Bothered by hot flashes? Acupuncture might be the answer, analysis suggests

In the 2,500+ years that have passed since acupuncture was first used by the ancient Chinese, it has been used to treat a number of physical, mental and emotional conditions including nausea and vomiting, stroke rehabilitation, headaches, menstrual cramps, asthma, carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, to name just a few. Now, a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials which is being published this month in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), indicates that acupuncture can affect the severity and frequency of hot flashes for women in natural menopause.An extensive search of previous studies evaluating the effectiveness of acupuncture uncovered 104 relevant students, of which 12 studies with 869 participants met the specified inclusion criteria to be included in this current study. While the studies provided inconsistent findings on the effects of acupuncture on other menopause-related symptoms such as sleep problems, mood disturbances and sexual problems, they did conclude that acupuncture positively impacted both the frequency and severity of hot flashes.Women experiencing natural menopause and aged between 40 and 60 years were included in the analysis, which evaluated the effects of various forms of acupuncture, including traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture (TCMA), acupressure, electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture and ear acupuncture.Interestingly, neither the effect on hot flash frequency or severity appeared to be linked to the number of treatment doses, number of sessions or duration of treatment. However, the findings showed that sham acupuncture could induce a treatment effect comparable with that of true acupuncture for the reduction of hot flash frequency. The effects on hot flashes were shown to be maintained for as long as three months.Although the study stopped short of explaining the exact mechanism underlying the effects of acupuncture on hot flashes, a theory was proposed to suggest that acupuncture caused a reduction in the concentration of ╬▓-endorphin in the hypothalamus, resulting from low concentrations of estrogen. These lower levels could trigger the release of CGRP, which affects thermoregulation.”More than anything, this review indicates that there is still much to be learned relative to the causes and treatments of menopausal hot flashes,” says NAMS executive director Margery Gass, MD. “The review suggests that acupuncture may be an effective alternative for reducing hot flashes, especially for those women seeking non- pharmacologic therapies.”A recent review indicated that approximately half of women experiencing menopause-associated symptoms use complementary and alternative medicine therapy, instead of pharmacologic therapies, for managing their menopausal symptoms.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Are statins good for your love life?

Statins are associated with a significant improvement in erectile function, a fact researchers hope will encourage men who need statins to reduce their risk of heart attack to take them, according to research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session.Erectile dysfunction is common in older men, especially among those with cardiovascular risk factors where cholesterol-lowering statins are frequently prescribed. Previous research has suggested a negative association between statin therapy and testosterone levels, leading to questions about the effects of these widely used medications on the quality of erection.In the first meta-analysis of previous studies on erectile dysfunction and statins, researchers identified 11 randomized, controlled trials that measured erectile function using the International Inventory of Erectile Function — a self-administered survey with five questions, each scored on a five-point scale and totaled, with lower values representing poorer sexual function. Analysis of all 11 studies combined found a statistically significant effect of statins on erectile function in men who had both high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction. Overall, erectile function scores increased by 3.4 points in men who took statins (from 14.0 to 17.4, a 24.3 percent increase).”The increase in erectile function scores with statins was approximately one-third to one-half of what has been reported with drugs like Viagra, Cialis or Levitra,” said John B. Kostis, M.D., director of the Cardiovascular Institute and associate dean for Cardiovascular Research at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and the lead investigator of the study.”It was larger than the reported effect of lifestyle modification,” Kostis said. “For men with erectile dysfunction who need statins to control cholesterol, this may be an extra benefit.”Researchers believe that statins may work to improve erectile function by helping blood vessels dilate properly and improving vascular blood flow to the penis, which is often restricted in men with erectile dysfunction. While statins are not recommended as a primary treatment for erectile dysfunction in patients with healthy cholesterol levels, the added benefit may encourage more men who need statins to take them. Millions of Americans are prescribed statins to prevent heart disease, but some stop taking the medication or take less than the prescribed dose, Kostis said. Rather than preventing the possibility of a heart attack in the future, the more immediate benefit of improving erectile function might improve adherence to statin therapy, he added.Erectile dysfunction affects an estimated 18 million to 30 million men and occurs more often in men over the age of 40. Common causes include heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, tobacco use, depression and stress.Kostis said that larger randomized controlled trials are needed to further investigate the link between statin therapy and erectile function.This study will be simultaneously published online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine at the time of presentation.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by American College of Cardiology. …

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Despite transfer roadblocks, community college transfers as likely to earn BA as 4-year

Students who begin their postsecondary education at a community college and successfully transfer to a four-year college have BA graduation rates equal to similar students who begin at four-year colleges, according to new research published today. That rate would actually increase — to 54 percent from 46 percent — if not for the loss of academic credits when students transfer, said study authors.”The Community College Route to the Bachelor’s Degree,” by Paul Attewell and David Monaghan, both of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, will be published online today in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA), a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).Attewell and Monaghan found that students who begin their postsecondary education at a community college are indeed less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than otherwise similar undergraduates who begin at a four-year school. However, contrary to an earlier generation of research, there are no significant differences in BA completion rates between those students who started at a community college and successfully transferred and their peers who began at four-year schools.Attewell and Monaghan identified restrictive credit transfer policies — and not a lack of academic preparation, an emphasis on vocational training, or a lack of financial aid — as the reason for the gap in BA attainment between otherwise similar undergraduates who enter community colleges and their four-year counterparts.”Loss of credits is a tax on transfer students,” Monaghan said. “Policymakers should be pushing both community colleges and four-year institutions to address it.””Community colleges should be encouraged to invest more in transfer counseling services for their students, and more four-year institutions need to develop processes for facilitating, not hindering, credit transfer for academically qualified students,” said Monaghan.Attewell and Monaghan found that:Only 58 percent of transfers are able to bring all or almost all (90 percent or more) of their credits with them. About 14 percent of transfers lose more than 90 percent of their credits. The remaining 28 percent lose between 10 percent and 89 percent of their credits. Even after controlling for college GPA and credits earned, students who can transfer most of their credits are more likely to complete a BA than those who cannot.Students who have all or almost all their credits transferred are 2.5 times more likely to earn a BA than students with less than half their credits transferred. Students who get between half and 89 percent of their credits accepted have a 74 percent higher chance of earning a BA. The implication is that students who are able to transfer all or most of their community college credits are more likely to graduate than peers who started their postsecondary education at a four-year school.Some states, such as New Jersey, mandate that all for-credit courses earned in state community colleges must count toward BA graduation after transfer to a state four-year college. Modeling a “what if” scenario for this policy in all states, Attewell and Monaghan project that BA attainment among community college transfer students would rise to 54 percent from 46 percent.”This percentage is potentially underestimated,” said Attewell. …

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Parents should try to find middle ground to keep teens safe online

Parents might take a lesson from Goldilocks and find a balanced approach to guide their teens in making moral, safe online decisions, according to Penn State researchers.In a study on parenting strategies and online adolescent safety, the researchers found evidence that suggests that parents should try to establish a middle ground between keeping their teens completely away from the internet not monitoring their online activities at all.”It’s a Goldilocks problem,” said Pamela Wisniewski, a postdoctoral scholar in information sciences and technology. “Overly restrictive parents limit the positive online experiences a teen can have, but overly permissive parents aren’t putting the right types of demands on their children to make good choices.”Active mediation and monitoring online behavior, not blanket rules, may be a better strategy.”Parents should have some level of monitoring their teens online usage, but not necessarily in a covert way because that may create trust problems, ” said Wisniewski, who works with Mary Beth Rosson, professor; John M. Carroll, Distinguished Professor and Heng Xu, associate professor, all of information sciences and technology.Ideally, parents would start to work with their teens to guide their moral development in making decisions about online behavior when their children are young. The earlier the better, according to Wisniewski.”By the time they are age 16 or 17, it’s probably too late to jump in and start to intervene,” said Wisniewski.Parents who learn more about technology can better guide their children, according to the researchers, who presented their findings at the recent Computer Supported Cooperative Work conference in Baltimore.”Our analysis also suggests that parents’ level of digital literacy moderates their mediation strategies,” the researchers noted. “Parents who knew more about technology tended to be more actively engaged in their teens’ online behaviors while parents who were less technically inclined tended to be more in favor of restricting how their teens engaged with others online.”The researchers studied the parenting styles and mediation strategies of 12 pairs of parents and their teen children, who ranged in age from 13 to 17. They interviewed the children and parents separately about online activities such as illegal downloading, cyber bullying and identity theft.The researchers assessed responses to 270 statements on moral behavior based on a common six-staged chart of moral development used by psychologists. They also analyzed 555 parental statements that indicated their parenting and mediation styles, from authoritarian with active mediation to indulgent with little mediation.Most of the younger teens were more compliant to parents — considered stage one of the moral development scale — while older teens tended to make moral decisions by weighing personal rewards and punishment — a second stage strategy on the scale.The researchers are currently conducting a study with a larger group of parents and teens. Eventually, these studies could help software designers create online monitoring software that helps parents actively engage with their teens in developing moral guidelines for online behavior, as opposed to just imposing restrictions on teens’ online activities.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Penn State. The original article was written by Matt Swayne. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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True value of cover crops to farmers, environment

Planting cover crops in rotation between cash crops — widely agreed to be ecologically beneficial — is even more valuable than previously thought, according to a team of agronomists, entomologists, agroecologists, horticulturists and biogeochemists from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.”As society places increasing demands on agricultural land beyond food production to include ecosystem services, we needed a new way to evaluate ‘success’ in agriculture,” said Jason Kaye, professor of biogeochemistry. “This research presents a framework for considering a suite of ecosystem services that could be derived from agricultural land, and how cover crops affect that suite of services.”Cover cropping is one of the most rapidly growing soil and water conservation strategies in the Chesapeake Bay region and one we are really counting on for future improvements in water quality in the bay. Our analysis shows how the effort to improve water quality with cover crops will affect other ecosystem services that we expect from agricultural land.”The research, published in the March issue of Agricultural Systems, quantified the benefits offered by cover crops across more than 10 ecosystem services. Benefits included increased carbon and nitrogen in soils, erosion prevention, more mycorrhizal colonization — beneficial soil fungus that helps plants absorb nutrients — and weed suppression.Lead researcher Meagan Schipanski explained that commonly used measurements of ecosystem services can be misleading due to the episodic nature of some services and the time sensitivity of management windows.”For example, nutrient-retention benefits occur primarily during cover crop growth, weed-suppression benefits occur during cash-crop growth through a cover crop legacy effect, and soil-carbon benefits accrue slowly over decades,” she said. “By integrating a suite of ecosystem services into a unified analytical framework, we highlighted the potential for cover crops to influence a wide array of ecosystem services. We estimated that cover crops increased eight of 11 ecosystem services. In addition, we demonstrated the importance of considering temporal dynamics when assessing management system effects on ecosystem services.”Trade-offs occurred between economic metrics and environmental benefits, said Schipanski, who was a postdoctoral scholar at Penn State when she led the cover crop study. Now an assistant professor in the department of soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University, she noted that the planting of cover crops will become more attractive if fertilizer prices rise or if modest cost-sharing programs like the one currently in place in Maryland are developed.Researchers simulated a three-year, soybean-wheat-corn rotation with and without cover crops in central Pennsylvania, which presented agroecological conditions broadly representative of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. The cover crop rotation included red clover, frost-seeded into winter wheat in March, and winter rye, planted after corn was harvested in the fall. The research, funded by the U.S. …

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Ancient food webs developed modern structure soon after mass extinction

Researchers from the Santa Fe Institute and the Smithsonian Institution have pieced together a highly detailed picture of feeding relationships among 700 mammal, bird, reptile, fish, insect, and plant species from a 48 million year old lake and forest ecosystem.Their analysis of fossilized remains from the Messel deposit near Frankfurt, Germany, provides the most compelling evidence to date that ancient food webs were organized much like modern food webs. Their paper describing the research appears online and open access this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.The researchers first compiled data about the more than 6,500 feeding relationships among 700 species found in the deposit, which dates to the Eocene epoch. Then they constructed two networks of feeding interactions — one for the lake and one for the surrounding forest.Next, they mathematically compared each food web’s structural features with those of modern-day food web datasets — matching up such indicators as fractions of cannibals, herbivores, and omnivores; the distributions of generalist and specialist feeders; the mean lengths of feeding chains connecting pairs of taxa; and so on.”What we found is that the Messel lake food web, with 94 taxa and 517 links, looks very much like a modern food web,” says SFI Professor Jennifer Dunne. “This is despite the fact that 48 million years of species turnover and evolution separate the Messel lake ecosystem from modern ecosystems.”Analysis of the Messel forest food web’s structure was more challenging due to the high degree of species diversity represented in the Messel dataset — 630 taxa and 5,534 feeding links — far more than what datasets for modern webs include.”Basically, we don’t yet have examples of comprehensive modern terrestrial food web datasets that have the high resolution of plants, insects, and their interactions that we included in the Messel forest dataset,” says Dunne.Nevertheless, the researchers were able to show that the Messel forest web is likely comparable in structure to modern webs, by using models to account for differences in structure that would result from the many more taxa and interactions in the Messel data.The results are significant because they show that the Messel ecosystem developed a modern ecological structure, along with a modern biota, in a relatively brief 18 million year period following Earth’s most recent die-off, the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, which disrupted ecosystem dynamics on a massive scale and served as a species diversity bottleneck.Dunne says that beyond the ecological and evolutionary significance of the study, the work resulted in the most highly resolved, detailed, and comprehensive terrestrial food web ever compiled.”We want our data to serve as a challenge to ecologists to compile more highly and evenly resolved food web data for extant systems,” she says.Ancient food webs are particularly difficult to reconstruct because data about them is usually limited and of low quality. But the Messel shale deposit is unique. Scientists hypothesize that releases of toxic volcanic gases rendered the area’s air and water lethal to most life in a short time. Animals in and near the lake were overwhelmed, and, along with plants, sunk to the low-oxygen depths of the lake where they were smothered in mud and fossilized, soft tissue and all.The Messel includes outstanding evidence of feeding interactions, including stomach contents and bite marks in soft tissues that can be traced back to particular species’ mouth parts, Dunne says.”Compiling such a highly resolved food web was possible for the Messel because of the exquisite preservation of soft body parts and ecological traces in the deposit,” she says, “and because my co-author, Conrad Labandeira, is one of the world’s foremost experts on fossil plant-insect interactions.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Santa Fe Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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NASA’s WISE survey finds thousands of new stars, but no ‘Planet X’

After searching hundreds of millions of objects across our sky, NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has turned up no evidence of the hypothesized celestial body in our solar system commonly dubbed “Planet X.”Researchers previously had theorized about the existence of this large, but unseen celestial body, suspected to lie somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto. In addition to “Planet X,” the body had garnered other nicknames, including “Nemesis” and “Tyche.”This recent study, which involved an examination of WISE data covering the entire sky in infrared light, found no object the size of Saturn or larger exists out to a distance of 10,000 astronomical units (au), and no object larger than Jupiter exists out to 26,000 au. One astronomical unit equals 93 million miles. Earth is 1 au, and Pluto about 40 au, from the sun.”The outer solar system probably does not contain a large gas giant planet, or a small, companion star,” said Kevin Luhman of the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University, University Park, Pa., author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal describing the results.But searches of the WISE catalog are not coming up empty. A second study reveals several thousand new residents in our sun’s “backyard,” consisting of stars and cool bodies called brown dwarfs.”Neighboring star systems that have been hiding in plain sight just jump out in the WISE data,” said Ned Wright of the University of California, Los Angeles, the principal investigator of the mission.The second WISE study, which concentrated on objects beyond our solar system, found 3,525 stars and brown dwarfs within 500 light-years of our sun.”We’re finding objects that were totally overlooked before,” said Davy Kirkpatrick of NASA’s Infrared and Processing Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. Kirkpatrick is lead author of the second paper, also in the Astrophysical Journal. Some of these 3,525 objects also were found in the Luhman study, which catalogued 762 objects.The WISE mission operated from 2010 through early 2011, during which time it performed two full scans of the sky — with essentially a six-month gap between scans. The survey captured images of nearly 750 million asteroids, stars and galaxies. In November 2013, NASA released data from the AllWISE program, which now enables astronomers to compare the two full-sky surveys to look for moving objects.In general, the more an object in the WISE images appears to move over time, the closer it is. This visual clue is the same effect at work when one observes a plane flying low to the ground versus the same plane flying at higher altitude. …

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Mystery of planet-forming disks explained by magnetism

Astronomers say that magnetic storms in the gas orbiting young stars may explain a mystery that has persisted since before 2006.Researchers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to study developing stars have had a hard time figuring out why the stars give off more infrared light than expected. The planet-forming disks that circle the young stars are heated by starlight and glow with infrared light, but Spitzer detected additional infrared light coming from an unknown source.A new theory, based on three-dimensional models of planet-forming disks, suggests the answer: Gas and dust suspended above the disks on gigantic magnetic loops like those seen on the sun absorb the starlight and glow with infrared light.”If you could somehow stand on one of these planet-forming disks and look at the star in the center through the disk atmosphere, you would see what looks like a sunset,” said Neal Turner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.The new models better describe how planet-forming material around stars is stirred up, making its way into future planets, asteroids and comets.While the idea of magnetic atmospheres on planet-forming disks is not new, this is the first time they have been linked to the mystery of the observed excess infrared light. According to Turner and colleagues, the magnetic atmospheres are similar to what takes place on the surface of our sun, where moving magnetic field lines spur tremendous solar prominences to flare up in big loops.Stars are born out of collapsing pockets in enormous clouds of gas and dust, rotating as they shrink down under the pull of gravity. As a star grows in size, more material rains down toward it from the cloud, and the rotation flattens this material out into a turbulent disk. Ultimately, planets clump together out of the disk material.In the 1980s, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite mission, a joint project that included NASA, began finding more infrared light than expected around young stars. Using data from other telescopes, astronomers pieced together the presence of dusty disks of planet-forming material. But eventually it became clear the disks alone weren’t enough to account for the extra infrared light — especially in the case of stars a few times the mass of the sun.One theory introduced the idea that instead of a disk, the stars were surrounded by a giant dusty halo, which intercepted the star’s visible light and re-radiated it at infrared wavelengths. Then, recent observations from ground-based telescopes suggested that both a disk and a halo were needed. Finally, three-dimensional computer modeling of the turbulence in the disks showed the disks ought to have fuzzy surfaces, with layers of low-density gas supported by magnetic fields, similar to the way solar prominences are supported by the sun’s magnetic field.The new work brings these pieces together by calculating how the starlight falls across the disk and its fuzzy atmosphere. The result is that the atmosphere absorbs and re-radiates enough to account for all the extra infrared light.”The starlight-intercepting material lies not in a halo, and not in a traditional disk either, but in a disk atmosphere supported by magnetic fields,” said Turner. …

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Climate change: No warming hiatus for extreme hot temperatures

Extremely hot temperatures over land have dramatically and unequivocally increased in number and area despite claims that the rise in global average temperatures has slowed over the past 10 to 20 years during what some public commentators have called a global warming hiatus period.Scientists from UNSW’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and international colleagues made the finding when they focused their research on the rise of temperatures at the extreme end of the spectrum where impacts are felt the most.”It quickly became clear, the ‘hiatus’ in global average temperatures did not stop the rise in the number, intensity and area of extremely hot days,” said one of the paper’s authors, Dr Lisa Alexander.”Our research has found a steep upward tendency in the temperatures and number of extremely hot days over land and the area they impact, despite the complete absence of a strong El Nio since 1998.”The researchers examined the extreme end of the temperature spectrum because this is where global warming impacts are expected to occur first and are most clearly felt. As Australians saw this summer and the last, extreme temperatures in inhabited areas have powerful impacts on our society.The observations also showed that extremely hot events are now affecting, on average, more than twice the area when compared to similar events 30 years ago.To get their results, which are published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers examined hot days starting from 1979. Temperatures of every day throughout the year were compared against temperatures on that exact same calendar day from 1979-2012. The hottest 10 per cent of all days over that period were classified as hot temperature extremes.Globally, on average, regions normally expect around 36.5 extremely hot days in a year. The observations showed that during the period from 1997-2012, regions that experienced 10, 30 or 50 extremely hot days above this average saw the greatest upward trends in extreme hot days over time and the area they impacted.The consistently upward trend persisted right through the “hiatus” period from 1998-2012.”Our analysis shows there has been no pause in the increase of warmest daily extremes over land and the most extreme of the extreme conditions are showing the largest change,” said Dr Markus Donat.”Another interesting aspect of our research was that those regions that normally saw 50 or more excessive hot days in a year saw the greatest increases in land area impact and the frequency of hot days. In short, the hottest extremes got hotter and the events happened more often.”While global annual average near-surface temperatures are a widely used measure of climate change, this latest research reinforces that they do not account for all aspects of the climate system.A stagnation in the increase of global annual mean temperatures, over a relatively short period of 10 to 20 years, does not imply that global warming has stopped. Other measures, such as extreme temperatures, ocean heat content and the disappearance of land-based ice all show continuous changes that are consistent with a warming world.”It is important when we take global warming into account, that we use measures that are useful in determining the impacts on our society,” said Professor Sonia Seneviratne from ETH Zurich, who led the study while on sabbatical at the ARC Centre.”Global average temperatures are a useful measurement for researchers but it is at the extremes where we will most likely find those impacts that directly affect all of our lives. Clearly, we are seeing more heat extremes over land more often as a result of enhanced greenhouse gas warming.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of New South Wales. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Scientists complete the top quark puzzle

Scientists on the CDF and DZero experiments at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have announced that they have found the final predicted way of creating a top quark, completing a picture of this particle nearly 20 years in the making.The two collaborations jointly announced on Friday, Feb. 21, that they had observed one of the rarest methods of producing the elementary particle — creating a single top quark through the weak nuclear force, in what is called the “s-channel.” For this analysis, scientists from the CDF and DZero collaborations sifted through data from more than 500 trillion proton-antiproton collisions produced by the Tevatron from 2001 to 2011. They identified about 40 particle collisions in which the weak nuclear force produced single top quarks in conjunction with single bottom quarks.Top quarks are the heaviest and among the most puzzling elementary particles. They weigh even more than the Higgs boson — as much as an atom of gold — and only two machines have ever produced them: Fermilab’s Tevatron and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. There are several ways to produce them, as predicted by the theoretical framework known as the Standard Model, and the most common one was the first one discovered: a collision in which the strong nuclear force creates a pair consisting of a top quark and its antimatter cousin, the anti-top quark.Collisions that produce a single top quark through the weak nuclear force are rarer, and the process scientists on the Tevatron experiments have just announced is the most challenging of these to detect. This method of producing single top quarks is among the rarest interactions allowed by the laws of physics. The detection of this process was one of the ultimate goals of the Tevatron, which for 25 years was the most powerful particle collider in the world.”This is an important discovery that provides a valuable addition to the picture of the Standard Model universe,” said James Siegrist, DOE associate director of science for high energy physics. “It completes a portrait of one of the fundamental particles of our universe by showing us one of the rarest ways to create them.”Searching for single top quarks is like looking for a needle in billions of haystacks. Only one in every 50 billion Tevatron collisions produced a single s-channel top quark, and the CDF and DZero collaborations only selected a small fraction of those to separate them from background, which is why the number of observed occurrences of this particular channel is so small. …

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Cancer patients turning to mass media, non-experts for info

The increasing use of expensive medical imaging procedures in the U.S. like positron emission tomography (PET) scans is being driven, in part, by patient decisions made after obtaining information from lay media and non-experts, and not from health care providers.That is the result from a three-year-long analysis of survey data, and is published in the article , “Associations between Cancer-Related Information Seeking and Receiving PET Imaging for Routine Cancer Surveillance — An Analysis of Longitudinal Survey Data,” appearing in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Andy S. Tan, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow with the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, is the lead author of the study. Co-authors are Laura Gibson, Ph.D.; Hanna M. Zafar, MD; Stacy W. Gray, MD; Robert C. Hornik, Ph.D.; and Katrina Armstrong, MD.Data for this analysis were obtained from a longitudinal cohort study comprising three annual mailed surveys between 2006 and 2008 and completed by patients diagnosed with breast, prostate, or colorectal cancers. Over 2,000 individuals participated in the study, funded by the National Cancer Institute.”Clinical guidelines do not recommend PET for post-treatment surveillance among asymptomatic cancer survivors,” explains Dr. Tan and the study’s other authors. …

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Climate change won’t reduce deaths in winter, British study concludes

New research published today has found that climate change is unlikely to reduce the UK’s excess winter death rate as previously thought. The study is published in the journal Nature Climate Change and debunks the widely held view that warmer winters will cut the number of deaths normally seen at the coldest time of year.Analyzing data from the past 60 years, researchers at the University of Exeter and University College London (UCL) looked at how the winter death rate has changed over time, and what factors influenced it.They found that from 1951 to 1971, the number of cold winter days was strongly linked to death rates, while from 1971 to 1991, both the number of cold days and flu activity were responsible for increased death rates. However, their analysis showed that from 1991 to 2011, flu activity alone was the main cause in year to year variation in winter mortality.Lead researcher Dr Philip Staddon said “We’ve shown that the number of cold days in a winter no longer explains its number of excess deaths. Instead, the main cause of year to year variation in winter mortality in recent decades has been flu.”The team suggest that this reduced link between the number of cold days and deaths in a winter can be explained by improvements in housing, health care, income and a greater awareness of the risks of the cold.As climate change progresses, the UK is likely to experience increasing weather extremes, including a greater number of less predictable periods of extreme cold. The research highlights that, despite a generally warmer winter, a more volatile climate could actually lead to increased numbers of winter deaths associated with climate change, rather than fewer.Dr Staddon believes the findings have important implications for policy:”Both policy makers and health professionals have, for some time, assumed that a potential benefit from climate change will be a reduction in deaths seen over winter. We’ve shown that this is unlikely to be the case. Efforts to combat winter mortality due to cold spells should not be lessened, and those against flu and flu-like illnesses should also be maintained.”Co-author, Prof Hugh Montgomery of UCL said:”Climate change appears unlikely to lower winter death rates. Indeed, it may substantially increase them by driving extreme weather events and greater variation in winter temperatures. Action must be taken to prevent this happening.”Co-author, Prof Michael Depledge of University of Exeter Medical School said:”Studies of the kind we have conducted provide information that is key for policymakers and politicians making plans to manage the impacts of climate change. We’re hopeful that the importance of this issue will be understood, so that matters of health and environmental security can be dealt with seriously and effectively.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Exeter. …

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Shocking behavior of a runaway star: High-speed encounter creates arc

Roguish runaway stars can have a big impact on their surroundings as they plunge through the Milky Way galaxy. Their high-speed encounters shock the galaxy, creating arcs, as seen in a newly released image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.In this case, the speedster star is known as Kappa Cassiopeiae, or HD 2905 to astronomers. It is a massive, hot supergiant moving at around 2.5 million mph relative to its neighbors (1,100 kilometers per second). But what really makes the star stand out in this image is the surrounding, streaky red glow of material in its path. Such structures are called bow shocks, and they can often be seen in front of the fastest, most massive stars in the galaxy.Bow shocks form where the magnetic fields and wind of particles flowing off a star collide with the diffuse, and usually invisible, gas and dust that fill the space between stars. How these shocks light up tells astronomers about the conditions around the star and in space. Slow-moving stars like our sun have bow shocks that are nearly invisible at all wavelengths of light, but fast stars like Kappa Cassiopeiae create shocks that can be seen by Spitzer’s infrared detectors.Incredibly, this shock is created about 4 light-years ahead of Kappa Cassiopeiae, showing what a sizable impact this star has on its surroundings. (This is about the same distance that we are from Proxima Centauri, the nearest star beyond the sun.)The Kappa Cassiopeiae bow shock shows up as a vividly red color. The faint green features in this image result from carbon molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in dust clouds along the line of sight that are illuminated by starlight.Delicate red filaments run through this infrared nebula, crossing the bow shock. Some astronomers have suggested these filaments may be tracing out features of the magnetic field that runs throughout our galaxy. …

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Premature infants benefit from adult talk, study shows

Research led by a team at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University has been published in the February 10, 2014 online edition of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.The research indicates that premature babies benefit from being exposed to adult talk as early as possible.The research, entitled “Adult Talk in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) with Preterm Infants and Developmental Outcomes,” was led by Betty Vohr, MD, director of Women & Infants’ Neonatal Follow-Up Program and professor of pediatrics, along with her colleagues Melinda Caskey, MD, neonatologist and assistant professor of pediatrics; Bonnie Stephens, MD, neonatologist, developmental and behavioral pediatrician, and assistant professor of pediatrics; and Richard Tucker, BA, senior research data analyst.The goal of the study was to test the association of the amount of talking that a baby was exposed to at what would have been 32 and 36 weeks gestation if a baby had been born full term, using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, 3rd Edition (Bayley — III) cognitive and language scores.It was hypothesized that preterm infants exposed to higher word counts would have higher cognitive and language scores at seven and 18 months corrected age.”Our earlier study identified that extremely premature infants vocalize (make sounds) eight weeks before their mother’s due date and vocalize more when their mothers are present in the NICU than when they are cared for by NICU staff,” explained Dr. Vohr.At 32 weeks and 36 weeks, staff recorded the NICU environment for 16 hours with a Language Environment Analysis (LENA) microprocessor. The adult word count, child vocalizations and “conversation turns” (words of mother or vocalizations of infant within five seconds) between mother and infant are recorded and analyzed by computer.”The follow-up of these infants has revealed that the adult word count to which infants are exposed in the NICU at 32 and 36 weeks predicts their language and cognitive scores at 18 months. Every increase by 100 adult words per hour during the 32 week LENA recording was associated with a two point increase in the language score at 18 months,” said Dr. Vohr.The results showed the hypothesis to be true. Dr. Vohr concluded, “Our study demonstrates the powerful impact of parents visiting and talking to their infants in the NICU on their developmental outcomes. Historically, very premature infants are at increased risk of language delay.The study now identifies an easy to implement and cost effective intervention — come talk and sing to your baby — to improve outcomes.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Women & Infants Hospital. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Blacks, Hispanics, older people not benefitting equally from better colon cancer treatment

While new and better treatments have improved the odds of survival for patients diagnosed late stage colorectal cancer, that progress has been largely confined to non-Hispanic whites and Asians and those under age 65, according to a new study. American Cancer Society researchers led by Helmneh Sineshaw, M.D., MPH, find there have been no significant increases in survival rates for Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks with metastatic colon cancer. The study, appearing in the January issue of Cancer Causes and Control, concludes that the findings underscore the need for concerted efforts to increase access to new treatments for minority groups and older patients, as well as a better understanding of the factors contributing to the disparities in survival.For their study, researchers analyzed data from the 13 population-based cancer registries of the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, which covers about 14 percent of the United States population. They looked at survival improvement for metastatic colorectal cancer across major ethnic groups and two broad age ranges (20-64 and over 65 years). Just fewer than 50,000 patients (49,893) were included in the analysis.The analysis found overall five-year survival rates increased significantly between 1992/1997 and 2004/2009 for non-Hispanic whites (9.8% to 15.7%) and for Asians (11.4% 17.7%). The increases were not statistically significant for non-Hispanic blacks (8.6% to 9.8%) or Hispanics (14.0% to 16.4%). And while survival rates increased significantly for those 65 and over for non-Hispanic whites, those increases were much smaller than the increase among those ages 20 to 64.The authors conclude that increases in survival from metastatic colorectal cancer, presumably from improvements in treatment, has been largely confined to younger non-Hispanic whites and Asians, and that there has been no statistically significant increase in survival for non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics.”We know from previous studies that when people of any race get equal care they have similar outcomes,” said Dr. Sineshaw. “But studies show there are significant inequalities in the dissemination of new treatments, likely leading to the gaps in survival our analysis found. The reasons why ethnic minorities are not getting equal treatment are complicated, but likely include poorer health coming into the system and lower socioeconomic status, which clearly leads to barriers to good health care. …

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Brain’s ‘sweet spot’ for love found in neurological patient

A region deep inside the brain controls how quickly people make decisions about love, according to new research at the University of Chicago.The finding, made in an examination of a 48-year-old man who suffered a stroke, provides the first causal clinical evidence that an area of the brain called the anterior insula “plays an instrumental role in love,” said UChicago neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo, lead author of the study.In an earlier paper that analyzed research on the topic, Cacioppo and colleagues defined love as “an intentional state for intense [and long-term] longing for union with another” while lust, or sexual desire, is characterized by an intentional state for a short-term, pleasurable goal.In this study, the patient made decisions normally about lust but showed slower reaction times when making decisions about love, in contrast to neurologically typical participants matched on age, gender and ethnicity. The findings are presented in a paper, “Selective Decision-Making Deficit in Love Following Damage to the Anterior Insula,” published in the journal Current Trends in Neurology.”This distinction has been interpreted to mean that desire is a relatively concrete representation of sensory experiences, while love is a more abstract representation of those experiences,” said Cacioppo, a research associate and assistant professor in psychology. The new data suggest that the posterior insula, which affects sensation and motor control, is implicated in feelings of lust or desire, while the anterior insula has a role in the more abstract representations involved in love.In the earlier paper, “The Common Neural Bases Between Sexual Desire and Love: A Multilevel Kernel Density fMRI Analysis,” Cacioppo and colleagues examined a number of studies of brain scans that looked at differences between love and lust.The studies showed consistently that the anterior insula was associated with love, and the posterior insula was associated with lust. However, as in all fMRI studies, the findings were correlational.”We reasoned that if the anterior insula was the origin of the love response, we would find evidence for that in brain scans of someone whose anterior insula was damaged,” she said.In the study, researchers examined a 48-year-old heterosexual male in Argentina, who had suffered a stroke that damaged the function of his anterior insula. He was matched with a control group of seven Argentinian heterosexual men of the same age who had healthy anterior insula.The patient and the control group were shown 40 photographs at random of attractive, young women dressed in appealing, short and long dresses and asked whether these women were objects of sexual desire or love. The patient with the damaged anterior insula showed a much slower response when asked if the women in the photos could be objects of love.”The current work makes it possible to disentangle love from other biological drives,” the authors wrote. Such studies also could help researchers examine feelings of love by studying neurological activity rather than subjective questionnaires.The full article can be found online at: https://hpenlaboratory.uchicago.edu/sites/caciopponeurolab.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/Cacioppo%20et%20al_Current%20Trends%20in%20Neurology%202013.pdfStory Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Well-child visits linked to more than 700,000 subsequent flu-like illnesses

New research shows that well-child doctor appointments for annual exams and vaccinations are associated with an increased risk of flu-like illnesses in children and family members within two weeks of the visit. This risk translates to more than 700,000 potentially avoidable illnesses each year, costing more than $490 million annually. The study was published in the March issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.”Well child visits are critically important. However, our results demonstrate that healthcare professionals should devote more attention to reducing the risk of spreading infections in waiting rooms and clinics. Infection control guidelines currently exist. To increase patient safety in outpatient settings, more attention should be paid to these guidelines by healthcare professionals, patients, and their families,” said Phil Polgreen, MD, MPH, lead author of the study.Researchers from the University of Iowa used data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to examine the healthcare trends of 84,595 families collected from 1996-2008. Included in the analysis were demographic, office-based, emergency room, and outpatient cases records. After controlling for factors, such as the presence of other children, insurance, and demographics, the authors found that well-child visits for children younger than six years old increased the probability of a flu-like illness in these children or their families during the subsequent two weeks by 3.2 percentage points.This incremental risk could amount to more than 700,000 avoidable cases of flu-like illness each year and $492 million in direct and indirect costs, based on established estimates for outpatient influenza.In a commentary accompanying the study, Lisa Saiman, MD, notes, “The true cost of flu-like illnesses are much higher since only a fraction result in ambulatory visits and many more cases are likely to result in missed work or school days. Furthermore, these flu-like illness visits are associated with inappropriate antimicrobial use.”The authors stress the importance of infection prevention and control in ambulatory settings, suggesting pediatric clinics follow recommended guidelines that include improving environmental cleaning, cough etiquette, and hand hygiene compliance.”Even with interventions, such as the restricted use of communal toys or separate sick and well-child waiting areas, if hand-hygiene compliance is poor, and potentially infectious patients are not wearing masks, preventable infections will continue to occur,” said Polgreen.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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‘Steak-knife’ teeth reveal ecology of oldest land predators

The first top predators to walk on land were not afraid to bite off more than they could chew, a University of Toronto Mississauga study has found.Graduate student and lead author Kirstin Brink along with Professor Robert Reisz from U of T Mississauga’s Department of Biology suggest that Dimetrodon, a carnivore that walked on land between 298 million and 272 million years ago, was the first terrestrial vertebrate to develop serrated ziphodont teeth.According to the study published in Nature Communications, ziphodont teeth, with their serrated edges, produced a more-efficient bite and would have allowed Dimetrodon to eat prey much larger than itself.While most meat-eating dinosaurs possessed ziphodont teeth, fossil evidence suggests serrated teeth first evolved in Dimetrodon some 40 million years earlier than theropod dinosaurs.”Technologies such as scanning electron microscope (SEM) and histology allowed us to examine these teeth in detail to reveal previously unknown patterns in the evolutionary history of Dimetrodon,” Brink said.The four-meter-long Dimetrodon was the top of the terrestrial food chain in the Early Permian Period and is considered to be the forerunner of mammals.According to Brink and Reisz’s research, Dimetrodon had a diversity of previously unknown tooth structures and were also the first terrestrial vertebrate to develop cusps — teeth with raised points on the crown, which are dominant in mammals.The study also suggests ziphodont teeth were confined to later species of Dimetrodon, indicating a gradual change in feeding habits.”This research is an important step in reconstructing the structure of ancient complex communities,” Reisz said.”Teeth tell us a lot more about the ecology of animals than just looking at the skeleton.””We already know from fossil evidence which animals existed at that time but now with this type of research we are starting to piece together how the members of these communities interacted.”Brink and Reisz studied the changes in Dimetrodon teeth across 25 million years of evolution.The analysis indicated the changes in tooth structure occurred in the absence of any significant evolution in skull morphology. This, Brink and Reisz suggest, indicates a change in feeding style and trophic interactions.”The steak knife configuration of these teeth and the architecture of the skull suggest Dimetrodon was able to grab and rip and dismember large prey,” Reisz said.”Teeth fossils have attracted a lot of attention in dinosaurs but much less is known about the animals that lived during this first chapter in terrestrial evolution.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Toronto. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Why do young people fail to find stable jobs and thrive?

Around the world, more and more young people are failing to find stable jobs and live independently. A new study from IIASA population researchers explains why.The numbers of young people who fail to transition from childhood to independent adulthood is growing — more and more young people find themselves without full-time jobs, relying on their parents, or staying longer in school. These changes can be traced changes in the global labor force and education according to a new study published today in the Finnish Yearbook of Population Research.”Young adults are doing increasingly worse economically, in spite of living in wealthy regions of the world,” says IIASA population expert Vegard Skirbekk. “At the same time, older adult age groups have been doing increasingly better.”Skirbekk, along with IIASA researchers Warren Sanderson and Marcin Stonawski conducted the study in order to examine the common factors that help young people transition to adulthood. They call the problem, “Young Adult Failure to Thrive Syndrome.”While the phenomenon had been recognized in individual countries, including Italy, France, Spain, and Japan, explanations have often focused on recent causes such as government fiscal difficulties. But the new study shows that failure to thrive can be traced to global economic and demographic shifts beginning in the 1980’s.The study finds that failure to thrive can be tied to three major economic factors worldwide. First, an increasingly globalized labor force means that workers can move more easily between countries. Second, education levels have soared around the world, meaning many more workers are available for skilled positions. Third, more women have joined the labor force. All these factors mean more competition for jobs, particularly for young people who have little practical experience.In addition to changes in labor supply, technological changes have both created and destroyed jobs, with a trend towards fewer industrial jobs and more service sector jobs.”These changes mean that even as economic conditions have improved for some in the population, young people are worse off today than they were 20 years ago,” says Sanderson.The researchers say that such economic disadvantages also have an effect on demographic questions such as fertility rates and family formation, as many young people cannot afford to start families until later in life.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. …

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Valentine’s Day advice: Don’t let rocky past relations with parents spoil your romance

University of Alberta relationship researcher Matt Johnson has some Valentine’s Day advice for anybody who’s had rocky relations with their parents while growing up: don’t let it spill over into your current romantic partnership.The love between parents and teens — however stormy or peaceful — may influence whether those children are successful in romance, even up to 15 years later, according to a new U of A study co-authored by Johnson, whose work explores the complexities of the romantic ties that bind.Being aware of that connection may save a lot of heartache down the road, according to Johnson, who reviewed existing data that was gathered in the United States over a span of 15 years.The findings, which appear in the February issue of Journal of Marriage and Family, uncovered a “small but important link between parent-adolescent relationship quality and intimate relationships 15 years later,” Johnson said. “The effects can be long-lasting.”While their analysis showed, perhaps not surprisingly, that good parent-teen relationships resulted in slightly higher quality of romantic relationships for those grown children years later, it poses a lesson in self-awareness when nurturing an intimate bond with a partner, Johnson said.”People tend to compartmentalize their relationships; they tend not to see the connection between one kind, such as family relations, and another, like couple unions. But understanding your contribution to the relationship with your parents would be important to recognizing any tendency to replicate behaviour — positive or negative — in an intimate relationship.”That doesn’t mean parents should be blamed for what might be wrong in a grown child’s relationship, Johnson added. “It is important to recognize everyone has a role to play in creating a healthy relationship, and each person needs to take responsibility for their contribution to that dynamic.”The results were gleaned from survey-based information from 2,970 people who were interviewed at three stages of life from adolescence to young adulthood, spanning ages 12 to 32.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Alberta. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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