels of vitamin D, parathyroid hormone, and calcium were measured in both groups of women.

The results showed that women with early stage disease had significantly higher levels of vitamin D and significantly lower levels of parathyroid hormone than did the women with advanced disease.

There was little difference in calcium levels between the two groups.

The authors say that the exact reasons for the disparity are unclear, nor is it known whether the low levels of vitamin D among those with advanced disease are a cause or consequence of the cancer itself.

But it is known that vitamin D treatment boosts the activity of certain key genes and dampens it down in others. One gene that is boosted is p21, which has an important role in controlling the cell cycle.

Does the advance of the cancer lower vitamin D? Or does the higher vitamin D cause cancer to develop more slowly so that people who have higher blood vitamin D tend to stay in early stage cancer longer and have a higher chance of getting diagnosed while still in earlier stages? My guess is the latter factor is at work because so much other research has demonstrated anti-cancer effects of vitamin D.

From the body of the full research paper:

This study has shown that serum levels of 25(OH)D were markedly higher and that PTH levels were considerably lower in patients with early-stage breast cancer than in those with locally advanced or metastatic disease. The notably higher serum PTH in patients with metastatic disease than that in those with early-stage disease is presumably due to the lower vitamin D level, resulting in a lower serum calcium and therefore a rise in serum PTH. The raised PTH level can therefore account for the lack of any difference in serum calcium between these two groups. Epidemiological studies have previously shown that maintenance of adequate levels of vitamin D via exposure to sunlight is associated with a reduced incidence and mortality of breast cancer.

Also see my previous posts: Vitamin D Could Decrease Overall Cancer Risk 30% and Vitamin D Reduces Breast Cancer Risk and Vitamin D Reduces Risk Of Pancreatic Cancer and Fatty Fish In Diet Lower Kidney Cancer Risk.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 18 09:06 PM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies
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2006 October 17 Tuesday
Eat Oily Fish For Longer Life Expectancy

Eating fish is good for your heart and will lengthen lifespans.

Boston, MA – Many studies have shown the nutritional benefits of eating fish (finfish or shellfish). Fish is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. But concerns have been raised in recent years about chemicals found in fish from environmental pollution, including mercury, PCBs and dioxins. That has led to confusion among the public--do the risks of eating fish outweigh the benefits?

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) tackled that question by undertaking the single most comprehensive analysis to date of fish and health. In the first review to combine the evidence for major health effects of omega-3 fatty acids, major health risks of mercury, and major health risks of PCBs and dioxins in both adults and infants/young children, the results show that the benefits of eating a modest amount of fish per week--about 3 ounces of farmed salmon or 6 ounces of mackerel--reduced the risk of death from coronary heart disease (CHD) by 36%. Notably, by combining results of randomized clinical trials, the investigators also demonstrated that intake of fish or fish oil reduces total mortality--deaths from any causes--by 17%.

Included with the paper, which appears in the October 18, 2006, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (http://jama.ama-assn.org/), is the first comprehensive summary of levels of omega-3 fatty acids, mercury, PCBs and dioxins in various species of fish and other foods, including chicken, beef, pork, butter and eggs.

"Overall, for major health outcomes among adults, the benefits of eating fish greatly outweigh the risks," said Dariush Mozaffarian, lead author of the study and an instructor in epidemiology at HSPH and in medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "Somehow this evidence has been lost on the public."

Don't worry. Be happy. Eat fish.

Since the study did not examine the effects of all potential benefits of fish the results may understate the benefit of fish consumption.

The researchers, Mozaffarian and Eric Rimm, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at HSPH, did a comprehensive search of publications through April 2006 to evaluate the evidence from studies that looked at the relationship between fish intake and major health benefits as well as at the health risks of mercury, dioxins and PCBs. For benefits, the researchers focused on cardiovascular health in adults and brain development in infants, areas in which the scientific evidence is strongest (other potential benefits of fish consumption--for example, for cognitive decline or depression--might make the overall benefits even greater). The researchers focused on evidence from large prospective studies and randomized clinical trials.

Eat oily fish.

The evidence across different studies showed that fish consumption lowers the risk of death from heart disease by 36%. The benefit was related to the level of intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and thus benefits are greater for oily fish (e.g. salmon, bluefish), which are higher in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, than lean fish (haddock, cod).

Avoid high mercury fish types.

The evidence was suggestive that mercury may have subtle effects on brain development for a child exposed in the womb, or in early childhood. To obtain the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for brain development and minimize the potential risk of mercury, the investigators' findings agreed with the recommendations of the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration that women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children should eat up to two servings per week of a variety of fish (for example, salmon, light tuna, shrimp, mackerel, and up to 6 oz. per week of albacore tuna) and avoid only four species of fish--golden bass (also known as tilefish), king mackerel, shark and swordfish--larger, predatory fish that have higher levels of mercury. The researchers emphasized that this advisory is only for women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children, not the general population. Importantly, the evidence suggests that, for those women, it is as important for their health and for the brain development of their infants that they eat a variety of other types of fish as it is to avoid the four fish species higher in mercury.

Do not worry about dioxins in fish unless you get fish from fresh water sources which are contaminated.

Some studies have shown that PCBs and dioxins may be carcinogenic. The authors found that the benefits of eating fish far outweighed the potential cancer risks from these chemicals. "The levels of PCBs and dioxins in fish species are low, similar to other commonly consumed foods such as beef, chicken, pork, eggs, and butter. Importantly, the possible health risks of these low levels of PCBs and dioxins in fish are only a small fraction of the much better established health benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids," said Mozaffarian. "For example, for farmed salmon, the cardiovascular benefits are greater than the cancer risks by a factor of at least 300:1. With the exception of some locally caught sport fish from contaminated inland waters, the levels of PCBs and dioxins in fish should not influence decisions about fish intake."

The study also points out that only 9% of the PCBs and dioxins in the U.S. food supply come from fish and other seafood; more than 90% comes from other foods such as meats, vegetables, and dairy products.

I continue to be partial to salmon. It has the most omega 3 fatty acids of many types of fish that I've compared. It also has very little mercury.

Depressed people also ought to eat fish. The omega 3 fatty acids might lessen your feelings of pain and depression.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 17 10:41 PM  Aging Diet Studies
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2006 October 15 Sunday
Acetylcholine Boosts Memory Formation In Rats

By stimulating acetylcholine neurotransmitter release scientists were able to enhance how well rats remembered lessons from a training session.

The levels of a chemical released by the brain determine how detailed a memory will later be, according to researchers at UC Irvine.

The neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a brain chemical already established as being crucial for learning and memory, appears to be the key to adding details to a memory. In a study with rats, Norman Weinberger, research professor of neurobiology and behavior, and colleagues determined that a higher level of acetylcholine during a learning task correlated with more details of the experience being remembered. The results are the first to tie levels of acetylcholine to memory specificity and could have implications in the study and treatment of memory-related disorders.

The findings appear in the November issue of the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

“This is the first time that direct stimulation of a brain region has controlled the amount of detail in a memory,” said Weinberger, a fellow at UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. “While it is likely that the brain uses a number of mechanisms to store specific details, our work shows that the level of acetylcholine appears to be a key part of that process.”

In their experiments, the researchers exposed rats to tones of various frequencies. During some of the trials, they paired one tone with stimulation of a section of the rats’ brains known as the nucleus basalis, which relays commands to the auditory cortex by secreting acetylcholine. During some experiments, the stimulation of the nucleus basalis was weak, whereas in other animals the stimulation was stronger. When the tones were replayed the next day, the scientists could measure how well they remembered the various frequencies by measuring changes in their respiration rates.

The results showed that a weak activation of the nucleus basalis, which resulted in a small amount of acetylcholine being released, did lead the rats to remember the tones but not specific frequencies. However, when the stimulation was greater (leading to the higher level of acetylcholine release), the rats also remembered the specific frequencies.

You can take choline tablets to boost your brain acetylcholine. But acetylcholine released from nerve cells enhanced memory formation. Will choline boost acetylcholine release? My own experience with choline supplements is that they make me feel depressed. Your mileage may vary.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 15 09:24 PM  Brain Memory
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Walnuts Protect Heart From High Saturated Fat Meal

Walnuts provided more benefit than olive oil against the harmful cardiovascular effects of a high saturated fat meal.

For the study, Dr. Ros and his colleagues recruited 24 nonsmoking adults with normal body weights and blood pressures. Half of the participants had normal cholesterol levels and half had moderately high levels. Each was asked to follow a cholesterol-lowering Mediterranean diet for two weeks prior to the study and throughout its duration. A Mediterranean diet includes foods low in saturated fat but high in fiber or monounsaturated fat, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and olive oil.

Study participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Each was provided with two high-fat meals, eaten one week apart. The meals were identical, consisting of a salami-and-cheese sandwich on white bread and a small serving of full-fat yogurt. For one meal, the researchers added about 5 teaspoons (25 ml) of olive oil. For the other, they added 40 grams of walnuts, or about eight shelled nuts.

According to their findings, both the olive oil and the walnuts helped to decrease the sudden onset of inflammation and oxidation in the arteries. These harmful processes, which typically follow consumption of high-fat meals, can lead to hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, a precursor to heart disease.

But unlike olive oil, adding walnuts also helped to preserve the elasticity and flexibility of the arteries, regardless of people's cholesterol levels. This elasticity allows the arteries to expand when needed to increase blood flow to the body.

The walnuts contain arginine. Arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a signalling agent used by the body to (among other things) cause blood vessels to dilate and let more blood through. Saturated fats are known from previous research to cause the body to produce inflammation molecules which block nitric oxide production. But perhaps higher arginine availability counteracts that effect and keeps nitric oxide production higher.

"The inner lining of the arteries produces a substance called nitric oxide that is needed to keep the arteries flexible," Dr. Ros said. "When we eat high-fat meals, the fat molecules temporarily disrupt the production of nitric oxide, preventing the arteries from increasing blood flow in response to physical activity."

One of the nutrients found in walnuts, he said, is arginine, an amino acid used by the body to produce nitric oxide. Walnuts also contain antioxidants and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. Olive oil does not contain ALA, a specific type of healthy, polyunsaturated fat.

The ability of walnuts to enhance nitric oxide production has other implications. Some drugs work by releasing nitric oxide (NO). Among the NO releasing compounds are Minoxidil for treating male pattern baldnessa and Viagra and Cialis for treating erectile dysfunction. There's a chance that consumption of walnuts might therefore provide other benefits as well.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 15 06:28 PM  Aging Diet Studies
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Japanese Woman Gives Birth To Her Grandchild

A Japanese woman serving as a surrogate for her daughter's fertilized egg gave birth to her own grandchild.

A Japanese woman in her 50s gave birth to her own grandchild last year, using an egg from her daughter and sperm from her son-in-law, a doctor has revealed.

It was the first time a woman has acted as a surrogate mother for her daughter in Japan, local media reported.

The case is set to stir debate in Japan where surrogate births are opposed by the government and a key medical group.

The genetic mother and father had to adopt the child (whose sex was not revealed). The Japanese government recognizes the birth mother as the legal mother.

Both Britain and the US have already had cases of grandmother surrogacy.

Kazumasa Hoshino, professor emeritus of life ethics at Kyoto University, said four cases of surrogate births in which grandmothers acted as surrogate mothers had been reported overseas--two each in Britain and the United States--since the 1990s.

Surrogacy could also be swapped around in the opposite order between generations: A daughter could serve as surrogate for her mother and then the daughter could give birth to her own brother or sister. Has anyone done that yet?

But wait, there's more: How about the possibilities that come with egg and embryo freezing? A woman in her 20s who already has a 7 year old daughter could freeze, say, some eggs, then 30 years later her granddaughter could give birth to the granddaughter's aunt or uncle.

Japan's lack of recognition for genetic parents of babies born to surrogates has generated a high profile court case. A Japanese celebrity couple is fighting a legal battle to have themselves declared the parents of their twins who were born to an American woman.

Shinagawa Ward in Tokyo has appealed a court ruling that it must officially register twins who were born to a Japanese couple through an American surrogate mother.

The ward, under instructions from the Justice Ministry, appealed the Tokyo High Court's Sept. 29 ruling that the children of TV celebrity Aki Mukai, 41, and former professional wrestler Nobuhiko Takada, 44, should be registered in consideration of their welfare.

"I hope the Supreme Court will make a decision with my children's happiness in mind," Mukai said following Shinagawa's move. "If it's a decision that we can explain to my children well when they grow up, we can accept it even if it is not in our favor."

One of the fun things about biotechnology is that it creates situations that challenge traditional notions of family.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 15 04:20 PM  Bioethics Reproduction
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2006 October 13 Friday
Bird Flu Vaccines Cross-Strain Benefit

Bottom line: If you got a vaccine shot from one strain of H5N1 bird flu and then later got a different vaccine shot for a different strain of H5N1 bird flu you'll get a stronger immune response from the second shot. That means if you got vaccine to an old H5N1 strain now and then an avian flu pandemic happened and you get a vaccine shot for the killer pandemic strain you'll get a strong immune reaction and better resistance because you had the earlier shot of a different strain. Vaccination by one strain of bird flu increases the immune response to a later strain of bird flu.

Officials were able to track down 37 people who agreed to take part. Each had received two shots as part of the vaccine study in 1998 against the form of the virus that had emerged in Hong Kong. Earlier this year each was again vaccinated with another shot targeting a different form of bird flu, the variant that swept through Vietnam in 2004 and 2005. Their immune response to the second shot was compared to the response in people who received shots for the first time in 2005. More than twice as many people who also received the shot in 1998 developed a protective antibody response against bird flu compared to people who had never been immunized against bird flu previously.

"We studied a relatively small group, so that certainly, this issue needs to be studied more thoroughly in a larger group of people," said John J. Treanor, M.D., professor of medicine and director of Rochester's Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit. "If the findings hold up, then it might open up a number of options beneficial for planning. One might consider giving a priming shot to members of the community who would be a central part of the response if a pandemic were to occur, such as health care workers. You'd have people who were prepared as much as possible in advance."

The work is being presented at IDSA by research fellow Nega Ali Goji, M.D., who did the study with Treanor

The work addresses one of the features of bird flu that makes a potential pandemic so hard to fight: Like human flu viruses, bird flu mutates constantly, and by the time a vaccine has been produced to protect against one form of bird flu, it's very possible that another form, requiring a different vaccine, will have emerged that can move from person to person.

The results of the new study are similar to what doctors already know about giving "regular" flu shots. Every year millions of adults get an updated flu shot every year – one shot is enough, because their immune systems "remember" previous forms of the flu and help make the new shot each year effective. But small children who have never seen the flu before typically need two shots, a primer and a booster. The results from the new study indicate that, like small children who receive a regular flu shot, adults who have never encountered bird flu would benefit from a booster shot.

The two vaccines used in the study target viruses belonging to different "clades" or viral families. Both are H5N1 bird flu viruses, but the Hong Kong strain from 1997 belongs to clade 3, while the Vietnam strain from 2004 belongs to clade 1. Goji and Treanor found that the shot targeting clade 3 helps the body maximize the immunization against a virus in a different clade, clade 1. In other words, using the vaccines that are available now might help improve the response to the vaccines developed for a future strain of bird flu.

Very likely vaccination against some existing strain of H5N1 avian flu would also increase immune response to an infection by a future pandemic strain of avian flu. This means your odds of survival from a pandemic infection would be increased if you could only get yourself vaccinated against an existing known strain of bird flu.

These results argue for mass producing a bird flu vaccine using known strains. If such a vaccine was available I'd go get a shot. Partial immunity would be much better than boxes of N95 face masks.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 13 09:35 PM  Dangers Natural Bio
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Melanoma Cancer Disables Immune System

Melanomas cripple nearby lymph nodes but UCLA researchers have found a way to counteract that crippling.

Melanomas aid themselves in their quest to spread to other parts of the body by sending a chemical signal to the sentinel lymph node, the node most susceptible to early spread of the cancer. The signal cripples the sentinel node's immune response, making it more vulnerable to the cancer, UCLA researchers discovered.

However, UCLA scientists were able to reverse the immune suppression by injecting patients with a compound that stimulates an immune response in the node. The discovery, outlined in the recent issue of Nature Reviews/Immunology, provides valuable clues about how melanomas spread and may one day lead to new ways to treat this deadly form of skin cancer, which will strike more than 62,000 Americans this year. About 8,000 will die from the disease.

"Our success in engineering a reversal of the immune suppression may lead to ways to protect melanoma patients before their cancers attempt to spread," said Dr. Alistair Cochran, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and surgery, a researcher at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center and lead author of the study. "The restoration of the sentinel lymph node to its normal state should make it better able to fight the spread of cancer."

A new treatment would be a valuable tool for oncologists. Most melanoma patients undergo surgery, but few other treatments have proven effective against this aggressive cancer, Cochran said. Chemotherapy doesn't help much, nor do hormonal or vaccine treatments.

Note the mention of failures of cancer vaccines. These latest results might also help point the way toward making cancer vaccines more effective. As researchers find the various mechanisms by which cancer cells disable the immune system they will use this information to develop techniques to prevent this disablement. These techniques will also make anti-cancer vaccines much more effective. Better methods to control the immune system will yield better cancer treatments.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 13 12:10 AM  Biotech Cancer
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2006 October 10 Tuesday
Facial Bone Aging Contributes To Aged Appearances

Aging appearances run bone deep.

STANFORD, Calif. — Gravity and sagging skin aren’t the only roadblocks to a perpetually youthful face. Aging facial bones may be just as guilty of the telltale signs of advancing years, according to new research from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

This “dramatic” aging of facial bones also happens at a significantly younger age for women than men.

“As the skin sags, the bony framework underneath the skin deteriorates as well, contributing to the development of new folds, creases, wrinkles, droops and valleys,” said David Kahn, MD, assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery. Crow’s-feet, drooping brows, sagging facial folds—it’s not just skin deep.

Two studies by Kahn and Robert Shaw, MD, a resident at the University of Rochester Medical Center who was a medical student at Stanford when the research was conducted, document this problem. The second study is being presented Oct. 10 at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons yearly convention in San Francisco; the first was presented at the same conference last year and is scheduled for publication this winter.

In a way this is disturbing. Look at yourself in the mirror. It isn't just the soft stuff that is aging and thinning. Your facial bones are decaying while you are alive.

Skin rejuvnation is not sufficient to rejuvenate appearances.

“If plastic surgeons attempting facial rejuvenation are only considering skin changes, it’s not enough,” Kahn said. “Skin tightening, collagen and fat injections, Botox injections, don’t take into account changes to the bones.”

Today’s single-dimensional approach to facial rejuvenation, Kahn said, may explain the sometimes-negative results of plastic surgery to the face that can result in odd, distorted looks.

“After you do a face-lift on some patients and look at photos of them when they were young, they look very different,” said Shaw. “Part of that may be the tightening of the skin over a bony scaffolding that has deteriorated and changed in shape from when they were 18.”

There’s a change in morphology or shape to the bones as well as a general shrinkage, Shaw said.

Dr. 90210 can't turn back the clock all that much. We need better treatments that go deeper.

Women experience facial bone aging sooner than men.

For the two studies, the researchers analyzed 30 men and 30 women separately using advanced, three-dimensional, computerized reconstruction of the facial skeleton. The participants were separated into three different age groups identified as young (25 to 44), middle-aged (45 to 64) and old (65-plus). They then measured the various bony structures in the face—the slope of the cheekbone and the opening for the nose, for example—and compared these changes between age groups and genders.

“In general, for most of our measurements, women experienced aging between young and middle age, and the men between middle age and old,” Shaw said.

Specific changes to different bony structures in the face seem to correlate with the various well-known visible changes to the face due to aging, Kahn said. Changes to the orbital aperture, or bony area around the eye, for example, could account for crow’s-feet and the drooping of the skin above the eye.

Aging bones in the cheeks could be part of the cause of the deepening of the creases between the lips and the nose and could cause the fat pad in the cheeks to sag and become more prominent. Much of these changes may be due to decreasing bone support, Kahn said.

The earlier aging of facial bones in women than men parallels the earlier aging of skin in women than in men. What I find puzzling about this is that women live longer than men on average. In more essential parts of the body men wear out more rapidly than women do. What accounts for this pattern of differences in body aging between men and women? Is it due to selective pressures where since women lose fertility sooner than men they also lose the need to look physically attractive sooner than men lose that need?

Plastic surgeons can implant materials that will lift up the skin. But we really need stem cell and gene therapies that'll up the supply of healthy young osteoblast cells. The osteoblasts build up bone while the osteoclasts tear it down.

The aging process also reduces muscle mass and increases fat. So full rejuvenation of appearances will require rejuvenation of skin, collagen, cartilage chondrocyte cells, bone osteoblasts, muscles, capillaries, and likely other cell types and structures as well.

Strangely enough, the fact that aging appearances have so many causes is a reason to be optimistic about the rapid development of rejuvenation treatments. People are willing to spend big money on treatments to improve their appearances. Plastic surgery is a rapidly growing industry. Biotech companies are developing cell therapies to treat hair loss and other signs of aging. The identification of a greater list of causes of aging appearances translates into demand for a larger range of products to make people look young again. The greater demand will spur more development of appearance rejuvenation treatments. Some of the products developed to rejuvenate appearances (e.g. stem cell therapies to restore facial bones) will also reverse aging in the rest of the body.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 10 06:10 PM  Aging Appearances
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2006 October 09 Monday
High Omega 6 Fat Diet Plus Gene Variant Bad For Blood Lipids

Whether it is safe or harmful to pig out on large amounts of french fries cooked in corn oil may depend on which genetic variation of apolipoprotein A5 (APOA5) that you carry. People who carry the wrong APOA5 version and eat more than 6% of their calories from omega 6 fatty acids get high triglycerides and other bad blood lipid components.

Boston -- Researchers from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University and colleagues have found another link among genes, heart disease and diet. The study, published in Circulation, examined apolipoprotein A5 (APOA5), a gene that codes for a protein, which in turn plays a role in the metabolism of fats in the blood. The results show that people who carry a particular variant of APOA5 may have elevated risk factors that are associated with heart disease, but only if they also consumed high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids in their diets.

Corresponding author Chao-Qiang Lai, PhD, a USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist at the USDA HNRCA, and colleagues analyzed lipid levels and dietary assessment questionnaires of more than 2,000 participants in the Framingham Heart Study and quantified their intake of different types of fats.

Omega-6 fatty acids, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, most Americans consume about 10 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. Omega-3s are found in nuts, leafy green vegetables, fatty fish, and vegetable oils like canola and flaxseed, while omega-6s are found in grains, meats, vegetable oils like corn and soy, and also processed foods made with these oils. Both omega-3s and omega-6s, known as essential fatty acids, must be consumed in the diet because they are not made by the body.

"We know that some people are genetically predisposed to risk factors for heart disease, such as elevated low-density lipoprotein levels in the blood," says Lai, "and that APOA5 has an important role in lipoprotein metabolism. We wanted to determine if certain dietary factors change the role of APOA5 in metabolizing these lipoproteins and their components, such as triglycerides."

Lai and colleagues found that approximately 13 percent of both men and women in the study were carriers of the gene variant. Those individuals that consumed more than six percent of daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids displayed a blood lipid profile more prone to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart disease, including higher triglyceride levels.

The ability to get the DNA sequence of all your genome is starting to become useful. The information is starting to become practically useful for individuals and not just useful for scientists. DNA sequencing still costs orders of magnitude too much money. But the cost of getting a small subset of genes checked for problematic genetic sequences is much more affordable.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 09 10:58 PM  Aging Genetics
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Peptide Blocks Bird Flu And Other Influenzas

A peptide fragment of a human membrane transport protein blocks H5N1 avian flu and other strains of influenza virus.

Opening a new front in the war against flu, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have reported the discovery of a novel compound that confers broad protection against influenza viruses, including deadly avian influenza.

The new work, reported online this week (Oct. 4, 2006) in the Journal of Virology, describes the discovery of a peptide - a small protein molecule - that effectively blocks the influenza virus from attaching to and entering the cells of its host, thwarting its ability to replicate and infect more cells.

The new finding is important because it could make available a class of new antiviral drugs to prevent and treat influenza at a time when fear of a global pandemic is heightened and available antiviral drugs are losing their potency.

"This gives us another tool," says Stacey Schultz-Cherry, a UW-Madison professor of medical microbiology and immunology and the senior author of the new report. "We're quickly losing our antivirals."

In event of a killer flu strain pandemic rapid shift of this peptide into production and distribution could save millions of lives.

The new drug, which was tested on cells in culture and in mice, conferred complete protection against infection and was highly effective in treating animals in the early stages of infection. Untreated infected animals typically died within a week. All of the infected animals treated with small doses of the drug at the onset of symptoms survived.

"Pretreatment with (the peptide) provided 100 percent protection against numerous subtypes (of flu), including the highly pathogenic H5N1 viruses," according to the Journal of Virology report.

The new drug, known as "entry blocker," is a fragment of a larger human protein whose role in biology is to help things pass through membranes such as those that encapsulate cells.

I am amazed at how effective this peptide is in animals. We need human trials.

The peptide blocks influenza viruses at a much earlier stage than existing anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu.

"It attacks a completely different part of the virus life cycle," explains Curtis R. Brandt, a co-author of the study and a UW-Madison professor of medical microbiology and immunology and of ophthalmology and visual sciences. "The virus can't even get into the cell. The peptide is blocking the very earliest step in infection."

An influenza pandemic could kill tens or even hundreds of millions of people if it happened in the short term. But in the medium to long term I think influenza will become a completely defeated disease. 10 years from now at least in industrialized countries the risk of a killer pandemic seems small. We'll have biotechnologies for rapidly scaling up vaccine production. We'll also have far better anti-virals such as this peptide discovered at the University of Wisconsin. I expect we'll also have very good drugs for controlling the inflammation response so that an excessive immune and inflammation response won't fatally damage the bodies of infected people.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 09 08:04 PM  Biotech Pathogen Control
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2006 October 08 Sunday
Baldness Replacement Hair Follicles Grown Outside Body

Intercytex is pursuing development of a rejuvenation therapy near and dear to the hearts of hundreds of millons of men the world over. Hair follicles can be removed, replicated in culture, and then reimplanted to eliminate baldness.

Intercytex has successfully tested a method of removing hair follicles from the back of the neck, multiplying them and then reimplanting the cells.


The treatment was initially tested on seven men with male pattern baldness, five of whom grew hair, and is now being tested on a further 20.

During a 30-minute operation, hair follicles are taken from the back of the neck, then grown in culture until they number in the thousands.

They are then injected under the skin where the hair needs to grow back.

They expect the therapy to work against male pattern baldness due to dihydrotestosterone and also alopecia in women.

They now plan to automate the process to get the costs down.

Cambridge, UK, 6th October 2006 – Intercytex (LSE: ICX) and its partner, The Automation Partnership (TAP), announce today that they have been awarded a £1.85 million grant by the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) through the Technology Programme to develop an automated manufacturing process for ICX-TRC, Intercytex’ novel hair regeneration therapy. Intercytex is a leading cell therapy company developing products to restore and regenerate skin and hair and The Automation Partnership is a private company specialising in the automation of life science processes.

The grant will be used primarily to develop a dedicated robotic system to support the commercial-scale production of dermal papilla (DP) cells, the main cells involved in hair regeneration and the key component of ICX-TRC.

The Intercytex approach to hair regeneration centres on extracting an individual’s DP cells from a small hair follicle biopsy at the back of the head, multiplying the cells in a proprietary aseptic culture system and then re-implanting the cells back in the head to induce new hairs. It is vital that each patient’s cells remain isolated throughout the multiplication process.

Since the treatment of hair loss is optional and typically paid for by the individual the cost is an important consideration. So robotic automation to get the cost down makes sense.

I am convinced that rejuvenation therapies that improve outward appearances will hit the market much more rapidly than therapies that make inner organs young again. There are at least four reasons for that. First and most obviously, the skin and hair follicles are easier to reach. Second, people care (however unwisely) more about their outsides than the age of their livers or kidneys. They want to look young and that desire is pretty intense. Third, at least in the United States plastic surgery therapies do not appear to be as tightly regulated as most therapies. Fourth, people spend their own money on plastic surgery and other appearance enhancing therapies. Conservative insurance company rules for which therapies are legitimate do not hold back the introduction of new therapies.

Another area of human enhancement with biotechnology where I expect a lot of early action is with athletic enhancement. But the prospects there are not as good because for many athletes the use of such therapies must be kept secret. Most professional and amateur sports associations do not want athletes enhancing their performance with biotechnological treatments such as gene therapies. Governments tend to side against athletic enhancement too.

The widespead bans on gene therapies and other biotech therapies for athletes is unfortunate for those who want rejuvenation therapies. If gene therapies, cell therapies, and other cutting edge therapies were allowed by sports associations then the incentive to develop them would be much greater and we'd get those therapies sooner. Many of the therapies that would help athletes would also help aging bodies. A treatment that enhances muscle growth? Old folks suffer from atrophying muscles. A therapy that enhances circulation? Old folks suffer from poor circulation too.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 08 02:53 PM  Aging Reversal
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Cola Drinking Linked To Osteoporosis In Women

Women should cut out the cola drinks.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately 55 percent of Americans, mostly women, are at risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease of porous and brittle bones that causes higher susceptibility to bone fractures. Now, Katherine Tucker, PhD, director of the Epidemiology and Dietary Assessment Program at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and colleagues have reported findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that cola, a popular beverage for many Americans, may contribute to lower bone mineral density in older women, a condition which increases risk for osteoporosis.

Tucker, also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, and colleagues analyzed dietary questionnaires and bone mineral density measurements at the spine and three different hip sites of more than 2,500 people in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study whose average age was just below 60. In women, cola consumption was associated with lower bone mineral density at all three hip sites, regardless of factors such as age, menopausal status, total calcium and vitamin D intake, or use of cigarettes or alcohol.

However, cola consumption was not associated with lower bone mineral density for men at the hip sites, or the spine for either men or women. The results were similar for diet cola and, although weaker, for decaffeinated cola as well.

Men reported drinking an average of six carbonated drinks a week, with five being cola, and women reported consuming an average of five carbonated drinks a week, four of which were cola. Serving size was defined as one bottle, can or glass of cola. “The more cola that women drank, the lower their bone mineral density was,” says Tucker, who is corresponding author of the study. “However, we did not see an association with bone mineral density loss for women who drank carbonated beverages that were not cola.”

“Carbonated soft-drink consumption increased more than three-fold” between 1960 and 1990, cite the authors. They also note that more than 70 percent of the carbonated beverages consumed by people in the study were colas, all of which contain phosphoric acid, an ingredient that is not likely to be found in non-cola carbonated beverages.

Why the cola drinks might cause osteoporosis is unclear. Consumption of less calcium due to colas displacing milk or other foods might be to blame. Or the phosphorus in the form of phosphoric acid might create acidic conditions in the blood that mobilize calcium from the bones. Or perhaps women who drink colas eat less of some foods which are beneficial in other ways.

While previous studies have suggested that cola contributes to bone mineral density loss because it replaces milk in the diet, Tucker determined that women in the study who consumed higher amounts of cola did not have a lower intake of milk than women who consumed fewer colas. However, the authors did conclude that calcium intake from all sources, including non-dairy sources such as dark leafy greens or beans, was lower for women who drank the most cola. On average, women consumed 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, and men consumed 800 milligrams per day, both lower than the daily recommended 1,200 daily milligrams for adults over age 50.

“Physiologically, a diet low in calcium and high in phosphorus may promote bone loss, tipping the balance of bone remodeling toward calcium loss from the bone. Although some studies have countered that the amount of phosphoric acid in cola is negligible compared to other dietary sources such as chicken or cheese,” Tucker says, “further controlled studies should be conducted to determine whether habitual cola drinkers may be adversely affecting their bone health by regularly consuming doses of phosphoric acid that do not contain calcium or another neutralizing ingredient.”

Sugary drinks are a bad idea because they displace healthier foods. You are better off drinking pure fruit juices that come with anthocyanins and other beneficial flavonoid compounds. Given a choice between empty calories and nutritionally richer foods you should opt for the latter.

If you want caffeine then your best bet is probably green tea or perhaps black tea. A recent study found that black tea reduces blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol after humans are exposed to stressful situations. Tea might also reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Though the evidence for reduced cancer risk from tea is mixed. Tea cancer reduction success in animal models may be due to use of doses far higher than humans will get from drinking tea.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 08 12:56 PM  Aging Diet Studies
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Tyler Cowen: High US Medical Spending Spurs Innovation

While many complain about the continuing rise of health care costs which far exceeds the overall rate of inflation, in a New York Times op-ed piece Marginal Revolution blogger and economist Tyler Cowen argues high US health care costs accelerate the rate of medical research and development and saves many lives in the longer run.

But the American health care system may be performing better than it seems at first glance. When it comes to medical innovation, the United States is the world leader. In the last 10 years, for instance, 12 Nobel Prizes in medicine have gone to American-born scientists working in the United States, 3 have gone to foreign-born scientists working in the United States, and just 7 have gone to researchers outside the country.

Tyler says European-style government cost controls would save money in the short run but slow innovation and therefore shorten lives and cost more in the long run. I agree.

Europeans fund a small fraction of the medical research that Americans fund.

In real terms, spending on American biomedical research has doubled since 1994. By 2003, spending was up to $94.3 billion (there is no comparable number for Europe), with 57 percent of that coming from private industry. The National Institutes of Health’s current annual research budget is $28 billion, All European Union governments, in contrast, spent $3.7 billion in 2000, and since that time, Europe has not narrowed the research and development gap. America spends more on research and development over all and on drugs in particular, even though the United States has a smaller population than the core European Union countries. From 1989 to 2002, four times as much money was invested in private biotechnology companies in America than in Europe.

Dr. Thomas Boehm of Jerini, a biomedical research company in Berlin, titled his article in The Journal of Medical Marketing in 2005 “How Can We Explain the American Dominance in Biomedical Research and Development?” (ostina.org/downloads/pdfs/bridgesvol7_BoehmArticle.pdf) Dr. Boehm argues that the research environment in the United States, compared with Europe, is wealthier, more competitive, more meritocratic and more tolerant of waste and chaos. He argues that these features lead to more medical discoveries. About 400,000 European researchers are living in the United States, usually for superior financial compensation and research facilities.

Americans do not live longer than people in other countries in part because the innovations that get funded in America get used around the world. In Canada and some European countries drugs are sold for lower prices than in the US. So drug companies make most of their profits and therefore get most of their revenue to fund research by selling products in the United States. Effectively the United States is subsidizing medical research for the rest of the world.

What I'd like to see: Policies should be aimed at automating the delivery of care. The large armies of nurses, technicians, office workers, and other deliverers of health care rarely innovate. Automation of their work would increase the rate of innovation by freeing up money and labor to do more research and development.

The problem we have is that the high price of medical care funds both innovation and waste. The number of dollars that goes to innovation is relatively small as compared to the dollars that go to delivering care using existing technology with lots of labor. High prices of drugs provide an incentive for drug companies to develop new drugs and other better treatments. But high costs for labor do not provide as much of an equivalent incentive to innovate to improve medical industry labor productivity. The demand for medical care is too inelastic due to the ways medical care is paid for.

I'd like to see much larger budgets for government-funded medical research. Currently the US federal and state governments are increasing their medical care spending faster than the rate of inflation while increasing medical research spending is growing more slowly than the rate of inflation (one of the unappreciated costs of the very expensive Iraq war btw). 18 out of 19 NIH institutes were proposed for budget cuts for fiscal year 2007. Note that if their budgets were maintained at the same level of nominal dollars they'd get cut about 3% due to inflation. This is exactly the wrong direction. The $2 billion per week burn rate of the Iraq war would more than quadruple federal research spending if the war was ended and the money shifted to research. That would save many lives.

Government funded research spending is a small fraction of government funded health care. Medicaid alone was projected at $338 billion in costs for 2006. Add in Medicare which is projected to be $450 billion in fiscal year 2007 and the total cost of just those two health programs (i.e. not including costs of federal employee health insurance, VA hospitals, etc) is about $800 billion. That's about 27 times the amount spent on federally funded medical research and the ratio is rising.

Medicare costs are projected to grow at 9% per year while government medical research funding declines.

Right now, one of the reasons why we have a long-term fiscal problem is that health care costs, themselves, are projected to grow way above the rate of inflation. We're projecting Medicare costs will grow out over the course of the budget window about 9 percent per year.

This points to a problem in Tyler's analysis: Yes, huge medical funding has accelerated medical research, past tense. But the costs are getting so huge that cost controls are getting placed on medical expenditures and those cost controls will cut into the profits for new drugs and treatments far more than they cut into care delivered with existing technology. At the same time, government funding of research is dropping. We are therefore at risk of a gradual decrease in both public and private funding of medical research and development.

Seems to me we need policies that will make research and development a rising fraction of total money spent on health care. One idea: Make NIH spending a fixed percentage of Medicare spending. When Medicare spending rises 9% then the far smaller NIH spending should rise as well. How about making NIH spending 10% of Medicare spending?

Another suggestion: How about big prizes for achievements that increase labor productivity in health care? For example, how about a multimillion dollar prize for the first surgical team that removes 10 gall bladders in a record setting time and then another prize for the next time that bests the previous record time? Also, how about multimillion dollar prizes for the first totally robotic surgery for each of several popular types of surgery? $10 million and $20 million dollar prizes are very small potatoes compared to the trillions spent on health care. But the innovations that the prizes would spur would pay back in the tens and hundreds of billions of dollars.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 08 08:14 AM  Policy Medical
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2006 October 05 Thursday
Laser Shows Skin Ages Faster In Women Than Men

Women lose collagen in their skin more rapidly than men do.

Physicists and medical researchers for the first time have demonstrated a new technique that non-invasively measures in real time the level of damage to the skin from sun exposure and aging, and initial results suggest that women’s skin ages faster than men’s. Findings appear in the October 1 issue of Optics Letters, a journal of the Optical Society of America.

This new laser-based technique images the fabric of the deeper layers of the skin, combining methods for imaging collagen and elastin, whose degeneration causes the appearance of wrinkles and the progressive loss of skin smoothness. The technique measures relative amounts of collagen and elastin by a single factor, which can be positive or negative, like temperatures. Higher values of the factor correspond to higher collagen content, and to lower elastin content. Previously, each of the imaging techniques had only been tested on tissue extracted from live patients. Last year, Sung-Jan Lin, of National Taiwan University in Taipei, and collaborators, defined the collagen/elastin factor and demonstrated that it gave results consistent with the results of existing lab techniques.

In the new paper, researchers at Friedrich Schiller University, in Jena, Germany, at the Fraunhofer Institute of Biomedical Technology, in St. Ingbert, Germany, and at JenLab GmbH, a Jena-based laser technology company, tested the technique directly on the forearms of 18 patients, measuring the collagen/elastin factor. The team was also able to obtain images of tiny swaths -- one-fifth of a millimeter wide -- of the proteins' fibrous matrices, showing the physical appearance of the dermis, the white lower-layer of skin that gets exposed in deep abrasions.

Large variations appeared from patient to patient, and even from one part of a patient's forearm to another. “In a healthy 35-year-old, some areas can appear like the skin of a 25-year-old, and others like that of someone who's 50,” said Johannes Koehler, a dermatologist at Friedrich Schiller University and a coauthor of the Optics Letters paper. But on average, both the collagen/elastin factor and the physical appearance of the network showed a clear dependence on the patients' age. The dependence appeared to be sex-dependent, with women's skin losing collagen at faster rates than men's.

The two methods combined in the imaging technique use the ability of ultra-brief pulses of laser infrared light to stimulate tissues to emit light at shorter wavelengths -- blue in the case of collagen, and green in the case of elastin. Since the upper layer of the skin, called the epidermis, is virtually transparent to infrared light, the infrared laser can reach the dermis with intense pulses of light without damaging the upper layers. By two different quantum processes, collagen and elastin will then respond by glowing blue and green.

Skin makes a great target for gene therapies and stem cell therapies because it is so much more easily accessible than the rest of the body. Combine the accessibility of skin with the widespread willingness of people to spend large amounts of money to look younger and I predict one of the earlier stem cell therapies will be for rejuvenating the skin and its underlying layers. Plastic surgery is a booming growth injury. When the TV show Dr. 90210 shows the first women to receive stem cell therapy to make their faces look truly young again the stampede for dermal stem cell therapy will be huge.

Skin rejuvenation will provide body-wide benefits. Old skin probably generates free radicals and inflammatory compounds. Make the skin young again and that'll remove one source of oxidative stress on the body.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 05 10:22 PM  Aging Appearances
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Curcumin Stimulates Immune Cells To Clear Alzheimers Plaque

Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric spice which is used in curries. While only done in cell culture the use of curcumin enhanced the performance of immune system macrophage cells to take up beta amyloid plaques.

UCLA/VA researchers found that curcumin — a chemical found in curry and turmeric — may help the immune system clear the brain of amyloid beta, which form the plaques found in Alzheimer's disease.

Published in the Oct. 9 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, the early laboratory findings may lead to a new approach in treating Alzheimer's disease by enhancing the natural function of the immune system using curcumin, known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.

Using blood samples from six Alzheimer's disease patients and three healthy control patients, the researchers isolated cells called macrophages, which are the immune system's PacMen that travel through the brain and body, gobbling up waste products, including amyloid beta.

The team treated the macrophages with a drug derived from curcumin for 24 hours in a cell culture and then introduced amyloid beta. Treated macrophages from three out of six Alzheimer's disease patients showed improved uptake or ingestion of the waste product compared to the patients' macrophages not treated with curcumin. Macrophages from the healthy controls, which were already effectively clearing amyloid beta, showed no change when curcumin was added.

It only helped in cells from half the patients.

"Curcumin improved ingestion of amyloid beta by immune cells in 50 percent of patients with Alzheimer's disease. These initial findings demonstrate that curcumin may help boost the immune system of specific Alzheimer's disease patients," said Dr. Milan Fiala, study author and a researcher with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System. "We are hopeful that these positive results in a test tube may translate to clinical use, but more studies need to be done before curcumin can be recommended."

Older immune systems might be less able to clear the plaque junk that accumulates in the brains of those with Alzheimer's.

The patients ranged in age from 65 to 84. Fiala noted that the patients whose immune cells responded were younger and had higher scores on a Mini-Mental State Examination suggesting that curcumin may help those with less advanced dementia. Some of the patients may have already had additional curcumin in their systems due to participation in another UCLA study, which may have impacted findings.

Rejuvenation of the immune system will probably lower the incidence of Alzheimer's and might also reduce the incidence of other diseases caused at least in part by the accumulation of misfolded proteins and other junk. Check out some evidence that immune system aging leads to Alzheimer's: Immune System Deficiencies May Lead To Alzheimer's Disease

Also see my post Alzheimers Curable With Insulin Receptor Drug? for another approach that might help. Then there's the stoner approach to protection from Alzheimer's: THC Blocks Alzheimer's Plaque Formation

By Randall Parker 2006 October 05 09:15 PM  Brain Disorder Repair
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2006 October 04 Wednesday
10 Million Dollar Archon X Prize For Genomics

The X Prize Foundation has announced the largest medical prize in modern history with the goal to speed up the development of DNA sequencing technology.

Washington D.C. (October 4, 2006) — The X PRIZE Foundation announced today the $10 million Archon X PRIZE for Genomics — A multi-million dollar incentive to create technology that can successfully map 100 human genomes in 10 days. The prize is designed to usher in a new era of personalized preventative medicine and stimulate new avenues of research and development of medical sciences.

Lots of big names have lined up in support of this prize.

On hand to help the X PRIZE Foundation make this historic announcement were some of the industries top minds representing the full landscape of this exciting new foray into biotechnology. Speakers at the press conference included Dr. J. Craig Venter, Chairman and CEO of the J Craig Venter Institute, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, Anousheh Ansari, First Female Private Space Explorer and Co-Founder & Chairman Prodea Systems, Inc., Sharon Terry, President and CEO of the Genetic Alliance, Billy Tauzin, President and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association and Dr. Stewart Blusson, President of Archon Minerals. Archon Minerals is the title sponsor of the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics after a generous multi-million dollar donation by Dr. Blusson.

Some argue that cheap DNA sequencing will revolutionize medicine by making personalized treatments possible.

Rapid genome sequencing is widely regarded as the next great frontier for science and will eventually allow doctors to determine an individuals’ susceptibility to disease and even the genetic links to cancer. Mapping your genetic code is like taking an X-Ray allowing doctors to see inside your genetic past and eventually help determine your genetic future.

Only after we have access to affordable and fast genome sequencing will we be able to take advantage of the countless benefits. This technology helps us refine and perfect our knowledge and practice of preventive medical treatments and procedures. Preventing disease is the next best thing to curing disease.

The ability to compare the DNA sequences and medical histories of millions of people will lead to the identification of genetic variations that provide many different advantages. But I suspect the biggest benefit will come from identification of genetic variations that determine levels of intelligence and differences in personality.

The X Prize Foundation founder thinks the prize model will speed up medical advances.

"The X PRIZE Foundation has created a unique philanthropic prize model designed to stimulate research and accelerate development of radical breakthroughs that will benefit humanity," explains Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Founder and Chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation. "The Archon X PRIZE for Genomics will revolutionize personalized medicine and custom medical treatment, forever changing the face of medical research and making genome sequencing affordable and available in every hospital and medical care facility in the world."

Personalized medicine will come in many forms. For example, some drugs are dangerous to a small fraction of the population and now are kept off the market because there's no way to identify who is at risk. If we all knew our DNA sequences then doctors could choose drugs that are compatible with our personal sequences and optimized for our sequences.

Preventive measures could be tailored to our indivdual risks too. If we each knew which genetic variations we have that increase or decrease our risks for various disease we could choose lifestyles that reduced some of our greatest risks. Though I have to say the potential to do this has been overstated. For some genetic risks there's not a diet or exercise program that is going to help.

Drugs tailored to our personal genetic sequences are still only going to be drugs. Risk profiles for diseases by themselves won't prevent the diseases. What we need are repair capabilities and for that we need stem cell therapies and gene therapies. Lots of DNA sequencing information will help in the development of stem cell and gene therapies. But the development of those therapies will depend more heavily on instrumentation advances in areas other than DNA sequencing.

Three teams have already signed up for the competition. VisiGen Biotechnologies, Inc. is based out of Houston, TX and is led by Susan Hardin Ph.D., 454 Life Sciences is a Connecticut based company headed up by Christopher McLeod and the third team, which is made up of the Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology, the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, and Firebird Biomolecular Sciences LLC. They make their home in Gainesville, FL and Steve Benner is the team leader. Many other companies have inquired and more teams are expected to register soon.

Highly visible competition is a good thing. Lots of teams will work harder not just for money but for fame too.

Is faster DNA sequencing technology the greatest tool we need to accelerate the rate of advance of biotechnology? I do not think so. What we really need are better tools for watching how genes control each other. Conceptually what we need is a genomic debugger that lets scientists watch how each step of genetic regulation takes place. Which gene activation leads to which other genes getting activated or deactivated and by what mechanisms?

We also need faster and cheaper ways to measure methylation patterns on DNA. Methyl groups (a carbon with 3 hydrogens attached to it) get placed on the DNA double helix backbone to control which genes get turned on. DNA methylation patterns are part of a larger category of information called epigenetic state. The epigenetic state of a cell determines whether it is a liver cell or kidney cell or embyronic stem cell or other cell type.

In order to develop stem cell therapies and to grow replacement organs and other body parts we need the ability to cheaply and rapidly read and manipulate epigenetic state. Prizes which reward the development of better tools for reading and setting epigenetic state would do more to accelerate biomedical progress than prizes for faster DNA sequencing. But DNA sequencing is easier to describe and has gotten far more publicity.

The X Prize Foundation has not yet worked out how exact criteria for what constitutes success in doing DNA.

Some experts foresee a medical revolution if the cost of DNA sequencing could be brought down low enough that a person’s genome could be decoded as part of routine treatment. Several companies have developed novel methods of sequencing, with the eventual goal of decoding a human genome for as little as $10,000.

The X Prize Foundation has not yet determined a critical parameter of its prize, that of how complete the genomes need to be. The present “complete” human genome has many gaps and is only as complete as present technology can make it.

The prize needs criteria on how to check the error rate of sequencing and also what percentage of the genome has to be sequenced. Some parts of the genome are extremely hard to sequence and also have little value. So it does not make sense to require contestants to sequence those parts.

Thanks to Methuselah Mouse Prize co-founder David Gobel for the heads-up on this announcement.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 04 09:16 PM  Biotech Advance Rates
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2006 October 03 Tuesday
Periodontal Disease Link To Heart Disease

Some scientists theorize that gum disease contributes to the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Here's another piece of evidence for the argument that you really ought to floss more often.

CHICAGO -- Researchers found an increased risk of coronary heart disease for people below the age of 60 who have more than four millimeters of alveolar bone loss (the bone that holds the teeth in the mouth) from periodontal disease, according to a new study that is printed in the Journal of Periodontology.

It was found that participants with coronary heart disease had an increase of periodontal disease indicators, including alveolar bone loss, clinical attachment loss and bleeding compared to the group without coronary heart disease.

"This study is distinctive because to our knowledge, it is the first to include both the alveolar bone loss and full mouth recording of clinical attachment loss as measurements of periodontal disease," explains Dr. Karen Geismar, Department of Periodontology, School of Dentistry, Faculty of Health Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. "Alveolar bone loss was recently found to be the periodontal variable that had the strongest association to coronary heart disease."

The association between periodontal disease and coronary heart disease has been that chronic infections and the inflammatory response from diseases such as periodontal disease may be involved in the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis.

I'm partial to toothpicks. Flossing is too distracting.

How much do chronic infections contribute to cardiovascular disease? The answer may vary by genetic make-up. A research group has a grant to try to find genetic factors which interact with infections to influence cardiovascular disease risk.

Dr. Harald Göring, principal investigator of the new $1.9 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, titled “Genetics of Infection and Its Relation to CVD Risk,” says there has not been extensive research on the role infections play in the risk for cardiovascular disease. However, a number of epidemiological studies have shown a higher-than-average prevalence of infections among people who have suffered heart attacks, strokes, and a variety of other ailments.

Some common pathogens might contribute to heart disease risk. But some people might carry genetic variations that make them immune to these common pathogens.

These pathogens include Chlamydia pneumonia, a common cause of pneumonia; Helicobacter pylori, a major cause of ulcers; Porphyromonas gingivalis, commonly associated with gum disease; hepatitis A virus, most commonly spread among school-age children and young adults; herpes simplex virus 1, the cause of cold sores; Cytomegalovirus, or human herpesvirus 5, which particularly affects the salivary glands; and human herpesvirus 8, which induces Kaposi sarcoma in persons with immunodeficiency.

“What we want to know is, since these pathogens are so common and so easily spread, how have some people managed to avoid infection?” asked Göring. “Everyone has been exposed to them, but some people don’t have antibodies for them in their bloodstream, indicating that they’ve never been infected with these pathogens and mounted an immune response. So they may have some innate resistance to infection, some other way of preventing infection in the first place. That could be due to a difference in their genetic makeup.”

In a pilot study with 600 individuals from the San Antonio Family Heart Study, Göring has already shown evidence that there are genetic variants on chromosome 21 that influence susceptibility to Chlamydia pneumonia. Now he wants to look for genetic influences on susceptibility to all seven pathogens in a larger study population.

If pathogens contribute to the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease then we can develop counters such as vaccines, antibiotics, and even gene therapies to enhance immune systems. Plus, we can brush our teeth more often.

Update: While the influence of various pathogens on cardiovascular disease risk remains to be proven the claim that fruits and vegetables lower heart disease risk is based on a much larger body of evidence.

The analysis, published in the current issue of the Journal of Nutrition (Vol. 136, pp. 2588-2593), found that the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), conditions that cause of 20 per cent of deaths in the US and 17 per cent of deaths in Europe, was cut by four per cent for each additional fruit and vegetable portion consumed, and by seven per cent for fruit portion intake.

The link between the risk of CHD and vegetable intake however was mixed with a more beneficial relationship observed for general cardiovascular mortality (26 per cent risk reduction) than for the more specific fatal and nonfatal heart attacks (myocardial infarction) (five per cent).

I wonder why the bigger benefit from fruits. Anthocyanins?

By Randall Parker 2006 October 03 09:09 PM  Aging Studies
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2006 October 02 Monday
Telomere Shortening Linked To Osteoarthritis

Shortening of genetic telomere caps on chromosomes as occurs with age is more advanced in people who suffer osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis, the degenerative inflammatory bone disease, may be a sign of faster "biological ageing," suggests research published ahead of print in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

The authors base their findings on a study of almost 1100 people, aged between 30 and 79. Most of them were female twins.

X-rays of both hands were taken of all participants to check for signs of osteoarthritis and a blood sample was taken to assess "biological ageing" in white cell DNA.

Biological ageing is likely to be reflected by the gradual shortening of telomeres, the length of DNA which caps the tips of chromosomes. A host of factors make them shorten over time, including insufficient repair of the damage caused by oxygen free radicals (oxidative stress).

Oxygen free radicals are the unstable molecules produced as a by-product of normal bodily processes, as well as external factors, such as tobacco, alcohol, and sunlight.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, with the hands being one of the sites most often affected. Its frequency rises dramatically with age, but it is still not known exactly what causes it.

Unsurprisingly, the findings showed that white cell telomere lengths were associated with chronological age. The older a person was, the shorter they were.

But among the 160 people with hand osteoarthritis, the telomere length was significantly shorter than among those without the disease, even after taking account of influential factors, such as obesity, age, sex, and smoking.

All those with hand osteoarthritis were over 50, and the amount of telomere shortening was equivalent to that accrued over 11 years in healthy people (178 base pairs).

Telomere length was also significantly associated with the severity of osteoarthritis. The more severe the disease, the shorter was the telomere length.

The authors suggest that both the ageing process and osteoarthritis share biological factors in common, including oxidative stress and low level chronic inflammation.

We need stem cell therapies to replace the aged stem cells around joints with younger stem cells. Most of us are fated to suffer increasing amounts of pain as we grow older unless cell therapies and gene therapies are developed soon enough to save us from painful joints, painful muscles, painful tendons, and pains in other parts of the body as well.

My advice: Tell your elected officials you want them to change policies and spending priorities in order to accelerate the rate of advance biomedical science and biotechnology.

Also see my previous posts: Telomere Length Indicates Mortality Risk, Chronic Stress Accelerates Aging As Measured By Telomere Length, and Telomeres Wear Down Quicker In Men Than Women.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 02 10:15 PM  Aging Mechanisms
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1918 Influenza Death Toll From Excessive Immune Response

H5N1 avian flu might have the potential to mutate into a killer epidemic. So an understanding of how the most lethal modern flu epidemic killed its victims may yield information that'll help protect us. Reconstructed 1918 Influenza viruses delivered into lab mice in biosafety level 3-enhanced laboratory at the CDC in Atlanta caused run-away inflammation that explains the lung damage seen in 1918 flu victims.

Unlike typical seasonal flu, which strikes hardest at the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune function, the 1918 flu disproportionately killed young people in the prime of life. Modern analyses of 1918 flu victim autopsy samples show extreme and extensive damage to lung tissues. This observation gave rise to the hypothesis that the 1918 flu virus infection provoked an uncontrolled inflammatory response leading to rapid lung failure and death.

To test this idea, Dr. Tumpey infected mice intranasally with one of four types of flu virus: human seasonal flu virus from a strain that circulated in Texas in 1991; lab-made viruses containing either two or five of eight viral genes from the 1918 virus; or a reconstructed virus containing all eight 1918 flu virus genes. Lung tissue from three infected mice in each group was removed on days 1, 3 and 5 post-infection and processed to destroy any virus. The mouse genetic material (RNA) was then extracted from these lung samples and sent to the University of Washington team for analysis.

Drs. Katze and Kash and colleagues examined the mouse RNA using microarrays to determine which genes were activated when exposed to each of the four viruses. This analysis showed that the immune response to the reconstructed 1918 virus containing all eight flu genes was much greater than to any of the other viruses with all eight genes, says Dr. Katze. In particular, genes involved in promoting inflammation were strongly and immediately activated following infection by the reconstructed 1918 virus. "We clearly see a dramatic and uncontrolled immune response in the mouse lungs as early as one day following infection with the reconstructed 1918 virus," he says. A complete understanding of the host's response to the 1918 flu virus, adds Dr. Katze, requires use of a fully reconstructed virus.

If the H5N1 bird flu virus mutates into a form easily transmissible between humans it might cause death by the same general mechanism. If that turns out to be the case then many of those who get infected and manage to recover are probably going to live with some permanent damage to their bodies. Severe inflammation is going to leave behind damaged and scarred tissue.

If a highly lethal flu pandemic breaks out your best bet is to isolate yourself for months while vaccine production gets ramped up. Whether you go into solitary isolation or as part of a family, group of friends, or small job work team, cut yourself off from the chains of transmission of the virus. If you need to go to stores or meetings use N95, N100, or P100 face masks. Avoid touching surfaces. Try to avoid going in-doors with people who are not in your personal isolation group.

If you want to prepare for a pandemic here are my top suggestions:

  • Have at least 3 months of food and of anything else you would use over a period of a few months.
  • Stockpile some N95 and N100 face masks.
  • Build up your savings. Be able to pay the rent or mortgage and other bills for months without going to work.
  • If you have a lot of money get a self-contained place you can retreat to that is in a rural area.

If you can isolate yourself you won't get infected. It is as simple as that.

The longer we go without a flu pandemic the less the risk of an eventual pandemic killing any of us. Drugs that prevent extreme inflammation response will be found. Methods to scale up vaccine production more rapidly are on the way too. In 10 years I do not expect pandemic flu strains to pose a major threat to industrialized countries. We'll have the biotechnologies needed to protect ourselves pretty rapidly from deadly strains of influenza.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 02 04:54 PM  Dangers Natural Bio
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2006 October 01 Sunday
Dip Pen Nanolithography Will Accelerate Biosciences

A device that can write very small patterns of material will acclerate research in biological sciences.

Researchers have developed a device that uses 55,000 perfectly aligned, microscopic pens to write patterns with features the size of viruses. The tool could allow researchers to study the behavior of cells at a new rate of speed and level of detail, potentially leading to better diagnostics and treatments for diseases such as cancer.

The device builds on a technique called dip-pen nanolithography, which was first developed in 1999 by Chad Mirkin, professor of chemistry, medicine, and materials science and engineering at Northwestern University. In that system, the tip of a single atomic force microscope (AFM) probe is dipped in selected molecules, much as a quill pen would be dipped in ink. Then the molecules slip from the tip of the probe onto a surface, forming lines or dots less than 100 nanometers wide. Their size is controlled by the speed of the pen.

Because it operates at room temperature, the dip-pen tool is particularly useful for working with biological materials, such as proteins and segments of DNA that would be damaged by high-energy methods like electron beam lithography.

Both biological research and computing will benefit from this device.

"This development should lead to massively miniaturized gene chips, combinatorial libraries for screening pharmaceutically active materials and new ways of fabricating and integrating nanoscale or even molecular-scale components for electronics and computers," said Chad A. Mirkin, director of Northwestern's International Institute for Nanotechnology and George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry, who led the research.

"In addition, it could lead to new ways of studying biological systems at the single particle level, which is important for understanding how cancer cells and viruses work and for getting them to stop what they do," he said. "Essentially one can build an entire gene or protein chip that fits underneath a single cell."

The rate of advance of biological research and biotechnology is increasingly driven by technology developed in the semiconductor industry. The technological trends that make computer power increase so rapidly are increasingly driving an acceleration of the rate at which biotechnology advances.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 01 10:04 PM  Biotech Advance Rates
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Superoxide Assay To Accelerate Aging Studies

A new method to measure superoxide promises to accelerate the study of how free radicals cause aging.

The OSU scientists, in collaboration with Molecular Probes-Invitrogen of Eugene, Ore., found a chemical process to directly see and visualize "superoxide" in actual cells. This oxidant, which was first discovered 80 years ago, plays a key role in both normal biological processes and – when it accumulates to excess – the destruction or death of cells and various disease processes.

"In the past, our techniques for measuring or understanding superoxide were like blindly hitting a box with a hammer and waiting for a reaction," said Joseph Beckman, a professor of biochemistry and director of the OSU Environmental Health Sciences Center. "Now we can really see and measure, in real time, what's going on in a cell as we perform various experiments."

This technique allowed them to learn in 3 months as much as they did in the previous 15 years. So that's a factor of 60 speed up in the rate at which they can figure out certain aspects of how cells work.

In research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, which is one of his lab's areas of emphasis, Beckman said they have used the new technique to learn as much in the past three months about the basic cell processes as they did in the previous 15 years. Hundreds of experiments can now rapidly be done that previously would have taken much longer or been impossible.

Theories of aging causes which cast the mitochondrion as a sort of Achilles Heel will be testable using this new method of measuring superoxide.

"This will enable labs all over the world to significantly speed up their work on the basic causes and processes of many diseases, including ALS, arthritis, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and others," Beckman said. "And it should be especially useful in studying aging, particularly the theory that one cause of aging is mitochondrial decay."

The rate of advance of biological science and biotechnology is accelerating. Previously untestable hypotheses are becoming testable. Previously highly time-consuming methods of measurement are being replaced with faster, cheaper, and more automated methods of measurement as new sensors and new assays are developed. This is why I'm optimistic that many who are alive today will live to see the defeat of aging.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 01 09:22 PM  Biotech Advance Rates
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Need For Vitamin K Rises In Women At Menopause?

Looks like declining estrogen makes women use vitamin K less efficiently and bone health suffers as a result.

A new study by Jane Lukacs of the University of Michigan School of Nursing suggests that the impairment of vitamin K function could compromise bone health and contribute to the development of osteoporosis. The study found that one of the early effects of declining estrogen is the impairment of vitamin K function in bone even before any bone loss that could be attributed to menopause can be measured.

"Our study suggests that the generally accepted level of vitamin K in healthy women is inadequate to maintain bone health just at the onset of menopause," Lukacs said.

Vitamin K is essential for making a bone protein called osteocalcin fully functional. This protein is part of the bone structure when it is "carboxylated" (a chemical modification of the protein that changes its shape making it easy to bind to calcium) in the presence of sufficient vitamin K. With adequate vitamin K, this protein can bind to calcium in the bone environment—sort of like glue, Lukacs said.

Vitamin K is good for the bones of guys too.

Check out what the Harvard School of Public Health says about vitamin K. The Nurse's Health Study showed a diet high in vitamin K slashes the risk of bone breaks.

Lately, researchers have demonstrated that vitamin K is also involved in building bone. Low levels of circulating vitamin K have been linked with low bone density, and supplementation with vitamin K shows improvements in biochemical measures of bone health.(31) A report from the Nurses' Health Study suggests that women who get at least 110 micrograms of vitamin K a day are 30% less likely to break a hip as women who get less than that.(32) Among the nurses, eating a serving of lettuce or other green leafy vegetable a day cut the risk of hip fracture in half when compared with eating one serving a week. Data from the Framingham Heart Study also shows an association between high vitamin K intake and reduced risk of hip fracture.(33)

Optimal Intake: The recommended daily intake for vitamin K is 80 micrograms for men and 65 for women. Because this vitamin is found in so many foods, especially green leafy vegetables and commonly used cooking oils, most adults get enough of it. According to a 1996 survey, though, a substantial number of Americans, particularly children and young adults, aren't getting the vitamin K they need.(34)

Note that the 65 mcg recommended daily intake is probably too low for post-menopausal women. So what to do about it? 3 and a half ounces of kale or swiss chard will give you over 800 mcg of vitamin K. Spinach will give you half that amount. Collard greens and turnip greens are also very high sources of vitamin K. Parsley, broccoli, and brussel sprouts are all good vitamin K sources as well.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 01 07:28 PM  Aging Diet Studies
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Brain Circuit Found That Resolves Emotional Conflicts

Neuroscientists using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scans have discovered a connection between two parts of the brain that allows one part of the brain to dampen down emotional conflicts so that the brain's ability to think does not become impaired.

New York, NY (Sept. 20, 2006) – Columbia University Medical Center researchers have identified an emotional control circuit in the human brain which keeps emotionally intense stimuli from interfering with mental functioning. These results significantly enhance understanding of the neurobiology underlying psychiatric disorders involving emotional control, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression.

The ability to prevent PTSD and depression would eliminate the brain damage that those mental diseases cause and therefore cause a substantial portion of the population to function at a higher level than would otherwise be the case.

Negative emotions are processed by the amygdala and the scientists decided to figure out which part of the brain exerted a dampening effect upon feelings of fear. They previously had found that people who are more anxious tend to react more to fearful stimuli if they are not consciously aware that they see something fearful.

The current findings extend on a previous Neuron paper (Dec 16, 2004) in which Drs. Etkin, Kandel and Hirsch found that anxious individuals show more activity in the amygdala, a central brain region involved in the processing of negative emotions, when unconsciously perceiving fearful stimuli (please click here to read the Columbia press release). When these stimuli were perceived consciously, however, the amygdalas of subject with both high and low levels of anxiety responded similarly.

Dr. Hirsch explained that this previous finding suggested that subjects were somehow able to control their conscious emotional responses, but that their unconscious responses may be more automatic.  “Following the discovery of the amygdala’s role in fear response, we decided to explore the finer points of the neurocircuitry of fear – how it is regulated and controlled in the brain,” said Dr. Hirsch.

The scientists were able to identify the brain circuitry that resolves emotional conflicts.

To study emotional regulation, Dr. Etkin collaborated with Tobias Egner, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Hirsch’s lab, who has used fMRI to study non-emotional forms of attentional control. In the 2006 Neuron paper, subjects were asked to identify the facial expressions in photos shown to them as either happy or fearful. Across each face were the words FEAR or HAPPY, and were either congruent or conflicting from the facial expressions. When the word and face clashed, subjects experienced an emotional conflict, which slowed their performance and made them less accurate in identifying facial expressions.

Using a clever behavioral trick, however, the researchers were able to discriminate between brain circuitry that detected this emotional conflict from circuitry that resolved this conflict. They found that the amygdala generates the signal telling the brain that an emotional conflict is present; this conflict then interferes with the brains ability to perform the task. The rostral anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the frontal lobe, was activated to resolve the conflict. Critically, the rostral cingulate dampened activity in the amygdala, so that the emotional response did not overwhelm subjects’ performance, thus achieving emotional control.

Do people with anxiety problems have smaller or less active rostral anterior cingulate cortexes? Or is the connection from that region to the amygdala smaller?

Seems to me this study suggests where we could intervene in the brain to reduce distractions caused by emotional conflicts. Imagine a brain stimulator device that sends a signal to the amygdala saying "chill out dude".

The greater our understanding of human emotions becomes the better we'll be able to manipulate our own emotions. Will most people decide to function under the influence of biotechnologically manipulated emotions?

If people decide to manipulate their emotions which types of manipulations will they choose? On the one hand, I can see competitive pressures for people to manipulate their emotions so that they work harder and get more done. On the other hand, I can imagine a future in which very large numbers of people manipulate their emotions so that they do not feel the need to compete and so that they feel happy and satisfied with less material goods and lower social statuses.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 01 07:14 PM  Brain Emotions
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Drug Mobilizes Cells For Stroke And Heart Disease Recovery

The experimental drug AMD3100 mobilizes cells responsible for the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) and could reduce the extent of lasting damage after a stroke or heart attack.

Recently, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis demonstrated that a drug called AMD3100 can mobilize angiogenic cells from bone marrow of human patients in a matter of hours instead of days, as was the case with a related agent called G-CSF.

Angiogenic cells reside mainly in the bone marrow, and when mobilized they can circulate in the bloodstream, homing to sites of injury and helping repair and regrow blood vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients to tissues.

"Like AMD3100, G-CSF can bring these beneficial cells from the bone marrow into the bloodstream, but with G-CSF you don't see an increase in angiogenic cells until the fourth day," says senior author Daniel C. Link, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the Division of Oncology. "In a patient who has had a heart attack, that may be too late. In fact, two clinical trials of G-SCF found the treatment doesn't improve recovery from heart attacks."

In an article in the journal Blood, the researchers showed that AMD3100 caused a 10- to 20-fold increase in certain angiogenic cells in the blood within four hours in human subjects, suggesting the drug could be a more effective treatment for heart attack or stroke.

Harvard Medical School researcher Judah Folkman MD has achieved reknown for his research into anti-angiogenesis compounds to block growth of blood vessels in tumors. Cancer cells develop mutations that cause them to excrete angiogenesis compounds which stimulate blood vessel growth. But as with so many other biological processes, things that cancer cells do can be very beneficial when done by cells which are not cancerous.

Drugs like AMD3100 fit into an even larger category than angiogenesis stimulation. More broadly AMD3100 is yet another compound that stimulates one of the many processes needed for growth and repair. To do rejuvenation we need the ability to turn on (and eventually off) every biological process that produces cells and repairs damage.

By Randall Parker 2006 October 01 11:11 AM  Biotech Cardiovascular
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High Testosterone Men More Abusive To Dogs

Testosterone leads to dog abuse.

Robert Josephs, associate professor of psychology, and Amanda Jones, graduate student, examined how testosterone levels influence pet owners’ behavior and, in turn, how they affect the hormonal changes in their animals during stressful situations.

Their findings appear in a paper titled “Interspecies Hormonal Interactions Between Man and the Domestic Dog” in the current issue of Hormones and Behavior, a biology journal.

The researchers found men’s testosterone levels determined their behavior toward their dogs, after the dogs performed poorly in a statewide agility competition. Men with high levels of testosterone punished their dogs by hitting them and yelling at them whereas men with lower levels supported their dogs by petting and praising the losing animals.

The response of these men is probably counterproductive. The abuse causes brain damage that inhibits memory formation. Therefore learning is impaired and the dogs become less likely to learn the lessons they need to excel.

Punished dogs showed an alarming rise in the stress hormone cortisol, a neurotoxic substance that can lead to destruction of cells in the hippocampus, leading to memory deficits. Chronically elevated cortisol levels also weaken the immune system. These consequences might be especially critical for dogs in high stress jobs in which memory and health are critical, such as bomb-sniffing, police and guide dog environments.

Although there is much research demonstrating how changes in an individual’s hormone levels influence behavior toward another individual of the same species, this is the first research to examine effects across the species boundary.

I've had a couple of bosses who suffered from testosterone toxicity. They also exerted counterproductive effects on the workplace. Competitiveness and drive help to a point. But these drives have to be coupled to strong discipline and a considerable amount of wisdom or else the aggressiveness just destroys.

Anyway, I feel sorry for these abused dogs. Guys who hit a dog for failing to do well in agility training ought to go find a sport that forces them to perform rather than torture dogs into performing.

When genetic engineering of offspring becomes possible will the average male baby get genetically engineered to have higher or lower testosterone than happens now naturally? Will parents want to have assertive, athletic, and dominant sons and therefore opt for more testosterone?

By Randall Parker 2006 October 01 11:11 AM  Brain Violence
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