Researchers may have discovered the mechanism behind how prions ? pieces of protein molecules? can kill nerve cells in the brain and lead to some serious degenerative diseases. The key seems to lie in how one particular protein misfolds within an organelle inside the cell, transforming itself into a new agent and then poisoning the neuron in which it was made.
High doses of the naturally occurring compound coenzyme Q10 has been found to slow by 44 percent the deterioration in function that occurs in Parkinson’s disease. The greatest benefit was seen in everyday activities like eating, dressing, bathing and walking. But researchers say that before people run out to RightAid for a barrel of the stuff, a wider study is needed (this one tracked 80 patients). Parkinson?s is a degenerative disorder of the brain in which patients develop tremor, slowness of movement and stiffness of muscles. It affects about 1 percent of Americans over the age of 65.
I’m sorry, what were you saying? I got distracted by this story from the American Psychological Association that says researchers have successfully mapped different aspects of attention to parts of the brain’s frontal lobes. Turns out that the once-monolithic concept of “attention” has at least three distinct processes that look to be functionally and anatomically different.
A new study aims to determine once and for all whether a link exists between obsessive-compulsive behavior and strep infections in children. The research, to be conducted by the University of Florida and the National Institutes of Mental Health, is prompted by anecdotal reports from parents with OCD kids that their children’s behavior, such as compulsive hand washing, worsens when the child is ill with strep.
Chaos can explain the seemingly random behavior of two moons of Saturn, JPL researchers say. The moons — Pandora and Prometheus — are more than 100,000 miles off course of where they would be if their orbits followed conventional physics. “With chaotic interactions, a barely perceptible difference in starting conditions can make such a great difference in later positions that the movements are not fully predictable over time. The two moons give each other a gravitational kick each time Pandora passes inside Prometheus, about every 28 days. Because neither’s orbit is quite circular, the distance between them on those occasions — hence the strength of the kick — varies.”
Medical researchers have successfully reversed the progression of Parkinson’s disease in rats through the use of gene therapy. By adding a gene for a single enzyme, they were able to reprogram brain circuits and halt the deterioration of dopamine-producing brain cells, one of the key problems in the disease. The lack of dopamine is what leads the the tell-tale shaking and muscle twitches of Parkinson’s patients.
The Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services has published a four-point guide to hand washing. This is not a comment on the brain capacity of those in the “Forward” state, but rather a reminder of the single best way to fend off illness.
The steps are:
1. Wet your hands, ideally with very warm water.
2. Add soap, then rub your hands together to make a soapy lather. Vigorously scrub the front and back of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails, for no less than 10 seconds before you …
3. Rinse the lather off your hands, letting the water run into the sink, not down your arms. 4. In public restrooms, use a paper towel to turn off the water so you don’t touch a potentially-dirty handle, then …
5. Dry your hands thoroughly with a clean towel.
All right, it’s a five-point plan. Math never was Wisconsin’s strong suit. But, ummm, the cheese….
New Scientist reports on a year-long study to find the world’s funniest joke. The Internet-based project was coordinated by psychologist Richard Wiseman and colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire, U.K. and involved more than 2 million votes on 40,000 submissions. The goal was to identify universal aspects to humor, which could one day allow computers to devise truly funny jokes. Before we get to the winner, an interesting aside is that the team found in the process the world’s funniest animal: the duck. “If you’re going to tell a joke involving an animal, make it a duck,” Wiseman says. Now to the ultimate rib-tickler, which folks from Asia to Africa, the States to Siberia all seemed to enjoy. A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator, in a calm soothing voice, says: “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?” Thank you folks, I’ll be here all week.
Results of an animal study published in the journal Science raise the possibility that the use of the rave fave drug Ecstasy ? methylene-dioxymethamphetamine ? can damage brain cells. The same cells, in fact, that are destroyed by Parkinson?s disease.
“We don’t know if human beings develop the same effects we describe in monkeys and in baboons,” Dr. George Ricaurte, a Johns Hopkins neurologist, told Reuters. “The broader issue is, are there hundreds of cases of unexplained parkinsonism in MDMA users? We don’t know because we haven’t looked.”
The Reuters article also contains the following quotation, reproduced below only marginally out of context: “[A]s you might imagine, it is not easy to get a baboon to take an oral dose of a drug.”
The threat of bioterrorism is growing as more countries try to develop biological weapons, a CIA analyst told members of the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ Council on Public Health Preparedness. “Biological warfare is an attractive option . . . because it’s relatively inexpensive to develop,” said Kimberly Stergulz, an analyst at the CIA’s Weapons, Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center. A result, she said, is that countries such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and Syria, and a growing number of non-state groups, are pursuing the capability. As reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the CIA employee told the council that developing a biological weapons program could cost about $10 million, compared with $100 million to develop chemical weapon capability or $2 billion for nuclear capability. Stergulz presented the information at the first meeting of the council, a group of 21 health specialists and scientists who will advise the federal government on different aspects of potential public health emergencies.
Something to think about tonight, in bed, alone. A Swedish study has found that users of early mobile phones face an 80 percent greater chance of developing brain tumors than those who did not use them. Granted, the phones in question ran on something called the Analog Nordic Mobile Telephone standard, popular in northern Europe, Russia and the Baltics. But the system is still in place in 40 countries. So let’s hope on that trip to Norway last summer you didn’t borrow your pal’s handset for a quick call to mom. By the way, is that your head pounding, or mine?
This is something that’s been talked about for years, though before Sept. 11 it was always in the context of a bank or high-security government facility, not Northwest Airlines. The upshot of this Washington Times article is that NASA and Northwest are teaming to see if mind-reading technology is feasible, and if so, can it be used to mass-screen airline passengers. Opinion is mixed, and no one in this article addresses the pharmaceutical countermeasures that could potentially be employed to calm a guilt- or panic-ridden brain and heart. Still, plenty creepy.