2010 March 31 Wednesday
Pills With Radios Will Report When Swallowed

Once perfected this technology will lose us the ability to fake taking pills when wrongfully locked up in an insane asylum.

Seeking a way to confirm that patients have taken their medication, University of Florida engineering researchers have added a tiny microchip and digestible antenna to a standard pill capsule. The prototype is intended to pave the way for mass-produced pills that, when ingested, automatically alert doctors, loved ones or scientists working with patients in clinical drug trials.

“It is a way to monitor whether your patient is taking their medication in a timely manner,” said Rizwan Bashirullah, UF assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering.

Such a pill is needed because many patients forget, refuse or bungle the job of taking their medication. This causes or exacerbates medical problems, spurs hospitalizations or expensive medical procedures and undercuts clinical trials of new drugs.

How to cope with this technology turned against us? Before getting captured and put into a psychiatric mental hospital for those who resist state authority we are going to need to get microchip implants that enhance the liver's ability to break down ingested drugs.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 31 11:59 PM  Bioethics Privacy
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
2010 March 30 Tuesday
Nissan Leaf EV Gets Price In US And Japan

Want to free yourself from dependency on gasoline for getting around? Look at the costs below. If you intend to buy an electric car in the next 2 years please post in the comments. The 100 mile range pure electric Nissan Leaf gets a price in Japan and in the United States.

Nissan Motor Co. said its new electric car, the LEAF, will be sold for 3.76 million yen ($40,000) in Japan, less expensive than other zero-emission vehicles but still out of reach for many drivers who may also balk at its limited range.

A tax credit in Japan will lower its cost to $31,808.00.

In the US the Leaf price tag will be only $32,780 and a US federal tax credit cuts its price to $25k.

The 2011 Nissan Leaf battery electric car, which will go on sale in the United States in December, will have a manufacturers suggested retail price of $32,780, a Nissan spokesman, Mark Perry, said Tuesday morning. Nissan prefers to describe the price as $25,280 inclusive of a $7,500 federal income tax credit.

California offers an additional tax credit that lowers the cost to only $20k.

In some states there are also state incentives for the purchase of an electric car. In California, for example, there is a $5,000 credit which would reduce the cost to just over $20,000, Perry said.

A home charging station adds another $2200 cost with half that paid by a tax credit. Nissan has hired a company to check the home of each potential buyer to see if the home electric system is up to powering the recharging unit.

The Leaf is worth a serious look for anyone with a daily round-trip commute of 30-50 miles each way. Fewer miles driven makes for a much longer payback period due to gasoline costs avoided. But you need a suitable place to park the car for recharging and a home electrical system that can be affordably upgraded to handle electric car charging.

The ideal buyer drives over a hour to work at a place where the car can be recharged while at work. That way the amount of gasoline saved per day is greatest and the savings accumulate most rapidly.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 30 11:55 PM  Energy Electric Cars
Entry Permalink | Comments(23)
Lab Tests Coming To MD Offices And Worn On Body

Having your blood sent to a lab for testing is so 20th century.

In an office park in Woburn, MA, a volunteer presents his fingertip for a quick finger stick. A phlebotomist wicks up the small drop of blood with a specially made square of plastic, then snaps the plastic into a credit-card sized microfluidics cartridge and feeds it into a special reader. Fifteen minutes later, the device spits out the volunteer's prostate specific antigen (PSA) level, a protein used to monitor the return of prostate cancer after treatment.

Microfluidics will move many lab tests to doctors' offices.

The rapid results are possible because of a novel microfluidics technology developed by startup Claros Diagnostics, which hopes to make quick PSA screening in the doctor's office a reality.

In the longer run microfluidic testing will move to the home and office. Why have to go anywhere to get tested? I see a future where your own house will have biomedical sensors embedded in it that do continuous monitoring for early indicators of health problems.

How big of a regulatory obstacle stands in the way of drug stores providing walk-in blood testing and other testing services? One shouldn't have to see a doctor in order to get screened for cholesterol, blood sugar, and other commonly used tests.

We will wear some types of medical testing devices including contact lenses that monitor existing glaucoma to detect worsening symptoms.

Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness, and without constant vigilance it can prove a very difficult disease to manage. But a Swiss biotech company has developed a monitoring system that allows physicians to keep track of their patients' symptoms over 24 hours. Sensimed's "Triggerfish" system consists of a contact lens with embedded sensors that can pick up subtle physical changes in a patient's eye, and then wirelessly transmit that data to a receiver worn around his neck.

Imagine a watch or perhaps your cell phone alerting you when an embedded miniature blood sensor reports you've eaten too much junk food. Worn, surgically embedded, and injected sensors will become very popular due to their ability to provide lab test results at a moment's notice.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 30 11:21 PM  Biotech Assay Tools
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
Magnetic Field Behind Right Ear Alters Moral Judgments

My magnet made me do it.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — MIT neuroscientists have shown they can influence people's moral judgments by disrupting a specific brain region — a finding that helps reveal how the brain constructs morality.

To make moral judgments about other people, we often need to infer their intentions — an ability known as "theory of mind." For example, if a hunter shoots his friend while on a hunting trip, we need to know what the hunter was thinking: Was he secretly jealous, or did he mistake his friend for a duck?

Previous studies have shown that a brain region known as the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) is highly active when we think about other people's intentions, thoughts and beliefs. In the new study, the researchers disrupted activity in the right TPJ by inducing a current in the brain using a magnetic field applied to the scalp. They found that the subjects' ability to make moral judgments that require an understanding of other people's intentions — for example, a failed murder attempt — was impaired.

Feeling all morally indignant and judgmental? Is this moral indignation wearing you out with stress and strain? Perhaps a magnet is what you need to escape from the burdens of strong feelings of morality.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in 500 msec bursts is enough to alter moral judgments.

In one experiment, volunteers were exposed to TMS for 25 minutes before taking a test in which they read a series of scenarios and made moral judgments of characters' actions on a scale of 1 (absolutely forbidden) to 7 (absolutely permissible).

In a second experiment, TMS was applied in 500-milisecond bursts at the moment when the subject was asked to make a moral judgment. For example, subjects were asked to judge how permissible it is for someone to let his girlfriend walk across a bridge he knows to be unsafe, even if she ends up making it across safely. In such cases, a judgment based solely on the outcome would hold the perpetrator morally blameless, even though it appears he intended to do harm.

In both experiments, the researchers found that when the right TPJ was disrupted, subjects were more likely to judge failed attempts to harm as morally permissible. Therefore, the researchers believe that TMS interfered with subjects' ability to interpret others' intentions, forcing them to rely more on outcome information to make their judgments.

Could interrogators use TMS to convince, say, a captured spy that it's okay to divulge state secrets? Might nations or rogue corporations kidnap engineers and scientists and use TMS to convince them that they are morally wrong to try to hold back commercial secrets or military secrets?

Do you want to alter your own moral judgment or someone else's? If so, over what issue or behavior?

By Randall Parker 2010 March 30 12:37 AM  Brain Ethics Law
Entry Permalink | Comments(12)
2010 March 28 Sunday
Elite Few Can Multitask Driving And Cell Phone

Are you a member of the 2.5% cognitive elite who can talk on the cell phone while driving without suffering reduced driving ability?

SALT LAKE CITY, March 29, 2010 – A new study from University of Utah psychologists found a small group of people with an extraordinary ability to multitask: Unlike 97.5 percent of those studied, they can safely drive while chatting on a cell phone.

These individuals – described by the researchers as "supertaskers" – constitute only 2.5 percent of the population. They are so named for their ability to successfully do two things at once: in this case, talk on a cell phone while operating a driving simulator without noticeable impairment.

The study, conducted by psychologists Jason Watson and David Strayer, is now in press for publication later this year in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

This finding is important not because it shows people can drive well while on the phone – the study confirms that the vast majority cannot – but because it challenges current theories of multitasking. Further research may lead eventually to new understanding of regions of the brain that are responsible for supertaskers' extraordinary performance.

Is there a correlation here with IQ? Or is this due to a different form of cognitive ability? Since the supertaskers were better at single tasks this suggests a more general ability.

Yet contrary to current understanding in this area, the small number of supertaskers showed no impairment on the measurements of either driving or cell conversation when in combination. Further, researchers found that these individuals' performance even on the single tasks was markedly better than the control group.

Possibly these people think so rapidly that they are able to do both tasks fast enough that performance degradation doesn't occur due to switching between the tasks.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 28 11:54 PM  Brain Performance
Entry Permalink | Comments(38)
Junk Food Addictive In Rats

Obese rats addicted to junk food show the same changes in brain reward circuits as rats addicted to cocaine or heroin.

JUPITER, FL, March 23, 2010 –In a newly published study, scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have shown for the first time that the same molecular mechanisms that drive people into drug addiction are behind the compulsion to overeat, pushing people into obesity.

Think of all those rats eating out of dumpsters behind McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Carl's Jr, Quiznos (yummy bread btw), and other purveyors of addictive substances. Those rats are probably suffering social ostracism in the larger rat community, shunned due to their appearance. Plus, they are suffering from type 2 insulin resistant diabetes. They need help.

Cocaine, heroin, hamburgers, 5 topping pizzas, its all the same in the brain.

The study goes significantly further than the abstract, however, demonstrating clearly that in rat models the development of obesity coincides with a progressively deteriorating chemical balance in reward brain circuitries. As these pleasure centers in the brain become less and less responsive, rats quickly develop compulsive overeating habits, consuming larger quantities of high-calorie, high-fat foods until they become obese. The very same changes occur in the brains of rats that overconsume cocaine or heroin, and are thought to play an important role in the development of compulsive drug use.

Clearly people addicted to junk food need to be isolated for 2 weeks in a treatment center. The Betty Ford Center should diversify into junk food addiction treatment.

"They always went for the worst types of food," Kenny said, "and as a result, they took in twice the calories as the control rats. When we removed the junk food and tried to put them on a nutritious diet – what we called the 'salad bar option' – they simply refused to eat. The change in their diet preference was so great that they basically starved themselves for two weeks after they were cut off from junk food. It was the animals that showed the "crash" in brain reward circuitries that had the most profound shift in food preference to the palatable, unhealthy diet. These same rats were also those that kept on eating even when they anticipated being shocked."

But much goes unsaid. Once those rats finished going thru junk food withdrawal were they able to put their lives back together, reconcile with their families, and stay away from double cheese burgers with large fries? Or were they such hopeless cases that the scientists killed them to dissect their brains?

By Randall Parker 2010 March 28 01:55 PM  Brain Addiction
Entry Permalink | Comments(6)
2010 March 25 Thursday
Cell Therapy Restores Mouse Brain Plasticity

Cell therapies might be the key to brain repair.

UCSF scientists report that they were able to prompt a new period of “plasticity,” or capacity for change, in the neural circuitry of the visual cortex of juvenile mice. The approach, they say, might some day be used to create new periods of plasticity in the human brain that would allow for the repair of neural circuits following injury or disease.

The strategy – which involved transplanting a specific type of immature neuron from embryonic mice into the visual cortex of young mice – could be used to treat neural circuits disrupted in abnormal fetal or postnatal development, stroke, traumatic brain injury, psychiatric illness and aging.

Note the list of purposes for the cell therapy includes treatment of brain aging. I am expecting stem cell therapies for the brain to eventually restore youthful levels of learning in aged brains.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 25 10:50 PM  Aging Brain Cell Therapies
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
Endothelial Cells Enable Stem Cells To Grow

Adult stem cells can be grown much more easily on vascular endothelial cells.

In a leap toward making stem cell therapy widely available, researchers at the Ansary Stem Cell Institute at Weill Cornell Medical College have discovered that endothelial cells, the most basic building blocks of the vascular system, produce growth factors that can grow copious amounts of adult stem cells and their progeny over the course of weeks. Until now, adult stem cell cultures would die within four or five days despite best efforts to grow them.

I wonder how easily the stem cells can be made into useful therapies. For example, if stem cells are removed from joints, grown into much larger quantities, and then injected into damaged joints will they repair the joints? Just how many steps are there between the step where lots of stem cells can be grown to the step where the stem cells can fix damaged and aged tissue?

Blood vessels probably normally maintain stem cells.

This new finding sets forth the innovative concept that blood vessels are not just passive conduits for delivery of oxygen and nutrients, but are also programmed to maintain and proliferate stem cells and their mature forms in adult organs. Using a novel approach to harness the potential of endothelial cells by "co-culturing" them with stem cells, the researchers discovered the means to manufacture an unlimited supply of blood-related stem cells that may eventually ensure that anyone who needs a bone marrow transplant can get one.

The scientists expect this approach to work for other types of stem cells for other parts of the body.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 25 10:41 PM  Biotech Stem Cells
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
Universe Still Expanding

The universe is still hurdling toward oblivion.

University of British Columbia astronomer Ludovic Van Waerbeke with an international team has confirmed that the expansion of the universe is accelerating after looking at data from the largest-ever survey conducted by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The astronomers studied more than 446,000 galaxies to map the matter distribution and the expansion history of the universe. This study enabled them to observe precisely how dark matter evolved in the universe and to reconstruct a three-dimensional map of the dark matter and use this to test Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity.

I find the idea of an accelerating universe depressing. Is the universe going to gradually spread out until each atom is by itself? Does the universe sort of end by diffusion where its various parts effectively become disconnected?

The researchers looked at 446 thousand galaxies. Imagine the number of stars in those galaxies.

A group of astronomers [1], led by Tim Schrabback of the Leiden Observatory, conducted an intensive study of over 446 000 galaxies within the COSMOS field, the result of the largest survey ever conducted with Hubble. In making the COSMOS survey, Hubble photographed 575 slightly overlapping views of the same part of the Universe using the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) onboard Hubble. It took nearly 1000 hours of observations.

Just how many intelligent species have developed in these many galaxies? How many of those species got wiped out by supernovas, colliding stars, colliding galaxies, black holes, or quasars? What fraction of all the intelligent species that ever existed still exist today? How many are effectively unreachable?

By Randall Parker 2010 March 25 10:28 PM  Space Exploration
Entry Permalink | Comments(14)
2010 March 24 Wednesday
Polyunsatured Fats Reduce Heart Risk

A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials finds that replacing saturated with polyunsaturated fats cuts heart disease risk.

Boston, MA – Although for nearly 60 years people have been urged to decrease their consumption of saturated fats to prevent heart disease, until now there has been surprisingly little scientific evidence that doing so actually decreased the risk of coronary heart disease events. A new study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) provides the first conclusive evidence from randomized clinical trials that people who replace saturated fat in their diet with polyunsaturated fat reduce their risk of coronary heart disease by 19%, compared with control groups of people who do not.

By systematically reviewing a large group of randomized clinical trials and conducting a pooled meta-analysis of these studies, the HSPH team's findings show that increasing the intake of polyunsaturated fats as a replacement for saturated fats could significantly reduce the rate of heart attacks and cardiac deaths in the population. The study appears in the March 23, 2010 issue of the open-access journal PLoS Medicine.

Omega 3 fatty acids also cut heart risks.

The meta-analysis of the trials showed that increasing polyunsaturated fat consumption as a replacement for saturated fat reduced the risk of coronary heart disease events by 19%. For every 5% increase (measured as total energy) in polyunsaturated fat consumption, coronary heart disease risk was reduced by 10%. This is now just the second dietary intervention--consuming long-chain omega-3 fatty acids is the first—to show a reduction in coronary heart disease events in randomized controlled trials.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 24 10:56 PM  Aging Diet Heart Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(6)
Higher SAT Scores Boost Egg Donor Prices

College newspapers feature high prices offered for donor eggs. The prices are higher for more elite institutions whose students are considered (correctly) to have more valuable genetic endowments.

(Garrison, NY) Many egg donation agencies and private couples routinely exceed compensation recommendation limits for potential donors, a new study finds. 

From a sample of over 300 college newspapers, findings revealed that almost one-quarter of advertisements offered payment in excess of $10,000, a violation of guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).

I do not see why the American Society for Reproductive Medicine should have any say in the matter. Will doctors spend decades raising the babies? Nope. The recipients of the donor eggs are the ones who raise the babies to adulthood and deal with the consequences of who they chose to pay for donor eggs.

Given that intelligence has a strong genetically inherited component it is not surprising that people reasonably pay more for eggs which they think will boost the odds of having smarter babies.

Compensation strongly correlated with average SAT score of the university’s students, according to the study published in The Hastings Center Report by researcher Aaron D. Levine, of the Georgia Institute of Technology. In addition, approximately one-quarter of the advertisements listed specific requirements for potential donors, such as appearance or ethnicity. This also goes against ASRM guidelines, which prohibit linking compensation to donor personal characteristics. 

Why shouldn't people use appearances when screening donors? Appearances are more than skin deep. More symmetrical and healthier people have less load of harmful mutations.

$2,350 per 100 SAT points.

Holding all else equal, such as demand for in vitro fertilization within a state and donor agency variables, Levine found that each increase of 100 SAT points in the average for a university increased the compensation offered to egg donors at that school by $2,350. Of the advertisements violating ASRM guidelines, many offered $20,000, several offered $35,000, and one was as high as $50,000.

The $50k is worth it if the kid grows up with 15 or 20 more IQ points. The added intellectual ability will reduce the chances of criminality, unemployment, death by accident, and other undesired outcomes.

The ASRM objects to higher prices. Why?

Current ASRM guidelines recommend that sums of $5,000 or more require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate.

Why not choose egg donors with the same sort of assessments we use when choosing mates?

In a related commentary, John A. Robertson, of the University of Texas, argues against greater regulation, and calls the current guidelines into question themselves. “After all, we allow individuals to choose their mates and sperm donors on the basis of such characteristics,” he writes. “Why not choose egg donors similarly?”

Cheap DNA sequencing is going to lead to the development of a much more sophisticated market for donor eggs and donor sperm. Genetic testing will decrease uncertainty about offered eggs. The best will command huge premiums.

Once tens of thousands of genetic variants have known effects and they become easily tested for the sellers of donor eggs will be compared against lists of desired traits. Young women who would like to sell their eggs will compare their genetic test results with bids for combinations of most desired traits. The women whose genetic endowments are most sought after will be able to place their genetic test results on a web site and ask for bids.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 24 10:16 PM  Reproduction Marketplace
Entry Permalink | Comments(11)
60 Minutes Exercise Per Day To Avoid Weight Gain

60 minutes per day of moderate exercise such as walking is enough to keep the weight off of most women.

Normal-weight women need 60 minutes a day of moderate exercise in order to maintain a healthy weight, researchers said.

Those who exercised fewer than 420 minutes a week gained significantly more weight than those who met this target, I-Min Lee, MBBS, ScD, of Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, and colleagues reported in the March 24/31 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For the heaviest women, however, there was no relationship between exercise and weight gain.

1 hour is a lot of time per day. But the researchers say 30 minutes per day of intense exercise will do the trick too.

One hour per day too long? High intensity interval training is also worth consideration.

The usual excuse of "lack of time" for not doing enough exercise is blown away by new research published in The Journal of Physiology.

The study, from scientists at Canada's McMaster University, adds to the growing evidence for the benefits of short term high-intensity interval training (HIT) as a time-efficient but safe alternative to traditional types of moderate long term exercise. Astonishingly, it is possible to get more by doing less!

"We have shown that interval training does not have to be 'all out' in order to be effective," says Professor Martin Gibala. "Doing 10 one-minute sprints on a standard stationary bike with about one minute of rest in between, three times a week, works as well in improving muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking less strenuously."

This study only looked at muscle effects from the training. So it isn't clear whether it would work as well against weight gain. But it delivers benefits to muscles similar to that of 43 minutes of moderate bicycling per day.

To achieve the study's equivalent results by endurance training you'd need to complete over 10 hours of continuous moderate bicycling exercise over a two-week period.

You need to get your heart up to 95% of max heart rate with the short term high-intensity interval training.

Previous research by the McMaster group involved 30 seconds of maximal pedaling on a special bike followed by four minutes of recovery, and repeated 4-6 times. The new study involves eight to 12 one-minute bouts of exercise on a standard stationary bicycle at a relatively lower intensity with rest intervals of 75 seconds, for a total of 20-25 minutes per session. The workload was still above most people's comfort zone —about 95% of maximal heart rate — but only about half of what can be achieved when people sprint at an all-out pace.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 24 12:08 AM  Aging Diet Weight Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(7)
2010 March 23 Tuesday
Helicobacter Pylori Infection Gastric Cancer Risk

You might have a bacteria in your stomach that is upping your cancer risk. This isn't new news. But this latest report underscores the risk.

Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium found in about 50% of humans worldwide, can cause stomach ulcers and, in extreme cases, gastric cancer. In an article for F1000 Medicine Reports, Seiji Shiota and Yoshio Yamaoka discuss the possible eradication of H. pylori infections

Infection by the H. pylori bacterium can approach 100% in developing countries. Most infected people do not have symptoms, but many develop problems including stomach ulcers. H. pylori causes more than 90% of all duodenal ulcers and can also contribute to the development of gastric cancer, which is one of the world's biggest medical problems.

Shiota and Yamaoka, from Oita University, Japan, and Baylor College of Medicine, Texas, respectively, report on a large multicenter trial in Japan. Patients with early gastric cancer were randomly treated with H. pylori antibiotics after surgical resection and were followed up for three years. Patients who received antibiotic treatment had a significantly lower risk of developing gastric cancer, confirming the importance of careful management of H. pylori.

Have any readers gotten themselves tested for H. pylori even though you weren't suffering from an ulcer? Did you test positive and then get treated with antibiotics as a cancer preventative?

Couples should probably get tested and treated together to cut the risks of reinfection.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 23 11:35 PM  Aging Cancer Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(14)
Jaw Bone Volume Decreases With Age

Facial bones change in shape and volume as you age.

Reviewing a collection of 120 facial CT scans taken for other, unrelated medical reasons, plastic surgeons measured changes that occurred to facial bones over time. The CT scans were divided equally by gender and age, 20 men and 20 women in each of three age groups: young (ages 20-36), middle (41 to 64), and old (65 and older). Researchers used a computer program to measure the length, width, and angle of the mandible, or jaw bone, for each scan, and compare the results for each group. Using CT scans for this study allowed for more accurate three-dimensional reconstruction and increased accuracy of measurements, disputing previous research that relied on traditional head x-rays and suggested that the jaw bone expands with age.

So facial rejuvenation will require guiding bone development to gradually restore youfhful proportions and thicknesses.

The angle changes and jaw bone volume decreases.

The angle of the jaw increases markedly with age, which results in a loss of definition of the lower border of the face, according to the study. Jaw length decreases significantly in comparisons between the young and middle age groups, whereas the decline in jaw height from the middle to old group was noteworthy.

“The jaw is the foundation of the lower face, and changes to it affect facial aesthetics,” said Howard N. Langstein, M.D., professor and chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “These measurements indicate a significant decline in the jaw’s volume as a person ages, and therefore less support of soft tissue of the lower face and neck.”

To do bone rejuvenation we'll need youthful stem cells to make new osteoclasts and osteoblasts for resculpting the bones. We'll also need techniques for guiding the cells to reshape bones in desired ways. My guess is a lot of people will opt for new faces that make them even more attractive than they were when young the first time.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 23 11:31 PM  Aging Appearances
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
2010 March 22 Monday
High Fructose Corn Syrup: Metabolic Syndrome In Rats

Another piece of evidence for a link between high-fructose corn syrup consumption, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.

In results published online March 18 by the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, the researchers from the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute reported on two experiments investigating the link between the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and obesity.

The first study showed that male rats given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow gained much more weight than male rats that received water sweetened with table sugar, or sucrose, in conjunction with the standard diet. The concentration of sugar in the sucrose solution was the same as is found in some commercial soft drinks, while the high-fructose corn syrup solution was half as concentrated as most sodas.

The second experiment -- the first long-term study of the effects of high-fructose corn syrup consumption on obesity in lab animals -- monitored weight gain, body fat and triglyceride levels in rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup over a period of six months. Compared to animals eating only rat chow, rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed characteristic signs of a dangerous condition known in humans as the metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly. Male rats in particular ballooned in size: Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet. In humans, this would be equivalent to a 200-pound man gaining 96 pounds.

Also see my previous post on fructose and high blood pressure.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 22 11:47 PM  Aging Diet Weight Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
Being Richer Than Others Key To Happiness

Relative advantage is key. It is all about status striving. This poses an obvious obstacle in the way of making everyone very happy.

A study by researchers at the University of Warwick and Cardiff University has found that money only makes people happier if it improves their social rank. The researchers found that simply being highly paid wasn’t enough – to be happy, people must perceive themselves as being more highly paid than their friends and work colleagues.

Now, if most people could spend time in virtual worlds where lots of simulated people are poorer than them think of the potential for increased happiness. The problem with The Matrix is that all shared the same common simulated reality. To enable real people to all experience high status it is necessary for simulated people to pose as the poor.

All that economic growth did not increase happiness.

The researchers were seeking to explain why people in rich nations have not become any happier on average over the last 40 years even though economic growth has led to substantial increases in average incomes.

Lead researcher on the paper Chris Boyce from the University of Warwick’s Department of Psychology said:

“Our study found that the ranked position of an individual’s income best predicted general life satisfaction, while the actual amount of income and the average income of others appear to have no significant effect. Earning a million pounds a year appears to be not enough to make you happy if you know your friends all earn 2 million a year”

I view socialism as an attempt to reduce the number of people one has to feel inferior to. Hence its enduring popularity.

Another possibility going forward: genetically engineer some humans to feel happy from sacrifice, poverty, and very hard work. One problem for the wealthier naturals: What's the sense of having more than others if others are genetically engineered to not feel lower in status when you cruise by in your Bentley? Genetic engineering to feel happy about low status seems necessary to make this work.

Speaking strictly for myself: I'd rather have a perpetually young body than higher status. But I expect people with higher status will get access to rejuvenation therapies before the masses do. I'm saving to pay for the first rejuvenation therapies. Fewer status-enhancing posessions now. Younger body later.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 22 09:30 PM  Brain Economics
Entry Permalink | Comments(28)
2010 March 21 Sunday
Growth Factor Boosts Stem Cell Growth

Pleiotrophin boosts mouse bone marrow stem cell growth 10 fold.

DURHAM, N.C. -- Scientists at Duke University Medical Center have identified a new growth factor that stimulates the expansion and regeneration of hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells in culture and in laboratory animals. The discovery, appearing in the journal Nature Medicine, may help researchers overcome one of the most frustrating barriers to cellular therapy: the fact that stem cells are so few in number and so stubbornly resistant to expansion.

Researchers believe that umbilical cord blood could serve as a universal source of stem cells for all patients who need a stem cell transplant, but the numbers of stem cells in cord blood units are limited, so there is a clinical need to develop a method to expand cord blood stem cells for transplantation purposes. "Unfortunately, there are no soluble growth factors identified to date that have been proven to expand human stem cells for therapeutic purposes," said John Chute, M.D., a stem cell transplant physician and cell biologist at Duke and senior author of the paper.

Chute, working with Heather Himburg, a post-doctoral fellow in his laboratory, discovered that adding pleiotrophin, a naturally-occurring growth factor, stimulated a ten-fold expansion of stem cells taken from the bone marrow of a mouse.

They also found that pleiotrophin increased the numbers of human cord blood stem cells in culture that were capable of engraftment in immune-deficient mice. When they injected pleiotrophin into mice that had received bone marrow-suppressive radiation, they observed a 10-fold increase in bone marrow stem cells compared to untreated mice. "These results confirmed that pleiotrophin induces stem cell regeneration following injury," said Chute.

20 years from now this will seem like the dark ages of stem cell treatment. The scientists are making useful and promising advances. But the point of really fast uptake of stem cell therapies still lies some years in the future. The stem cell therapies that exist today are for fairly small fractions of the population.

I expect stem cell therapies to really take off once some exist that improve appearances. Rather than wait for illness people will go for treatment in much larger numbers when plastic surgeons can sell stem cells that make gray hair brown or black or blond again. People will also flock in to get skin stem cell therapies that turn back the clock on appearances.

Since plastic surgeons seem more inclined to try new treatments I expect any discovery of a hormone for boosting, say, hair follicle melanocyte pigment producing cells will get a very rapid roll-out. Or a hormone that boosts collagen-producing cell growth will find a market quickly.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 21 11:46 PM  Biotech Stem Cells
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
RNA Interference As Anti-Cancer Treatment

A phase I clinical trial shows promise for RNA interference as an anti-cancer therapy.

PASADENA, Calif.—A California Institute of Technology (Caltech)-led team of researchers and clinicians has published the first proof that a targeted nanoparticle—used as an experimental therapeutic and injected directly into a patient's bloodstream—can traffic into tumors, deliver double-stranded small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), and turn off an important cancer gene using a mechanism known as RNA interference (RNAi). Moreover, the team provided the first demonstration that this new type of therapy, infused into the bloodstream, can make its way to human tumors in a dose-dependent fashion—i.e., a higher number of nanoparticles sent into the body leads to a higher number of nanoparticles in the tumor cells.

These results, published in the March 21 advance online edition of the journal Nature, demonstrate the feasibility of using both nanoparticles and RNAi-based therapeutics in patients, and open the door for future "game-changing" therapeutics that attack cancer and other diseases at the genetic level, says Mark Davis, the Warren and Katharine Schlinger Professor of Chemical Engineering at Caltech, and the research team's leader.

Will most cancer be cured by more precise delivery of toxins into cancer cells? Or will genetic reprogramming of cancer cells with gene therapy or regulatory RNAs ( as above) do the trick? I like the reprogramming approach because it is like a software update. Upload a software patch to tell those cancer cells to stop dividing.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 21 11:33 PM  Biotech Cancer
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
Presence Of Women Makes Men Risk Takers

Young male skateboarders take bigger risks and experience higher testosterone in the presence of attractive women.

Los Angeles, CA (March 18. 2010) The presence of an attractive woman elevates testosterone levels and physical risk taking in young men, according to a recent study in the inaugural issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science (published by SAGE).

Researchers asked young adult men to perform both easy and difficult tricks on skateboards, first in front of another male and then in front of a young, attractive female. The skateboarder's testosterone levels were measured after each trick.

When skateboarders attempt tricks, they make a split-second decision about whether to abort the trick or try to land it, based on a mid-air evaluation of the likelihood of success and on the physical costs that failure might bring. It was that moment the researchers sought to examine because it resembles the type of risky decisions that young men make when behind the steering wheel of a car or when in physical confrontations with each other.

Consistent with predictions, the young men took greater risks in the presence of the attractive female even when they knew there was a greater chance that they would crash. Testosterone levels were significantly higher in these men than in the men who were in the presence of another male.

I wonder whether the presence of attractive women would cause male stock and bond traders to make better or worse investment decisions. Should a trading firm isolate their male traders from attractive women? Or hire attractive models to deliver coffee?

Science proves the truths of ancient mythology once again.

"This experiment provides evidence for an effect that has existed in art, mythology, and literature for thousands of years: Beautiful women lead men to throw caution to the wind," write authors Richard Ronay and William von Hippel. "These findings suggest that, for men, the adaptive benefits gained by enticing mates and intimidating rivals may have resulted in evolved hormonal and neurological mechanisms that facilitated greater risk taking in the presence of attractive women."

Some day, with some help from South Park, we might even be allowed to understand male infidelity. Perhaps the CDC can help us understand.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 21 11:04 AM  Brain Sexuality
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
2010 March 20 Saturday
Alcoa Aluminum Mirrors To Cut Concentrating Solar Cost

Using a design inspired by aluminum wings Alcoa aims to cut the cost of concentrating solar power (CSP) mirrors.

Current solar troughs use glass mirrors that are formed in the shape of a parabola and then attached to a support structure made of aluminum or steel. The executives said they estimate that the all-aluminum Alcoa parabolic trough, which is being tested at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, will cut the price of a solar field by 20 percent due to lower installation costs.

This comes on the heels of an even more ambitious effort by Google to cut CSP costs. Bill Weihl of Google says Google has a concentrating mirror design that might cut solar thermal costs by a factor of 2 or more.

Weihl said Google is looking to cut the cost of making heliostats, the fields of mirrors that have to track the sun, by at least a factor of two, "ideally a factor of three or four."

The timelines for both these technologies range up to 3 years before they are ready. The cost of concentrating solar looks headed on a downward course.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 20 09:06 PM  Energy Solar
Entry Permalink | Comments(4)
Wind Turbine Oversupply Depresses Prices

The cost of wind power is going down about 13% from second half 2008 to first half 2011.

The market has “persistent” oversupply that will depress turbine prices to an average 1.08 million euros per megawatt in the first half of 2011 from 1.24 million euros in the second half of 2008, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Anyone know what percentage of total wind installation cost is from the turbines? The towers, foundations, and other costs add to the total. How much?

Also, what's the average percentage of nameplate operation in new wind sites? As the best sites get taken newer installations will have to go into lower quality sites. See page 50 of this wind power report to see why wind power costs slope upward with more capacity installed. Can the cost of the wind turbine go down faster than the quality of wind at remaining undeveloped sites declines?

By Randall Parker 2010 March 20 08:28 PM  Energy Wind
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
MicroRNA Induces Myelin Repair Cell Creation

In multiple sclerosis (MS) and some other nervous system diseases the myelin sheath insulin around nerves gets damaged. Plus, as our brains age myelin sheath decays. So treatments useful for repairing the damage of MS will probably be useful for brain rejuvenation. Gotta love that. Anyway, oligodendrocyte cells make myelin sheath. So the ability to tell cells to become oligodendrocytes is needed for brain disease treatment and brain rejuvenation. Stanford researchers have found that a microRNA molecule called miR-219 tells precursor cells to become oligodendrocytes. An essential piece of the puzzle for myelin sheath repair treatments.

STANFORD, Calif. — About four out of every 10 cells in the brain are so-called oligodendrocytes. These cells produce the all-important myelin that coats nerve tracts, ensuring fast, energy-efficient transmission of nerve impulses. Mixed among them are proliferating but not particularly proficient precursor cells that are destined to become oligodendrocytes when needed but, for now, remain suspended in an immature, relatively undifferentiated state somewhere between stem cell and adult oligodendrocyte.

Stanford University School of Medicine scientists have now identified a molecular master switch that catalyzes these cells' transition to mature, myelin-making mavens. The results may have implications for medical treatment, as defects in this maturation process have been observed in both multiple sclerosis and the most common kind of brain cancers in adults, known as gliomas.

In a study to be published March 10 in Neuron, the investigators found that a molecule known as miR-219 is found at high levels only in oligodendrocytes, and that it is both necessary and sufficient to induce their relatively undifferentiated precursors to become functioning adult cells.

That miR-219 molecule is an example of a microRNA. DNA gets translated into RNA and RNA is used to make proteins and to regulate gene expression and other activities in the cell. The microRNA molecule identified here causes stem cells or other precursor cells to turn into oligodendrocytes.

Brain repair - whether for disease treatment or rejuvenation - is the hardest problem in body repair. For many types of organs development of replacements in vats using tissue engineering will eventually usher in an age of body repair much like car repair. Got a malfunctioning or failed part? Take it out and put in another one. But the very complex brain has got to be repaired in place using stem cell therapies, gene therapies, and microRNA therapies.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 20 06:49 PM  Biotech Repair Brain
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
Mini Laboratory For MD Offices

Why make a second visit to your doctor to discuss test results when the tests can be completed during your first visit?

In a joint project, researchers from seven Fraunhofer institutes have developed a modular platform for in vitro diagnosis which enables various types of bioanalysis – of blood and saliva for example – to be conducted in the doctor’s surgery. Thanks to its modular design our IVD platform is so flexible that it can be used for all possible bioanalytical tasks, states Dr. Eva Ehrentreich-Förster from the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBMT) in Potsdam-Golm. The core element of the mini-laboratory is a disposable cartridge made of plastic which can be fitted with various types of sensor. For an analysis the doctor fills the cartridge with reagents – binding agents which indicate the presence of certain substances such as antigens in the specimen material. Various tests or assays are available for different types of analysis. To perform an assay, the doctor only has to place the relevant substances in the cartridge and the test then takes place automatically. »We have optimized the assays so that up to 500 assay reactions can be conducted in parallel in a single analysis step, explains Dr. Ehrentreich-Förster. Even in the case of complex analyses the doctor obtains a result within about 30 minutes. A new module on the reverse side of the cartridge also makes it possible to analyze the specimen material at DNA level.

Of course one logical future step is to make miniature test labs so cheap and easy to use that you can do your own testing at home. Beyond that comes embeddable devices that will monitor your blood chemistry from within your body. Then your cell phone will query the embedded sensor devices, pass up the results to a medical diagnostic server somewhere on the web, and then pass back down to you the news that you need to stop at a drug store to pick up a drug that is waiting for you.

Even without home medical testing it should become possible to avoid going to a doctor's office. Just as some drug stores have automated blood pressure testing devices they could also have miniature automated medical testing labs. The test results could be used by expert system software to recommend over-the-counter treatments or refer you to a doctor's office if the test results suggest a prescription-only drug is needed as a treatment.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 20 12:45 PM  Biotech Assay Tools
Entry Permalink | Comments(8)
2010 March 18 Thursday
Egg Banking Services For Aging Women

Hey ladies, consider "elective oocyte cryopreservation" before you get too old to store your eggs for a future pregnancy.

Genetics & IVF Institute (GIVF) is launching a Personal Egg Banking service in the Washington, DC area to help women 40 and under who want to cryopreserve (freeze) their eggs now for use in the future when they wish to become pregnant. The age of a woman's eggs dramatically affects her ability to conceive. At 30, a healthy woman has about a 20% chance per month of conceiving, but the likelihood of pregnancy plummets as a woman grows older. At 40, her chances drop to about 5%.

Egg banking is one of those services where the buyers will tend to wait too long before admitting they need the service. A woman in her late teens is probably the ideal candidate to bank some eggs due to her still having very youthful eggs. But most women that age who eventually want children do not want to think about the possibility that they won't have all their dreams come true in a timely manner.

Women spend so much time pursuing their careers that many are infertile by the time they get around to trying to start a family.

"Many patients with age-related infertility are very distressed because they did not fully understand how difficult it would be to conceive at an older age," says Dr. Lawrence Udoff, a reproductive endocrinologist at GIVF. "Some of these women weren't ready to have a child when they were younger because they had not found a partner or they were immersed in their careers. Now that they are ready, they are facing age-related infertility."

I would be very curious to know the average age of a woman who uses an egg banking service.

Perhaps medical tests will alert women about declining fertility a few years before the infertility risk becomes high. Then women would know to go and get some eggs banked.

New technology has arrived in Australian IVF clinics that will, for the first time, enable any woman to establish quickly and easily - and for only $65 - whether she has a decent chance of natural conception.

The test - tagged the "egg-timer" - measures the hormonal concentration in her lower plumbing regions.

It will reveal whether any of the one million eggs that she was born with are still quietly hibernating in there and how many of them are already hard-boiled.

If such testing becomes cheap and easy to do women could get periodic tests of the trend in their fertility level.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 18 06:05 PM  Biotech Reproduction
Entry Permalink | Comments(7)
2010 March 17 Wednesday
EPA Cuts Bowel Cancer Risk In Genetically At Risk

2 grams per day of omega 3 fatty acid EPA cut precancerous bowel polyps in those at especially high genetic risk of bowel cancer.

A purified form of an omega 3 cuts the number and size of precancerous bowel growths (polyps) in people whose genetic make-up predisposes them to bowel cancer, finds research published ahead of print in the journal Gut.

Furthermore, this particular omega 3 (eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA) seems to be as effective as the prescription medicine used to treat familial bowel polyps, but without the associated cardiovascular side effects.

The researchers base their findings on 55 patients, all of whom had the inherited genetic mutation that prompts the development of precancerous polyps in the bowel - known as familial adenomatous polyposis, or FAP for short.

People with FAP are at significantly increased risk of developing bowel cancer and require surgery to remove large sections of their bowel. Subsequently, some also need regular monitoring.

One can't tell from this study alone whether EPA would cut bowel cancer risk in the majority of people. But other studies suggest omega 3's cut risk of a few cancer types including colorectal cancer.

HOUSTON – Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, primarily found in fish and seafood, may have a role in colorectal cancer prevention, according to results presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research Conference, held Dec. 6-9, 2009, in Houston.

"Experimental data have shown benefits of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in colorectal carcinogenesis, ranging from reduced tumor growth, suppression of angiogenesis and inhibition of metastasis," said Sangmi Kim, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, N.C. "Our finding of inverse association between dietary intakes of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and distal large bowel cancer in white participants adds additional support to the hypothesis."

I take a few fish oil capsules every day. I hope they are cutting my cancer risk. But since cancer risk can't be cut to zero we really need cancer cures.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 17 09:03 PM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(4)
Loneliness Raises Blood Pressure?

Trying to live a long time but single and rarely socialize? Loneliness appears to raise blood pressure of those at least 50 years old.

Chronic feelings of loneliness take a toll on blood pressure over time, causing a marked increase after four years, according to a new study at the University of Chicago.

A new study shows, for the first time, a direct relation between loneliness and larger increases in blood pressure four years later—a link that is independent of age and other factors that could cause blood pressure to rise, including body-mass index, smoking, alcohol use and demographic differences such as race and income.

The researchers also looked at the possibility that depression and stress might account for the increase but found that those factors did not fully explain the increase in blood pressure among lonely people 50 years and older.

"Loneliness behaved as though it is a unique health-risk factor in its own right," wrote researcher Louise Hawkley in an article, "Loneliness Predicts Increased Blood Pressure," published in the current issue of the journal Psychology and Aging.

Dogs would probably help. I've always found they have anti-stress effects. But if you need to talk out your thoughts then human company remains unmatched.

Since it is not clear to me when rejuvenation therapies will really kick in if you want to live until that day you've got to go for every advantage you can find. That includes managing your emotions and keeping down stress. Friends and lovers can help do that.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 17 08:38 PM  Aging Cardiovascular Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
2010 March 16 Tuesday
Methamphetamine Harms Fetal Brains

No surprise here. Methamphetamine use during pregnancy harms fetal brains.

Washington, DC — Children whose mothers abused methamphetamine (meth) during pregnancy show brain abnormalities that may be more severe than that of children exposed to alcohol prenatally, according to a study in the March 17 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. While researchers have long known that drug abuse during pregnancy can alter fetal brain development, this finding shows the potential impact of meth. Identifying vulnerable brain structures may help predict particular learning and behavioral problems in meth-exposed children.

"We know that alcohol exposure is toxic to the developing fetus and can result in lifelong brain, cognitive, and behavioral problems," said Elizabeth Sowell, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the research team. "In this study, we show that the effects of prenatal meth exposure, or the combination of meth and alcohol exposure, may actually be worse. Our findings stress the importance of drug abuse treatment for pregnant women," Sowell said. A structure called the caudate nucleus, which is important for learning and memory, motor control, and motivation, was one of the regions more reduced by meth than alcohol exposure.

Of the more than 16 million Americans over the age of 12 who have used meth, about 19,000 are pregnant women, according to data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health. About half of women who say they used meth during pregnancy also used alcohol, so isolating the effects of meth on the developing brain is difficult.

My advice: put alcoholic and meth using pregnant women in institutions where they get isolated from sources of alcohol and meth with frequent blood tests for drug and alcohol abuse. Women should not be allowed to damage the brains of their future babies.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 16 11:11 PM  Brain Development
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
Home Electric Upgrades For Electric Cars

Thinking about building a new home? Consider a home electrical installation that supports high amp 220 Volt electric vehicle (EV) charging. Upgrading later is more expensive. Depending on the age of a house and quality of existing wiring system electrical upgrades to support fast EV recharging can run into the thousands of dollars.

But as is often the case, the answer to the question, “How much will they cost?” is more complex. Because of the challenges in homes with what can be very outmoded electric service, a Nissan spokesman, Mark Perry, said that the cost of adding home charging is one-third hardware (the box itself) and two-thirds installation and labor costs. Mr. Perry said that homes built in the 1990s or later usually have 200- or even 400-amp service that is fine for E.V. charging, but earlier homes could face costly upgrade bills.

Jonathan Read, president and chief executive of ECOtality (working with Nissan to create charging stations for 4,700 Leaf battery cars), put the cost of home unit hardware at around $300 to $350, with installation ranging from $500 to $1,500.

For older homes the costs can be higher still. Got designs on the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf? Click thru and read the details.

This story highlights just one facet of the costs for transitioning a society away from heavy dependency on oil. Many people will want to recharge their car while at work due to longer commutes that use up most of a battery's capacity in just one direction from home to work. So affordable pluggable hybrid electric vehicles PHEVs and plain EVs will generate workplace demand for parking lot electric chargers too.

Home owners with garages will have a big advantage over apartment dwellers who park on city streets when it comes to car recharging.

Families with teens will need 4 car recharging capacity. Imagine the future real estate ads.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 16 10:25 PM  Energy Electric Cars
Entry Permalink | Comments(26)
2010 March 15 Monday
Fat Protects Against Bad Diet?

Is obesity the body's attempt to protect you from bad food you eat?

In an attempt to determine the effects of obesity itself, diabetes researchers Roger Unger and Philipp Scherer, both at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, reviewed several recent studies of the role of fat cells in humans and mice.

In particular, the pair looked at the fates of people with a genetic condition that means they can't make their own fat cells and mice genetically engineered to have low supplies of these cells and fed a diet that would make normal mice obese. They found that, despite not being obese, both tend to develop metabolic syndrome earlier on in life than their overweight, overfed counterparts.

Fat as a protective cushion against junk food? Can this be?

I'm not ready to let fat off the hook. Plenty of studies find evidence that intra-abdominal fat causes harm. For example, fat around the heart spells trouble.

The first study, presented by cardiology fellow Nikolaos Alexopoulos, MD, now at the University of Athens, Greece, shows that patients with a larger volume of epicardial adipose tissue tend to have the types of atherosclerotic plaques cardiologists deem most dangerous: non-calcified plaques.

Calcium tends to build up in atherosclerotic plaques. Even though the heart's overall coronary calcium burden is a good predictor of heart disease, calcium in an individual plaque doesn't necessarily mean imminent trouble, Raggi says. Researchers have been learning that non-calcified plaques indicate active buildup in that coronary artery, and studies suggest that the fat around the heart secretes more inflammatory hormones, compared to the fat just under the skin.

"Release of inflammatory factors from epicardial adipose tissue may be promoting an active atherosclerotic process, and this is indicated by the presence of non-calcified plaques," Raggi says.

In any case, eat fruits and vegetables, eat whole grains if you must eat grains, and get exercise.

The way I would prefer to deal with the slings and arrows of diet, weight, and aging: Get in a time machine and come out in 2050 when rejuvenation therapies should be perfected.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 15 10:55 PM  Aging Diet Weight Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
Smart Charging Stations For Electric Cars

Smart charging stations are coming to market for for recharging electric cars (e.g. Nissan Leaf) and pluggable hybrid electric cars (e.g. Chevy Volt).

This spring, GE will start selling a line of "smart charging stations," devices that communicate with utilities to optimize charging, for electric vehicles. The technology could be key to ensuring that electric cars don't strain the power grid, and it could cut down on consumer electricity bills. Eventually, because the charging stations could help stabilize the grid, they could allow utilities to rely more on intermittent renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power.

Electric cars recharged with smart charging station will especially make wind more viable since wind is less predictable than sun. For many people once they come home for the evening they might have 12 hours before they start driving again. A smart charging station can communicate with the local electric power utility's load balancing computer and its recharging of a car plugged into it could be started up whenever the wind blows harder. A sudden slow wind period could be compensated for by temporarily halting the recharging of hundreds of thousands or millions of electric cars.

Since most electric car charging will happen at night during the lowest demand period electric cars will also increase demand for the lowest cost baseload electric power generators. If 4th gen nuclear power turns out to be cheap then more nuclear baseload capacity could be built because more demand could be shifted to the off-peak hours by controlling when electric cars get recharged.

What's needed for smart charging to take off: Cheaper electric cars and electric utility regulation that enables a dynamic pricing environment to incentivize interruptible off-peak electric power use.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 15 10:49 PM  Energy Electric Cars
Entry Permalink | Comments(15)
Scopolamine Lifts Depression In A Few Days

Most anti-depressants show beneficial effects only after a few weeks. By contrast, scopolamine joins ketamine as a rapid depression lifter.

Philadelphia, PA, 1 March 2010 - Conventional antidepressant treatments generally require three to four weeks to become effective, thus the discovery of treatments with a more rapid onset is a major goal of biological psychiatry. The first drug found to produce rapid improvement in mood was the NMDA glutamate receptor antagonist, ketamine.

In a new issue of Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier, researchers from the National Institutes of Health report that another medication, scopolamine, also appears to produce replicable rapid improvement in mood. Scopolamine temporarily blocks the muscarinic cholinergic receptor, thought to be overactive in people suffering from depression.

For people with severe depression just getting it lifted in a few days could provide hope that a life of depression need not be a permanent state of affairs.

Drs. Wayne Drevets and Maura Furey recruited outpatients with major depressive disorder who were randomly assigned to receive placebo and then scopolamine treatment, or vice versa, in a double-blinded design so that neither the researchers nor the patients knew which treatment they were receiving.

"Scopolamine was found to reduce symptoms of depression within three days of the first administration. In fact, participants reported that they experienced relief from their symptoms by the morning after the first administration of drug," explained Dr. Furey. "Moreover, one-half of participants experienced full symptom remission by the end of the treatment period. Finally, participants remained well during a subsequent placebo period, indicating that the antidepressant effects persist for at least two weeks in the absence of further treatment."

Among the side effects: blurry eyes, dry mouth, and allergic reaction. Those side effects seem to compare favorably with ketamine side effects.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 15 10:37 PM  Brain Depression
Entry Permalink | Comments(4)
Polymer Solar Cells To Hit Higher Efficiencies

Plastic polymer solar cells hold out the hope of lower production costs. But their lower conversion efficiencies for producing electricity require more cells and framing to mount over a larger area to get the same amount of electricity. Solarmer Energy thinks it can hit 10% conversion efficiency and eventually higher.

Solarmer Energy, based in El Monte, CA, is on target to reach 10 percent efficiency by the end of this year, says Yue Wu, the company's managing director and director of research and development. Organic cells will likely need at least that efficiency to compete on the photovoltaic market.

In collaboration with Luping Yu, a professor at the University of Chicago, the startup has previously engineered polymers that absorb a broad range of wavelengths and has made cells that convert sunlight to electricity with a record efficiency of nearly 8 percent.

Stanford materials science prof Michael McGehee is quoted in the article suggesting that polymer solar cells might one day hit 15 to 20% conversion efficiency. That's higher than the current CdTe thin films efficiency (about 11%) from industry leader First Solar. But I wonder whether polymer photovoltaics will last as long as CdTe. Anyone know?

First Solar expects their CdTe PV to top out at 16-18% conversion efficiency.

With so many competitors rolling out innovations solar power costs are going to continue to drop.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 15 10:29 PM  Energy Solar
Entry Permalink | Comments(7)
2010 March 14 Sunday
Psychopathic Brains Driven To Seek Rewards

A hyper-reactive dopamine system causes psychopaths to commit crimes with little regard for consequences.

The brains of psychopaths appear to be wired to keep seeking a reward at any cost, new research from Vanderbilt University finds. The research uncovers the role of the brain's reward system in psychopathy and opens a new area of study for understanding what drives these individuals.

"This study underscores the importance of neurological research as it relates to behavior," Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said. "The findings may help us find new ways to intervene before a personality trait becomes antisocial behavior."

The results were published March 14, 2010, in Nature Neuroscience.

"Psychopaths are often thought of as cold-blooded criminals who take what they want without thinking about consequences," Joshua Buckholtz, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology and lead author of the new study, said. "We found that a hyper-reactive dopamine reward system may be the foundation for some of the most problematic behaviors associated with psychopathy, such as violent crime, recidivism and substance abuse."

If drugs can be found that suppress the dopamine reward system in the brains of psychopaths should they be required to take the drugs?

If a person can get brain scanned to detect psychopathy should a sentencing judge impose a harsher sentence on the theory that psychopaths can not be rehabilitated?

If a child can be identified to be both a psychopath and violent should the child be separated from society or medicated starting at a young age to alter their brain development to make them more ethical?

By Randall Parker 2010 March 14 11:14 PM  Bioethics Brain Reordering
Entry Permalink | Comments(25)
Outer Continental Shelf Oil Drilling Potential

Gail the Actuary points to an interesting claim about deep offshore oil drilling potential. Gary P. Luquette, President of Chevron North America Exploration and Production Co., argues that Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil drilling could add a substantial amount to our oil supplies.

The good news: the OCS has significant potential. Over time, it could add 1 million more barrels of oil and natural gas equivalent a day--potentially representing a fifth of the current total U.S. oil production. Advances in technology could increase that amount dramatically.

Some people believe that if the United States just opens up currently closed off areas for drilling oil then there'd be so much the US wouldn't need to import any oil and oil would be real cheap. Well, the world is currently using about 86 million barrels of oil per day and the United States is using almost 19 million barrels per day (down from 20.5 million before the oil price spike and recession). While another million barrels per day would help the US economically it would not cause a huge change in the overall oil supply picture. 1 million barrels per day would displace less than 10% of current US oil imports.

If the US is lucky the OCS oil might provide a decade's worth of oil. You might ask what happens after that decade is over. But it can't be pumped out that fast anyway.

The U.S. government estimates that the Gulf of Mexico holds somewhere around 70 billion barrels of oil, 40 billion of which remain undiscovered in the deep water. Combined with the entire Outer Continental Shelf, there's thought to be more than 85 billion barrels of undiscovered crude off the coast of the U.S., more than a decade's worth of oil at our current pace.

Oil extraction is limited by flow rates of oil underground. The OCS oil will take decades to extract.

85 billion barrels might sound like a lot of oil. But the world goes thru over 30 billion barrels per year and demand is rising due to economic growth, especially in Asia.

I expect remaining undeveloped US OCS areas to get opened up for drilling after another really big spike in oil prices. But even if that spike occurs in, say, 2012 we realistically wouldn't see substantial oil flowing for 10 years. OCS exploration and development takes a long time. "Drill, baby, drill" for US OCS oil isn't a short term solution to high energy costs.

OCS development involves very high costs and so it requires continued high oil prices. The days of cheap oil are over. We need substitutes.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 14 10:43 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels
Entry Permalink | Comments(6)
New Compressed Air Energy Storage Projects

Alexis Madrigal of Wired reports on compressed air energy storage (CAES) systems which will store compressed air deep underground. Electric power generated from wind blowing during times of low electric power demand gets used to compress air. Then the compressed air gets used to generate electric power when the demand is highest.

“CAES is the least cost, utility-scale, bulk-storage system available. If other factors such as its low environmental impact and high reliability are considered, CAES has an overwhelming advantage,” one Department of Homeland Security physicist concluded in a 2007 paper in the journal Energy (.pdf).

In the last four months, four projects have gotten new funding. In December, the rights to a long-awaited project in Norton, Ohio, were purchased by First Energy, a large utility in the area. The Norton project could store 2.7 gigawatts of power in an abandoned limestone mine.

Is that 2.7 gigawatts or 2.7 gigawatt-hours? I suspect the latter. That's equivalent to about 2 hours of electric power output from a nuclear power plant. Unfortunately no average expected cost per kilowatt-hour or efficiency numbers for these projects are provided in the article.

Can CAES make it more practical scaling up wind power to deliver a much higher percentage of total electric power? It is worth noting that electric power delivered during peak demand afternoons sells for more than electric power delivered late at night. So if the added cost of CAES isn't too great it can make wind much more competitive.

A cheap way to do electric power storage could help make some methods of generating electricity more competitive. For example, nuclear reactors running at night (when wholesale electric power rates are low) could power air compressors so that more nuclear electric power could be sold in the afternoon at higher prices.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 14 01:46 PM  Energy Electric Generators
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
2010 March 13 Saturday
Ford Transit Connect Electric Battery Longevity

Looking thru a press release from Ford about the electric version of their Transit Connect delivery vehicle (going into production late 2010) a couple of interesting things stand out: 80 mile range and aimed at commercial fleets where each vehicle always returns to a central place to make recharge easy.

Transit Connect Electric is well-suited for commercial fleets that travel predictable, short-range routes with frequent stop-and-go driving in urban and suburban environments and a central location for daily recharging. The vehicle, which will accelerate at a similar rate as the gas-powered Transit Connect and will have a top speed of 75 mph, has a targeted range of up to 80 miles on a full charge.

Owners will have the option of recharging the Transit Connect Electric with either a standard 120V outlet or preferably a 240V charge station installed at the user’s base of operations for optimal recharging in six to eight hours. A transportable cord that works with both types of outlets will be available for recharging at both kinds of locations.

The vehicle’s charge port is located above the passenger-side rear wheel well. The onboard liquid-cooled 28-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is charged by connecting the charge port to a power outlet. Inside the vehicle, an onboard charger converts the AC power from the electric grid to DC power to charge the battery pack.

What's most interesting: the battery is expected to last as long as the vehicle. How long is that expected to be in terms of miles driven?

In the Transit Connect Electric, the battery pack has been efficiently integrated without compromising interior passenger room and cargo space. The battery pack is expected to last the life of the vehicle.

Does this battery pack have a longer expected life than, say, the Chevy Volt's battery pack or the Nissan Leaf's battery pack? If so, is that due to a longer lasting battery technology?

The Transit Connect Electric will use a lithium polymer battery from Kokam that in April 2009 could do 1500 discharges to 100% discharge.< At 80 miles per full charge that would be only 120,000 miles (assuming it retains the 80 range for all those discharges). Does the battery last longer if not fully discharged?/p>

The 28 kwh was also costing $750 per kwh in April 2009 or $21,000 just for the batteries. So what's this van going to sell for? Ford still hasn't announced pricing.

Future battery manufacturing costs will determine how high gasoline prices will go before a massive shift away from oil to electric power for cars.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 13 09:41 PM  Energy Electric Cars
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
European Union Using More Fossil Fuels For Electricity

You might expect that in Europe the percentage of electricity coming from fossil fuels would be dropping. That's what I expected, with with the Kyoto Accord and aggressive green energy policies. But a comment on the Oil Drum led me to an interesting pair of pie graphs of European electric power sources in 1997 and 2005. Bottom line, EU electric power percentage from fossil fuels shows an increase of 4% of total market share:

  • In 1995: 10% (natural gas) + 31% (coal) + 13% (oil) = 54%.
  • In 2007: 21% (natural gas) + 30% (coal) +  7% (oil) = 58%.

How did this happen? My guess is that as total demand increased political opposition to the expansion of nuclear (24% in 1995, down to 17% in 2007) combined with the lack of new rivers to dam to ramp up hydro (20% in 1995, down to 15% in 2007) meant that fossil fuels gained market share. Wind went from almost nowhere in 1995 to 7% in 2007. But that 7% gain just canceled out the market share loss of nukes. Given that Germany might decommission all its nukes fossil fuels look set to make even bigger market share gains.

Solar still didn't account for a big enough amount to warrant its own pie chart slice even in 2007.

A vigorous program of nuclear power plant construction could allow nuclear power to regain its lost market share. Then at least a portion of the expansion of wind power could go toward displacing fossil fuels. Drive nuclear power's markets share up enough to also compensate for all the lost hydro market share (i.e. at least 29% of total electric power from nukes) and then all wind power would displace fossil fuels.

Europe is too far north for solar to make anywhere near as big an impact as nukes. Plus, Europe lacks the big windy plains of America's interior for wind power generation. Europe's biggest practical replacement for fossil fuels is nuclear power. Look at what has happened as a result of political policies that ignore this fact.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 13 03:09 PM  Energy Electric Generators
Entry Permalink | Comments(9)
2010 March 11 Thursday
People Consider More Possibilities For Past Than Future?

Some Brown University researchers think humans consider more possibilities when diagnosing than when predicting.

Fernbach and the other researchers explored the degree to which people are overly focused on a single cause when pursuing two fundamental kinds of thinking — predicting the likelihood of an outcome and diagnosing the causes of an outcome.

They see these two kinds of thinking as flip sides of the same coin. Predicting outcomes calls for thinking forward from the cause of the outcome, such as predicting the likelihood that someone who goes on a diet will lose weight. But offering a diagnosis involves thinking backward from an outcome to the cause, such as diagnosing whether someone who lost weight dieted.

The researchers conducted three studies with medical professionals and Brown undergraduates. Their findings: In each case, the subjects considered alternative causes when they made diagnoses, but did not do so when making predictions.

I can see a way to try to use this result to think more productively: When trying to predict the future list some possible paths. Then for each path imagine you are in the future and a series of events caused developments to happen along that path. Think back from this imagined future vantage point and try to identify the causes of the outcome. If you do that for each possible outcome you might shift your mind into a more backward-looking diagnostic mode.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 11 11:13 PM  Brain Cognitive Flaws
Entry Permalink | Comments(6)
Humans Outcompeting Killer Whales For Food

morefish for dinner means fewer whales in the oceans.

A one-of-a-kind killer whale population appears to be threatened by human appetites for Antarctic toothfish, better known to restaurant-goers as Chilean Sea Bass.

As fishing fleets patrol their waters, catching what was their primary source of food, the whales are vanishing. It’s not certain whether they’ve only moved on, or are dying out, or both. But something is happening, with potentially dark implications for Earth’s last pristine ecosystem.

“There’s been a dramatic disappearance of the whales,” said biologist David Ainley of ecological consulting firm H.T. Harvey and Associates, and co-author of a March Aquatic Mammals article on the whales’ disappearance. “We think they’re having a harder time trying to find food. Whether that leads to population decrease, hopefully we won’t find out. But we will find out, if it continues.”

Humans are already overfishing the oceans. With rising populations and increased buying power due to industrialization in more corners of the globe the demand for fish will continue to rise and fisheries depletion will worsen.

Killer whales are also hit by overfishing of salmon.

Killer whales attack prey as large as gray whales and as small as herring. But the resident killer whales of the San Juan Islands prefer to eat chinook salmon -- and that could be their ruin.

Researchers tracking the whales found their numbers fell sharply during the chinook salmon decline in the 1990s. Even though seals, sea lions and even other kinds of salmon and fish remained relatively abundant, the San Juan killer whales died at unusually high rates, probably from malnutrition.

The world's governments should put more areas of the oceans off-limits for fishing to give fisheries a chance to recover.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 11 07:44 PM  Trends Habitat Loss
Entry Permalink | Comments(14)
2010 March 10 Wednesday
Full Genome Sequenced In 5 People In Disease Search

The cost of genome sequencing has now fallen far enough that scientists are able to sequence the entire genome of people with rare genetic diseases to identify their causes.

James Lupski, a physician-scientist who suffers from a neurological disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth, has been searching for the genetic cause of his disease for more than 25 years. Late last year, he finally found it--by sequencing his entire genome. While a number of human genome sequences have been published to date, Lupski's research is the first to show how whole-genome sequencing can be used to identify the genetic cause of an individual's disease.

The project, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, reflects a new approach to the hunt for disease-causing genes--an approach made possible by the plunging cost of DNA sequencing. Part of a growing trend in the field, the study incorporates both new technology and a more traditional method of gene-hunting that involves analyzing families with rare genetic diseases. A second study, the first to describe the genomes of an entire family of four, confirmed the genetic root of a rare disease, called Miller syndrome, afflicting both children. That study was published online yesterday in Science.

For some genetic diseases there's not just one mutation that causes them. Lupski got 2 different rare mutations from his parents. Several other mutations are known to cause his neurological disorder Charcot-Marie-Tooth.

$250 genomes in 5 years?

It took 13 years and an investment of nearly $1 billion to sequence the first human genome in the early 2000s. When the Seattle team launched its analysis in 2009, the cost had plummeted to $20,000 per genome. The lab work took a month.

Today, the price is approaching $10,000. Lifton predicts $250 genomes within five years — cheaper than many medical tests.

At what price would you get your full genome sequenced? Your answer probably depends in part on what you expect you'll be able to do with the information in your daily life. The identification of genetic sequences that determine the ideal diet would certainly make a full genome sequencing worth at least $250 to me.

The sequencing of Lupski's genome turned up hundreds of thousands of genetic differences not yet identified in other humans. As the total pool of fully sequenced genomes grows the number of new mutations found will decline with each new genome added.

On a more philosophical note, the whole genome sequencing provided Lupski clues to what makes an individual.

"My genome has 3.5 million differences from the reference genome (sequenced in the original human genome project)," he said. "I have hundreds of thousands of differences from all the other genomes that have been sequenced. I expect that to hold true for others. Everyone is truly unique."

The sequencing of the family of 4 found that the number of new mutations per generation is lower than previously estimated.

Led by scientists at the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology, the study, published Thursday, March 11, 2010 in Science Express, sequenced the entire genome of a family of four—the parents, daughter, and son. By comparing the parents' DNA sequences to those of their children, the researchers estimated with a high degree of certainty that each parent passes 30 mutations—for a total of 60—to their offspring.

Scientists long had estimated that each parent passes 75 gene mutations to their children.

Most of these new mutations probably have no functional significance. But trying to tease out which mutations cause differences in our health or abilities is really hard to do for most mutations. If a mutation causes only a small difference in health or ability and very few people carry it then it is hard to compare people to detect a difference caused by that mutation.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 10 11:35 PM  Biotech Genetic Diseases
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
Death Rate Dropping From Cancer

Death rates from cancer declined over the period of 1970 to 2006 in the United States.

ATLANTA--A new American Cancer Society study finds progress in reducing cancer death rates is evident whether measured against baseline rates in 1970 or in 1990. The study appears in the open access journal PLos ONE, and finds a downturn in cancer death rates since 1990 results mostly from reductions in tobacco use, increased screening allowing early detection of several cancers, and modest to large improvements in treatment for specific cancers.

Temporal trends in death rates are the most reliable measure of progress against cancer, reflecting improvements in prevention, early detection, and treatment. Although age-standardized cancer death rates in the U.S. have been decreasing since the early 1990s, some reports have cited limited improvement in death rates as evidence that the "war on cancer", which was initiated in 1971, has failed. Many of these analyses fail to account for the dominant and dramatic increase in cancer death rates due to tobacco-related cancers in the latter part of the 20th century.

To investigate further, researchers led by American Cancer Society epidemiologist Ahmedin Jemal, Ph.D., used nationwide cancer mortality data for the years 1970 through 2006 from the SEER*Stat database, which defines major cancer sites consistently over time in order to facilitate reporting of long term mortality trends. They found for all cancers combined, death rates (per 100,000) in men increased from 249.3 in 1970 to 279.8 in 1990, and then decreased to 221.1 in 2006, yielding a relative decline of 21% from 1990 (peak year) and a drop of 11% since 1970 (baseline year). Similarly, the death rate from all-cancers combined in women increased from 163.0 in 1970 to 175.3 in 1991, and then decreased to 153.7 in 2006, a relative decline of 12% and 6% from the 1991 (peak year) and 1970 rates, respectively.

You can get a much better picture of the trends by looking at the slideshow graphs associated with the research report. Colorectal cancer has been in decline since 1970. But other cancers didn't start declining until the mid 1990s.

You can read the full text of the report for more details. Death rates declined for a large assortment of cancers including those of the stomach, bladder, brain, kidney, and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

During the most recent time period, death rates decreased for cancers of the oral cavity, stomach, bladder, kidney, brain, and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and leukemia in both males and females and for cancers of the esophagus and ovary and melanoma and Hodgkin lymphoma in females. In contrast, rates increased for esophagus cancer and melanoma in men, liver cancer in both men and women, and pancreas cancer in women. Death rates stabilized for pancreatic cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma in men and for cervix and corpus and uterus cancers in women. Notably, the 2006 death rates for Hodgkin lymphoma in men, cervical cancer in women, and stomach cancer in both men and women were less than one-third of the 1970 rates.

Many factors contribute to these trends. Early detection, reduced smoking by men, and better treatments all have worked to lower death rates. Hepatitis C, obesity, and a surge in smoking by women all contributed to delaying declines or causing surges in some cancer types.

Most treatments for cancer are still far too crude. Some of the big advances in the next 20 years will come in the form of delivery methods that much more precisely target just the cancer cells with toxins. Also, pieces of regulatory RNA delivered into cells will instruct cancer cells to either die or at least stop dividing.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 10 10:52 PM  Aging Cancer Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
Peak Oil In 2014?

Researchers at Kuwait University predict world conventional oil production will peak in 2014.

In a finding that may speed efforts to conserve oil and intensify the search for alternative fuel sources, scientists in Kuwait predict that world conventional crude oil production will peak in 2014 — almost a decade earlier than some other predictions. Their study is in ACS' Energy & Fuels, a bi-monthly journal.

Ibrahim Nashawi and colleagues point out that rapid growth in global oil consumption has sparked a growing interest in predicting "peak oil" — the point where oil production reaches a maximum and then declines. Scientists have developed several models to forecast this point, and some put the date at 2020 or later. One of the most famous forecast models, called the Hubbert model, accurately predicted that oil production would peak in the United States in 1970. The model has since gained in popularity and has been used to forecast oil production worldwide. However, recent studies show that the model is insufficient to account for more complex oil production cycles of some countries. Those cycles can be heavily influenced by technology changes, politics, and other factors, the scientists say.

The new study describe development of a new version of the Hubbert model that accounts for these individual production trends to provide a more realistic and accurate oil production forecast. Using the new model, the scientists evaluated the oil production trends of 47 major oil-producing countries, which supply most of the world's conventional crude oil. They estimated that worldwide conventional crude oil production will peak in 2014, years earlier than anticipated. The scientists also showed that the world's oil reserves are being depleted at a rate of 2.1 percent a year. The new model could help inform energy-related decisions and public policy debate, they suggest.

If true the decline will cause an extended economic contraction lasting several years. We are not yet ready to migrate away from oil as our primary source of energy for transportation.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 10 06:46 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels
Entry Permalink | Comments(9)
Sex Life Lasts Longer For Men Than Women

Women lose interest in sex sooner as they age.

At age 55, men can expect another 15 years of sexual activity, but women that age should expect less than 11 years, according to a study by University of Chicago researchers published early online March 10 by the British Medical Journal. Men in good or excellent health at 55 can add 5 to 7 years to that number. Equally healthy women gain slightly less, 3 to 6 years.

One consolation for women is that many of them seem not to miss it. Men tend to marry younger women, die sooner and care more about sex, the study confirmed. Although 72 percent of men aged 75 to 85 have partners, fewer than 40 percent of women that age do. Only half of women 75-85 who remained sexually active rated their sex lives as "good," and only 11 percent of all women that age report regularly thinking about or being interested in sex. Among those age 57 to 85 not living with a partner, 57 percent of men were interested in sex, compared to only 11 percent of women.

I see this as meaning that men and women of similar age become less sexually compatible with age.

"Interest in sex, participation in sex and even the quality of sexual activity were higher for men than women, and this gender gap widened with age," said lead author Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago. But the study also "affirms a positive association between later-life health, sexual partnership and sexual activity," she said.

Healthier people maintain an interest in sex longer.

People who are in good health are almost twice as likely to be interested in sex compared to those in poor health, according to research published on bmj.com today.

It is already established that sexual activity has health benefits and is linked to living longer. However, this study investigates how general health impacts on the quality of sex.

Since drugs like Viagra and Cialis boost male sexual function I would expect these drugs to amplify the mismatch between aging male and aging female sexual desire.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 10 12:07 AM  Aging Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
2010 March 09 Tuesday
DNA Extracted From Fossil Elephant Bird Eggs

DNA extracted from fossil eggs thousands of years old might allow eventually resurrection of extinct species.

An international team isolated the delicate DNA molecules of species including the massive "elephant birds" of the genus Aepyorni.

The Proceedings of the Royal Society B research demonstrated the approach also on emu, ducks and the extinct moa.

Some of the extinct species were wiped out by humans. Should we bring them back?

In one case 19,000 year old DNA was isolated.

They said: "We show that genetic material is preserved in the eggshell matrix and have successfully imaged the DNA via microscopy.

"Using new techniques we obtain DNA signatures from a variety of fossil eggshells, including the extinct moa and elephant birds and 19,000 year-old old emu."

It isn't clear what the quality is of this DNA. But sequencing of lots of poor quality DNA samples of the same species might allow reconstruction of sequence of sufficient quality as to allow bringing back such a species to life.

I'm less worried about bringing back really large species since they can easily be hunted down and killed if they cause unexpected problems. But restored small species are much more problematic if they live in ways that make them hard to track and kill. A 3 meter high elephant bird that eats vegetation isn't going to get out of control.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 09 11:53 PM  Bioethics Reproduction
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
2010 March 08 Monday
Nanoparticles Target Cancer Cells

For a long time nanotechnology was one of those technologies that lay only in our future. It is starting to show up in our present. Cornell researchers have attached antibodies to nanoparticles to attack colorectal cancer cells.

ITHACA, N.Y. - Another weapon in the arsenal against cancer: Nanoparticles that identify, target and kill specific cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

Led by Carl Batt, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Food Science, the researchers synthesized nanoparticles – shaped something like a dumbbell – made of gold sandwiched between two pieces of iron oxide. They then attached antibodies, which target a molecule found only in colorectal cancer cells, to the particles. Once bound, the nanoparticles are engulfed by the cancer cells.

To kill the cells, the researchers use a near-infrared laser, which is a wavelength that doesn't harm normal tissue at the levels used, but the radiation is absorbed by the gold in the nanoparticles. This causes the cancer cells to heat up and die.

"This is a so-called 'smart' therapy," Batt said. "To be a smart therapy, it should be targeted, and it should have some ability to be activated only when it's there and then kills just the cancer cells."

One can imagine a variety of ways to activate toxins once those toxins have entered cancer cells. The trick is preferentially getting the toxins into cancer cells so that other cells in the body do not get poisoned by the poison payload. To just come up with antibodies that will target all the cancer in a body is a major challenge.

I am wondering whether cancer will ultimately be stopped by precisely delivered poisons or by pieces of RNA delivered into cancer cells to suppress and activate selected genes in the DNA. It is like the difference between bombs and software. Blow up the cells up or regain control over them?

By Randall Parker 2010 March 08 11:14 PM  Biotech Cancer
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
Artery Growth Controlled For Heart Problems

If we only knew how to instruct cells to do exactly what we want then most human degeneration with age would become repairable. Some Yale researchers have found a way to block an inhibitor mechanism so that new arteries grow in mice and zebrafish.

"Successfully growing new arteries could provide a biological option for patients facing bypass surgery," said lead author of the study Michael Simons, M.D., chief of the Section of Cardiology at Yale School of Medicine.

In the past, researchers used growth factors—proteins that stimulate the growth of cells—to grow new arteries, but this method was unsuccessful. Simons and his team studied mice and zebrafish to see if they could simulate arterial formation by switching on and off two signaling pathways—ERK1/2 and P13K.

"We found that there is a cross-talk between the two signaling pathways. One half of the signaling pathway inhibits the other. When we inhibit this mechanism, we are able to grow arteries," said Simons. "Instead of using growth factors, we stopped the inhibitor mechanism by using a drug that targets a particular enzyme called P13-kinase inhibitor."

"Because we've located this inhibitory pathway, it opens the possibility of developing a new class of medication to grow new arteries," Simons added. "The next step is to test this finding in a human clinical trial."

Drugs that block this inhibitor pathway could be problematic since they might cause artery growth in many parts of the body. We need techniques that allow localized control of cell growth. It isn't enough to have stem cells. Therapeutic techniques must control cell organization in 3 dimensions to grow the needed structures.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 08 11:02 PM  Biotech Heart Cardiovascular
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
European CO2 Permits Lead To Political Profits

Count me in the crowd who think cap-and-trade as a method for cutting CO2 emissions is a bad idea. It gets gamed by industries that have the best lobbyists. Europe serves as a poster boy for how cap-and-trade leads to ridiculous outcomes. Powerful firms got more carbon emission permits than they needed and sold them for big profits.

PARIS—Europe’s system for industrial carbon quotas has enriched the continent’s biggest polluters, with 10 firms together reaping permits for 2008 alone worth $680 million, a new report revealed.

Dominated by steel and cement makers, the same “carbon fat cats” stand to collect surplus CO2 permits that—at current market rates—could be worth $4.3 billion by 2012, it said.

Of course, the whole point of the permits was to allow trading so that businesses that had a harder time cutting CO2 emissions could buy emissions permits from those who had an easier time cutting emissions. But some firms did an excellent job lobbying for more permits and so they have plenty to sell.

Meanwhile, government subsidies of solar and wind in Germany freed up permits so that some companies could get more CO2 permits from the government. (thanks "th" for this link) So the renewable power subsidies raised electric power rates while boosting profits of companies who got more CO2 permits.

Germany's renewable energy companies are a tremendous success story. Roughly 15 percent of the country's electricity comes from solar, wind or biomass facilities, almost 250,000 jobs have been created and the net worth of the business is €35 billion per year.

But there's a catch: The climate hasn't in fact profited from these developments. As astonishing as it may sound, the new wind turbines and solar cells haven't prohibited the emission of even a single gram of CO2.

In a more rational system I could imagine steel or cement makers subsidizing the construction of wind mills or paying for insulation in order to cut CO2 emissions from other sources. But no.

Even more surprising, the European Union's own climate change policies, touted as the most progressive in the world, are to blame. The EU-wide emissions trading system determines the total amount of CO2 that can be emitted by power companies and industries. And this amount doesn't change -- no matter how many wind turbines are erected.

We need cheaper cleaner energy sources so that market forces will push the shift to cleaner energy. Trying to this with government intervention leads to politically more astute firms making profit at the expense of everyone else.

On the bright side Germany's subsidies for solar panels (even though installed in a country with lower average insolation) have caused a scaling up of photovoltaics panel construction that has caused PV makers to go down learning curves that have cut PV costs for the rest of the world.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 08 06:51 AM  Climate Policy
Entry Permalink | Comments(9)
2010 March 07 Sunday
Vitamin D Needed For Immune T Cell Activation

Another reason to make sure you get enough vitamin D: the ability to respond to infections. Vitamin D plays a key role in activating killer T cells after those cells detect a viral or bacterial pathogen.

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have discovered that Vitamin D is crucial to activating our immune defenses and that without sufficient intake of the vitamin, the killer cells of the immune system – T cells - will not be able to react to and fight off serious infections in the body.

For T cells to detect and kill foreign pathogens such as clumps of bacteria or viruses, the cells must first be 'triggered' into action and 'transform' from inactive and harmless immune cells into killer cells that are primed to seek out and destroy all traces of a foreign pathogen.

The researchers found that the T cells rely on vitamin D in order to activate and they would remain dormant, 'naïve' to the possibility of threat if vitamin D is lacking in the blood.

It is worth noting in this context that influenza primarily spreads in the winter when people are getting less sun exposure and therefore less vitamin D synthesis in their skin. So during winter low vitamin D level might be contributing to the spread of flu virus due to lower immune function.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 07 09:02 PM  Aging Immune System
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
New Microfluidic Device 1000 Faster Than Robots

Faster and faster in biological sciences.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 2, 2010 – Fictional candy maker Willy Wonka called his whimsical device to sort good chocolate eggs from bad, an eggucator. Likewise, by determining what enzymes and compounds to keep and which to discard, scientists are aiming to find their own golden eggs: more potent drugs and cleaner sources of energy.

Toward that end, Harvard researchers and a team of international collaborators demonstrated a new microfluidic sorting device that rapidly analyzes millions of biological reactions. Smaller than an iPod Nano, the device analyzes reactions a 1,000-times faster and uses 10 million-fold less volumes of reagent than conventional state-of-the-art robotic methods.

The scientists anticipate that the invention could reduce screening costs by 1 million-fold and make directed evolution, a means of engineering tailored biological compounds, more commonplace in the lab.

The tubes in it are narrower than a human hair. Imagine future generations of microfluidic devices usable by non-scientists. Wondering if you have a bacterial or viral infection? You'll have a device that will figure that out for you without your going to a doctor. Parents who want to forecast how fast little Jill or Johnnie will get over a fever will be able to get an instant diagnosis and probable duration of each cold and sore throat.

While personal microfluidic devices will be pretty cool and very useful the biggest benefits from microfluidics will come in research labs. Microfluidics is starting to do for biological sciences what silicon microcircuitry has been and continues to do for the computer industry (i.e. massive fast moving revolution lasting decades). I am optimistic about the development of full body rejuvenation therapies mostly due to advances in microfluidics and other biological assay and manipulation microdevices. They work faster with higher sensitivity, cost less, and achieve a much higher degree of automation.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 07 07:11 PM  Biotech Microfluidics
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
Networked Home Medical Devices Reduce Doctor Visits

In another 10 or 20 years going to a doctor's office is going to seem so 20th century.

The use of at-home medical devices to connect doctors and patients via the Internet can help patients and their physicians work more efficiently together to manage chronic conditions, according to research at Cleveland Clinic.

In December 2008, Cleveland Clinic and Microsoft collaborated on a pilot project that pairs the hospital’s electronic medical records system with the software company’s online HealthVault service to monitor patients’ health conditions.

More than 250 participants enrolled – 26 percent with diabetes, 6 percent with heart failure and 68 percent with hypertension – making it the first physician-driven pilot project in the country to follow multiple chronic diseases in a clinical setting.

Both diabetes and high blood pressure patients went in for doctor's office visits less often as a result of the home monitoring.

The project found a significant change in the average number of days between physician office visits for patients. Diabetic and hypertensive patients were able to make doctor’s office visits less often, increasing the number of days between appointments by 71 percent and 26 percent respectively, indicating that patients had better control of their conditions. Heart failure patients, however, visited their doctors more often, decreasing the number of days between visits by 27 percent, indicating that patients were advised to see their healthcare provider in a more timely manner.

One can imagine that for diabetes and hypertension the home monitoring allowed more rapid identification of problems with changes in diet and drugs that prevented worsening. But people with heart failure are much sicker and so home monitoring probably more quickly alerts doctors to problems that need more advanced forms of treatment.

While reduced visits to the doctor saved money and time what I found interesting about this report was that fewer trips to the doctor were made as a result of home monitoring. This reminds me of a book I just finished reading: Peter Tertzakian's The End of Energy Obesity: Breaking Today's Energy Addiction for a Prosperous and Secure Tomorrow. Tertzakian argues that technology like Cisco's Telepresence (where images of virtual meeting attendees feel much more real than with videoconferencing) will play a big role in reducing the amount of commuting to offices and business trips. Trying to make cars and airplanes more efficient can't do as much for us as avoiding the need for travel in the first place.

The reduced need for trips to a doctor's office would especially help old people who either have lost the ability to drive or who at least have some diminished capacity behind the wheel. Besides, if you are sick driving is no fun.

The use of networked home monitoring equipment will start out with people who have medical conditions such as those in the study above. But as costs fall and monitoring equipment becomes more powerful its value for early detection will drive it out to most homes. Imagine biological testing equipment built into your sink and toilet that'll alert you to an early stage disease.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 07 06:30 PM  Medical Home Automation
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
Ritalin Boosts Learning?

Ritalin isn't just for improving concentration. Ritalin tweaks a receptor in the amygala in a way that boosts learning.

Doctors treat millions of children with Ritalin every year to improve their ability to focus on tasks, but scientists now report that Ritalin also directly enhances the speed of learning.

In animal research, the scientists showed for the first time that Ritalin boosts both of these cognitive abilities by increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine deep inside the brain. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers neurons use to communicate with each other. They release the molecule, which then docks onto receptors of other neurons. The research demonstrated that one type of dopamine receptor aids the ability to focus, and another type improves the learning itself.

The scientists also established that Ritalin produces these effects by enhancing brain plasticity – strengthening communication between neurons where they meet at the synapse. Research in this field has accelerated as scientists have recognized that our brains can continue to form new connections – remain plastic – throughout life.

"Since we now know that Ritalin improves behavior through two specific types of neurotransmitter receptors, the finding could help in the development of better targeted drugs, with fewer side effects, to increase focus and learning," said Antonello Bonci, MD, principal investigator at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center and professor of neurology at UCSF. The Gallo Center is affiliated with the UCSF Department of Neurology.

Anyone out there using Ritalin to speed your learning?

Or do you use any other drugs to speed learning? If so, which one?

By Randall Parker 2010 March 07 03:56 PM  Brain Enhancement
Entry Permalink | Comments(24)
Genetic Test Indicates Best Weight Loss Diet

Stanford and Interleukin Genetics researchers find that the best way to lose weight depends on your genes. Low carbo or low fat? It depends on your genes.

Key Stanford findings from the study include:

  • Individuals on genotype-appropriate diets lost 5.3 percent of body weight compared to individuals on diets not matched to their genotype, who experienced only 2.3 percent weight loss (p=0.005);
  • The weight loss differences were even stronger when considering the individuals who were trying to follow the lowest carbohydrate (Atkins) and the lowest fat (Ornish) diets: 6.8% weight loss for those whose genotype matched the diet they were following vs. 1.4% for those not matched to their genotype (p=0.03);
  • The statistical significance of the findings increased when taking into account the actual diet habits reported by study participants (rather than just the specific diet they were asked to follow);
  • Improvements in clinical measures related to weight loss (e.g., blood triglyceride levels) paralleled the weight loss differences.

“The differentiation in weight loss observed for individuals who followed a diet matched to their genotype versus one that was not matched to their genotype is highly significant in numerous categories and represents an approach to weight loss that has not been previously reported in the literature,” said Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., Director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford University. “The potential of using genetic information to achieve this magnitude of weight loss without pharmaceutical intervention would be important in helping to solve the pervasive problem of excessive weight in our society. We are eager to follow-up on this study and to determine the magnitude of health benefits that may result from following a diet that is matched to one’s genotype.”

Once more genes are discovered that influence how you metabolize food we can find out what we ought to eat. What I'm wondering: Does anyone have a metabolism that functions best on chocolate ice cream? Or cheese burgers? "Oh sorry, my genetic profile says I shouldn't eat vegetables".

If a genetically appropriate diet doesn't help then blame it on stomach bacteria.

Increased appetite and insulin resistance can be transferred from one mouse to another via intestinal bacteria, according to research being published online this week by Science magazine.

The finding strengthens the case that intestinal bacteria can contribute to human obesity and metabolic disease, since previous research has shown that intestinal bacterial populations differ between obese and lean humans.

So eat special yogurt to give yourself weight loss bacteria?

By Randall Parker 2010 March 07 03:06 PM  Aging Diet Metabolism
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
2010 March 06 Saturday
Process To Cut Solar Cost 80%?

It is about time for a disruptive technology for energy production.

A new manufacturing process could cut the cost of making crystalline silicon wafers for solar cells by 80 percent. The process is being developed by Lexington, MA-based 1366 Technologies, which this week showed off the first solar cells made this way. The technology is key to the company's plan to make solar power cheaper than the electricity generated from coal within 10 years.

Enough players are going at the problem of how to make solar power way cheaper that I expect some group to do it sooner or later. The question is when. This year?

A lot of scientists (e.g. MIT prof Emanuel Sachs who founded 1366 Technologies) obviously think the big disruptive advances are possible or they wouldn't be trying so hard and making such big promises for the future. I expect they understand the physics well enough to know that much cheaper solar PV is possible.

Granted cheap solar or cheap wind (if wind power costs can fall further) will still be problematic due to unreliability. But if batteries for electric cars become cheap enough then cars will become a big source of electric power demand that for the most part won't be time sensitive. People will be able to recharge their cars at night while asleep (and in most areas wind blows stronger at night). After coming home from work most cars sit for over 12 hours. The wind just has to blow sometime during that long period. Similarly, cars parked at work will be able to recharge during the day when the sun is shining.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 06 05:09 PM  Energy Solar
Entry Permalink | Comments(9)
2010 March 04 Thursday
Competitors Complain About Wind Unreliability Subsidy

An article in the Wall Street Journal reports on the debate within the electric power industry about whether it is fair for wind power generators to avoid paying a cost for the lower dependability of wind.

One grievance: Coal, nuclear and gas operators must pay for their own backup if an operational or maintenance problem prevents them from delivering power as promised. But if wind generators fail to deliver promised power because the wind doesn’t blow, the cost of backing up wind power companies is spread among all the generators, state officials say. This puts an unfair burden on nonwind generators, says the gas faction.

In the United States this amounts to a subsidy of wind electric power that comes on top of the Production Tax Credit and other incentives for wind. However, one could argue in turn that coal burners especially get a subsidy in the form of external costs imposed on the public at large by oxides of nitrogen, mercury, particulates, and other pollutants. But that argument doesn't apply to nuclear power. Why should wind get subsidies that put nuclear power at a competitive disadvantage?

Michael Giberson says the the debate within the electric power industry shows signs of the high stakes involved.

For a closer look at the behind-the-scenes battle, try searching the ERCOT website for information about “voltage ride through” requirements for wind generators or the actions of (and reactions to) the Wind Cost Allocation Task Force.  If you drill down beyond the meeting schedules and status reports, all the way down to the presentations, reports, and comments filed by individual parties, things can get a little sharp.

As wind's percentage of total electric power grows two things will make the debate over this issue even more intense:

  • A larger percentage of total electric power will be undependable.
  • A smaller percentage of total electric power generators will pay for providing replacements when generation sources fail

Both these trends mean that nuclear, coal, and natural gas plant operators will have to pay more money to fund back-up generators that swing into action when the wind stops blowing.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 04 10:32 PM  Energy Wind
Entry Permalink | Comments(16)
Oklahoma Might Ban Market For Donor Eggs

The chief argument against the egg market is that banning it would protect donors.

A measure passed Thursday by the state House, intended to make it illegal for a woman to sell her eggs, could jeopardize state fertility clinics, doctors at two Oklahoma City facilities said Thursday.

House Bill 3077 easily won House approval, passing 85-8. It now goes to the Senate.

This bill would have a number of deleterious effects. First off, it would reduce the supply of eggs. Second, it would lower the quality of eggs. The women who are the healthiest, smartest, prettiest, and with best dispositions would not get offered the tens of thousands that now entice them to donate eggs. With less competition bidding up prices lower supply would force seekers of eggs to lower their standards. So babies born from donated eggs would be less intelligent, less attractive, and less healthy.

A young woman who has a highly desired profile can make a lot of money from egg donation to help pay the cost of college. So sellers can derive a benefit at a stage in life when money is scarce.

The development of more detailed and revealing genetic tests will soon make possible much more accurate assessment of genetic potential of eggs. So we can expect market prices for the most desired eggs to rise once quality measurement becomes more precise. The identification of the very best will become easier to do. In areas which continue to allow the market to function higher donor egg quality will produce even bigger advantages from market incentives.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 04 10:03 PM  Bioethics Reproduction
Entry Permalink | Comments(4)
2010 March 02 Tuesday
Inflammation In Obese 3 Year Olds

You might be wondering why 3 year olds are fed to the point of obesity. I know I am.

CHAPEL HILL – A study by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers found that obese children as young as 3 years old have elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation that in adults is considered an early warning sign for possible future heart disease.

In addition, the study found elevated levels of two other inflammatory markers – the ratio of ferritin/transferrin saturation (F/T) and the absolute neutrophil count (ANC) – in obese children. Elevated F/T levels started at age 6 and elevated ANC levels were found starting at age 9.

High fructose corn syrup in baby foods is probably contributing to this outcome. But parents with obese babies really ought to notice and respond appropriately.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 02 10:01 PM  Aging Weight Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(18)
Darkness Spurs Selfishness

Selfishness comes out at night.

Psychological scientists Chen-Bo Zhong, Vanessa K. Bohns (both of University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management), and Francesca Gino (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) conducted three experiments to test whether darkness can license dishonest and self-interested behaviors. In the first experiment, participants were placed in a dimly or well-lit room and received a brown envelope that contained $10 along with one empty white envelope. They were then asked to complete a worksheet with 20 matrices, each consisting of 12 three-digit numbers. The participants had five minutes to find two numbers in each matrix that added up to 10. The researchers left it up to the participants to score their own work and for each pair of numbers correctly indentified they could keep $0.50 from their supply of money. At the end of the experiment, the participants were asked to place the remainder of their money into the white envelope on their way out. While there was no difference in actual performance, participants in the slightly dim room cheated more and thus earned more undeserved money than those in a well-lit room.

People who wear sunglasses are more selfish.

In the second experiment, some participants wore a pair of sunglasses and others wore clear glasses while interacting with an ostensible stranger in a different room (in actuality participants interacted with the experimenter). Each person had $6 to allocate between him-or herself and the recipient and could keep what he or she didn’t offer. Participants wearing sunglasses behaved more selfishly by giving significantly less than those wearing clear glasses.

People who wear sunglasses feel more anonymous.

In the third experiment, the scientists replicated the previous experiment and then measured the extent to which participants felt anonymous during the experiment. Once again, those wearing sunglasses gave significantly less money and furthermore, those wearing sunglasses reported feeling more anonymous during the study.

One can see this as an argument against shopping for used cars in the evening. Oh, and don't trust the sales guy wearing sunglasses.

But what about ethical selfishness? If you find it hard to say no to a manipulative person then put on some shades.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 02 09:59 PM  Brain Economics
Entry Permalink | Comments(9)
Garlic Reduces Carcinogen Markers In Urine

Garlic might reduce your cancer risk.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Researchers have designed a urine test that can simultaneously measure the extent of a potential carcinogenic process and a marker of garlic consumption in humans.

In a small pilot study, the test suggested that the more garlic people consumed, the lower the levels of the potential carcinogenic process were.

The research is all about body processes associated with nitrogen-containing compounds, scientists say. These processes include nitrosation, or the conversion of some substances found in foods or contaminated water into carcinogens.

Garlic appears to block the conversion of nitrates into carcinogenic nitrosamines.

About 20 percent of nitrates that are consumed convert to nitrites. A cascade of events can convert these compounds into what are called nitrosamines, and many, but not all, nitrosamines are linked to cancer.

Vegetables also contain nitrates, but previous research has suggested that the vitamin C in vegetables lowers the risk that those nitrates will convert to something toxic. Researchers suspected that nutrients in garlic could have similar antioxidant effects as vitamin C.

No surprise here. But perhaps a useful reminder to cook more with garlic?

By Randall Parker 2010 March 02 09:44 PM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
2010 March 01 Monday
Gene Therapy Improves Mouse Genetic Nerve Disorder

About 1 in 6000 babies is born with a genetic disorder of the nervous system called Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). The mouse equivalent of SMA has now been treated with gene therapy with substantial improvement.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Reversing a protein deficiency through gene therapy can correct motor function, restore nerve signals and improve survival in mice that serve as a model for the lethal childhood disorder spinal muscular atrophy, new research shows.

This muscle-wasting disease results when a child’s motor neurons – nerve cells that send signals from the spinal cord to muscles – produce insufficient amounts of what is called survival motor neuron protein, or SMN. This reduced protein in motor neurons specifically – rather than in other cells throughout the body that contain the protein – is caused by the absence of a single gene.

Better ways to deliver gene therapy will eventually enable many types of human body repair. Gene therapy amounts to installing a software update.

The gene therapy delivered inside a virus reached almost half of mouse neurons. That's an impressive delivery rate. The result was better functioning nervous systems and better muscle control.

The researchers used an altered virus to deliver a portion of DNA that makes the SMN protein into the veins of newborn mice ranging in age from 1 to 10 days old. The SMN-laced viral vector injected into the youngest mice reached almost half of their motor neurons, resulting in improved muscle coordination, properly working electrical signals to the muscles and longer survival than in untreated mice, scientists said.

The gene therapy works better than drugs under study for use in humans. That superiority of gene therapy should not be surprising because the gene therapy fixes the root cause. Fix the gene that causes the disease and the disease gets better.

“We’re replacing what we know is lost. And we have shown that when you put the protein in postnatally, it will rescue the genetic defect,” said Arthur Burghes, professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry at Ohio State University and a senior co-author of the study. “This technique corrects the mice considerably more than any drug cocktails being studied as a potential treatment in humans.”

We need better carriers of gene therapy into cells. Viruses elicit an immune response and they do not reach all the cells that need the gene therapy payload they carry. Plus, once genes reach inside cells they are at risk of integrating into the genome in locations that can cause cancer. But solve all those problems and then we can do some serious updating of our genetic software.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 01 11:39 PM  Biotech Gene Therapy
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
Pain Killers Accelerate Hearing Loss With Age?

Regular pain killer use harms your hearing? Huh, regular rain thriller ewes arms your healing?

New York, NY, March 1, 2010 – In a study published in the March 2010 issue of The American Journal of Medicine, researchers determined that regular use of aspirin, acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) increases the risk of hearing loss in men, particularly in younger men, below age 60.

A third of people in their 40s already suffer some hearing loss. But that rock and roll cranked up on headphones sure was good. I want periodic ear stem cell therapies so that I can listen to lots of loud music.

Hearing loss is the most common sensory disorder in the US, afflicting over 36 million people. Not only is hearing loss highly prevalent among the elderly, but approximately one third of those aged 40-49 years already suffer from hearing loss. Even mild hearing loss can compromise the ability to understand speech in the presence of background noise or multiple speakers, leading to social isolation, depression, and poorer quality of life.

Of course a study like this doesn't prove direction of causation. But apparently toxicity of aspirin to ears is already well known.

Investigators from Harvard University, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Vanderbilt University and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston looked at factors other than age and noise that might influence the risk of hearing lose. Aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen are the 3 most commonly used drugs in the US. The ototoxic effects of aspirin are well known and the ototoxicity of NSAIDs has been suggested, but the relation between acetaminophen and hearing loss has not been examined previously. The relationship between these drugs and hearing loss is an important public health issue.

The differences in risks are substantial.

Study participants were drawn from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which tracked over 26,000 men every 2 years for 18 years. A questionnaire determined analgesic use, hearing loss and a variety of physiological, medical and demographic factors.

For aspirin, regular users under 50 and those aged 50-59 years were 33% more likely to have hearing loss than were nonregular users, but there was no association among men aged 60 years and older. For NSAIDs, regular users aged under 50 were 61% more likely, those aged 50-59 were 32% more likely, and those aged 60 and older were 16% more likely to develop hearing loss than nonregular users of NSAIDs.

Acetaminophen users seem to be at the most risk.

For acetaminophen, regular users aged under 50 were 99% more likely, regular users aged 50-59 were 38% more likely, and those aged 60 and older were 16% more likely to have hearing loss than nonregular users of acetaminophen.

Note that as added risk is measured here it appears to decline with age. But that's probably in part because a larger fraction of the population has hearing loss with age and so the percentage increase can't be as big. Also, these percentages do not measure severity of hearing loss which also seems likely to be higher with analgesic use.

We need the biotechnologies that will allow us to repair our broken parts. Imagine hearing and eyesight as acute and sensitive as you had when you were 12 but matched up with a mature brain that understands all that you see and hear much better.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 01 10:22 PM  Aging Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(15)
Universe Still 13.75 Billion Years Old

The universe is not getting any younger.

Menlo Park, Calif.—Using entire galaxies as lenses to look at other galaxies, researchers have a newly precise way to measure the size and age of the universe and how rapidly it is expanding, on a par with other techniques. The measurement determines a value for the Hubble constant, which indicates the size of the universe, and confirms the age of the universe as 13.75 billion years old, within 170 million years. The results also confirm the strength of dark energy, responsible for accelerating the expansion of the universe.

These results, by researchers at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University, the University of Bonn, and other institutions in the United States and Germany, is published in the March 1 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. The researchers used data collected by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and showed the improved precision they provide in combination with the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP).

Think about it: If you want to live long enough to see the universe get a tenth of a percent older (and really, who doesn't) you are going to have to figure out how to stay alive for another 13.75 million years. Puts things in perspective. One would have to become extremely risk averse to stay alive that long. This risk aversion is probably why long lived super intelligences aren't revealing themselves to us.

People talk a lot about alien intelligences and whether they exist. A big question is, why the space aliens aren't here already and whether they are hiding and watching us. Here's what I'm thinking: Someone really really old, say a few hundred million years old, might have grown bored looking at the life forms that already existed and decided to sleep many millions of years waiting for some other form of intelligence to evolve.

Given the vastness of time I would expect some forms of intelligence to find ways to slow down their metabolisms and basically go time traveling into the future to meet (or at least observe from a safe distance) life forms unlike any they found on the planet they evolved on. Sleep in a traveling planet and look for signs of a solar system interesting enough to cruise near.

13.75 billion years is such a long time that sentient beings that came into existence hundreds of millions or billions of years ago should have found ways to maintain sentience for extremely long periods of time to carry out long term plans.

By Randall Parker 2010 March 01 10:07 PM  Space Alien Intelligence
Entry Permalink | Comments(14)
Site Traffic Info
Site Copyright
The contents of this site are copyright ©