Penn Medicine Receives $10 million Award to Study Asbestos Adverse Health Effects and Remediation of Asbestos

The BioRit Asbestos Superfund site is located in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Ambler is 20 miles north of Philadelphia.From the late 1880s through the present day, Ambler residents have had either occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos. As a result, both current and former residents of the area face potentially serious long-term health consequences.The Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC) is an organization whose mission is to effectively translate environmental health sciences research findings into practical health promotion, disease prevention information, tools and resources for our target audiences.The Pennsylvania Department of Health, with the aid of the COEC, has determined that there has been an increase in the rate of mesothelioma in the Ambler area compared to the adjacent zip codes, with women having a greater …

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Cyber buddy is better than ‘no buddy’

A Michigan State University researcher is looking to give exercise enthusiasts the extra nudge they need during a workout, and her latest research shows that a cyber buddy can help.The study, which appears in the Games for Health Journal, is the first to indicate that although a human partner is still a better motivator during exercise, a software-generated partner also can be effective.”We wanted to demonstrate that something that isn’t real can still motivate people to give greater effort while exercising than if they had to do it by themselves,” said Deborah Feltz, a University Distinguished Professor in MSU’s kinesiology department who led the study with co-investigator Brian Winn, associate professor in MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences.The implications from the research also could open the door for software and video game companies to create cyber buddy programs based on sport psychology.”Unlike many of the current game designs out there, these results could allow developers to create exercise platforms that incorporate team or partner dynamics that are based on science,” said Feltz.Using “CyBud-X,” an exercise game specifically developed for Feltz’s research, 120 college-aged participants were given five different isometric plank exercises to do with one of three same-sex partner choices.Along with a human partner option, two software-generated buddies were used — one representing what looked to be a nearly human partner and another that looked animated. The participant and partner image were then projected onto a screen via a web camera while exercising.The results showed that a significant motivational gain was observed in all partner conditions.”Even though participants paired with a human partner held their planks, on average, one minute and 20 seconds longer than those with no partner, those paired with one of the software-generated buddies still held out, on average, 33 seconds longer,” said Feltz.Much of Feltz’s research in this area has focused on the Khler Motivation Effect, a phenomenon that explains why people, who may not be adept exercisers themselves, perform better with a moderately better partner or team as opposed to working out alone.Her findings give credence that programs such as “CyBud-X” can make a difference in the way people perform.”We know that people tend to show more effort during exercise when there are other partners involved because their performance hinges on how the entire team does,” she said. “The fact that a nonhuman partner can have a similar effect is encouraging.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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8 Practical Steps You Can Take if You’re Ever in a Car Crash

Almost all drivers will experience a fender bender, object collision, or a more significant car crash at some time in their lives. While car accidents can be very scary and stressful, you need to be prepared to take specific steps if you are ever involved in a crash. Here’s what you need to do:Step 1. Get help.If you or anyone else has been injured, you need to get help as soon as possible. If you have a cell phone you should call 911 and ask the operator to send an ambulance. If you don’t have a cell phone or are unable to move, ask the first person on the scene to call for help. If there is a crowd of people, single out one person and specifically ask him or her to call.Step 2. Make the area safe, if possible.In non-injury accidents that don’t result in significant damage to your vehicle, it’s best to move your car, truck, or motorcycle to a safe place. As long as the vehicle is operable, you should try to move it to the side of the road or somewhere else where it won’t be an obstruction to other motorists.Step 3. Exchange driver details.Once you are sure that everyone involved is fine and the area is safe, you should then talk to the other driver to obtain his or her insurance information. …

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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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Bats inspire ‘micro air vehicle’ designs: Small flying vehicles, complete with flapping wings, may now be designed

By exploring how creatures in nature are able to fly by flapping their wings, Virginia Tech researchers hope to apply that knowledge toward designing small flying vehicles known as “micro air vehicles” with flapping wings.More than 1,000 species of bats have hand membrane wings, meaning that their fingers are essentially “webbed” and connected by a flexible membrane. But understanding how bats use their wings to manipulate the air around them is extremely challenging — primarily because both experimental measurements on live creatures and the related computer analysis are quite complex.In Virginia Tech’s study of fruit bat wings, the researchers used experimental measurements of the movements of the bats’ wings in real flight, and then used analysis software to see the direct relationship between wing motion and airflow around the bat wing. They report their findings in the journal Physics of Fluids.”Bats have different wing shapes and sizes, depending on their evolutionary function. Typically, bats are very agile and can change their flight path very quickly — showing high maneuverability for midflight prey capture, so it’s of interest to know how they do this,” explained Danesh Tafti, the William S. Cross professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the High Performance Computational Fluid Thermal Science and Engineering Lab at Virginia Tech.To give you an idea of the size of a fruit bat, it weighs roughly 30 grams and a single fully extended wing is about 17 x 9 cm in length, according to Tafti.Among the biggest surprises in store for the researchers was how bat wings manipulated the wing motion with correct timing to maximize the forces generated by the wing. “It distorts its wing shape and size continuously during flapping,” Tafti noted.For example, it increases the area of the wing by about 30 percent to maximize favorable forces during the downward movement of the wing, and it decreases the area by a similar amount on the way up to minimize unfavorable forces. The force coefficients generated by the wing are “about two to three times greater than a static airfoil wing used for large airplanes,” said Kamal Viswanath, a co-author who was a graduate research assistant working with Tafti when the work was performed and is now a research engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Lab’s Laboratories for Computational Physics and Fluid Dynamics.This study was just an initial step in the researchers’ work. “Next, we’d like to explore deconstructing the seemingly complex motion of the bat wing into simpler motions, which is necessary to make a bat-inspired flying robot,” said Viswanath. The researchers also want to keep the wing motion as simple as possible, but with the same force production as that of a real bat.”We’d also like to explore other bat wing motions, such as a bat in level flight or a bat trying to maneuver quickly to answer questions, including: What are the differences in wing motion and how do they translate to air movement and forces that the bat generates? …

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What makes us human? Unique brain area linked to higher cognitive powers

Oxford University researchers have identified an area of the human brain that appears unlike anything in the brains of some of our closest relatives.The brain area pinpointed is known to be intimately involved in some of the most advanced planning and decision-making processes that we think of as being especially human.’We tend to think that being able to plan into the future, be flexible in our approach and learn from others are things that are particularly impressive about humans. We’ve identified an area of the brain that appears to be uniquely human and is likely to have something to do with these cognitive powers,’ says senior researcher Professor Matthew Rushworth of Oxford University’s Department of Experimental Psychology.MRI imaging of 25 adult volunteers was used to identify key components in the ventrolateral frontal cortex area of the human brain, and how these components were connected up with other brain areas. The results were then compared to equivalent MRI data from 25 macaque monkeys.This ventrolateral frontal cortex area of the brain is involved in many of the highest aspects of cognition and language, and is only present in humans and other primates. Some parts are implicated in psychiatric conditions like ADHD, drug addiction or compulsive behaviour disorders. Language is affected when other parts are damaged after stroke or neurodegenerative disease. A better understanding of the neural connections and networks involved should help the understanding of changes in the brain that go along with these conditions.The Oxford University researchers report their findings in the science journal Neuron.Professor Rushworth explains: ‘The brain is a mosaic of interlinked areas. We wanted to look at this very important region of the frontal part of the brain and see how many tiles there are and where they are placed.’We also looked at the connections of each tile — how they are wired up to the rest of the brain — as it is these connections that determine the information that can reach that component part and the influence that part can have on other brain regions.’From the MRI data, the researchers were able to divide the human ventrolateral frontal cortex into 12 areas that were consistent across all the individuals.’Each of these 12 areas has its own pattern of connections with the rest of the brain, a sort of “neural fingerprint,” telling us it is doing something unique,’ says Professor Rushworth.The researchers were then able to compare the 12 areas in the human brain region with the organisation of the monkey prefrontal cortex.Overall, they were very similar with 11 of the 12 areas being found in both species and being connected up to other brain areas in very similar ways.However, one area of the human ventrolateral frontal cortex had no equivalent in the macaque — an area called the lateral frontal pole prefrontal cortex.’We have established an area in human frontal cortex which does not seem to have an equivalent in the monkey at all,’ says first author Franz-Xaver Neubert of Oxford University. ‘This area has been identified with strategic planning and decision making as well as “multi-tasking.” ‘The Oxford research group also found that the auditory parts of the brain were very well connected with the human prefrontal cortex, but much less so in the macaque. The researchers suggest this may be critical for our ability to understand and generate speech.The researchers were funded by the UK Medical Research Council.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Are you political on Facebook?

Social media and networks are ripe for politicization, for movement publicity, advocacy group awareness, not-for-profit fund-raising campaigns and perhaps even e-government. However, the majority of users perhaps see these tools as being useful for entertainment, interpersonal connections and sharing rather than politics. A research paper to be published in the Electronic Government, An International Journal reinforces this notion. The results suggest that the potential for political activism must overcome the intrinsic user perception that online social networks are for enjoyment rather than utility, political or otherwise.Tobias Kollmann and Christoph Stckmann of the E-Business and E-Entrepreneurship Research Group, at the University of Duisburg-Essen, and Ina Kayser of VDI — The Association of German Engineers, in Dsseldorf, Germany, explain that while social networks have become increasingly important as discussion forums, users are not at present motivated to accept political decisions that emerge from such discussions. As such, Facebook is yet to properly break through as the innovative means of political participation that it might become.The team roots this disjuncture in the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance where two opposing concepts cannot be rationalized simultaneously and an individual discards one as invalid in favour of the other to avoid the feeling of psychological discomfort. For example, users enjoy logging on to a social network, such as Facebook, so that they can share photos, play games and chat online with friends. This is inherently at odds, it does not resonate, with the idea of Facebook being useful as a tool for discussing and implementing the perhaps more important realm of human endeavour we know as politics.However, the team says, the advent of politically oriented Facebook games, such as “Campaigns” and “America 2049” blur the lines between the area of enjoyment and political discussion. Moreover, they point out that the boundaries were already blurred in terms of interpersonal discussions among some users where political discussion is facilitated by the network and also perceived as an enjoyable part of participation despite it falling in the “useful” camp. Indeed, the team’s data from several hundred randomly selected Facebook users would support the notion that the perception of mutual benefit arising from political participation on Facebook positively adds to the perception of usefulness as well as being enjoyable. They allude to the fact that the findings might apply equally well to other so-called “Web 2.0” tools on the Internet.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Inderscience. …

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Habitat research methods give a new peek at tiger life

Oct. 18, 2013 — From a tiger’s point of view, yesterday’s thoughtful conservation plans might be today’s reason to branch out. An international team of researchers has found a useful way to better understand the tiger’s take on policy.Twelve years ago, a team led by Jianguo “Jack” Liu at Michigan State University (MSU) showed that China needed to revisit how it was protecting its pandas. Now research on tiger habitat in Nepal, published this week’s Ecosphere journal of the Ecological Society of America, again shows that conservation demands not only good policy, but monitoring even years down the road.”Understanding long-term outcomes of conservation programs is crucial and requires innovative methods,” Liu said. “Now we’re learning that Nepal’s outstanding efforts to protect tigers are best supported with close monitoring because conservation situations are so dynamic. In both cases, the key is to understand how the people who live near the valued wildlife are faring as well.”Neil Carter, who recently received a doctoral degree from MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, follows up on trailblazing research of Liu, his adviser.Carter has spent years studying endangered tigers in Chitwan National Park in Nepal’s Himalayan lowlands. The park, established in 1973 to protect both the tigers and the area’s biodiversity, was not without cost to the people who live around the area. Those residents depend on the same forests for wood for fuel and building and grasses to thatch roofs and feed their livestock, and the policies that govern it are top-down, with little input from residents.In 1996, Nepal added a buffer zone next to the park to both improve the area’s ecosystem and help improve the livelihoods of the people who live there. In the buffer zone, people are allowed both more access to the forest’s resources and more say in its management.In Ecosphere, Carter reports a unique approach to monitoring the condition of the tiger’s habitat by combining satellite images and camera trap data on where the tigers were hanging out.Tigers like grasslands, which support high prey numbers and likely give tigers cover to hunt their prey. Because tigers require large areas, they prefer their cover not be too broken up.Turns out that growing human populations around Nepal are growing, and with that increasing unauthorized human use of local natural resources, is reducing the quality of tiger habitat inside Chitwan National Park. …

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Mesothelioma Claim

Mesothelioma ClaimMesothelioma Claim – Things You Need to File Your ClaimYou have a right to file for a mesothelioma claim if you have been diagnosed with any asbestos-related injury. Mesothelioma is a debilitating illness and most of the people who have been inflicted with this illness find themselves bed-ridden and no longer able to work. This results in a drastic change in lifestyle and financial situation that is always too much for the patient and his family to carry on their own. Not to mention the pain and physical suffering that go with it. A successful processing of mesothelioma claim will help alleviate most of that.What is involved in the filing of this kind of a claim? The following are the steps you will have …

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New Immunotherapy Compound Anti-CD40 Slows Mesothelioma Tumor Growth After Recurrence

In the September 2013 issue of The Journal of Immunotherapy, researchers from the Western University of Australia published results of a study using a promising new immunotherapy compound and its effects on reoccurring mesothelioma tumors in lab mice. Immunotherapy is based on the body’s natural defense system, which protects us against a variety of diseases.Researchers tested the effects of anti-CD40, an antibody which increases the body’s production of tumor-fighting T-cells, on mesothelioma tumors in mice. Researchers first removed the mesothelioma tumor, then re-implanted mesothelioma cells to mimic reoccurrence of disease. At the occurrence of established regrowth, the anti-CD40 was administered to the tumors through the bloodstream, to the area surrounding the tumor, or directly to the tumor. The results showed slowed metastatic …

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Mesothelioma Surgery- What Are Your Options?

There are three main types of surgeries used in the treatment of mesothelioma.A-Diagnostic surgery: This is used to confirm the diagnosis and locate the tumor. It is usually non invasive {it does not require cutting up the patient surgically}B-Curative surgery: This involves the removal of as much tumor as possible with the hope of curing the patient. Radiotherapy and or chemotherapy is often used in combination with this type of surgery.C-Palliative surgery: This form of surgery offers only symptomatic relief. It involves removal of cancer tissue but it does not offer a cure.These are the different types of surgical procedures available for treatment:1-BiopsyThis is a diagnostic form of surgery in which the suspected cancer tissue is partially removed and sent …

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Mysterious ancient human crossed Wallace’s Line

Oct. 17, 2013 — Scientists have proposed that the most recently discovered ancient human relatives — the Denisovans – somehow managed to cross one of the world’s most prominent marine barriers in Indonesia, and later interbred with modern humans moving through the area on the way to Australia and New Guinea.Three years ago the genetic analysis of a little finger bone from Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains in northern Asia led to a complete genome sequence of a new line of the human family tree — the Denisovans. Since then, genetic evidence pointing to their hybridisation with modern human populations has been detected, but only in Indigenous populations in Australia, New Guinea and surrounding areas. In contrast, Denisovan DNA appears to be absent or at very low levels in current populations on mainland Asia, even though this is where the fossil was found.Published today in a Science opinion article, scientists Professor Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide in Australia and Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in the UK say that this pattern can be explained if the Denisovans had succeeded in crossing the famous Wallace’s Line, one of the world’s biggest biogeographic barriers which is formed by a powerful marine current along the east coast of Borneo. Wallace’s Line marks the division between European and Asian mammals to the west from marsupial-dominated Australasia to the east.”In mainland Asia, neither ancient human specimens, nor geographically isolated modern Indigenous populations have Denisovan DNA of any note, indicating that there has never been a genetic signal of Denisovan interbreeding in the area,” says Professor Cooper, Director of the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. “The only place where such a genetic signal exists appears to be in areas east of Wallace’s Line and that is where we think interbreeding took place — even though it means that the Denisovans must have somehow made that marine crossing.””The recent discovery of another enigmatic ancient human species Homo floresiensis, the so-called Hobbits, in Flores, Indonesia, confirms that the diversity of archaic human relatives in this area was much higher than we’d thought,” says Professor Stringer, Research Leader in Human Origins, Natural History Museum, in London. “The morphology of the Hobbits shows they are different from the Denisovans, meaning we now have at least two, and potentially more, unexpected groups in the area.”The conclusions we’ve drawn are very important for our knowledge of early human evolution and culture. Knowing that the Denisovans spread beyond this significant sea barrier opens up all sorts of questions about the behaviours and capabilities of this group, and how far they could have spread.””The key questions now are where and when the ancestors of current humans, who were on their way to colonise New Guinea and Australia around 50,000 years ago, met and interacted with the Denisovans,” says Professor Cooper.”Intriguingly, the genetic data suggest that male Denisovans interbred with modern human females, indicating the potential nature of the interactions as small numbers of modern humans first crossed Wallace’s Line and entered Denisovan territory.”

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Firm fined over Hippodrome fall

Home » No Win No Fee » Latest Personal Injury News » 2013 » 10 » Firm fined over Hippodrome fallFirm fined over Hippodrome fallThe main contractor involved in renovations at the famous Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square has been fined after it mismanaged work at heights risks.An unnamed 35-year-old sub-contractor broke his left leg and foot after an incident in 2012.The builder dropped into a room and then through a riser duct after trying to move around a roof area, but the structure’s fragility caused him to fall more than 14 metres.After hearing of the incident, the Health and Safety Executive launched an investigation and found Beck Interiors didn’t properly manage the sub-contractor’s work at height.Faced with overwhelming evidence against it, the firm pleaded guilty to a guideline breach and was forced to pay £33,365 in costs and fines.Commenting after the Westminster Magistrates’ Court trial, HSE inspector Stephron Baker-Holmes said: “This case highlights the need for principal contractors to proactively manage work at height risks and to take appropriate action to prevent or mitigate falls.By Francesca WitneyOr call us on 0800 884 0321SHARE THIS

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Molecule that triggers septic shock identified

Sep. 12, 2013 — The body’s immune system is set up much like a home security system; it has sensors on the outside of cells that act like motion detectors — floodlights — that click on when there’s an intruder rustling in the bushes, bacteria that seem suspect. For over a decade researchers have known about one group of external sensors called Toll-like receptors that detect when bacteria are nearby.Now, researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have identified a sensor pathway inside cells. These internal sensors are like motion detectors inside a house; they trigger an alarm that signals for help — a response from the immune system. This research, published in the Sept. 13, 2013 issue of the journal Science, indicates that both exterior and interior sensors work together to detect the same component of bacterial cell membranes, a molecule called lipopolysaccharide or LPS.By showing how the immune system distinguishes between suspicious activity and real threats, the study could lead to new therapies for septic shock — when the immune system overreacts to a bacterial infection to such an extent that it causes more harm than good.”During the defense against an infection you want to be able to differentiate between the bacteria that stay on the outside of the cell and the ones that get inside,” said senior study author Edward A. Miao, MD, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology. “You can think of the exterior sensors as a yellow alert; they tell us that bacteria are present. But these bacteria could either be simple ones in the wrong place, or very dangerous ones that could cause a serious infection. The interior sensors act as a red alert; they warn us that there are bacteria with ill intent that have the genetic capacity to invade and manipulate our cells.”The body responds to a bacterial infection by increasing blood vessel permeability near the area under attack, which allows immune system cells to leave the bloodstream and seek and destroy the bacteria. …

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Size of personal space is affected by anxiety

Aug. 27, 2013 — The space surrounding the body (known by scientists as ‘peripersonal space’), which has previously been thought of as having a gradual boundary, has been given physical limits by new research into the relationship between anxiety and personal space.New findings have allowed scientists to define the limit of the ‘peripersonal space’ surrounding the face as 20-40cm away. The study is published today in The Journal of Neuroscience.As well as having numerical limits the specific distance was found to vary between individuals. Those with anxiety traits were found to have larger peripersonal space.In an experiment, Dr Chiara Sambo and Dr Giandomenico Iannetti from UCL recorded the blink reflex — a defensive response to potentially dangerous stimuli at varying distances from subject’s face. They then compared the reflex data to the results of an anxiety test where subjects rated their levels of anxiety in various situations.Those who scored highly on the anxiety test tended to react more strongly to stimuli 20cm from their face than subjects who got low scores on the anxiety test. Researchers classified those who reacted more strongly to further away stimuli as having a large ‘defensive peripersonal space’ (DPPS).A larger DPPS means that those with high anxiety scores perceive threats as closer than non-anxious individuals when the stimulus is the same distance away. The research has led scientists to think that the brain controls the strength of defensive reflexes even though it cannot initiate them.Dr Giandomenico Iannetti (UCL Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology), lead author of the study, said: “This finding is the first objective measure of the size of the area surrounding the face that each individual considers at high-risk, and thus wants to protect through the most effective defensive motor responses.”In the experiment, a group of 15 people aged 20 to 37 were chosen for study. Researchers applied an intense electrical stimulus to a specific nerve in the hand which causes the subject to blink. This is called the hand-blink reflex (HBR) which is not under conscious control of the brain.This reflex was monitored with the subject holding their own hand at 4, 20, 40 and 60 cm away from the face. The magnitude of the reflex was used to determine how dangerous each stimulus was considered, and a larger response for stimuli further from the body indicated a larger DPPS.Subjects also completed an anxiety test in which they self-scored their predicted level of anxiety in different situations. …

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Art preserves skills despite onset of vascular dementia in ‘remarkable’ case of a Canadian sculptor

Aug. 22, 2013 — The ability to draw spontaneously as well as from memory may be preserved in the brains of artists long after the deleterious effects of vascular dementia have diminished their capacity to complete simple, everyday tasks, according to a new study by physicians at St. Michael’s Hospital.The finding, scheduled to be released today in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, looked at the last few years of the late Mary Hecht, an internationally renowned sculptor, who was able to draw spur-of-the moment and detailed sketches of faces and figures, including from memory, despite an advanced case of vascular dementia.”Art opens the mind,” said Dr. Luis Fornazzari, neurological consultant at St. Michael’s Hospital’s Memory Clinic and lead author of the paper. “Mary Hecht was a remarkable example of how artistic abilities are preserved in spite of the degeneration of the brain and a loss in the more mundane, day-to-day memory functions.”Hecht, who died in April 2013 at 81, had been diagnosed with vascular dementia and was wheelchair-bound due to previous strokes. Despite her vast knowledge of art and personal talent, she was unable to draw the correct time on a clock, name certain animals or remember any of the words she was asked to recall.But she quickly sketched an accurate portrait of a research student from the Memory Clinic. And she was able to draw a free-hand sketch of a lying Buddha figurine and reproduce it from memory a few minutes later. To the great delight of St. Michael’s doctors, Hecht also drew an accurate sketch of famed cellist Mstislav Rostropovich after she learned of his death earlier that day on the radio.While she was drawing and showing medical staff her own creations, Hecht spoke eloquently and without hesitation about art.”This is the most exceptional example of the degree of preservation of artistic skills we’ve seen in our clinic,” said Dr. …

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Insulin pills? More intestinal cells than thought can absorb larger particles

Aug. 5, 2013 — A new study reports that the small intestine uses more cells than scientists had realized to absorb microspheres large enough to contain therapeutic protein drugs, such as insulin. The finding in rats, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is potentially good news for developing a means for oral delivery of such drugs.The small intestine employs more cells and mechanisms than scientists previously thought to absorb relatively large particles, such as those that could encapsulate protein-based therapeutics like insulin, according to a new study. The findings, published the week of Aug. 5, 2013, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, open another window for drug makers to increase absorption of medicines taken by mouth.Scientists at Brown University and Wayne State University worked with rats to quantify the intestinal absorption and distribution around the body of polystyrene spheres ranging between 0.5 and 5 micrometers in diameter. They found that a substantial portion of the absorption occurs via the process of endocytosis in cells called enterocytes. The conventional wisdom had long been that particles of that size would only be absorbed by phagocytosis in “microfold,” or M, cells, which compose less than 1 percent of the absorptive intestinal lining.”Data from these studies challenge current dogma in the area of oral drug delivery,” wrote the scientists including lead authors Joshua Reineke, a Brown graduate now a professor at Wayne State, and Daniel Cho, a student in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.With this new insight — especially if it can be expanded, replicated, and shown in people — drug designers could consider targeting future biodegradable drug-containing microspheres to reach enterocytes in addition to M cells, said corresponding author Edith Mathiowitz, professor of medical science and engineering at Brown.”You can design it so that it will be directed there,” Mathiowitz said. “This is basically what my future work probably will be.”Mathiowitz’s research is focused on discovering a means by which protein-based drugs, which currently have to be injected, could be swallowed, survive the harsh environment of the stomach, become absorbed as much as possible in the intestine, and reach the tissues where they can release their therapeutic cargo. Earlier this summer Mathiowitz published a paper showing that a polymer coating that survives stomach acids also increases intestinal uptake of microspheres. In 2011 she described a system for holding a capsule in place at desired locations of the intestine using magnets.The new research in PNAS helps explain where and how microspheres are absorbed by the intestine.Absorb and go seekThe researchers performed several experiments to track micropshere absorption in the rat models. …

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Plasmonic black metals: Breakthrough in solar energy research?

July 30, 2013 — The use of plasmonic black metals could someday provide a pathway to more efficient photovoltaics (PV) — the use of solar panels containing photovoltaic solar cells — to improve solar energy harvesting, according to researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).The LLNL Materials Engineering Division (MED) research team has made breakthroughs experimenting with black metals. These nanostructured metals are designed to have low reflectivity and high absorption of visible and infrared light. The MED research team recently published their black metals research results in a cover-page article in the May issue of Applied Physics Letters.Authored by MED physicist and research team member Mihail Bora, the article details the work of the nanophotonics and plasmonics research team led by LLNL engineer Tiziana Bond.It describes the team’s concept of black metals, which are not classic metals but can be thought of as an extension of the black silicon concept. When silicon is treated in a certain way, such as being roughened at the nanoscale level, it traps light by multiple reflections, increasing its solar absorption. This gives the silicon a black surface that’s able to better trap the full sun’s wavelength spectrum.Similarly, black metals are produced by some sort of random nanostructuring — either in gold or silver — without guaranteeing a full, reliable and repeatable full solar absorption. However, Bond’s team developed a method to improve and control the absorption efficiency and basically turn the metals as black as they want, allowing them to increase, on demand, the absorption of a higher quantity of solar wavelengths. Her team built nanopillar structures that are trapping and absorbing all the relevant wavelengths of the entire solar spectrum.”Our article was picked for the cover story of Applied Physics Letters because it represents cutting-edge work in the area of plasmonics, the broadband operation obtained with a clear design and its implication for the photovoltaic yield,” Bond said.This new LLNL technology could one day be used in the energy harvesting industry such as PV. By incorporating metallic nanostructures with strong coupling of incident light, broad spectral and angular coverage, the LLNL team is providing a path for more efficient photovoltaics and thermovoltaics (a form of energy collection) by means of plasmon-exciton conversion, according to Bond and Bora.

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Marijuana use in adolescence may cause permanent brain abnormalities, mouse study suggests

July 24, 2013 — Regular marijuana use in adolescence, but not adulthood, may permanently impair brain function and cognition, and may increase the risk of developing serious psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, according to a recent study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Researchers hope that the study, published in Neuropsychopharmacology — a publication of the journal Nature — will help to shed light on the potential long-term effects of marijuana use, particularly as lawmakers in Maryland and elsewhere contemplate legalizing the drug.”Over the past 20 years, there has been a major controversy about the long-term effects of marijuana, with some evidence that use in adolescence could be damaging,” says the study’s senior author Asaf Keller, Ph.D., Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Previous research has shown that children who started using marijuana before the age of 16 are at greater risk of permanent cognitive deficits, and have a significantly higher incidence of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. There likely is a genetic susceptibility, and then you add marijuana during adolescence and it becomes the trigger.””Adolescence is the critical period during which marijuana use can be damaging,” says the study’s lead author, Sylvina Mullins Raver, a Ph.D. candidate in the Program in Neuroscience in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “We wanted to identify the biological underpinnings and determine whether there is a real, permanent health risk to marijuana use.”The scientists — including co-author Sarah Paige Haughwout, a research technician in Dr. Keller’s laboratory — began by examining cortical oscillations in mice. Cortical oscillations are patterns of the activity of neurons in the brain and are believed to underlie the brain’s various functions. These oscillations are very abnormal in schizophrenia and in other psychiatric disorders. The scientists exposed young mice to very low doses of the active ingredient in marijuana for 20 days, and then allowed them to return to their siblings and develop normally.”In the adult mice exposed to marijuana ingredients in adolescence, we found that cortical oscillations were grossly altered, and they exhibited impaired cognitive abilities,” says Ms. …

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New ’embryonic’ subduction zone found

June 17, 2013 — A new subduction zone forming off the coast of Portugal heralds the beginning of a cycle that will see the Atlantic Ocean close as continental Europe moves closer to America.Published in Geology, new research led by Monash University geologists has detected the first evidence that a passive margin in the Atlantic ocean is becoming active. Subduction zones, such as the one beginning near Iberia, are areas where one of the tectonic plates that cover Earth’s surface dives beneath another plate into the mantle — the layer just below the crust.Lead author Dr João Duarte, from the School of Geosciences said the team mapped the ocean floor and found it was beginning to fracture, indicating tectonic activity around the apparently passive South West Iberia plate margin.”What we have detected is the very beginnings of an active margin — it’s like an embryonic subduction zone,” Dr Duarte said.”Significant earthquake activity, including the 1755 quake which devastated Lisbon, indicated that there might be convergent tectonic movement in the area. For the first time, we have been able to provide not only evidences that this is indeed the case, but also a consistent driving mechanism.”The incipient subduction in the Iberian zone could signal the start of a new phase of the Wilson Cycle — where plate movements break up supercontinents, like Pangaea, and open oceans, stabilise and then form new subduction zones which close the oceans and bring the scattered continents back together.This break-up and reformation of supercontinents has happened at least three times, over more than four billion years, on Earth. The Iberian subduction will gradually pull Iberia towards the United States over approximately 220 million years.The findings provide a unique opportunity to observe a passive margin becoming active — a process that will take around 20 million years. Even at this early phase the site will yield data that is crucial to refining the geodynamic models.”Understanding these processes will certainly provide new insights on how subduction zones may have initiated in the past and how oceans start to close,” Dr Duarte said.

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