Multiple sclerosis: New drug 'most effective'
By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News
A new drug is the "most effective" treatment for
relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, say UK researchers.
During MS the body's immune system turns on its
own nerves causing debilitating muscle problems.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge say a
cancer drug, which wipes out and resets the
immune system, has better results than other options.
However, there is concern that a drugs company is
about to increase the cost of the drug as a result.
Around 100,000 people in the UK have multiple
sclerosis. When the condition is diagnosed most
will have a form of the disease know as
relapsing-remitting MS, in which the symptoms can
almost disappear for a time, before suddenly returning.
Built from scratch
The researchers tested a leukaemia drug,
alemtuzumab, which had shown benefits for MS in small studies.
In leukaemia, a blood cancer, it controls the
excess production of white blood cells. In MS
patients, the dose eliminates the immune cells
entirely, forcing a new immune system to be built
from scratch which should not attack the nerves.
Two trials, published in the Lancet medical
journal, compared the effectiveness of
alemtuzumab with a first-choice drug, interferon beta-1a.
BBC © 2012
Second Illness Is Infecting Those Struck by Meningitis
By DENISE GRADY
Just when they might have thought they were in
the clear, people recovering from meningitis in
an outbreak caused by a contaminated steroid drug
have been struck by a second illness.
The new problem, called an epidural abscess, is
an infection near the spine at the site where the
drug contaminated by a fungus was injected to
treat back or neck pain. The abscesses are a
localized infection, different from meningitis,
which affects the membranes covering the brain
and spinal cord. But in some cases, an untreated
abscess can cause meningitis. The abscesses have
formed even while patients were taking powerful
antifungal medicines, putting them back in the
hospital for more treatment, often with surgery.
The problem has just begun to emerge, so far
mostly in Michigan, which has had more people
sickened by the drug 112 out of 404 nationwide than any other state.
“We’re hearing about it in Michigan and other
locations as well,” said Dr. Tom M. Chiller, the
deputy chief of the mycotic diseases branch of
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We don’t have a good handle on how many people are coming back.”
He added, “We are just learning about this and
trying to assess how best to manage these patients. They’re very complicated.”
In the last few days, about a third of the 53
patients treated for meningitis at St. Joseph
Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., have returned
with abscesses, said Dr. Lakshmi K. Halasyamani, the chief medical officer.
© 2012 The New York Times Company
FDA report describing deaths sheds light on high-caffeine beverages
By Hannah Krakauer,
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration
released incident reports describing several
deaths that have occurred following the
consumption of Monster Energy drinks. Much of the
concern over energy-drink consumption centers on
the high caffeine content of such beverages.
How did these deaths come to light?
Anais Fournier, 14, of Hagerstown, Md., died
suddenly last December from a heart arrhythmia
that led to cardiac arrest. She had apparently
drunk two Monster Energy drinks over two days. In
mid-October, Fournier’s mother, Wendy Crossland,
filed a lawsuit against Monster Beverage, based
in Corona, Calif., claiming that the company did
not make clear the risks that come with drinking the beverage.
As part of a Freedom of Information request by
Crossland, the FDA released details of the other
four cases, plus one nonfatal heart attack, all
of which are alleged to be associated with
drinking Monster Energy. The company maintains that its drinks are safe.
How much caffeine is in energy drinks such as Monster Energy?
Actually, not a huge amount. A 24-ounce can of
Monster Energy contains 240 milligrams of
caffeine. A typical eight-ounce cup of brewed
coffee contains 90 to 200 milligrams of caffeine.
© 1996-2012 The Washington Post
Painkillers not as addictive as feared, study finds
Fewer than five percent of patients prescribed
narcotics to treat chronic pain become addicted
to the drugs, according to a new analysis of past research.
The finding suggests that concerns about the risk
of becoming addicted to prescription painkillers
might be "overblown," said addiction specialist
Dr. Michael Fleming at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
"If you're a person that doesn't have a history
of addiction and doesn't have any major
psychiatric problems, narcotics are relatively
safe as long as your doctor doesn't give you too
much and uses the right medication," Fleming, who
was not involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.
Some recent research has concluded the same
thing, but another expert remained skeptical
about the new report because many of the studies
it included were not considered the best quality
research, and they varied widely in their results.
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"I think the jury's still out" on how worrisome
prescription opioid addiction is, said Joseph
Boscarino of the Geisinger Clinic in Danville,
Pennsylvania, who studies pain and addiction.
Opioid painkillers, which include oxycodone,
fentanyl and morphine, have only recently become
available for patients with chronic pain, said
Boscarino, who was not part of the new study.
© 2012 NBCNews.com
Elephant in South Korean zoo imitates human speech
SAM KIM, Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) An elephant in a South
Korean zoo is using his trunk to pick up not only
food, but also human vocabulary.
An international team of scientists confirmed
Friday what the Everland Zoo has been saying for
years: Their 5.5-ton tusker Koshik has an unusual
and possibly unprecedented talent.
The 22-year-old Asian elephant can reproduce five
Korean words by tucking his trunk inside his
mouth to modulate sound, the scientists said in a
joint paper published online in Current Biology.
They said he may have started imitating human speech because he was lonely.
Koshik can reproduce "annyeong" (hello), "anja"
(sit down), "aniya" (no), "nuwo" (lie down) and "joa" (good), the paper says.
One of the researchers said there is no
conclusive evidence that Koshik understands the
sounds he makes, although the elephant does respond to words like "anja."
Everland Zoo officials in the city of Yongin said
Koshik also can imitate "ajik" (not yet), but the
researchers haven't confirmed the accomplishment.
Koshik is particularly good with vowels, with a
rate of similarity of 67 percent, the researchers
said. For consonants he scores only 21 percent.
Researchers said the clearest scientific evidence
that Koshik is deliberately imitating human
speech is that the sound frequency of his words matches that of his trainers.
© 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.
Arthur R. Jensen Dies at 89; Set Off Debate About I.Q.
By MARGALIT FOX
Arthur R. Jensen, an educational psychologist who
ignited an international firestorm with a 1969
article suggesting that the gap in
intelligence-test scores between black and white
students might be rooted in genetic differences
between the races, died on Oct. 22 at his home in
Kelseyville, Calif. He was 89.
His death was confirmed by the University of
California, Berkeley, where he was an emeritus
professor in the Graduate School of Education.
Professor Jensen was deeply interested in
differential psychology, a field whose central
question What makes people behave and think
differently from one another? strikes at the
heart of the age-old nature-nurture debate.
Because of his empirical work in the field on the
quantification of general intelligence (a subject
that had long invited a more diffuse,
impressionistic approach), he was regarded by
many colleagues as one of the most important psychologists of his day.
But a wider public remembered him almost
exclusively for his 1969 article “How Much Can We
Boost I.Q. and Achievement?” Published in The
Harvard Educational Review, a scholarly journal,
the article quickly became and remains even now
one of the most controversial in psychology.
In the article, Professor Jensen posited two
types of learning ability. Level I, associative
ability, entailed the rote retention of facts.
Level II, conceptual ability, involved abstract
thinking and problem-solving. This type, he
argued, was roughly equivalent to general
intelligence, denoted in psychology by the letter “g.”
© 2012 The New York Times Company
The Brain Trainers
By DAN HURLEY
IN the back room of a suburban storefront
previously occupied by a yoga studio, Nick
Vecchiarello, a 16-year-old from Glen Ridge,
N.J., sits at a desk across from Kathryn Duch, a
recent college graduate who wears a black shirt
emblazoned with the words “Brain Trainer.” Spread
out on the desk are a dozen playing cards showing
symbols of varying colors, shapes and sizes. Nick
stares down, searching for three cards whose symbols match.
“Do you see it?” Ms. Duch asks encouragingly.
“Oh, man,” mutters Nick, his eyes shifting among
the cards, looking for patterns.
Across the room, Nathan Veloric, 23, studies a
list of numbers, looking for any two in a row
that add up to nine. With tight-lipped
determination, he scrawls a circle around one
pair as his trainer holds a stopwatch to time
him. Halfway through the 50 seconds allotted to
complete the exercise, a ruckus comes from the center of the room.
“Nathan’s here!” shouts Vanessa Maia, another
trainer. Approaching him with a teasing grin, she
claps her hands like an annoying little sister.
“Distraction!” she shouts. “Distraction!”
There is purpose behind the silliness. Ms. Maia
is challenging the trainees to stay focused on
their tasks in the face of whatever distractions
may be out there, whether Twitter feeds, the
latest Tumblr posting or old-fashioned classroom commotion.
On this Wednesday evening at the Upper Montclair,
N.J., outlet of LearningRx, a chain of 83 “brain
training” franchises across the United States,
the goal is to improve cognitive skills.
LearningRx is one of a growing number of such
commercial services some online, others offered
by psychologists. Unlike traditional tutoring
services that seek to help students master a
subject, brain training purports to enhance
comprehension and the ability to analyze and
mentally manipulate concepts, images, sounds and
instructions. In a word, it seeks to make students smarter.
© 2012 The New York Times Company
Remember It Well: A New Type of On-Switch for Memory
By Gary Stix
Nicotine enhances the ability to focus and
remember. The alkaloid acts in a similar manner
to the brain’s own signaling molecule,
acetylcholine. It interacts with eponymous
receptors on the surface of nerve cells to regulate signaling in the brain.
The role of the nicotinic-acetylcholine receptors
throughout the central nervous system is so
wide-ranging that new discoveries about the
molecule continue apace. A recent study
published in Nature Neuroscience found that one
type of nicotinic receptor acts as a key element
in a cell that appears to perform a critical function in regulating memory.
A team of researchersled by one group from
Uppsala University in Sweden and another from Rio
Grande do Norte in Brazilfound that a type of
nicotinic receptor on a cell called oriens
lacunosum-moleculare (OLM-alpha 2) seems to be
involved in turning on a critical circuit in the
hippocampus, a brain structure involved with
memory formation. “This cell has a significant
influence on the incoming information to the
hippocampus,” says Klas Kullander from Uppsala University.
When this circuit is switched on, visual,
auditory or other inputs to the hippocampus are
targeted for additional processing of the
incoming information, perhaps a means of flagging
its importance so that it can be directed to the
cerebral cortex for long-term storage of memory.
The on-state of this circuit “prioritizes more
intense local processing of the information,”
Kullander says. “It lets the hippocampus dwell on the information longer.”
© 2012 Scientific American
Monkeys keep the beat without outside help
By Laura Sanders
Devoid of any external time cues, monkeys can
still tell time. Animals learned to move their
eyeballs once every second, a completely internal
timing feat made possible by the rhythmic
behavior of small groups of nerve cells,
researchers propose online October 30 in PLOS Biology.
Time is often measured with clues from the
environment, says study coauthor Geoffrey Ghose
of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. A
quick glance at a clock indicates that your
meeting will start soon, and a look outside at a
low sun tells you that it’s time to leave work.
But some time-telling abilities rely on purely
internal processes just a feeling that minutes,
hours or days have ticked by, Ghose says.
Ghose and Blaine Schneider, also of the
University of Minnesota, studied this internal
sensation of time by creating a situation in
which two monkeys had to generate their own
pattern without any outside help. The animals
were trained to switch their gaze rhythmically
between a red dot and a blue dot on a computer
screen once every second, a job that looks like
“they’re watching an extremely boring tennis match,” Ghose says.
After a while, the monkeys got good, on average
just tens of milliseconds off their tempo.
Meanwhile, the researchers used electrodes to
eavesdrop on the behavior of neurons in a part of
the brain called the lateral intraparietal area.
Earlier monkey studies found that neurons there
build up activity with time, firing messages more
and more frequently as the milliseconds tick by.
© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012