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Sat, 24 Oct 2020
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Vader

Drugs giant faces criminal charges over clinical trial

The US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has been slapped with criminal charges in Nigeria over a notorious clinical trial it conducted on children during a meningitis epidemic a decade ago. Patients became unwitting guinea pigs for a new, untested antibiotic and many of them either died or were left with permanent disabilities.

Pfizer and its representatives will be called to account at hearings due to begin next month in the Nigerian state of Kano, where public anger over the clinical trial - and the assurances of any pharmaceutical company - remains so high that the local population won't even trust the Nigerian government to immunise their children against polio.

The episode, which has already led to one unsuccessful suit in the US courts, was the inspiration for John Le Carre's novel The Constant Gardener and is frequently held up as an instance of scientific inquiry gone shockingly awry.

Magic Wand

Genes May Influence Language Learning, Study Suggests

If you get tongue-tied when trying to learn a new language, your genes may be to blame, a new study suggests.

While there is no gene yet found that is responsible for preprogramming a person with a given language, there does appear to be a link between types of two genes and the languages people speak.

The new findings could be the first sign of a subtle effect in which people's DNA could bias them toward learning a particular set of languages.

Robert Ladd and Dan Dediu at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland noticed the possible link while studying the genes dubbed Microcephalin and ASPM.

These genes play a role in brain development and appear to still be evolving in humans.

Stop

Cyber Life: No escape from the bullies

It happens in school, at work, physically, verbally, even by email and text - now researchers at The University of Nottingham say there's no escape in the virtual world.

Researchers are examining the worrying appearance of bullying in the virtual world. Citizens (avatars) of Second Life say targets are likely to be individuals who are new to the virtual world.

With the permission of Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, researchers from Nottingham University Business School, The Institute of Work, Health and Organisations and The School of Computer Science and Information Technology, took the extraordinary step of setting up a cyber-based focus group to discuss the problem directly with residents.

One resident described what happened when they first experienced Second Life "When I was newbie, there was group of 4, two girls and 2 boys they would throw me around." They destroyed her first house and fired guns at her.

Other behaviours observed by the researchers which can be seen as bullying (griefing) were people shooting others, hitting them with swords, nudity, annoying noisy objects that followed people around and lots of swearing. In some "safe areas" these behaviours are deemed acceptable, whilst in others they are deemed as abusive.

Magic Wand

Protein senses cold. Single receptor responds to cold and menthol.

As an ice cream melts in your mouth this summer, take a moment to contemplate the protein that may be bringing you that sense of cool relief - and numbing your tongue. Researchers have pinned down that particular protein in mice, and think that a similar one in humans does the same job.

Three papers, two published recently in Neuron and the third in this week's issue of Nature, have shown that mice rely on a single protein, called TRPM8, to sense both cold temperatures and menthol, the compound that gives mints their cool sensation.

The sensor also controls the pain-relieving effect of cool temperatures, but does not seem to play an important role in the response to painfully cold temperatures below 10 °C

Heart

Mercury's Link to Heart Disease Begins in Blood Vessel Walls

Heavy metals and other toxins have been linked to many human diseases, but determining exactly how they damage the body remains a mystery in many cases. New research focusing on a relatively obscure, misunderstood protein suggests mercury's link to heart disease can be traced to activation of this enzyme, which triggers a process leading to plaque buildup in blood vessel walls.

The study examined three forms of mercury, matching its characteristics in the environment. Each form of mercury caused changes in the behavior of cells that line the blood vessel walls and that can lead to cardiovascular diseases.

The study also suggests that chelation therapy, a process that removes metals from the body, and antioxidants both show signs of suppressing this activity and might be key to reducing the damage caused by mercury, and possibly other heavy metals.

The research was published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Toxicology.

"Mercury has been implicated as a risk factor in cardiovascular disease because of environmental concerns both from contamination and the atmosphere. But no one has looked at heavy metal regulation of this enzyme," said Narasimham Parinandi, director of the lipidomics and lipid signaling laboratory at Ohio State University Medical Center and senior author of the study. "If we understand this regulation and know how to block it, we can come up with proper ways to prevent the activity."

Sheeple

Melamine From U.S. Put in Feed

Ever since pet food contaminated with an industrial chemical was traced to shipments of wheat flour from China, American officials have concentrated on cracking down on imports.

It turns out the problem was closer to home, too.

Bomb

CDC Seeks Those Who Sat Near Dangerous TB Patient on Intl. Flights

ATLANTA - Health officials in North America and Europe sought passenger lists Wednesday for two trans-Atlantic airline flights in their effort to find about 80 people who sat near a honeymooner infected with a dangerous drug-resistant form of tuberculosis.

Evil Rays

Electro-sensitivity, EMF and WIFI - one woman's saga

For most people talking on a mobile phone, cooking dinner in the microwave or driving in a car is simply part of modern living in 21st century Britain.

But completing any such tasks is impossible for Debbie Bird - because she is allergic to modern technology.

The 39-year-old is so sensitive to the electromagnetic field (emf) or 'smog' created by computers, mobile phones, microwave ovens and even some cars, that she develops a painful skin rash and her eyelids swell to three times their size if she goes near them.

©Cavendish Press
Debbie Bird's eyelids swell to three times their size when she is exposed to microwaves.

Health

29-Year-Old Eats Nothing But Cold Cheese Since Toddlerhood

29-year-old Wyton, Cambs resident Dave Nunley suffers from a food phobia that started when he was a toddler, in which he only eats cheese - 17 stone of grated mild cheddar annually. The only exception is a rare salt and vinegar crisp.

Coffee

Freaky Eaters

Pretty much all of us worry about our diet - let's face it, getting your five portions of fruit and veg a day isn't the easiest thing in the world. However, for some people, every meal time can prove a challenge. For the people highlighted in our new show Freaky Eaters, a balanced meal might mean two different flavours of crisps, or perhaps a squirt of ketchup with their chips...