Pinpointing loneliness in the brain

Humans, like all social animals, have a fundamental need for contact with others. This deeply ingrained instinct helps us to survive; it’s much easier to find food, shelter, and other necessities with a group than alone. Deprived of human contact, most people become lonely and emotionally distressed.

In a study appearing in the Feb. 11 issue of Cell, MIT neuroscientists have identified a brain region that represents these feelings of loneliness. This cluster of cells, located near the back of the brain in an area called the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN), is necessary for generating the increased sociability that normally occurs after a period of social isolation, the researchers found in a study of mice.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has pinned down a loneliness-like state to a cellular substrate. Now we have a starting point for really starting to study this,” says Kay Tye, the Whitehead Career Development Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, a member of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and one of the senior authors of the study.

While much research has been done on how the brain seeks out and responds to rewarding social interactions, very little is known about how isolation and loneliness also motivate social behavior.

“There are many studies from human psychology describing how we have this need for social connection, which is particularly strong in people who feel lonely. But our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying that state is pretty slim at the moment. It certainly seems like a useful, adaptive response, but we don’t really know how that’s brought about,” says Gillian Matthews, a postdoc at the Picower Institute and the paper’s lead author.

Only the lonely

Matthews first identified the loneliness neurons somewhat serendipitously, while studying a completely different topic. As a PhD student at Imperial College London, she was investigating how drugs affect the brain, particularly dopamine neurons. She originally planned to study how drug abuse influences the DRN, a brain region that had not been studied very much.

As part of the experiment, each mouse was isolated for 24 hours, and Matthews noticed that in the control mice, which had not received any drugs, there was a strengthening of connections in the DRN following the isolation period.

Further studies, both at Imperial College London and then in Tye’s lab at MIT, revealed that these neurons were responding to the state of isolation. When animals are housed together, DRN neurons are not very active. However, during a period of isolation, these neurons become sensitized to social contact and when the animals are reunited with other mice, DRN activity surges. At the same time, the mice become much more sociable than animals that had not been isolated.

When the researchers suppressed DRN neurons using optogenetics, a technique that allows them to control brain activity with light, they found that isolated mice did not show the same rebound in sociability when they were re-introduced to other mice.

“That suggested these neurons are important for the isolation-induced rebound in sociability,” Tye says. “When people are isolated for a long time and then they’re reunited with other people, they’re very excited, there’s a surge of social interaction. We think that this adaptive and evolutionarily conserved trait is what we are modeling in mice, and these neurons could play a role in that increased motivation to socialize.”

Social dominance

The researchers also found that animals with a higher rank in the social hierarchy were more responsive to changes in DRN activity, suggesting that they may be more susceptible to feelings of loneliness following isolation.

“The social experience of every animal is not the same in a group,” Tye says. “If you’re the dominant mouse, maybe you love your social environment. And if you’re the subordinate mouse, and you’re being beat up every day, maybe it’s not so fun. Maybe you feel socially excluded already.”

The findings represent “an amazing cornerstone for future studies of loneliness,” says Alcino Silva, a professor of neurobiology, psychiatry, and psychology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA who was not involved in the research.

“There is something poetic and fascinating about the idea that modern neuroscience tools have allowed us to reach to the very depths of the human soul, and that in this search we have discovered that even the most human of emotions, loneliness, is shared in some recognizable form with even one of our distant mammalian relatives — the mouse,” Silva says.

The researchers are now studying whether these neurons actually detect loneliness or are responsible for driving the response to loneliness, and whether they might be part of a larger brain network that responds to social isolation. Another area to be explored is whether differences in these neurons can explain why some people prefer more social contact than others, and whether those differences are innate or formed by experience.

“There’s probably some part that could very well be determined by innate brain features, but I think probably an equal, if not greater, contribution would be from the environment in which individuals have developed,” Tye says. “These are completely open questions. We can only speculate about it at this point.”

Mark Ungless, a senior lecturer at Imperial College London, is also a senior author of the study. MIT graduate students Edward Nieh and Caitlin Vander Weele are also lead authors.


Posted in Brain, Human Behavior: Loneliness | Leave a comment

Poor Air Quality Kills 5.5 Million Worldwide Annually: UBC

Newswise — New research shows that more than 5.5 million people die prematurely every year due to household and outdoor air pollution. More than half of deaths occur in two of the world’s fastest growing economies, China and India.

Power plants, industrial manufacturing, vehicle exhaust and burning coal and wood all release small particles into the air that are dangerous to a person’s health. New research, presented today at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), found that despite efforts to limit future emissions, the number of premature deaths linked to air pollution will climb over the next two decades unless more aggressive targets are set.

“Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease,” said Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health in Vancouver, Canada. “Reducing air pollution is an incredibly efficient way to improve the health of a population.”

[NOTE: The researchers will be participating in a press briefing at the 2016 AAAS annual meeting on Friday, February 12 at 1 p.m. EST]

For the AAAS meeting, researchers from Canada, the United States, China and India assembled estimates of air pollution levels in China and India and calculated the impact on health.

Their analysis shows that the two countries account for 55 per cent of the deaths caused by air pollution worldwide. About 1.6 million people died of air pollution in China and 1.4 million died in India in 2013.

In China, burning coal is the biggest contributor to poor air quality. Qiao Ma, a PhD student at the School of Environment, Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, found that outdoor air pollution from coal alone caused an estimated 366,000 deaths in China in 2013.

Ma also calculated the expected number of premature deaths in China in the future if the country meets its current targets to restrict coal combustion and emissions through a combination of energy policies and pollution controls. She found that air pollution will cause anywhere from 990,000 to 1.3 million premature deaths in 2030 unless even more ambitious targets are introduced.

“Our study highlights the urgent need for even more aggressive strategies to reduce emissions from coal and from other sectors,” said Ma.

In India, a major contributor to poor air quality is the practice of burning wood, dung and similar sources of biomass for cooking and heating. Millions of families, among the poorest in India, are regularly exposed to high levels of particulate matter in their own homes.

“India needs a three-pronged mitigation approach to address industrial coal burning, open burning for agriculture, and household air pollution sources,” said Chandra Venkataraman, professor of Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, in Mumbai, India.

In the last 50 years, North America, Western Europe and Japan have made massive strides to combat pollution by using cleaner fuels, more efficient vehicles, limiting coal burning and putting restrictions on electric power plants and factories.

“Having been in charge of designing and implementing strategies to improve air in the United States, I know how difficult it is. Developing countries have a tremendous task in front of them,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of Health Effects Institute, a non-profit organization based in Boston that sponsors targeted efforts to analyze the health burden from different air pollution sources. “This research helps guide the way by identifying the actions which can best improve public health.”




The research is an extension of the Global Burden of Disease study, an international collaboration led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington that systematically measured health and its risk factors, including air pollution levels, for 188 countries between 1990 and 2013. The air pollution research is led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and the Health Effects Institute.

Additional facts about air pollution:

• World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines set daily particulate matter at 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

• At this time of year, Beijing and New Delhi will see daily levels at or above 300 micrograms per cubic meter metre; 1,200 per cent higher than WHO guidelines.

• While air pollution has decreased in most high-income countries in the past 20 years, global levels are up largely because of South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China. More than 85 per cent of the world’s population now lives in areas where the World Health Organization Air Quality Guideline is exceeded.

• The researchers say that strict control of particulate matter is critical because of changing demographics. Researchers predict that if air pollution levels remain constant, the number of deaths will increase because the population is aging and older people are more susceptible to illnesses caused by poor air quality.

• According to the Global Burden of Disease study, air pollution causes more deaths than other risk factors like malnutrition, obesity, alcohol and drug abuse, and unsafe sex. It is the fourth greatest risk behind high blood pressure, dietary risks and smoking.

• Cardiovascular disease accounts for the majority of deaths from air pollution with additional impacts from lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and respiratory infections.

Posted in Asthma, COPD, Environmental Health: Air Quality, Respiratory Diseases | Leave a comment

7 simple steps to heart health

Newswise — SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA (Feb. 12, 2016) – It’s no secret that heart disease is the leading cause of death for adult men and women in this country. It kills one of every four people. While many of us associate February with red-ruffled hearts and chocolate candy for Valentine’s Day, it’s also “American Heart Month” to raise awareness of the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices to improve overall heart health.

“There’s no better time to focus on heart disease and kick-start your New Year’s resolution to lose weight, eat better and start exercising,” says Dr. Ravi Dave, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.

The American Heart Association recommends seven easy ways to reduce your risk for heart disease and be heart-healthy. The AHA calls them, “Life’s Simple 7,” because they are easy to understand and can be followed by anyone at any age. They are:

• Get active. Daily physical activity can help you live longer with a better quality of life. Walking or exercising in other ways for at least 30 minutes five times per week will reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

• Control cholesterol. “Lowering and controlling blood-cholesterol levels will help prevent buildup in your arteries and reduce your risk of blockages that can lead to heart attacks and strokes,” says Dave.

• Eat better. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: a low-fat, high-fiber diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and other lean proteins forms the basis for a heart-healthy lifestyle.

• Manage blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. By keeping it within recommended ranges through exercise, medication or a combination of both, you can prevent additional wear and tear on your heart and other organs.

• Lose weight. “Carrying too much weight, especially around your mid-section, puts you at higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, known risk factors for heart disease,” explains Dave. “Even modest weight loss reduces your risk of these health issues.”

• Reduce blood sugar. Most of what you eat gets converted into glucose – blood sugar – that fuels your body with energy. However, when blood-sugar levels become too high, you are at risk for diabetes. Although diabetes can be managed, it greatly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Reducing blood-sugar levels through diet and exercise also reduces your heart-disease risk.

• Stop smoking. Stop smoking. “It’s the single best thing you can do for your heart – and your overall health,” says Dave. He suggests talking to your doctor about new treatments to help you quit for good.

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Lifelong Physical Activity Increases Bone Density in Men

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Men have many reasons to add high-impact and resistance training to their exercise regimens; these reasons include building muscle and shedding fat. Now a University of Missouri researcher has determined another significant benefit to these activities: building bone mass. The study found that individuals who continuously participated in high-impact activities, such as jogging and tennis, during adolescence and young adulthood, had greater hip and lumbar spine bone mineral density than those who did not.

“While osteoporosis is commonly associated with only post-menopausal women, it is, in fact, a serious issue for men as well,” said Pamela Hinton, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences. “Indeed, research has shown that the consequences of osteoporosis can be much worse for men, as they are less likely to be diagnosed and are at a greater mortality risk from fractures that occur as a result of a fall.”

In studying factors that protect against osteoporosis for men, Hinton aimed to understand the connection between bone-loading exercise during adolescence and young adulthood when the skeleton is still growing and bone mass in middle age. In the study, Hinton analyzed data from the physical histories of 203 males aged 30-65 years. Participants’ sports and exercise histories varied, both in type and level of activity, and the length of time spent doing various physical activities also differed.

Hinton’s research found that exercise-associated bone loading during adolescence and young adulthood benefited bone density in adulthood. Moreover, she found that high-impact activity during growth and adulthood is an important determinant for bone health later in life.

“The most important take-away is that if you are healthy, it is never too late to begin high-impact activities or resistance training to improve bone mineral density,” Hinton said. “While activity during skeletal growth is significant, we also saw positive associations between such physical activity and bone density at all ages. So even middle-aged men who spent their teenage years sitting on the couch could see benefits from beginning a bone-strengthening exercise program.”

The study, “Physical activity-associated bone loading during adolescence and young adulthood is positively associated with adult bone mineral density in men,” was published in the American Journal of Men’s Health. The National Institutes of Health, the University of Missouri Research Board, and the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Summer Research Internship provided funds for the study.


Posted in Exercise: Benefits, Osteoporosis | Leave a comment

How obesity promotes pancreatic and breast cancer

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators may have uncovered a novel mechanism behind the ability of obesity to promote cancer progression.  In their report published online in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, the research team describes finding an association between obesity and an overabundance of a factor called PlGF (placental growth factor) and that PlGF’s binding to its receptor VEGFR-1, which is expressed on immune cells within tumors, promotes tumor progression. Their findings in cellular and animal models, as well as in patient tumor samples, indicate that targeting the PlGF/ VEGFR-1 pathway may be particularly effective in obese patients.

“We found that obesity increased infiltration of tumor-promoting immune cells and the growth and metastasis of pancreatic cancers,” says Dai Fukumura, MD, PhD, of the Steele Laboratory of Tumor Biology in the MGH Department of Radiation Oncology, the study’s co-senior author. “Blocking VEGFR-1 signaling shifted the immune environment towards prevention of tumor progression in obese but not in lean mice in both pancreatic and breast cancer models.  We also found that PlGF was present in excess in obesity and that reduction of PlGF produced similar results to VEGFR-1 inhibition in the tumors of obese mice.”

The study focused on the effects of obesity on pancreatic and breast cancer, since more than half of those diagnosed with such tumors are overweight or obese. In addition, a number of large-scale studies have found that obesity leads to an increased risk of death in pancreatic, breast and other types of cancer. But prior to the current study the mechanism of obesity-induced pancreatic and breast cancer progression was unclear.

The researchers first found that obesity was associated with increased tumor inflammation and infiltration with immunosuppressive tumor-associated macrophages. They discovered that targeting VEGFR-1 could affect the activity of tumor-associated macrophages, alter the immunosuppressive tumor environment and prevent acceleration of tumor growth in obese mice, a result that reflects the overexpression in obesity of PlGF, a molecule that binds to VEGFR-1. They also found that targeting the PlGF/VEGFR-1 interaction prevents weight gain in a genetically obese mouse model but worsens a diabetes-like condition, a worsening that was alleviated by use of the common diabetes drug metformin, which also had beneficial anti-tumor effects.

“With the majority of pancreatic and breast cancer patients being overweight or obese at diagnosis, uncovering potential therapeutic targets within the mechanisms that associate obesity with poor cancer prognoses is the first step towards developing remedies that could disrupt this association and significantly improve patient outcome,” says co-senior author Rakesh K. Jain, PhD, director of the Steele Laboratory. “The fact that this new mechanism underlies obesity’s impact on two types of cancer suggests that it may be a common mechanism of tumor induction that could apply to other cancer types.”

Joao Incio, MD, of the Steele lab, lead author of the study, adds, “Understanding the way that obesity affects pancreatic and other cancers may help us identify biomarkers – such as body weight and increased levels of PlGF – that could identify patients for whom anti-VEGFR-1 treatment would be most beneficial. In addition, we should incorporate body weight into the design of pre-clinical studies in order to better reflect the lack of response to novel targeted therapies such as anti-VEGF. Targeting inflammation holds the promise to improve the clinical outcome of a major subset of cancer patients.”

Fukumura is an associate professor of Radiation Oncology, and Jain is the Cook Professor of Tumor Biology at Harvard Medical School.  Jain is among nine recipients of the 2016 National Medal of Science.  Incio, a postdoctoral fellow in the Steele Laboratories, recently received a prestigious American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Scholar-in-Training award to present this work at the 2016 annual AACR meeting.

Additional co-authors include Joshua Tam, PhD, Nuh Rahbari, MD, Priya Suboj, PhD, Daniel McManus, Shan Chin, MSc, and other members of the Steele lab. The study involved collaboration with researchers at other institutions, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Department of Medical Oncology, the MGH Department of Radiology, Jobu University in Japan, the Vesalius Research Center in Belgium, and Porto University in Portugal. The work was supported by National Institutes of Health grants R35-CA197743, CA080124, CA085140, CA096915, CA115767 and CA126642; Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Innovator Award W81XWH-10-1-0016, and grants from the Lustgarten Foundation, the Warshaw Institute for Pancreatic Cancer Research, and the Foundation for Science and Technology of Portugal.

Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $800 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, reproductive biology, systems biology, transplantation biology and photomedicine. In July 2015, MGH returned into the number one spot on the 2015-16 U.S. News & World Report list of “America’s Best Hospitals.”


Posted in Cancer: Breast, Cancer: Pancreatic, Obesity | Leave a comment

Vitamin D-rich foods during pregnancy may reduce allergy risk in children

Higher intake of foods containing vitamin D during pregnancy – but not supplemental vitamin D intake – was associated with reduced risk of development of allergies in children, according to a study led by an investigator from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published today in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The research team conducted a prospective study of 1,248 mothers and their children in the United States over time, from the first trimester of pregnancy until the children reached about 7 years old. They found that higher intake of food-based vitamin D (equivalent to the amount of vitamin D in an 8-ounce serving of milk per day) during pregnancy was associated with 20 percent less hay fever at school age. There was no risk reduction linked to vitamin D intake by supplement.

“Expectant mothers have questions about what they should eat during pregnancy, and our study shows that it’s important to consider the source of nutrients in a mother’s diet,” said Supinda Bunyavanich, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences and The Mindich Child Health and Development Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Foods that contain vitamin D include fish, eggs, dairy products, mushrooms and cereals.

Vitamin D modulates the immune system, and its potential role in asthma and allergy has been of interest. Many prior studies have examined vitamin D and allergy outcomes at single points in time, but this study comprehensively assessed vitamin D levels at multiple points (during pregnancy, at birth and at school age) and by different methods (food frequency questionnaire and tests of serum 25(OH)D levels in both the mothers and school-age children).

“This study may influence nutritional counseling and recommendations to expectant moms to include vitamin D-rich foods in their diets,” said Bunyavanich.


The National Institutes of Health supported this research. Collaborating institutions included Harvard Medical School, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and University of Virginia Health System.

Video of Dr. Bunyavanich discussing her research can be found at this link:


Posted in Allergies, Nutrition: Vitamin D, Pregnancy | Leave a comment

8 Secrets for Valentine’s Day Love

Newswise — Karl Pillemer, a family sociologist in Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, has spent the last five years surveying more than 700 older people about love, relationships and marriage. Some have been together happily for a half-century or more – making them true experts on how to find love and make it last. Here are eight of their secrets for finding true love and maintaining it for a lifetime – just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Pillemer says:

Friendship is as important as love. The romantic spark is important, but over the long term there has to be something more, and that is friendship. One thing this means is the ability to embrace your partner’s interests, even if you aren’t initially particularly interested. For example, a woman in her mid-70s spent decades as a resentful “golf widow,” but then took up the sport with her husband. He told her that had fulfilled a life dream for him. Or take the husband who finally agreed to go to the ballet and opera with his wife – and liked it! Rather than fighting about competing interests, figure out how you can share them in a meaningful way.

Think small. Make it a daily habit to perform small, positive actions. The elders offer a key tip: Do your partner’s chore unexpectedly. It’s your husband’s turn to pick up the kid at day care, but you know he’s had a hard day, so you offer to do it. Or the dog is scratching at the bedroom door on a freezing winter morning; it’s your wife’s turn to walk him, but you quietly get up and take him out. Those small, kind gestures are “money in the bank” for a relationship. Don’t forget things like simple politeness – the
“good manners” we use with others, but forget at home. A marriage is made up of hundreds of “micro-interactions” every day – the elders say keep them positive and kind and you’re likely to last as long as they have.

Intimacy grows. The elders are mystified about why young people worry about sex in the later years of marriage. First, my studies show that for many older couples, intimacy doesn’t die and sometimes gets better. And as people grow older, I found that the concept of sex expands to include many kinds of intimacy, like the importance of touching and holding. They told me that in a long relationship, when you are changing together the spark changes too – but doesn’t die. However, they do have one recommendation for keeping the sexual spark alive: stay in shape!

Is he or she right for me? The elders have clear tips for deciding whether a person is the one with whom you want to spend a lifetime. Before you commit, they say, do something challenging that puts you out of your comfort zone – it could be a strenuous camping trip, or even painting a room together. They also suggest asking old-fashioned questions once you decide you are in love: Do we share similar values? Will he or she be financially responsible and able to hold down a job? Do we both want children? And they offer a warning sign: If no one else likes your prospective partner, be sure to find out why! Elders in troubled marriages wish they had listened to others’ warnings before committing.

Lifelong marriage is hard – but worth it. The elders want young people to be optimistic about marriage. Despite gloom and doom in the media, I talked to hundreds of people who made it to the finish line of marriage – and it was the best part of their lives. They want people starting out to know that marriage for a lifetime is hard – it takes spirit, discipline, and resilience. But they also say that it’s incredibly good, and worth striving for.

Before you decide to get married, ask: Is he or she going to be a “good provider?” Okay, you’re in love. You’ve followed your heart. But now follow your head. Do your “due diligence.” Your economic lives will be bound up together for a lifetime. So ask: Can they hold down a job? Do they have a good work ethic? Can they manage money? As one 90 year old told me: If you pinch pennies and he’s a free spender, you are out of luck.

Once you are married, learn to hate debt. These Depression-era folks saw the horrific consequences of too much debt. Money is one of the most heated topics in marriage. The elders say that simply avoiding debt will stress and keep you from money-related fights.

Experiences and people over things. Looking back from 90 or 100 the elders say – buying stuff is totally not memorable. However, experiences like trips, or time spent with loved ones, make blissful memories. So a choice between a fancy car and life changing experiences is an easy one – spend on experiences as a couple.

Posted in Human Behavior: Friendship, Human Behavior: Love, Marriage | 1 Comment

Elderly patients rarely included in decision to use intensive care

(Reuters Health) – According to a study of 15 emergency departments, patients over age 80 who are admitted to intensive care are often not asked their opinion about admission.

“The relationship between physicians and their patients has changed over the last decades and patients’ empowerment has led to a greater self autonomy in medical decisions,” but apparently not when it comes to moving elderly patients into an intensive care unit, said lead author Dr. Julien Le Guen of Universite Paris Descartes in France.

Legally, no medical decision should be made without the patient’s consent, Le Guen told Reuters Health by email. But based on the results of his team’s study, there seems to be a discrepancy between what doctors say is important, like the patient’s opinion, and what they actually do.

The researchers used data from a previous study of patients over age 80 who came to emergency rooms at 15 hospitals in the Paris region between 2004 and 2006. All had conditions potentially requiring intensive care, and all were conscious and capable of expressing an opinion if asked.

The emergency room physicians filled out a questionnaire on each patient’s status and treatments, the number of available intensive care beds, the physician’s years of experience, and whether or not relatives were consulted.





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Factor that may trigger type 1 diabetes found

AURORA, Colo. (Feb. 11, 2016) – A team of researchers, led by investigators at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, have identified a new class of antigens that may be a contributing factor to type 1 diabetes, according to an article published in the current issue of the journal Science.

In autoimmune disease, the key question is why the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. Type 1 diabetes is the autoimmune form of diabetes, in which insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed by immune cells, especially those known as T cells. Insulin is the hormone that regulates levels of glucose in the blood and without insulin, a life-threatening disease results. Currently, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes.

“Our lab studies the type of T cell known as a CD4 T cell,” said Kathryn Haskins, PhD, professor of immunology and microbiology and corresponding author of the article. “We have focused on autoreactive CD4 T cells using a mouse model of autoimmune diabetes. We have been especially interested in identifying the antigens that activate these T cells.”

Antigens for T cells are pieces of proteins, or protein fragments (peptides) that have to be taken up and presented to the T cells by antigen-presenting cells. Normally, a CD4 T cell is supposed to respond to “foreign” antigens, like a viral peptide. But in autoimmune disease the T cells respond to antigens that are generated in the body. Such proteins and peptides are called autoantigens.

When an autoreactive T cell sees its antigen, it becomes activated and can initiate disease. By identifying those antigens, scientists may be able to use that information to detect autoreactive T cells early in disease, or better yet, in at-risk individuals. If they are able to use the antigens to turn off destructive T cells, they may be able to prevent the disease.

Haskins and others, including fellow corresponding author Thomas Delong, PhD, assistant professor of immunology and microbiology, conducted experiments to analyze the fractions of beta cells that contain antigen for autoreactive CD4 T cells in order to identify autoantigens in type 1 diabetes. They discovered a new class of antigens that consist of insulin fragments fused to peptides of other proteins present in beta cells. That fusion leads to generation of hybrid insulin peptides that are not encoded in an individual’s genome.

If peptides in the body are modified from their original form, they essentially become “foreign” to the immune system and this may explain why they become targets for the autoreactive T cells. The discovery of hybrid peptides as targets of the immune system provides a plausible explanation of how the immune system is tricked into destroying the body’s own beta cells. The discovery may also lead to a better understanding of other autoimmune diseases.


The article, “Pathogenic CD4 T cells in type 1 diabetes recognize epitopes formed by peptide fusion,” lists 18 co-authors. Funding for the research was provided by the National Institutes of Health, an American Diabetes Association Pathway to Stop Diabetes Grant, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Operational Infrastructure Support Program from the Victorian State Government of Australia and the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

About the University of Colorado School of Medicine

Faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine work to advance science and improve care. These faculty members include physicians, educators and scientists at University of Colorado Health, Children’s Hospital Colorado, Denver Health, National Jewish Health, and the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The school is located on the Anschutz Medical Campus, one of four campuses in the University of Colorado system. To learn more about the medical school’s care, education, research and community engagement, visit its web site.


Posted in Diabetes: Type 1 | Leave a comment

Male Biology Students Consistently Underestimate Female Peers, Study Finds

Newswise — Female college students are more likely to abandon studies in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines than their male classmates, and new research from the University of Washington suggests that those male peers may play a key role in undermining their confidence.

Published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, the study* found that males enrolled in undergraduate biology classes consistently ranked their male classmates as more knowledgeable about course content, even over better-performing female students.

The over-ranking equated to males ranking their male peers smarter by three-quarters of a GPA point* than their equally-performing female classmates, showing what researchers say amounts to a clear and consistent gender bias. Female students, on the other hand, repeatedly showed no significant bias in whom they picked as knowledgeable.

“This shows that there is a huge inequity in who male students think is strong in the class materials,” said lead author Dan Grunspan, a doctoral candidate in the UW Department of Anthropology.

“Males were consistently nominated as being more knowledgeable by their male peers, regardless of performance.”

The study involved surveying around 1,700 UW students enrolled in the same undergraduate biology course. Students in three classes were asked to name the classmates they considered strongest in their understanding of class materials at multiple points in the course. Additionally, instructors were surveyed on which students were most outspoken in class — an effort to determine which students would be most visible to other students as knowledgeable, given the large class size. More males than females were considered outspoken by the instructors, the researchers found.

Even after accounting for differences in performance and outspokenness, male students got more recognition from other males than their female peers did, and the finding was consistent across 11 different class surveys. For an outspoken female student to be nominated by males at the same level as a male student, her performance would need to be more than three-quarters of a GPA point* higher than the males.

“Using UW’s standard grade scale, that’s like believing a male with a B and a female with an A* have the same ability,” said co-lead author Sarah Eddy, who participated in the research as a UW postdoctoral biology researcher and is now a research scientist at the University of Texas, Austin.

On the other hand, females nominated their male and female peers almost equitably across all the surveys, after controlling for differences in performance and outspokenness. The researchers determined that the female bias was so small it could have arisen by chance, and they estimate that gender bias among male students was 19 times stronger than among females. The top three most-nominated students in all classes were male, even though there were also outspoken female students in the class with the same grades.

The findings are troubling, said Eddy, since peer support is a key factor in retaining women in STEM fields.

“To stay in STEM you have to believe you can do it, and one of the things that can convince you of that is your peers saying you can do it,” she said.

“Helping students find peers who believe in them is really important, especially for women, because they’re not likely to get that from males in their class.”

The paper grew from research Eddy and other UW biology colleagues were doing on gender disparities in biology education. A previous study by the group found male students entering biology with the same GPA level as their female peers performed better in introductory biology. They also found that female students generally felt less comfortable speaking up in class.

Grunspan, meanwhile, was doing research on how undergraduates form study networks. He initially wasn’t focused on the gender makeup of those networks, but noticed a pattern of male students viewing their male peers as being stronger in course materials. As he dug further into the data, that pattern became even more pronounced.

“I realized that there was a really big problem,” Grunspan said. “Something is going on in the classroom that is either being influenced by currently held implicit biases or that is helping build implicit biases. We need to be thinking about what that means for the future.

“Students are the future policymakers in the country,” he said. “They are the people who will someday be responsible for hiring and making other important decisions. Because these are millennials showing this pattern, it means the age-old problem of gender bias may not go away simply because we have a new generation in charge.”

Previous research has focused on gender biases among faculty in STEM disciplines, but less is known about how current college students perceive women in STEM and how their views might impact female students. The researchers focused on biology, since females and males enroll equally in biology courses at the undergraduate level. The gender bias their study revealed, they say, could be even more pronounced in other STEM disciplines.

“Given that we typically think of biology as a STEM field without a gender gap, you could imagine that other fields like physics or mathematics or engineering, which numerically are very dominated by males, would have an even stronger effect than what we’re finding,” Eddy said.

The researchers say gender bias in the classroom could be mitigated through simple measures such as fostering female study groups, using randomized class lists to call on students to participate and creating small-group discussions to establish a less intimidating environment for women.

But changing systemic gender biases, Eddy acknowledged, is a difficult challenge. The study’s authors and their colleagues are addressing that challenge through ongoing research that they hope will help inform inclusive teaching practices.

“As science instructors at the college level, you can only affect so much,” she said. “There’s been at least 18 years of socialization. You do what you can to interrupt that.”

Other co-authors are Sara Brownell, an assistant professor of biology at Arizona State University, Tempe; Benjamin Wiggins, an instructional coordinator in the UW Department of Biology; Alison Crowe, a member of the UW Biology Education Research Group; and Steven Goodreau, a UW associate professor of anthropology.

(*Note: the researchers are in the process of correcting an error in the study. The over-ranking of male students by their male peers equated to a GPA increase of .765, as reported in the Results section of the study, not .57, as reported in the Abstract section at the start of the study.)


The full study is available at:

Posted in Human Behavior: Bias, Human Behavior: Gender Differences | Leave a comment

Here’s some perspective: Gastornis, a giant flightless bird, wandered the Arctic 53 million years ago

It’s official: There really was a giant, flightless bird with a head the size of a horse’s wandering about in the winter twilight of the high Arctic some 53 million years ago.


The confirmation comes from a new study by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the University of Colorado Boulder that describes the first and only fossil evidence from the Arctic of a massive bird known as Gastornis. The evidence is a single fossil toe bone of the 6-foot tall, several-hundred-pound bird from Ellesmere Island above the Arctic Circle. The bone is nearly a dead ringer to fossil toe bones from the huge bird discovered in Wyoming and which date to roughly the same time.

The Gastornis (formerly Diatryma) fossil from Ellesmere Island has been discussed by paleontologists since it was collected in the 1970s and appears on a few lists of the prehistoric fauna there, said Professor Thomas Stidham of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. But this is the first time the bone has been closely examined and described, he said. Gastornis fossils also have been found in Europe and Asia.

“We knew there were a few bird fossils from up there, but we also knew they were extremely rare,” said Eberle, an associate professor in geological sciences who conducts research on fossil mammals, reptiles and fishes. In addition to the Gastornis bone from Ellesmere, another scientist reported seeing a fossil footprint there, probably from a large flightless bird, although its specific location remains unknown, Eberle said.

A paper by Stidham and Eberle appears in the most recent issue of Scientific Reports, an open access, weekly journal from the publishers of Nature.

About 53 three million years ago during the early Eocene Epoch, the environment of Ellesmere Island was probably similar to cypress swamps in the southeast U.S. today, Eberle said. Fossil evidence indicates the island, which is adjacent to Greenland, hosted turtles, alligators, primates, tapirs and even large hippo-like and rhino-like mammals.

Today Ellesmere Island is one of the coldest, driest environments on Earth, where temperatures can drop to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit in winter, said Eberle, also the curator of paleontology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

Originally thought to be a fearsome carnivore, recent research indicates Gastornis probably was a vegan, using its huge beak to tear at foliage, nuts, seeds and hard fruit.

A second Ellesmere Island bird from the early Eocene also is described by Stidham and Eberle in the new paper. Named Presbyornis, it was similar to birds in today’s duck, goose and swan family but with long, flamingo-like legs. The evidence was a single humerus, or upper wing bone, collected by the same paleontology team that found the Gastornis bone.

Like Gastornis, Presbyornis was mentioned in several lists of Ellesmere Island fauna over the years but the bone had never been described, said Stidham.

Stidham compared casts of Presbyornis bones excavated in ancient Wyoming to the single bone from Ellesmere Island, including all of the marks for muscle attachments. “I couldn’t tell the Wyoming specimens from the Ellesmere specimen, even though it was found roughly 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) to the north,” he said.

While the diversity of plants and animals on Ellesmere was surprisingly high in the early Eocene, one of the biggest challenges to life on the island may have been the Arctic winters, said Eberle. “Since Ellesmere Island is high above the Arctic Circle, the lights still went out there for several months of the year, just as they do today.”

It is not known whether Presbyornis migrated north to Ellesmere Island every year or lived there year-round, said Stidham. “Given the fossils we have, both hypotheses are possible,” he said. “There are some sea ducks today that spend the winter in the cold, freezing Arctic, and we see many more species of waterfowl that are only in the Arctic during the relatively warmer spring and summer months.”

The paleontology team working on Ellesmere Island in the 1970s and who found the Gastornis and Presbyornis bones in the 1970s included Mary Dawson, Robert “Mac” West, Howard Hutchinson and Malcolm McKenna.

The new study has implications for the rapidly warming Arctic climate, primarily a result of greenhouse gases being pumped into Earth’s atmosphere by humans.

“Permanent Arctic ice, which has been around for millennia, is on track to disappear,” Eberle said. “I’m not suggesting there will be a return of alligators and giant tortoises to Ellesmere Island any time soon. But what we know about past warm intervals in the Arctic can give us a much better idea about what to expect in terms of changing plant and animal populations there in the future.”


The study was funded in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Natural Science Foundation.

Posted in Environmental Health: North Pole, Paleontology | Leave a comment

Gastric bypass after age 35 extends life for the obese population

(Reuters Health) – Obese people who undergo a certain kind of weight-loss operation after age 35 may live longer than obese people of the same age who don’t have the surgery, a study suggests.

The findings, reported in JAMA Surgery, show that the so-called gastric bypass operation is associated with a mortality benefit along with its better-known “metabolic” benefits, said lead author Lance Davidson, of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

He told Reuters Health the benefit is “pretty significant and pretty convincing.”

In a gastric bypass procedure – formally known as Roux-en-Y gastric bypass – surgeons reduce the size of the stomach and also reconstruct the gastrointestinal tract so that food will bypass part of the intestines as it’s being digested.

Past research has found weight loss surgeries are tied to reduced deaths from any cause, cancer and heart disease. Those studies left several unanswered questions, however.

Specifically, why are deaths from so-called external causes – like accidents and poisoning – more common among people who have weight loss surgery? Also, does the reduced risk of death apply to older people undergoing weight loss surgeries?

For the new study, the researchers studied 7,925 patients who had gastric bypass between 1984 and 2002, and 7,925 similarly obese patients who didn’t have surgery.




Posted in Obesity, Obesity: Bariatric Surgery | Leave a comment

Thermography determines whether a person is in love or not

Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR) belonging to the Research Centre for the Mind, Brain and Behaviour (Centro de Investgación Mente, Cerebro y Comportamiento, CIMCYC) have developed a method, based on thermography, that allows to objectively find if a person is in love or not.

Their work has determined the thermal changes the bodies of the participants experienced when they contemplated an image of the person they love. This represents the world’s first “love’s thermal map”, in the authors’ words.

For this work, the UGR researchers analyzed the thermal differences between the subjects that were exposed to photos of their loved ones as opposed to those who contemplated images which produced in them an emotive response other than love (anxiety, calm, empathy…).

60 people participated in this research, healthy men and women between 24 and 47 years old, which declared to be in love in a romantic way (with passion and intimacy) and to have started a relationship few weeks earlier.

After going into the laboratory of thermography, the subjects were naked for 20 minutes in order to get acclimatized, and then they were taken their basal temperature. In different sessions, the main group watched, in a computer’s screen, photos of their love relationship, chosen by them. The control group, for their part, watched images taken from the International System of Affective Images, which produced anxiety; or photos of family and friends.

The results showed that love increases in two degrees Celsius the temperature of cheeks, hands, chest, genitals, and around the mouth. However, the authors warn that “love’s thermal pattern is very complex”, given that it includes the co-existence of passion and sexual desire (or the lack of it), in contrast with the predominance of empathy and intimacy or compromise and social contract, for example.

In the last years, researchers from the CMCYS’s Laboratory of Thermography directed by UGR professors Emilio Gómez Milán and Francisco Tornay Mejías have managed to construct the thermal map of complex feelings such us love, happiness or empathy and also of basic emotions such as joy, sadness, fear or wrath.

“Thermography shows us that passion increases the temperature around hands and face whereas empathy (the ability of ‘tuning in’ with the other as a person, not just as an object of desire) decreases it, especially in the nose. It’s as if passion was an accelerator that turns our body on, and empathy was a brake to that activation”, says professor Emilio Gómez Milán. In brief, romantic love would be a mix of passion and empathy.

The cold stress test

Nowadays, the UGR researchers are working on another method known as ‘cold stress test’, frequently used in Medicine for treating diseases like Parkinson’s. This method consists in introducing the dominant hand (depending on the subject being right or left-handed) in a bowl with water at 0 ºC for two minutes. Afterward, they dry the hand and film it for six minutes (the time necessary for a healthy person to recover the hand’s normal temperature).

“In the case of young people in love, we have observed that when contemplating images of the loved one during the thermal recovery, said recovery is accelerated and complete after four minutes because love accelerates vasodilation, whereas watching anxiety-generating images, delays thermal recovery, as it produces vasoconstriction”, says Emilio Gómez Milán.

In the last years, this same research team belonging to the UGR has applied thermography to the field of Psychology, for example, to determine the so called ‘Pinocchio effect’ (which shows that the temperature of the nose changes when people lie), objectively measuring the duende of flamenco dancers (or ‘bailaores’) or the mental pain associated with the so called ‘mirror-touch synesthesia’.

This Sunday, February 14, we celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, Lovers’ Day, all around the world.


Posted in Human Behavior: Love | Leave a comment

Supportive shoes a confusing term, runner attitude study finds

New running shoes to burn off Christmas excess are a popular purchase in the New Year, but the terms associated with supportive footwear and alternative styles of running can be confusing, a new study has found.

In what they believe is a first of its kind study, University of Manchester psychologists conducted in-depth interviews with eight recreational runners to find out their attitudes to barefoot and minimalist running (minimalist shoes are designed to mimic running barefoot).

They found that there were strong negative reactions to barefoot running, with the interviewees concerned about risks regarding support and injury, without being clear what these might be.

Trusted sources of information about potential risks included shops which provided gait analysis, blogs and also anecdotal evidence from fellow runners.  Health professionals and scientific research tended to be disregarded.

Most runners buy supportive trainers – but don’t have a common or clear definition of what they are buying, leading to confusion even amongst the more experienced runners featured in the study.

Peter Walton carried out the study. He said: “When you buy supportive trainers is what you’re buying different to everyone else? Ultimately if there is no clear definition, then people don’t know that their shoes are meeting their expectations.

“Conversely, barefoot running has been used by humans for hundreds of thousands of years, yet running shoes as we know them were only introduced in 1972. Attitudes to barefoot running also centre around negative perceptions of the loose term ‘support’, yet without a foundation in evidence.”

With around 25% of all recreational runners injured at any one time the researchers believe that the findings are important to help people make the best choices and have the best access to information.

Peter added: “People often have inconsistent ideas about barefoot and minimalist running, which are often formed by potentially biased sources and which may lead people to make poor decisions about barefoot and minimalist running. It is important to provide high-quality information to enable better decisions to be made about barefoot and minimalist running.”

The paper, ‘What do people think about running barefoot/with minimalist footwear? A Thematic Analysis,’ appeared in the British Journal of Health Psychology.

What do people think about running barefoot/with minimalist footwear? A thematic analysis
British Journal of Health Psychology
Peter D. Walton, David P. French
DOI: 10.1111/bjhp.12180


Posted in Barefoot Running, Fitness: Running, Podiatry | Leave a comment

Diabetics who use verapamil have lower glucose levels

Newswise — BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A new University of Alabama at Birmingham research paper published in the journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice shows for the first time that there is an association of verapamil use and lower fasting glucose levels in humans with diabetes. It is a promising finding at UAB, where the Comprehensive Diabetes Center is currently conducting a first-of-its-kind, JDRF-funded clinical trial using verapamil, a drug that researchers in the School of Medicine have shown completely reverses the disease in mice models.

Yulia Khodneva M.D., Ph.D., a research associate and postdoctoral scholar in UAB’s Division of Preventive Medicine and junior member of the Comprehensive Diabetes Center, examined the association of calcium channel blockers and verapamil use with fasting serum glucose among almost 5,000 adults with diabetes who were part of the REGARDS study. The Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke project, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, is a national study focusing on learning more about the factors that increase a person’s risk of having cardiovascular disease.

The sample of diabetic adults included 1,484 calcium channel blocker users, of whom 174 were verapamil users. The findings showed that calcium channel blocker users had 5 mg/dL lower serum glucose compared to non-users. Verapamil users had on average 10 mg/dL lower serum glucose compared to calcium channel blocker non-users. And the numbers showed a substantially greater difference among insulin users who also took verapamil. Verapamil users who took insulin in combination with oral medication had a 24 mg/dL lower serum glucose, and verapamil users who took insulin alone to manage their diabetes showed a 37 mg/dL lower serum glucose.

“This is a cross-sectional observational study unlike the current prospective randomized UAB verapamil clinical trial, so we can’t infer causal relationship between using verapamil and lower glucose levels; but we can say there is an association with lower glucose levels, and that is absolutely encouraging,” Khodneva said.

Khodneva says the findings in the final subgroup, which used insulin alone and included participants who had mostly Type 1 or severe Type 2 diabetes, were quite striking.

“The change in glucose for that group compared to those not taking verapamil — 37 mg/dL — is almost four times higher than when you look at the whole sample of diabetic adults,” Khodneva said. “That made us think that verapamil is predominantly active for participants who have Type 1 diabetes or those with Type 2 diabetes who have really damaged beta cells. There seems to be something that works on the structural level, especially for those who have stronger beta-cell damage.”

“Dr. Khodneva has done a tremendous job analyzing these large data sets and discovering for the first time that verapamil use is associated with lower glucose levels in patients with diabetes,” said Anath Shalev, M.D., director of UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center and principal investigator of the verapamil clinical trial. “Strikingly, the observed difference in glucose levels is comparable to an approximately 1 percent reduction in HbA1C and to what would be expected from the addition of an approved diabetes drug. Moreover, the large difference in glucose levels especially in the groups taking insulin is consistent with our underlying hypothesis that verapamil promotes functional beta-cell mass.”

UAB announced its verapamil clinical trial in November 2014 and began enrolling patients in January 2015. The first results that will assess verapamil’s effectiveness on Type 1 diabetes are still approximately 18 months away.

The trial is testing an approach different from any current diabetes treatment by focusing on promoting pancreatic beta cells, which produce insulin the body needs to control blood sugar. UAB scientists have proved through years of research that high blood sugar causes the body to overproduce a protein called TXNIP, which is increased within the beta cells in response to diabetes, but had never previously been known to be important in beta-cell biology. Too much TXNIP in the pancreatic beta cells leads to their death and thwarts the body’s efforts to produce insulin, thereby contributing to the progression of diabetes.

But UAB scientists have also uncovered that verapamil, which is widely used to treat high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and migraine headaches, can lower TXNIP levels by decreasing calcium concentration in the beta cells — to the point that, when mouse models with established diabetes and blood sugars above 300 milligrams per deciliter were treated with verapamil, the disease was eradicated. See an animation of how this works here.

The trial will enroll 52 people between the ages of 18 and 45 who are within three months of receiving a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. More than 20 people have enrolled so far, and more participants are needed. For more information or to enroll, contact UAB at 205-934-4112 or

Posted in Diabetes, Verapamil | Leave a comment

Feeling older increases risk of hospitalization, study says

WASHINGTON — People who feel older than their peers are more likely to be hospitalized as they age, regardless of their actual age or other demographic factors, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“How old you feel matters. Previous research has shown it can affect your well-being and other health-related factors and, now we know it can predict your likelihood of ending up in the hospital,” said the study’s lead author, Yannick Stephan, PhD, of the University of Montpellier in France. The research, which comprised more than 10,000 adults across the U.S., was published in the journal Health Psychology.

Despite previous studies showing an association between health-related issues and subjective age, this is the first study to test whether feeling older is linked to a higher risk of hospitalization, according to the article. Stephan and co-authors Angelina R. Sutin, PhD, and Antonio Terracciano, PhD, of Florida State University, analyzed data from three longitudinal studies conducted from 1995 to 2013 with participants ranging in age from 24 to 102. They found that those who reported feeling older than their actual age had a 10 to 25 percent increased likelihood of being hospitalized over the next two to 10 years when controlling for age, gender, race and education. The findings replicated across the three samples.

Further analysis showed that having more depressive symptoms and poorer health helped explain the link between feeling older and being hospitalized. “Feeling older is associated with poorer physical and mental health, but also with physiological impairments that may result in illness and health service use over time,” said Sutin.

Participants were drawn from the Midlife in the United States Survey, the Health and Retirement Study and the National Health and Aging Trends Study. In each sample, the participant’s subjective age was assessed by asking each participant how old he or she felt at the beginning of the study. Researchers also asked them to provide information about previously diagnosed health conditions (i.e., high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, lung disease, heart condition, stroke, osteoporosis or arthritis). Participants also answered a questionnaire designed to assess symptoms of depression. At the beginning and at various follow-up periods, subjects reported if they had been hospitalized for any reason, either over the last year in two samples or over the last two years for the other.

“In addition, individuals with an older subjective age are more likely to be sedentary and to experience faster cognitive decline, all of which may precipitate a hospital stay” said Terracciano.

“Taken as a whole, this study suggests that subjective age, along with demographic, cognitive, behavioral and health-related factors, could be a valuable tool to help identify individuals at risk of future hospitalization,” said Stephan. “People who feel older may benefit from standard health treatments — for example through physical activity and exercise programs, which may reduce their risk of depression and chronic disease, and ultimately their hospitalization risk.”


Article: “Feeling Older and Risk of Hospitalization: Evidence From Three Longitudinal Cohorts,” by Yannick Stephan, PhD, University of Montpellier; and Angelina R. Sutin, PhD, and Antonio Terracciano, PhD, Florida State University, Health Psychology, published online Feb. 11, 2016.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at


Posted in Aging, Elder Care, Longevity | Leave a comment

Ebola, Zika and More: Designing One Test to Catch Them All

Zika virus infections are raising concerns about a form of fetal brain damage known as microcephaly. With the World Health Organization recently declaring it a global health emergency, scientists are working to better understand the virus – including how to diagnose it quickly to prevent further spread.

We’ve seen this pattern before: Last year’s Ebola and chikungunya outbreaks infected thousands as health care workers scrambled to properly diagnose patients. With a tiny sequencing machine that plugs into a laptop’s USB port, UC San Francisco’s Charles Chiu, MD PhD, aims to fix that – and catch the next wave before it strikes.

Aedes mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting the Zika virus. Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia Commons

“We’re not targeting one specific pathogen. We’re developing a device that can detect all pathogens – virus, bacteria, fungus, parasite known or unknown – in a single test,” said Chiu, an associate professor of Laboratory Medicine and director of the UCSF-Abbott Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center.

In the past, researchers and clinicians have relied on a “one bug, one test” formula, designing a custom diagnostic for each new disease as needed. Flu tests were improved after the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, and several labs are now working on better tests for Ebola after the 2014 epidemic.

Despite these efforts, many patients remain undiagnosed even in the U.S. In more than half of all cases of encephalitis or meningitis and about one-third of respiratory infections, the disease-causing pathogen is never identified. Instead, patients are treated with a cluster of therapies that generally target their symptoms.

Although this strategy works in most cases, it fails in the face of an outbreak because we’re often unprepared to deal with a new, previously unrecognized threat. That’s the problem the new technology, using a technique called nanopore sequencing, will address.

The small sequencer, manufactured by Oxford Nanopore Technologies, and laptop-based analysis can be put to work anywhere, even in a field laboratory in a remote village. So when the next patient walks in with alarming, mysterious symptoms, clinicians can pin down its cause within hours. Unlike traditional genetic tests that take days or even weeks, this technology churns out data within minutes of a sample being loaded into the sequencer.

This tiny sequencing machine that plugs into a laptop’s USB port could help diagnose infections anywhere, even in a field laboratory in a remote village. Photo by Elisabeth Fall

Having a genetic sequence handy would mean clinicians and public health officials can quickly identify whether it’s a known pathogen, or even something they’ve never encountered before. The method could quicken diagnosis for affected patients, and help to put preventive measures in place to stop an epidemic before it spreads.

Chiu’s lab has already tested the technology on Ebola and chikungunya virus, and has recently received samples of Zika virus to extend their studies.

A researcher in Chiu’s lab, Sneha Somasekar, will be traveling to collaborating sites in South America, West Africa and the Caribbean to deploy the technology where it is most needed. If successful, the test could soon be in put into use in Brazil, which has been ground zero for Zika.

“We’re always a step behind the next disease that emerges from the jungle or the hinterland,” said Chiu. “With a universal diagnostic such as this, we’ll be prepared for the next infectious threat – no matter what it is.”

Posted in Infectious Diseases: Ebola, Infectious Diseases: Zika, Rapid Diagnostics, World Health | Leave a comment

Gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein’s prediction

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

Gravitational waves carry information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. Physicists have concluded that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.

The gravitational waves were detected on Sept. 14, 2015 at 5:51 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (09:51 UTC) by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, USA. The LIGO Observatories are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and were conceived, built, and are operated by Caltech and MIT. The discovery, accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters, was made by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (which includes the GEO Collaboration and the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy) and the Virgo Collaboration using data from the two LIGO detectors.

Based on the observed signals, LIGO scientists estimate that the black holes for this event were about 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun, and the event took place 1.3 billion years ago. About three times the mass of the sun was converted into gravitational waves in a fraction of a second — with a peak power output about 50 times that of the whole visible universe. By looking at the time of arrival of the signals — the detector in Livingston recorded the event 7 milliseconds before the detector in Hanford — scientists can say that the source was located in the Southern Hemisphere.

According to general relativity, a pair of black holes orbiting around each other lose energy through the emission of gravitational waves, causing them to gradually approach each other over billions of years, and then much more quickly in the final minutes. During the final fraction of a second, the two black holes collide into each other at nearly one-half the speed of light and form a single more massive black hole, converting a portion of the combined black holes’ mass to energy, according to Einstein’s formula E=mc2. This energy is emitted as a final strong burst of gravitational waves. It is these gravitational waves that LIGO has observed.

LIGO was originally proposed as a means of detecting these gravitational waves in the 1980s by Rainer Weiss, emeritus professor of physics, from MIT; Kip Thorne, Caltech’s Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, emeritus; and Ronald Drever, emeritus professor of physics, also from Caltech.

“With this discovery, we humans are embarking on a marvelous new quest: the quest to explore the warped side of the universe — objects and phenomena that are made from warped spacetime. Colliding black holes and gravitational waves are our first beautiful examples,” Thorne says.

“The description of this observation is beautifully described in the Einstein theory of general relativity formulated 100 years ago and comprises the first test of the theory in strong gravitation. It would have been wonderful to watch Einstein’s face had we been able to tell him,” Weiss says.

“Caltech thrives on posing fundamental questions and inventing new instruments to answer them,” says Caltech president Thomas Rosenbaum, the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. “LIGO represents an exhilarating example of how this approach can transform our knowledge of the universe. We are proud to partner with NSF and MIT and our other scientific collaborators to lead this decades-long effort.”

“The LIGO team has uncovered fresh news about the building blocks of the universe, and they have opened a whole new field of inquiry,” adds MIT president L. Rafael Reif. “The discovery we celebrate today embodies the paradox of fundamental science: that it is painstaking, rigorous, and slow — and electrifying, revolutionary, and catalytic. Without basic science, our best guess never gets any better, and ‘innovation’ is tinkering around the edges. With the advance of basic science, society advances, too. We are tremendously proud of the thousands of researchers, across three generations, who made this impossible dream come true.”

“Our observation of gravitational waves accomplishes an ambitious goal set out over five decades ago to directly detect this elusive phenomenon and better understand the universe, and, fittingly, fulfills Einstein’s legacy on the 100th anniversary of his general theory of relativity,” says Caltech’s David H. Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory.

“This discovery is just the beginning,” says Fiona Harrison, the Benjamin M. Rosen Professor of Physics and holder of the Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at Caltech. “Over the next years, LIGO will be putting general relativity to its most stringent tests ever, it will be discovering new sources of gravitational waves, and we will be using telescopes on the ground and in space to search for light emitted by these catastrophic events.”

The existence of gravitational waves was first demonstrated in the 1970s and 80s by Joseph Taylor, Jr., and colleagues. Taylor and Russell Hulse discovered in 1974 a binary system composed of a pulsar in orbit around a neutron star. Taylor and Joel M. Weisberg in 1982 found that the orbit of the pulsar was slowly shrinking over time because of the release of energy in the form of gravitational waves. For discovering the pulsar and showing that it would make possible this particular gravitational wave measurement, Hulse and Taylor were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1993.

The new LIGO discovery is the first observation of gravitational waves themselves, made by measuring the tiny disturbances the waves make to space and time as they pass through the Earth.

LIGO research is carried out by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), a group of more than 1,000 scientists from universities around the United States and in 14 other countries. More than 90 universities and research institutes in the LSC develop detector technology and analyze data; approximately 250 students are strong contributing members of the collaboration. The LSC detector network includes the LIGO interferometers and the GEO600 detector. The GEO team includes scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute, AEI), Leibniz Universität Hannover, along with partners at the University of Glasgow, Cardiff University, the University of Birmingham, other universities in the United Kingdom, and the University of the Balearic Islands in Spain.

“This detection is the beginning of a new era: The field of gravitational wave astronomy is now a reality,” says Gabriela González, LSC spokesperson and professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University.

The discovery was made possible by the enhanced capabilities of Advanced LIGO, a major upgrade that increases the sensitivity of the instruments compared with the first generation LIGO detectors, enabling a large increase in the volume of the universe probed — and the discovery of gravitational waves during its first observation run. The U.S. National Science Foundation leads in financial support for Advanced LIGO. Funding organizations in Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC), and Australia (Australian Research Council) also have made significant commitments to the project. Several of the key technologies that made Advanced LIGO so much more sensitive have been developed and tested by the German UK GEO collaboration. Significant computer resources have been contributed by the AEI Hannover Atlas Cluster, the LIGO Laboratory, Syracuse University, and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Several universities designed, built, and tested key components for Advanced LIGO: The Australian National University, the University of Adelaide, the University of Florida, Stanford University, Columbia University of New York, and Louisiana State University.

“In 1992, when LIGO’s initial funding was approved, it represented the biggest investment the NSF had ever made,” says France Córdova, NSF director. “It was a big risk. But the National Science Foundation is the agency that takes these kinds of risks. We support fundamental science and engineering at a point in the road to discovery where that path is anything but clear. We fund trailblazers. It’s why the U.S. continues to be a global leader in advancing knowledge.”

“The Advanced LIGO detectors are a tour de force of science and technology, made possible by a truly exceptional international team of technicians, engineers, and scientists,” says David Shoemaker of MIT, the project leader for Advanced LIGO. “We are very proud that we finished this NSF-funded project on time and on budget, and delighted Advanced LIGO delivered its groundbreaking detection so quickly.”

At each observatory, the 2.5-mile-long L-shaped LIGO interferometer uses laser light split into two beams that travel back and forth down the arms (4-foot diameter tubes kept under a near-perfect vacuum). The beams are used to monitor the distance between mirrors precisely positioned at the ends of the arms. According to Einstein’s theory, the distance between the mirrors will change by an infinitesimal amount when a gravitational wave passes by the detector. A change in the lengths of the arms smaller than one-ten-thousandth the diameter of a proton (10-19 meter) can be detected.

Independent and widely separated observatories are necessary to determine the direction of the event causing the gravitational waves, and also to verify that the signals come from space and are not from some other local phenomenon.

A network of detectors will significantly help to localize the sources. The Virgo detector will be the first to join later this year.

The LIGO Laboratory also is working closely with scientists in India at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, and the Institute for Plasma to establish a third Advanced LIGO detector on the Indian subcontinent. Awaiting approval by the government of India, it could be operational early in the next decade. The additional detector will greatly improve the ability of the global detector network to localize gravitational-wave sources.

Virgo research is carried out by the Virgo Collaboration, consisting of more than 250 physicists and engineers belonging to 19 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France; eight from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy; two in the Netherlands with Nikhef; the Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland, and the European Gravitational Observatory (EGO), the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy.


Posted in Physics | Leave a comment

3 Things We Need To Control To Live Longer, Healthier Lives

BY CLIFTON B. PARKER/Stanford News Serice

More Americans are living to their 80s, 90s and beyond, unthinkable just a century ago. Most say they expect to live to their 80s or longer, and want to live to 100 if they can do so in good health.

But the policies, products and personal behaviors to support such lives are not yet widespread, according to a new study by Stanford’s Center on Longevity.

The report, which was released today, is titled, The Sightlines Project: Seeing Our Way to Living Long, Living Well in 21st Century America.

The research focuses on trends in three key areas scientifically associated with longevity – health, financial security and social connections. The benchmark analysis is based on data from eight multi-year studies that include more than 1.2 million Americans.

The Sightlines Project shows a way to a better future for Americans as they live longer than ever in history,” said Stanford President John L. Hennessy. “It provides a data-driven analysis for researchers, industries and the public sector to use as the nation begins to capitalize on one of the greatest opportunities of our times.”


Posted in Health Care: Social Media, Human Behavior: Happiness, Longevity | Leave a comment

Saddam may have had WMD after all. And used them on US troops.

WASHINGTON – Although more than $500 million in federally funded research on Persian Gulf War veterans between 1994 and 2014 has produced many findings, there has been little substantial progress in the overall understanding of the health effects, particularly Gulf War illness, resulting from military service in the war, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Aligning with conclusions in a 2010 IOM report, the committee that carried out the latest study said veterans who were deployed to the Gulf War appear to have an increased risk for Gulf War illness, chronic fatigue syndrome, functional gastrointestinal conditions, and mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and substance abuse. There is some evidence that service during the conflict is linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), fibromyalgia, chronic widespread pain, and self-reported sexual difficulties, but the data are limited.

For the latest study, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs requested that the Academies review, evaluate, and summarize the available scientific and medical literature regarding health effects in veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf War, paying particular attention to neurological disorders, cancer, and Gulf War illness.

ALS was the only neurologic disease for which the committee found some evidence for an association with deployment in the Gulf War. The committee said the Gulf War veteran population is still young with respect to the development of other neurodegenerative diseases. Therefore, the effects of deployment on the incidence and prevalence may not yet be obvious. The committee recommended that the VA should continue to conduct follow-up assessment of Gulf War veterans for neurodegenerative diseases that have long latencies and are associated with aging, such as ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

The committee found inadequate or insufficient evidence to determine whether deployed Gulf War veterans are at increased risk of having any cancer, including lung and brain cancer. The VA should conduct further assessments of cancer incidence, prevalence, and mortality because of the long latency of some cancers, the committee said. However, to be informative, future studies also need to account for additional factors, especially smoking.

Although the evidence base for Gulf War illness has increased over the past few years, little new information has increased understanding of the disease or how to effectively treat or manage it. Based on available research data, it does not appear that a single mechanism can explain the multitude of symptoms seen in Gulf War illness, and it is unlikely a definitive causal agent or agents can ever be identified, especially this many years after the war, the committee said. Animal studies that attempt to mirror Gulf War illness have been of minimal use because it is difficult to establish experimental exposures that are representative of those experienced by Gulf War veterans during deployment.

Taking into account the findings from this and previous IOM Gulf War and Health reports, the committee concluded that the health conditions associated with Gulf War deployment are primarily mental health disorders and functional medical disorders and that these associations emphasize the interconnectedness of the brain and body. All these conditions have no objective medical diagnostic tests and are diagnosed on the basis of subjective symptom reporting. The committee said research efforts should move forward and be realigned to focus on the treatment and management of Gulf War illness rather than its causes. This realignment should recognize and incorporate the new research on the relationship between the brain and physical functioning to improve the treatment and management options for veterans who have Gulf War illness.


The study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit A roster follows.


Jennifer Walsh, Senior Media Relations Officer
Rebecca Ray, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail
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Pre-publication copies of Gulf War and Health, Volume 10: Update of Health Effects of Serving in the Gulf War are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

Institute of Medicine
Board on the Health of Select Populations

Committee on Gulf War and Health, Volume 10:
Update of Health Effects Serving in the Gulf War

Deborah A. Cory-Slechta, M.A., Ph.D. (chair)
Department of Environmental Medicine
School of Medicine and Dentistry
University of Rochester
Rochester, N.Y.

Robert H. Brown Jr., M.D., D.Phil.*
Professor and Chair
Department of Neurology and
Director, Day Neuromuscular Research Laboratory
University of Massachusetts Medical School,

Alberto Caban-Martinez, D.O.
Assistant Professor
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and
Associate Director, Miami Occupational Research Group

Javier I. Escobar, M.D.
Associate Dean for Global Health, and
Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–
Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
New Brunswick

Scott Fishman, M.D.
Professor of Anesthesiology,
Chief of the Division of Pain Medicine, and
University of California, Davis Health System

Mary A. Fox, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Assistant Professor
Department of Health Policy and Management
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Herman Gibb, Ph.D.
Gibb Epidemiology Consulting, LLC
Arlington, Va.

Rogene F. Henderson, Ph.D.
Senior Biochemist and Toxicologist Emeritus
Experimental Toxicology Program
Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute
Albuquerque, N.M.

Clifford R. Jack Jr., M.D.*
Professor of Radiology and the Alexander Family Professor of Alzheimer’s Disease Research
Mayo Clinic
Rochester, Minn.

Howard M. Kipen, M.D., M.P.H.
Professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine and Director,
Clinical Research and Occupational Medicine Division
UMDNJ – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
Piscataway, N.J.

Kenneth W. Kizer, M.D., M.P.H.*
Distinguished Professor
University of California Davis School of Medicine and Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, and
Institute for Population Health Improvement
UC Davis Health System

Joel Kramer, Psy.D.
Professor of Neuropsychology, and
Director of the Memory and Aging Center Neuropsychology Program
School of Medicine
University of California
San Francisco

Francine Laden, M.S., Sc.D.
Professor of Environmental Epidemiology
Channing Laboratory
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

James M. Noble, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Neurology
Neurological Institute of New York
Columbia University Medical Center
New York City

Anbesaw Selassie, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Public Health Sciences
Medical University of South Carolina

Nancy F. Woods, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN*
Professor, Biobehavioral Nursing, and
Dean Emeritus
School of Nursing
University of Washington


Roberta Wedge
Staff Officer

*Member, National Academy of Medicine

Posted in Gulf War Illness, Mental Health: PTSD | Leave a comment

Type 2 diabetes drug liraglutide can exhaust insulin-producing cells

Long-term use of liraglutide, a substance that helps to lower blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes, can have a deteriorating effect on insulin-producing beta cells, leading to an increase in blood sugar levels. This according to a study on mice implanted with human insulin-producing cells conducted by a team of scientists from Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, and the University of Miami, USA. The researchers flag the possible consequences of this popular form of therapy in the next issue of the journal ‘Cell Metabolism‘.

Blood-sugar suppressors in the form of analogues of the incretin hormone GLP-1 are commonly used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, since they stimulate the glucose response of the pancreatic beta cells to make them secrete more insulin. There is now compelling evidence that liraglutide therapy is efficacious at least in the short term, since it produces an initial reduction in blood sugar. However, many patients do not respond to the treatment and some even display adverse reactions such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

To study the long-term effects of incretin therapy, which has never previously been assayed, researchers at Karolinska Institutet and the University of Miami worked with humanised mice, generated by transplanting human insulin-producing cells into the anterior chamber of the eye. The mice were given daily doses of liraglutide for more than 250 days, during which time the researchers were able to monitor how the pancreatic beta cells were affected. The results showed an initial improvement in the insulin-producing cells, followed by a gradual exhaustion, with reduced secretion of insulin as a response to glucose. This, they say, was unexpected.

“Given the lack of clinical studies on the long-term effect of these drugs in diabetes patients, this is a very important discovery,” says Midhat Abdulreda, researcher at the Diabetes Research Institute, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“We also need to take these results into account before prescribing blood-sugar suppressing GLP-1 analogues when planning long-term treatment regimens for patients,” says Per-Olof Berggren, PhD, Professor at the Rolf Luft Research Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery. “Our study also shows in general how to carry out in vivo studies of the long-term effects of drugs on human insulin-producing cells, which should be extremely important to the drug industry.”


The study was financed by grants from several bodies, including the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation (DRIF), the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the Swedish Research Council, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Family Erling-Persson Foundation, the Stichting af Jochnick Foundation, the European Research Council (ERC) and the Novo Nordisk Foundation. Corporate interests: Per-Olof Berggren is co-founder and CEO of Biocrine, an unlisted biotech company that uses the anterior chamber of the eye as a research tool. Midhat Abdulreda is a consultant for the same company.

Publication: ‘Liraglutide compromises pancreatic beta cell function in a humanized mouse model’, Midhat H. Abdulreda, Rayner Rodriguez-Diaz, Alejandro Caicedo, Per-Olof Berggren, ‘Cell Metabolism‘, online 11 February 2016.

Journal website:

Karolinska Institutet — a medical university:


Posted in Diabetes, Health Care: Medical Errors | Leave a comment

4 Different Ways Couples Show They Care

Want to suck all of the fun out of romance and dating? Talk with a humanities scholar in family dating researcher.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a University of Illinois academic has identified four distinct approaches that dating couples use to develop deeper commitment. “The four types of dating couples that we found included the dramatic couple, the conflict-ridden couple, the socially involved couple, and the partner-focused couple,” said Brian Ogolsky, assistant professor of human development and family studies.

He and co-authors developed these categories after studying graphs created by 376 dating couples in their mid-twenties. Over a nine-month period, participants tracked how committed they were to marrying their partner and why. Ogolsky asked participants to explain their reasoning when their commitment level had gone up or down.

Dramatic daters are twice as likely to break up as other couples, he said.

“These couples have a lot of ups and downs, and their commitment swings wildly. They tend to make decisions based on negative events that are occurring in the relationship or on discouraging things that they’re thinking about the relationship, and those things are likely to chip away at their commitment,” he said. “It’s not unlike when the transmission goes out on your car, and then your starter goes out. You begin to see little things eroding, and you start to see the relationship in a negative light, and soon you give up.”






Posted in Human Behavior: Love, Human Behavior: Relationships | Leave a comment

2,500-year-old footprints of a family strolling through a field

The recent discovery of dozens of remarkably well-preserved footprints in the southern Arizona desert provides new insights into how Native people practiced a complex system of irrigation agriculture in the region between 2,500 and 3,000 years ago. The find also offers new evidence in a long-standing debate over possible migration patterns from Mesoamerica and gives a unique snapshot of daily life at a time when people were transitioning from nomadic hunter–gatherers to more sedentary village dwellers.

The footprints, the oldest ever found in the Southwest, were discovered last December during the preconstruction mitigation phase of a bridge project in Tucson, says Ian Milliken, an archaeologist for the Pima County Office of Sustainability and Conservation. The prints show what appears to have been a family—two adults, two children and a dog—opening and closing headgates from a raised irrigation ditch into fields measuring 15 meters by 15 meters. “They’re exponentially larger than anything we’ve discovered for this time period,” Milliken says. “What’s really unique about this is that it actually captures a point in time, probably down to the day these prints were left.”

The finding is important, says Paul Fish, curator emeritus of the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona in Tucson, because it supports the theory that irrigation agriculture in Arizona was a homegrown technique, not the result of a migration of people out of Mesoamerica.


Posted in Archaeology, Farming, Mesoamerica | Leave a comment

High-cholesterol diet, eating eggs do not increase risk of heart attack

A new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows that a relatively high intake of dietary cholesterol, or eating one egg every day, are not associated with an elevated risk of incident coronary heart disease. Furthermore, no association was found among those with the APOE4 phenotype, which affects cholesterol metabolism and is common among the Finnish population. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In the majority of population, dietary cholesterol affects serum cholesterol levels only a little, and few studies have linked the intake of dietary cholesterol to an elevated risk of cardiovascular diseases. Globally, many nutrition recommendations no longer set limitations to the intake of dietary cholesterol. However, in carriers of the apolipoprotein E type 4 allele – which significantly impacts cholesterol metabolism – the effect of dietary cholesterol on serum cholesterol levels is greater. In Finland, the prevalence of the APOE4 allele, which is a hereditary variant, is exceptionally high and approximately one third of the population are carriers. Research data on the association between a high intake of dietary cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular diseases in this population group hasn’t been available until now.

The dietary habits of 1,032 men aged between 42 and 60 years and with no baseline diagnosis of a cardiovascular disease were assessed at the onset the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, KIHD, in 1984-1989 at the University of Eastern Finland. During a follow-up of 21 years, 230 men had a myocardial infarction, and 32.5 per cent of the study participants were carriers of APOE4.

The study found that a high intake of dietary cholesterol was not associated with the risk of incident coronary heart disease – not in the entire study population nor in those with the APOE4 phenotype. Moreover, the consumption of eggs, which are a significant source of dietary cholesterol, was not associated with the risk of incident coronary heart disease. The study did not establish a link between dietary cholesterol or eating eggs with thickening of the common carotid artery walls, either.

The findings suggest that a high-cholesterol diet or frequent consumption of eggs do not increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases even in persons who are genetically predisposed to a greater effect of dietary cholesterol on serum cholesterol levels. In the highest control group, the study participants had an average daily dietary cholesterol intake of 520 mg and they consumed an average of one egg per day, which means that the findings cannot be generalised beyond these levels.


Posted in Cholesterol, Heart Disease: Heart Attack, Nutrition: Food: Eggs | Leave a comment

Narcissism and self-esteem fundamentally differ from each other

Narcissists feel superior to others but aren’t necessarily satisfied with themselves. After reviewing the research literature, UvA researcher Eddie Brummelman and his colleagues conclude that narcissism and self-esteem are much more distinct than conventional wisdom has led us to believe. The results of the study were published earlier today in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Despite the widely held view among psychologists that narcissists have an inflated, excessive or extremely high self-esteem, Brummelman and fellow researchers Sander Thomaes (Utrecht University and University of Southampton) and Constantine Sedikides (University of Southampton) show that narcissism and self-esteem fundamentally differ from each other.

The difference between narcissism and self-esteem
‘At first blush, narcissism and self-esteem seem one and the same, but they differ in their very nature’, says Brummelman. ‘Narcissists feel superior to others but aren’t necessarily satisfied with themselves.’ Research reveals that narcissists have little need for warm, intimate relationships. Their primary aim is to show others how superior they are, and they constantly crave admiration from others. When narcissists receive the admiration they crave, they feel proud and elated. But when they don’t, they feel ashamed and may even respond angrily and aggressively.

People with high self-esteem, on the other hand, are satisfied with themselves and do not feel superior to others. They see themselves as valuable individuals, but not more valuable than others. They want to form close, intimate relationships with other people and do not necessarily want to be admired. Moreover, they rarely become aggressive or angry towards others.

Narcissism and self-esteem don’t only differ in their nature and consequences. They also have remarkably distinct childhood origins, and they develop differently over the life span, the authors point out.

Brummelman: ‘The distinction between narcissism and self-esteem has important implications for intervention efforts. Over the past few decades, Western youth have become increasingly narcissistic. It is therefore important to develop interventions that curb narcissism and raise self-esteem.’


Posted in Human Behavior: Narcissism, Human Behavior: Self Esteem | Leave a comment