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Sun, 23 Oct 2016
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Health & Wellness


Unusual Bacteria Help Balance the Immune System in Mice

© Ivaylo Ivanov and Dan Littman
A little-known bacterial species called segmented filamentous bacterium, or SFB, can activate the production of specialized immune cells in mice.
Medical researchers have long suspected that obscure bacteria living within the intestinal tract may help keep the human immune system in balance. An international collaboration co-led by scientists at NYU Langone Medical Center has now identified a bizarre-looking microbial species that can single-handedly spur the production of specialized immune cells in mice.

This remarkable activation of the immune response could point to a similar phenomenon in humans, helping researchers understand how gut-dwelling bacteria protect us from pathogenic bacteria, such as virulent strains of E. coli. The study, published in the Oct. 30, 2009, issue of Cell, also supports the idea that specific bacteria may act like neighborhood watchdogs at key locations within the small intestine, where they sense the local microbial community and sound the alarm if something seems amiss.

In mice, at least, the newly identified neighborhood watchdog looks like something out of Disney's The Shaggy D.A. Distinguished by long hair-like filaments, "These bacteria are the most astounding things I've ever seen," says Dan Littman, MD, PhD, the Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Professor of Molecular Immunology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.


Popular Antidepressant Associated with a Dramatic Increase in Suicidal Thoughts Amongst Men

Nortriptyline has been found to cause a ten-fold increase in suicidal thoughts in men when compared to its competitor escitalopram. These findings are published in the open access journal BMC Medicine.

The research was carried out by Dr. Nader Perroud from the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, who headed up GENDEP, an international team. Dr Perroud said "Suicidal thoughts and behaviours during antidepressant treatment have prompted warnings by regulatory bodies". He continued "the aim of our study was to investigate the emergence and worsening of suicidal thoughts during treatment with two different types of antidepressant."

Both escitalopram and nortriptyline have their effect through the mood modulating neurotransmitter systems. The former is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), preventing serotonin from re-entering the cell and thereby prolonging its effect on nerve synapses. The latter is a tricyclic antidepressant that inhibits the reuptake of noradrenaline, and to a lesser extent, that of serotonin.


Cedars-Sinai radiation overdoses went unseen at several points

The dosage -- eight times the programmed amount -- appeared on technicians' screens during CT scans. Doctors also missed the problem. Experts say blind trust of medical machinery is a growing concern.

Every time a patient receives a CT scan, a mundane array of numbers appears on a computer screen before a technician.

The numbers include the radiation dose.

"It's in your face on the screen," said Dr. Donald Rucker, chief medical officer for Siemens, a manufacturer of CT scanners.

Beginning in February 2008, each time a patient at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center received a CT brain perfusion scan -- a state-of-the-art procedure used to diagnose strokes -- the dose displayed would have been eight times higher than normal. No standard medical imaging procedure would use so much radiation, which one expert said is on par with the levels used to blast tumors.

Somebody should have noticed. But nobody did -- everybody trusted the machines.

Late last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Cedars-Sinai revealed that 206 stroke patients who received scans at the prestigious Los Angeles hospital were overdosed with radiation. Now doctors and safety experts around the country face a troubling question: In an era of supposedly fail-safe medical technology, how did the problem go undetected for 18 months?

Magic Wand

Little-known chiropractic treatment saves man's life

After 12 years of living with debilitating pain in his face, James Tomasi decided to kill himself.

The former pastor from Oklahoma City, Okla., never understood what compelled men to jump from windows and take their own lives until he was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia (TN), a notoriously painful nerve disorder that causes sudden shock-like facial pains, typically near the nose, lips, eyes or ears.

"It's like being Tasered in the face," Tomasi said of the condition, which, for him, started after a root canal and continued off and on for more than a decade.


A Long, Melancholy Roar

On a recent evening at twilight, I was sitting on the grass in Regent's Park - one of London's most manicured public spaces - when I heard the fierce, melancholy sound of a lion's roar.

I wasn't dreaming: it was coming from the zoo. Listening to it, I began to reflect on predators - and us.

On returning home, I did some reading. I discovered that between 1990 and 2004, lions attacked 815 people in Tanzania, killing 563. Some of the victims were pulled out of bed during the night after lions forced their way inside huts. Between January 2000 and March 2004, crocodiles in Namibia attacked 35 people, killing 23. In the 34 months from January 2005 to October 2007, leopards in the Indian state of Kashmir attacked 18 people, killing 16. In the Sundarban swamps of Bangladesh, tigers killed at least 20 people last year. Dig around, and you can also find records of deaths from attacks by bears, cougars, sharks and a number of other wild beasts.

It's hard to imagine how terrifying such a death must be. To be asleep in bed and to wake to hear a rustling sound, to see an animal leaping, to feel its breath on your face - think of the sweat, the panic, the contraction of your gut, the pounding of your heart, the gasping screams.

For many of our fellow creatures, such terrors are part of daily life: other animals exist in a world of threat that humans today rarely glimpse. These days, thankfully, we are not used to being hunted. Most of us are more likely to be struck by lightning than we are to die at the paws of a bear or the teeth of a shark. And so we spend little time in that dark, primeval place of alarm, fear, adrenaline and (perhaps) gory death. For us, death usually comes in other forms.


Swine Flu, Other Viruses and High Anxiety

We're a month into the school year and it's the time of year when it seems our kids are spending more days sick than well.

Please don't be fooled into thinking that this winter is so different from previous winters.

Swine Flu does not pose a realistic risk to your family: There will be millions of cases reported and rare fatalities highly publicized.


US: If four-month-olds are being denied health insurance coverage, is anything sacred?

In yet one more reason why the national dialog has changed from "health care reform" to "health insurance reform," Grand Junction, Colo. native Alex Lange was denied insurance coverage by Rocky Mountain Health Plans. Lange has never smoked, drank alcohol, nor has he ever been diagnosed with a chronic disease. In fact, he's only been to the doctor a few times for checkups, and has never missed a day of school or work in his life.

That impressive track record can be credited to the fact that Alex is just four months old and, in his short life, he has been fed nothing but breast milk. Nevertheless, he was denied health coverage because, according to growth charts, he's obese.


New Cancer Gene Discovered

A new cancer gene has been discovered by a research group at the Sahlgrenska Academy. The gene causes an insidious form of glandular cancer usually in the head and neck and in women also in the breast. The discovery could lead to quicker and better diagnosis and more effective treatment.

The study is published October 13 in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The cancer caused by this new cancer gene is called adenoid cystic carcinoma and is a slow-growing but deadly form of cancer. The research group can now show that the gene is found in 100% of these tumours, which means that a genetic test can easily be used to make a correct diagnosis.

"Now that we know what the cancer is down to, we can also develop new and more effective treatments for this often highly malignant and insidious form of cancer," says professor Göran Stenman, who heads the research group at the Lundberg Laboratory for Cancer Research at the Sahlgrenska Academy. "One possibility might be to develop a drug that quite simply turns off this gene."


Sight Unseen: People Blinded by Brain Damage Can Respond to Emotive Expressions

© Paul Ekman
Subjects in a recent study responded to these images of happy or fearful body postures and facial expressions even though they were not aware of what they were seeing.
Seeing is believing when it comes to emotions. We smile, we gasp, we yawn when we see others do the same - a phenomenon called emotional contagion.

A new study published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that emotional contagion occurs even if the "seeing" step is bypassed. The blind patients in the study could not consciously see images of the faces of happy or fearful people that they were shown. Although their eyes and optic nerves were functional, the region of their brains involved in visual processing had been damaged. Instead, other parts of the brain took over, allowing the subjects to still respond normally with their own happy or scared facial expressions. These patients also made the appropriate happy or fearful face in response to emotions that were communicated through bodily expressions, suggesting that blind empathy can happen even without a facial template to imitate.

"We're actually infected by the emotions of others. [This study shows] this phenomenon can be carried out in the absence of visual awareness," says Marco Tamietto, a neuroscience researcher at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and lead author of the study. "We can say that emotional contagion cannot be reduced to a simple mimicry."


Health fear over trendy cigarettes substitute

They have been hailed as the future of smoking and a non-cancerous alternative to cigarettes that don't fall foul of the ban.

But serious safety concerns have been raised about electronic cigarettes as their popularity continues to grow.

And there are fears children could get hooked on nicotine by using the so-called e-cigs, electronic cigarettes are not liable to age restriction because they do not contain tobacco.

Some are being marketed as appetite suppressants while others are promoted as the choice of fashion-conscious young celebrities