Medicine

Researchers Say Human Lifespans Have Already Hit Their Peak (newsweek.com) 223

An anonymous reader quotes Newsweek: We have reached our peak in terms of lifespan, athletic performance and height, according to a new survey of research and historical records... "These traits no longer increase, despite further continuous nutritional, medical, and scientific progress," said Jean-FranÃois Toussaint, a physiologist at Paris Descartes University, France, in a press release... For the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, a team of French scientists, including Toussaint, from a range of fields analyzed 120 years' worth of historical records and previous research to gauge the varying pace of changes seen in human athletic performance, human lifespan and human height. While, as they observe, the 20th century saw a surge in improvements in all three areas that mirrored industrial, medical and scientific advances, the pace of those advances has slowed significantly in recent years.

The team looked at world records in a variety of sports, including running, swimming, skating, cycling and weight-lifting. Olympic athletes in those sports continually toppled records by impressive margins from the early 1900s to the end of the 20th century, according the study. But since then, Olympic records have shown just incremental improvements. We have stopped not only getting faster and stronger, according to the study, but also growing taller... [D]ata from the last three decades suggest that heights have plateaued among high-income countries in North America and Europe... As for our human lifespan, life expectancy in high-income countries rose by about 30 years from 1900 to 2000, according to a National Institutes of Health study cited by the authors, thanks to better nutrition, hygiene, vaccines and other medical improvements. But we may have maxed out our biological limit for longevity. The researchers found that in many human populations, says Toussaint, "it's more and more difficult to show progress in lifespan despite the advances of science."

Medicine

What It Looks Like When You Fry Your Eye In An Eclipse (npr.org) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Doctors in New York say a woman in her 20s came in three days after looking at the Aug. 21 eclipse without protective glasses. She had peeked several times, for about six seconds, when the sun was only partially covered by the moon. Four hours later, she started experiencing blurred and distorted vision and saw a central black spot in her left eye. The doctors studied her eyes with several different imaging technologies, described in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, and were able to observe the damage at the cellular level.

"We were very surprised at how precisely concordant the imaged damage was with the crescent shape of the eclipse itself," noted Dr. Avnish Deobhakta, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, in an email to NPR. He says this was the most severely injured patient they saw after the eclipse. All in all, 22 people came to their urgent care clinic with concerns about possible eclipse-related damage, and most of them complained of blurred vision. Of those, only three showed some degree of abnormality in the retina. Two of them had only mild changes, however, and their symptoms have gone away. The young woman described in this case report, at last check, still has not recovered normal vision.
For your viewing pleasure, The Verge has embedded several images of the woman's retinas in their report.
Businesses

The Compelling Case For Working Less (bbc.com) 176

An anonymous reader shares a report from the BBC, written by Amanda Ruggeri: As we fill our days with more and more "doing," many of us are finding that non-stop activity isn't the apotheosis of productivity. It is its adversary. Researchers are learning that it doesn't just mean that the work we produce at the end of a 14-hour day is of worse quality than when we're fresh. This pattern of working also undermines our creativity and our cognition. Over time, it can make us feel physically sick -- and even, ironically, as if we have no purpose. Think of mental work as doing push-ups, says Josh Davis, author of Two Awesome Hours. Say you want to do 10,000. The most 'efficient' way would be to do them all at once without a break. We know instinctively, though, that that is impossible. Instead, if we did just a few at a time, between other activities and stretched out over weeks, hitting 10,000 would become far more feasible. "The brain is very much like a muscle in this respect," Davis writes. "Set up the wrong conditions through constant work and we can accomplish little. Set up the right conditions and there is probably little we can't do." Many of us, though, tend to think of our brains not as muscles, but as a computer: a machine capable of constant work. Not only is that untrue, but pushing ourselves to work for hours without a break can be harmful, some experts say. Ruggeri goes on to highlight the negative health effects associated with working long hours. "One meta-analysis found that long working hours increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 40% -- almost as much as smoking (50%)," she writes. "Another found that people who worked long hours had a significantly higher risk of stroke, while people who worked more than 11 hours a day were almost 2.5 times more likely to have a major depressive episode than those who worked seven to eight."
Medicine

Can Researchers Detect Irregular Heart Rhythms with the Apple Watch? (usatoday.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: Might wearing an Apple Watch save you from a stroke or cardio problem? Apple is careful not to make that direct claim. But the company, in collaboration with Stanford University School of Medicine, launched the Apple Heart Study app on Thursday that uses the heart rate sensor inside the Apple Watch to collect data on irregular heart rhythms... If an irregular heart rhythm is detected, participants in the study will be notified through the Apple Watch and on their iPhones. Should that occur, you'll be offered a free consultation with a study doctor, and possibly an electrocardiogram patch for additional monitoring...

A participant in the study merely has to download the app and wear the watch... The way Apple explains it, a sensor inside the watch uses green LED lights flashing hundreds of times per second and light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist. The sensor has an optical design that gathers signals from four distinct points on the wrist. Using software algorithms, the Apple Watch can isolate heart rhythms from other noise, and identify an irregular heart rhythm.

The FDA has also approved the first personal electrocardiogram accessory for the Apple Watch, according to TechNewsWorld. "The KardiaBand" also detects and records atrial fibrillation that can lead to strokes or other heart problems. "The user simply touches an integrated sensor, and the results are then displayed on the face of the Apple Watch."

An irregular, bloodflow-disrupting heartbeat is the top cause of strokes, which kill 130,000 people every year just in the U.S. -- in many case before they've experienced any symptoms.
Medicine

An Unconscious Patient With a 'DO NOT RESUSCITATE' Tattoo (nejm.org) 454

A real-life case study, published on New England Journal of Medicine, documents the ethical dilemma that a Florida hospital faced after a 70-year-old unresponsive patient arrived at the hospital. The medical staff, the journal notes, was taken aback when it discovered the words "DO NOT RESUSCITATE" tattooed onto the man's chest. Furthermore, the word "NOT" was underlined with his signature beneath it. The patient had a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes mellitus, and atrial fibrillation. Confused and alarmed, the medical staff chose to ignore the apparent DNR request -- but not without alerting the hospital's ethics team, which had a different take on the matter. From the report: We initially decided not to honor the tattoo, invoking the principle of not choosing an irreversible path when faced with uncertainty. This decision left us conflicted owing to the patient's extraordinary effort to make his presumed advance directive known; therefore, an ethics consultation was requested. He was placed on empirical antibiotics, received intravenous fluid resuscitation and vasopressors, and was treated with bilevel positive airway pressure. After reviewing the patient's case, the ethics consultants advised us to honor the patient's do not resuscitate (DNR) tattoo. They suggested that it was most reasonable to infer that the tattoo expressed an authentic preference, that what might be seen as caution could also be seen as standing on ceremony, and that the law is sometimes not nimble enough to support patient-centered care and respect for patients' best interests. A DNR order was written. Subsequently, the social work department obtained a copy of his Florida Department of Health "out-of-hospital" DNR order, which was consistent with the tattoo. The patient's clinical status deteriorated throughout the night, and he died without undergoing cardiopulmonary respiration or advanced airway management.
Earth

Scientists Call For Ban On Glitter, Say It's a Global Hazard That Pollutes Oceans (cnet.com) 121

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: Whether you love to add a little sparkle to your skin, or you think glitter truly is the herpes of the craft world (once it's on you, it never comes off), some scientists are now claiming that glitter is a hazard to the environment. Glitter, along with microbeads, are considered to fall under the category of microplastics, which are defined as plastics which are less than five millimeters in length. Microbeads are often found in facial scrubs, toothpaste, soaps, cosmetics and more. These microbeads pass through water filtration systems after usage but don't disintegrate, and often end up being consumed by marine life, causing concern among scientists keeping a close eye on how pollution effects fish.

"I think all glitter should be banned, because it's microplastic," Dr. Trisia Farrelly of New Zealand's Massey University told the Independent. Historically, glitter was made from mica rock particles, glass and even crushed beetles. Modern-day crafting glitter is made primarily from metals, while fine-milled cosmetic glitter is made from polyester, foil and plastics.

Businesses

Big Tobacco Loses 11-Year Fight, Forced To Broadcast 'Dangers of Smoking' Ads (nbcnews.com) 274

An anonymous reader quotes NBC News: Smoking kills 1,200 people a day. The tobacco companies worked to make them as addictive as possible. There is no such thing as a safer cigarette. Ads with these statements hit the major television networks and newspapers this weekend, but they are not being placed by the American Cancer Society or other health groups. They're being placed by major tobacco companies, under the orders of the federal courts. "The ads will finally run after 11 years of appeals by the tobacco companies aimed at delaying and weakening them," the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund said in a joint statement.

"It's a pretty significant moment," the American Cancer Society's Cliff Douglas said. "This is the first time they have had to âfess up and tell the whole truth." The Justice Department started its racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco companies in 1999, seeking to force them to make up for decades of deception. Federal district judge Gladys Kessler ruled in 2006 that they'd have to pay for and place the ads, but the companies kept tying things up with appeals. "Employing the highest paid lawyers in America, the tobacco companies used every tool at their disposal to delay and complicate this litigation to avoid their day of reckoning," Douglas added.

The ads will inform Americans TV viewers that "More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined," according to one of the ads." Besides $170 billion every year in medical costs -- plus another $156 billion in lost productivity -- roughly one in five deaths in America are smoking-related, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with cigarettes killing 480,000 Americans every year.
Medicine

The Feds Are Officially Cracking Down on Basement Biohackers (gizmodo.com) 220

Kristen Brown, reporting for Gizmodo: The Food and Drug Agency has issued a stern warning to anyone who might be crazy enough to undertake gene therapy in the do-it-yourself fashion. Definitely don't do this at home, a statement released on Tuesday implies. And if you do, we'll throw every law we can at you. The FDA's deterrent comes on the heels of a brazen DIY gene therapy experiment, in which a 27-year-old software engineer injected himself with an unprove gene therapy for HIV designed by three biohacker friends. The first injection was streamed live on Facebook in October, and went viral after it was covered by Gizmodo. "You can't stop it, you can't regulate these things," patient zero, Tristan Roberts, told Gizmodo at the time. Apparently the FDA begs to differ.
Medicine

How the Sugar Industry Tried To Hide Health Effects of Its Product 50 Years Ago (theverge.com) 283

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: About 50 years ago, the sugar industry stopped funding research that began to show something they wanted to hide: that eating lots of sugar is linked to heart disease. A new study exposes the sugar industry's decades-old effort to stifle that critical research. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, recently analyzed historical documents regarding a rat study called Project 259 that was launched in 1968. The study was funded by a sugar industry trade group called the International Sugar Research Foundation, or ISRF, and conducted by W. F. R. Pover at the University of Birmingham. When the preliminary findings from that study began to show that eating lots of sugar might be associated with heart disease, and even bladder cancer, the ISRF pulled the plug on the research. Without additional funding, the study was terminated and the results were never published, according to a study published today in PLOS Biology. The study in question investigated the relationship between sugars and certain blood fats called triglycerides, which increase the risk of heart disease. The preliminary results from the research, called Project 259, suggested that rats on a high-sugar diet, instead of a starch diet, had higher levels of triglycerides. The rats that ate lots of sugar also had higher levels of an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase in their urine, which at the time was thought to be potentially linked to bladder cancer, says study co-author Cristin Kearns, an assistant professor at the UCSF School of Dentistry.
Medicine

First Ever Anti-Aging Gene Discovered In a Secluded Amish Community (newsweek.com) 159

"This is one of the first clear-cut genetic mutations in human beings that acts upon aging and aging-related disease," Dr. Douglas Vaughan, a medical researcher at Northwestern University, told Newsweek. schwit1 quotes Science Alert: As far as we know, it looks like the only community in the world known to harbour it is an Old Order Amish community living in Indiana... Vaughan's team tested 177 people from the Amish community of Berne, Indiana, and found 43 people with one mutated SERPINE1 gene copy. Compared to the general Amish population, these 43 people had a 10 percent longer lifespan, and 10 percent longer telomeres (the DNA-protecting structures at the ends of our chromosomes that unravel when the cells reach the end of their lifespans). They also showed lower incidence of diabetes and lower insulin fasting levels. On top of that, the study showed a small indication of lower blood pressure and potentially more flexible blood vessels.

"For the first time we are seeing a molecular marker of aging (telomere length), a metabolic marker of aging (fasting insulin levels) and a cardiovascular marker of aging (blood pressure and blood vessel stiffness) all tracking in the same direction in that these individuals were generally protected from age-related changes," said Vaughan. These people also had 50 percent lower PAI-1 levels than average. It's not known exactly how PAI-1 contributes to aging, but it does play a role in a process called cellular senescence. This is when cells are no longer able to replicate, so they just go dormant. This contributes to the effects of aging.

Medicine

46% of Americans Now Have High Blood Pressure (nbcnews.com) 295

"Millions more Americans will now be diagnosed with high blood pressure," reports NBC News, which describes the condition as "one of the leading killers around the world." Anyone with blood pressure higher than 130/80 will be considered to have hypertension, or high blood pressure, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology said in releasing their new joint guidelines. "It's very clear that lower is better," said Dr. Paul Whelton of Tulane University, who chaired the committee that wrote the guidelines... 130/80 to 139/89 is now considered Stage 1 hypertension and anything 140/90 or above will be considered stage 2 hypertension...

"Rather than one in three U.S. adults having high blood pressure (32 percent) with the previous definition, the new guidelines will result in nearly half of the U.S. adult population (46 percent) having high blood pressure, or hypertension," the groups said in a joint statement... While people may be confused by the change, the heart experts said three years of reviewing the research showed that many fewer people die if high blood pressure is treated earlier. "We are comfortable with the recommendations. They are based on strong evidence," Whelton said.

Slashdot reader 140Mandak262Jamuna blames the pharmaceutical lobby, arguing that "a few years down the line, we all will be taking blood pressure medications," though Dr. Robert Carey of the University of Virginia, who helped write the guidelines, claims there will only be a 1.9% increase.

The new guidelines recommend that everyone watch their diet and exercise, and that people with stage 1 hypertension should also first try eating less salt, more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains before taking blood pressure medications.
Medicine

Scientists Develop Kill Switches In Case Bioengineered Microbes Go Rogue (upi.com) 66

schwit1 quotes UPI: Scientists at Harvard have developed a pair of new kill switches that can be used to thwart bioengineered microbes that go rogue. Researchers have been testing the use of bioengineered microbes for a variety of purposes, from the diagnosis of disease in the human body to the neutering of mosquitoes. But there remain concerns about releasing manipulated microbes into nature. Could their augmented genes have unintended consequences? Could they morph and proliferate?

Kill-switches ensure the microbes effectively shutdown, or commit suicide, after they've executed their intended function. While kill switches have proven effective in the lab, researchers suggest kill-switch technologies needed to be improved to ensure safety in real-world environs... The researchers detailed their new kill switches in a new paper published this week in the journal Molecular Cell. "This study shows how our teams are leveraging synthetic biology not only to reprogram microbes to create living cellular devices that can carry out useful functions for medicine and environmental remediation, but to do this in a way that is safe for all," said Donald Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute.

Medicine

Study of 500,000 Teens Suggests Association Between Excessive Screen Time and Depression (vice.com) 128

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Depression and suicide rates in teenagers have jumped in the last decade -- doubling between 2007 and 2015 for girls -- and the trend suspiciously coincides with when smartphones became their constant companions. A recent study places their screen time around nine hours per day. Another study, published on Tuesday, suggests that suicide and depression could be connected to the rise of smartphones, and increased screen time. Around 58 percent more girls reported depression symptoms in 2015 than in 2009, and suicide rates rose 65 percent. Smack in the middle of that window of time, smartphones gained market saturation.

In Twenge's new study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, the researchers looked at two samples: a nationally representative survey by ongoing study "Monitoring the Future" out of the University of Michigan, which is administered annually to 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, and the Centers for Disease Control's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a sample of high school students administered by the CDC every other year. (Both surveys began in 1991.) Altogether, over 500,000 young people were included. The study authors examined trends in how teens used social media, the internet, electronic devices (including gaming systems and tablets), and smartphones, as well as how much time they spent doing non-screen activities like homework, playing sports, or socializing. Comparing these to publicly available data on mental health and suicide for these ages between 2010 and 2017 showed "a clear pattern linking screen activities with higher levels of depressive symptoms/suicide-related outcomes and non-screen activities with lower levels," the researchers wrote in the study. All activities involving screens were associated with higher levels of depression or suicide and suicidal thinking, and activities done away from a screen were not.

Medicine

Researchers Analyze DNA From 'Supercentenarians' Aged 110+ To Discover Secret To Longevity (nytimes.com) 98

biobricks writes: Scientists looking for clues to healthy longevity in people in their 90s and 100s haven't turned up a whole lot. It is thought that the DNA of the very old may be a good place to look, but people over 110 are one in five million in the United States. The New York Times chronicles one scientific quest to collect their DNA (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). From the report: "James Clement, a self-described 'citizen-scientist,' has collected blood, skin and saliva samples from individuals aged 110-plus in 14 states and seven countries during the past six years, The New York Times reports. Mr. Clement has detected 2,500-plus differences between supercentenarian DNA and the general population. However, with a sample size of only some three dozen genomes, his team is still working to determine which genes are significant. One analysis suggested supercentenarians tended to inherit fewer genetic variations related to conditions like heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. However, since supercentenarians also tend to be more healthy than the general population, some researchers hypothesize there are other genetic benefits at play. For example, supercentenarians may boast genes that protect them from aspects of aging." Mr. Clement plans to release DNA sequences from the project, called the New England Centenarian Study, this month.
Medicine

US Scientists Try 1st Gene Editing in the Body (apnews.com) 74

Marilynn Marchione, reporting for Associated Press: Scientists for the first time have tried editing a gene inside the body in a bold attempt to permanently change a person's DNA to cure a disease. The experiment was done Monday in California on 44-year-old Brian Madeux. Through an IV, he received billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot. "It's kind of humbling" to be the first to test this, said Madeux, who has a metabolic disease called Hunter syndrome. "I'm willing to take that risk. Hopefully it will help me and other people." Signs of whether it's working may come in a month; tests will show for sure in three months.
Medicine

What Did 17th Century Food Taste Like? (blogspot.com) 197

Benjamin Breen, an assistant professor of history at UC Santa Cruz, looks at art history to figure out what people cooked in the 1600s, and wonders whether it is possible to ascertain the taste of food. From a blog post: What can we learn about how people ate in the seventeenth century? And even if we can piece together historical recipes, can we ever really know what their food tasted like? This might seem like a relatively unimportant question. For one thing, the senses of other people are always going to be, at some level, unknowable, because they are so deeply subjective. Not only can I not know what Velazquez's fried eggs tasted like three hundred years ago, I arguably can't know what my neighbor's taste like. And why does the question matter, anyway? A very clear case can be made for the importance of the history of medicine and disease, or the histories of slavery, global commerce, warfare, and social change. By comparison, the taste of food doesn't seem to have the same stature. Fried eggs don't change the course of history. But taste does change history. Fascinating read.
Medicine

FDA Approves Digital Pill That Tracks If Patients Have Ingested Their Medication (nytimes.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a digital pill -- a medication embedded with a sensor that can tell doctors whether, and when, patients take their medicine. The approval, announced late on Monday, marks a significant advance in the growing field of digital devices designed to monitor medicine-taking and to address the expensive, longstanding problem that millions of patients do not take drugs as prescribed. Experts estimate that so-called nonadherence or noncompliance to medication costs about $100 billion a year, much of it because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization. Patients who agree to take the digital medication, a version of the antipsychotic Abilify, can sign consent forms allowing their doctors and up to four other people, including family members, to receive electronic data showing the date and time pills are ingested. A smartphone app will let them block recipients anytime they change their mind. Although voluntary, the technology is still likely to prompt questions about privacy and whether patients might feel pressure to take medication in a form their doctors can monitor.
Medicine

Bill Gates Pledges $100 Million To Find an Alzheimer's Cure, His First Commitment To a Non-communicable Disease (reuters.com) 135

At present, there is no treatment to stop the Alzheimer's. Bill Gates wants to make a sizeable attempt to change that. From a report:He is to invest $50 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund that brings together industry and government to seek treatments for the brain-wasting disease. The investment -- a personal one and not part of Gates' philanthropic Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation -- will be followed by another $50 million in start-up ventures working in Alzheimer's research, Gates said. "It's a huge problem, a growing problem, and the scale of the tragedy -- even for the people who stay alive -- is very high," he said. Despite decades of scientific research, there is no treatment that can slow the progression of Alzheimer's. Current drugs can do no more than ease some of the symptoms.
AI

Study Finds Robot Surgeons Are Actually Slower and More Expensive (theregister.co.uk) 44

"Robot-assisted surgery costs more time and money than traditional methods, but isn't more effective, for certain types of operations," reports the Register, in an article shared by schwit1: In a study of almost 24,000 laparoscopic surgeries just published in The Journal of American Medicine, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine analyzed data from 416 hospitals around the U.S. from 2003 to 2015. Robotic assistance provides 3D-visualization, a broader range of motion for instruments, and better ergonomics for physicians, according to the study. While it has advantages in scenarios where a high-degree of precision is required or where improved outcomes have been demonstrated (like radical prostatectomy), it appears to be a waste of resources for the two operations examined... But the patient outcomes were more or less the same.

A thematically-related economic study presented by the National Bureau for Economic Research on Monday suggests that while AI and machine learning have received substantial investment over the past five years and have been widely touted as a transformative technologies, "there is little sign that they have yet affected aggregate productivity statistics... The simplest possibility is that the optimism about the potential technologies is misplaced and unfounded," muse Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock (MIT), Chad Syverson (University of Chicago) in the paper.

But instead the paper's author suggest that fully realizing the benefits of AI "will require effort and entrepreneurship to develop the needed complements, and adaptability at the individual, organizational, and societal levels to undertake the associated restructuring."
Medicine

Human Mini-Brains Growing Inside Rat Bodies Are Starting To Integrate (inverse.com) 193

At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience starting November 11 in Washington D.C., two teams of scientists plan to present previously unpublished research on the unexpected interaction between human mini-brains and their rat and mouse hosts. "In the new papers, according to STAT, scientists will report that the organoids survived for extended periods of time -- two months in one case -- and even connected to lab animals' circulatory and nervous systems, transferring blood and nerve signals between the host animal and the implanted human cells," reports Inverse. "This is an unprecedented advancement for mini-brain research." From the report: That mini-brains can even be grown in the lab is a huge advancement in the first place, as they have many of the same characteristics as living human brains that are in the early stages of development. Though they're not "alive" in the same sense that you and I are, they grow and are organized into different layers like our brains are. They even react in similar ways to stimuli like psychedelic drugs. Organoids are poised to revolutionize research on the human brain since scientists can perform tests on them that would be unethical to attempt on living humans. STAT also reports that a third lab, in addition to the two presenting at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, has successfully connected human brain organoids to blood vessels. This attempt veered into such challenging ethical territory, though, that the lab reportedly paused its efforts.

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