Researchers work to save endangered New England cottontail

Scientists with the NH Agricultural Experiment Station are working to restore New Hampshire and Maine’s only native rabbit after new research based on genetic monitoring has found that in the last decade, cottontail populations in northern New England have become more isolated and seen a 50 percent contraction of their range.The endangered New England cottontail is now is at risk of becoming extinct in the region, according to NH Agricultural Experiment Station researchers at the University of New Hampshire College of Life Sciences and Agriculture who believe that restoring habitats is the key to saving the species.”The New England cottontail is a species of great conservation concern in the Northeast. This is our only native rabbit and is an integral component of the native New England wildlife. Maintaining biodiversity gives resilience to our landscape and ecosystems,” said NHAES researcher Adrienne Kovach, research associate professor of natural resources at UNH.New England cottontails have been declining for decades. However, NHAES researchers have found that in the last decade, the New England cottontail population in New Hampshire and Maine has contracted by 50 percent; a decade ago, cottontails were found as far north as Cumberland, Maine.The majority of research on New England cottontails has come out of UNH, much of it under the leadership of John Litvaitis, professor of wildlife ecology, who has studied the New England cottontail for three decades. Kovach’s research expands on this knowledge by using DNA analysis to provide new information on the cottontail’s status, distribution, genetic diversity, and dispersal ecology.The greatest threat and cause of the decline of the New England cottontail is the reduction and fragmentation of their habitat, Kovach said. Fragmentation of habitats occurs when the cottontail’s habitat is reduced or eliminated due to the maturing of forests or land development. Habitats also can become fragmented by roads or natural landscape features, such as bodies of water.”Cottontails require thicketed habitats, which progress from old fields to young forests. Once you have a more mature forest, the cottontail habitat is reduced. A lot of other species rely on these thicket habitats, including bobcats, birds, and reptiles. Many thicket-dependent species are on decline, and the New England cottontail is a representative species for this kind of habitat and its conservation,” Kovach said.Kovach explained that for cottontail and most animal populations to be healthy and grow, it is important for adult animals to leave the place where they were born and relocate to a new habitat, which is known as dispersal. …

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Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death by 42 percent

Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death at any point in time by 42% compared to eating less than one portion, reports a new UCL study.Researchers used the Health Survey for England to study the eating habits of 65,226 people representative of the English population between 2001 and 2013, and found that the more fruit and vegetables they ate, the less likely they were to die at any age. Eating seven or more portions reduces the specific risks of death by cancer and heart disease by 25% and 31% respectively. The research also showed that vegetables have significantly higher health benefits than fruit.This is the first study to link fruit and vegetable consumption with all-cause, cancer and heart disease deaths in a nationally-representative population, the first to quantify health benefits per-portion, and the first to identify the types of fruit and vegetable with the most benefit.Compared to eating less than one portion of fruit and vegetables, the risk of death by any cause is reduced by 14% by eating one to three portions, 29% for three to five portions, 36% for five to seven portions and 42% for seven or more. These figures are adjusted for sex, age, cigarette smoking, social class, Body Mass Index, education, physical activity and alcohol intake, and exclude deaths within a year of the food survey.The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that fresh vegetables had the strongest protective effect, with each daily portion reducing overall risk of death by 16%. Salad contributed to a 13% risk reduction per portion, and each portion of fresh fruit was associated with a smaller but still significant 4% reduction.”We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering,” says Dr Oyinlola Oyebode of UCL’s Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, lead author of the study. “The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you’re happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good.”The findings lend support to the Australian government’s ‘Go for 2 + 5’ guidelines, which recommend eating two portions of fruit and five of vegetables. The UK Department of Health recommends ‘5 a day’, while ‘Fruit and Veggies — More Matters’ is the key message in the USA.”Our study shows that people following Australia’s ‘Go for 2 + 5’ advice will reap huge health benefits,” says Dr Oyebode. “However, people shouldn’t feel daunted by a big target like seven. …

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Preventing Head Blight in Barley, Wheat: Biochemical Pathways Hold Key to Resistance

Pale, shriveled heads of grain spell trouble for wheat and barley farmers — they’re the telltale signs of fusarium head blight. The fungal disease, commonly known as scab, not only dramatically shrinks yields but produces toxins that make the grain dangerous for human or animal consumption.From 1991 to 1996, head blight caused $2.6 billion in losses to the U.S. wheat crop. At its peak, the fungus destroyed the entire malting barley crop in the Red River and Ohio River Valleys, according to molecular biologist Yang Yen, an Agricultural Experiment Station researcher and professor at South Dakota State University.Two decades later the U.S. Department of Agriculture still ranks head blight as “the worst plant disease to hit the U.S. since the rust epidemics in the 1950s.” Wheat and barley farmers have lost more than $3 billion since 1990 from blight outbreaks.Despite major research funding — including the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, scientists admit that efforts to control this devastating disease have met with limited success.”This is an extraordinary disease that requires extraordinary means to combat it,” says Yen, who began working on head blight in 1997.Using advanced genetic and molecular technologies, Yen has begun tracing the biochemical pathways that make wheat susceptible or resistant to head blight. Three graduate students and two postdoctoral scientists have worked on this research over the last 16 years.Multiple hosts and pathogensHead blight can be caused by multiple pathogens, and these pathogens can attack multiple hosts including grasses and corn, Yen explains. This makes the disease tougher to combat.Researchers are working to develop resistant types of grain, alter tillage practices and apply fungicides to fight the disease.”This disease is not new,” Yen says. It was first reported in England in 1884 and in North America in 1890. …

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Promising cervical cancer study: Combining drugs, chemo to extend life

Research on cervical cancer performed by a physician at the University of Arizona Cancer Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The multi-site research project by Bradley J. Monk, MD, is expected to change the standard of care for women with advanced cervical cancer.The featured research revealed that women with advanced cervical cancer live about four months longer with the combined use of bevacizumab (Avastin) and chemotherapy compared to chemotherapy alone. Women who combined bevacizumab with chemotherapy lived an average of 17 months after diagnosis, while those who received chemotherapy alone lived 13.3 months.”This research proves that there are new options for patients with metastatic cervical cancer,” says Dr. Monk, the project’s senior author. “I predict that adding bevacizumab to chemotherapy will become the new standard of care.” Dr. Monk is nationally recognized for his expertise in cervical cancer and chairs the Gynecologic Oncology Cervical Cancer Committee for the National Cancer Institute funded Gynecologic Oncology Group. Krishnansu S. Tewari, MD, at the University of California Irvine was the first author on the study published online February 20 in the Journal.The research was conducted between April 2009 and January 2012. …

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Physician urges greater recognition of how ‘misfearing’ influences women’s perceptions of heart health risks

While more women die from heart disease each year than all forms of cancer combined, many are more fearful of other diseases, particularly breast cancer. This phenomenon, referred to as “misfearing,” describes the human tendency to fear instinctively and according to societal influences rather than based on facts. This trend may be a contributor to the reasons why many women fail to take enough steps — such as changing diet and fitness habits or risk-taking behaviors — to guard against heart disease.In a Perspective column today in the New England Journal of Medicine, Penn Medicine cardiologist and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar Lisa Rosenbaum, MD, notes that although the first decade of educational campaigns to inform women about heart disease “led to a near doubling of women’s knowledge about heart disease, in the past few years, such efforts have failed to reap further gains.” Moreover, “persistent gaps in perceptions remain among minority women, who are often at greatest risk.”Simply reinforcing the facts about the prevalence and potential prevention of heart disease among women is likely not enough to improve on these results, says Rosenbaum. Instead, physicians and others in health care need to develop an understanding of the misfearing paradigm and how “social values” and “group identities” affect patients’ perceptions of disease.”The big, the dramatic, and the memorable occupy far more of our worry budget than the things that kill with far greater frequency: strokes, diabetes, heart disease,” she writes. “But interacting with many of these fear factors is another force we rarely associate with our individual health perceptions: our commitment to our cultural groups.”Women’s focus on breast cancer may be tied, according to Rosenbaum, to “intuitions about female identity” that shape their interpretation of health-related information and relevant behavior. Because breast cancer “attacks a body part that is so fundamental to female identity,” she asks if “to be a woman, one must join the war on this disease,” and consequently focus less on heart disease (which is often linked to such perceived anti-feminine contributing factors as cigarettes and obesity). Additionally, Rosenbaum asks, “Are we held up by our ideal of beauty? We can each summon the images of beautiful young women with breast cancer. Where are all the beautiful women with heart disease?”While acknowledging the very real threat of women’s cancers, Dr. Rosenbaum advocates physicians taking a different approach to conversations with female patients about cardiovascular health. …

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Growing impact of lethal ‘legal highs:’ U.K. Deaths report

The deadly risk of so-called ‘legal highs’ and other designer drugs, such as the notorious ‘meow meow’, has been confirmed by a huge leap in their links to drug-related deaths in the UK. One expert described experimentation with such drugs as ‘dancing in a minefield.”Meow meow’, officially known as mephedrone and now illegal, is just one of a group of drugs called Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), which also includes the amphetamine-like substances Benzo Fury and PMA, amongst others.According to data published in the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths (NPSAD) report, compiled by experts at St George’s, University of London, NPS are now linked to more drug-related deaths than ever before.The prevalence of these drugs in the post mortem toxicology tests submitted to the report has increased 800% in three years, from 12 in 2009 to 97 in 2012.The number of cases where NPS were identified as the cause of death rose by almost 600% during the same period — from 10 deaths in 2009 to 68 in 2012.In many cases traces of multiple NPS were found, suggesting that drug users are experimenting with combinations of these drugs, as well as alcohol in some cases.These drugs have undergone little or no human testing so their health effects are virtually unknown.Professor Fabrizio Schifano, a spokesman for NPSAD, said: “We have observed an increase in the number and range of these drugs in the post mortem toxicology results and in the cause of death of cases notified to us.”These include amphetamine-type substances, dietary supplements, ketamine derivatives, among a host of others.”The worrying trend is that these type of drugs are showing up more than ever before. Clearly this is a major public health concern and we must continue to monitor this worrying development.”Those experimenting with such substances are effectively dancing in a minefield.”The report also indicates an increase in the proportion of deaths involving stimulants such as cocaine and ecstasy-type drugs, following a decline in 2009 and stabilisation in 2010.In total, the number of drug-related deaths reported to the NPSAD during 2012 was 1,613.Opiates/opioids such as heroin and morphine, alone or in combination with other drugs continued to account for the highest proportion (36%) of reported drug-related deaths in 2012, a 4% increase compared to 2011 — a reversal of the decline in such deaths observed in recent years.Regional Highlights:Hammersmith one of worst areas in UK for drug-related deaths, says reportNew figures reveal that Hammersmith and Fulham recorded one of the highest drug-related death rates across the country in 2012 with 11.34 deaths per 100,000 population.Only Liverpool (12.57) and Blackburn with Darwen (11.45) were higher.The type of drugs related to deaths in London also drew a strong contrast to some other parts of England. As in 2011, London had the highest proportion of cocaine-related deaths in the country (15.2%), contrasting greatly with other regions, such as the Midlands and East of England where cocaine was implicated in just 3.4% of drug-related deaths.However, it is important to note that when taking into account absolute figures, Liverpool alone had more deaths involving cocaine, which was 20, than the whole of the following regions: Midlands and East of England; London; and the South of England.Liverpool overtakes Manchester with highest rates of drug-related deaths in the North West, reveals new reportThe number of drugs-related deaths in Liverpool has risen above those in Manchester for the first time since 2006 according to a new study.For the first time in over five years there were more drug-related deaths in Liverpool, which saw 49 such cases, compared to Manchester with 36.The report, compiled by researchers at St George’s, University of London, also found that Liverpool alone had more deaths linked to cocaine than the whole of the Midlands and East of England region, London and the South of England.Drugs deaths in Northern Ireland buck wider UK trend of lethal heroin useDeaths related to drugs in Northern Ireland show a marked difference from the rest of the UK as fatalities are mostly linked to prescription drugs, says a new report.Whereas the vast majority of drug-related deaths in the UK are linked to opiates such as heroin and morphine, in the province most relate to other drugs.The new research from St George’s, University of London, also shows a small decrease in the overall number of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland. There were 78 such deaths in 2012 as opposed to 82 in 2011.Northern Ireland contrasts the rest of the UK with higher proportions of deaths attributed to drugs such as tramadol, benzodiazepines and anti-depressants. Northern Ireland also displayed a substantially lower proportion of deaths attributed to heroin/morphine and methadone than other regions of the UK, such as the South of England, the midlands and London.

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Invasive ‘demon shrimp’ threaten British marine species

A species of shrimp, dubbed the ‘demon shrimp,’ which was previously unknown in British waters, are attacking and eating native shrimp and disrupting the food chain in some of our rivers and lakes. The problem is contributing to the cost of Invasive non-native species (INNS) to the British economy, which is estimated at a total annual cost of approximately 1.7 billion.Dr Alex Ford, a marine scientist from the University of Portsmouth, is investigating the problem with support from the Environment Agency. He said that demon shrimp, so called because of their larger size and aggressive behavior, are currently a more widespread threat than the ‘killer shrimp’ also known to have invaded British waters in 2010. The fear is that some of Britain’s native shrimp are in danger of being completely eradicated from some rivers and lakes, he added.”They are out-eating and out-competing our native shrimps and changing the species dynamic in our rivers and lakes. As soon as one species is depleted it can affect the whole food chain with potentially catastrophic results.”The demon shrimp originates from the region around the Black sea and Caspian sea (known as the Ponto-Caspian region) and found their way into British waters accidently, possibly through shipping in ballast water and are now infiltrating the country via navigable waterwaysDr Ford, from the University’s Institute of Marine Sciences, said: “One of the main reasons why invasive species are successful is the escape from predators, parasites and disease in their native habitats. We are looking at whether these demon shrimp carry ‘demon parasites,’ which could also affect our native species that won’t have any immunity. There is a very real bio-security threat of spreading disease and parasites in native populations without acquired resistance.”The Environment Agency considers the demon shrimp to be a big problem. Tim Johns from the Environment Agency said: “Invasive shrimps such as this species present a major threat to the ecology of our rivers and lakes and we have a real battle on our hands to control their spread.”Dr Ford and colleagues from the University’s Institute of Marine Sciences are now investigating which parasites the demon shrimp are vulnerable to. They are looking at whether they bring with them their own parasites and if they are able to acquire native British parasites, which may result in suppressing population growth over time.One of their findings indicates that a very large proportion of demon shrimp are ‘intersex’ — displaying male and female characteristics, which is caused by parasites which ‘feminize’ the host. Feminizing parasites exist in both British and foreign waters, but in the demon shrimp, the feminizing process has not been fully completed leaving them intersexual. …

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Pacific trade winds stall global surface warming … for now

The strongest trade winds have driven more of the heat from global warming into the oceans; but when those winds slow, that heat will rapidly return to the atmosphere causing an abrupt rise in global average temperatures.Heat stored in the western Pacific Ocean caused by an unprecedented strengthening of the equatorial trade winds appears to be largely responsible for the hiatus in surface warming observed over the past 13 years.New research published today in the journal Nature Climate Change indicates that the dramatic acceleration in winds has invigorated the circulation of the Pacific Ocean, causing more heat to be taken out of the atmosphere and transferred into the subsurface ocean, while bringing cooler waters to the surface.”Scientists have long suspected that extra ocean heat uptake has slowed the rise of global average temperatures, but the mechanism behind the hiatus remained unclear” said Professor Matthew England, lead author of the study and a Chief Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.”But the heat uptake is by no means permanent: when the trade wind strength returns to normal — as it inevitably will — our research suggests heat will quickly accumulate in the atmosphere. So global temperatures look set to rise rapidly out of the hiatus, returning to the levels projected within as little as a decade.”The strengthening of the Pacific trade winds began during the 1990s and continues today. Previously, no climate models have incorporated a trade wind strengthening of the magnitude observed, and these models failed to capture the hiatus in warming. Once the trade winds were added by the researchers, the global average temperatures very closely resembled the observations during the hiatus.”The winds lead to extra ocean heat uptake, which stalled warming of the atmosphere. Accounting for this wind intensification in model projections produces a hiatus in global warming that is in striking agreement with observations,” Prof England said.”Unfortunately, however, when the hiatus ends, global warming looks set to be rapid.”The impact of the trade winds on global average temperatures is caused by the winds forcing heat to accumulate below surface of the Western Pacific Ocean.”This pumping of heat into the ocean is not very deep, however, and once the winds abate, heat is returned rapidly to the atmosphere” England explains.”Climate scientists have long understood that global average temperatures don’t rise in a continual upward trajectory, instead warming in a series of abrupt steps in between periods with more-or-less steady temperatures. Our work helps explain how this occurs,” said Prof England.”We should be very clear: the current hiatus offers no comfort — we are just seeing another pause in warming before the next inevitable rise in global temperatures.”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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Cell Phone Use and Its Impact on the Rate of Auto Accidents

Cell phones have ballooned in popularity over the last decade. Not surprisingly, so have concerns regarding distracted driving and the role that these ubiquitous electronic devices may have in causing a variety of motor vehicle-related accidents. A significant body of research – conducted under both experimental and on-the-road conditions – has demonstrated that using either hand-held cell phones or hands-free cell phone devices can lead to driving practices that can undermine safe driving. Unfortunately, the extent to which cell phone use while driving increases the risk of accidents has been difficult to determine, due in part to the fact that police crash reports are not reliable indicators of whether or not drivers were using a cell phone at the time a crash occurred.Nevertheless, a number of important studies have demonstrated that operating a cell phone while driving significantly increases the risk of a crash. A 1997 study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine found that the risk of experiencing a collision while actively using a cell phone was four times higher than the risk when a phone was not actively being used. A more recent study published in the British Medical Journal also reached similar conclusions, demonstrating a four-fold increase in the risk of a crash when cell phones were used within the 10 minutes prior to a crash occurring. According to recent statistics published by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), 13.5 million drivers are simultaneously using cell phones at any given time during the daylight hours. In addition, the NTSB documented that close to 3,100 roadway fatalities in 2010 involved distracted drivers. The National Safety Council estimated that 23% (1.3 million) of all crashes that occurred in 2011 involved the use of cell phones.Citing the epidemic magnitude of cell phone use while driving, legislators on both the federal and state levels have worked tirelessly for many years to pass bans on cell phone use while driving. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that as of October 2012, 10 states have enacted bans against talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving. …

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Hottest days in some parts of Europe have warmed four times more than the global average

Sep. 11, 2013 — Some of the hottest days and coldest nights in parts of Europe have warmed more than four times the global average change since 1950, according to a new paper by researchers from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Warwick, which is published today (11 September 2013) in the journal Environmental Research Letters.The researchers translated observations of weather into observations of climate change using a gridded dataset of observations stretching back to 1950. The hottest 5 per cent of days in summer have warmed fastest in a band from southern England and northern France to Denmark. By contrast, the average and slightly hotter than average days have warmed most in regions further south in France and Germany. In eastern Spain and central Italy there has been broad warming across all types of days, but in most places those days which are cooler than average have not warmed so much.The paper points out that some locations and temperature thresholds have seen little change since 1950. The authors suggest that the results highlight the scale of the difference between global change and the local climate changes felt by individuals.Dr. David Stainforth, the lead author on the paper, said: “Climate is fundamentally the distributions of weather. As climate changes, the distributions change. But they don’t just shift, they change shape. How they change shape depends on where you are. …

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Copper destroys highly infectious norovirus

Sep. 9, 2013 — Scientists from the University of Southampton have discovered that copper and copper alloys rapidly destroy norovirus — the highly-infectious sickness bug. Worldwide, norovirus is responsible for more than 267 million cases of acute gastroenteritis every year. In the UK, norovirus costs the National Health Service at least £100 million per year, in times of high incidence, and up to 3,000 people admitted to hospital per year in England.The virus, for which there is no specific treatment or vaccine, can be contracted from contaminated food or water, person-to-person contact, and contact with contaminated surfaces, meaning surfaces made from copper could effectively shut down one avenue of infection.The study, which was designed to simulate fingertip-touch contamination of surfaces, showed norovirus was rapidly destroyed on copper and its alloys, with those containing more than 60 per cent copper proving particularly effective. Copper alloys have previously been shown to be effective antimicrobial surfaces against a range of bacteria and fungi.The Southampton research reported rapid inactivation of murine norovirus on alloys, containing over 60 per cent copper, at room temperature but no reduction of infectivity on stainless steel dry surfaces in simulated wet fomite and dry touch contamination. The rate of inactivation was initially very rapid and proportional to the copper content of alloy tested. Viral inactivation was not as rapid on brass as previously observed for bacteria but copper-nickel alloy was very effective.One of the targets of copper toxicity was the viral genome and a reduced number of the gene for a viral encoded protein, VPg (viral-protein-genome-linked), which is essential for infectivity, was observed following contact with copper and brass dry surfaces.Lead author Sarah Warnes, from the Centre for Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton, says: “The use of antimicrobial surfaces containing copper in clinical and community environments, such as cruise ships and care facilities, could help to reduce the spread of this highly infectious and costly pathogen.”Copper alloys, although they provide a constant killing surface, should always be used in conjunction with regular and efficient cleaning and decontamination regimes using non-chelating reagents that could inhibit the copper ion activity.”Co-author Professor Bill Keevil, from the University’s Institute for Life Sciences, adds: “Although the virus was identified over 40 years ago, the lack of methods to assess infectivity has hampered the study of the human pathogen.”The virus can remain infectious on solid surfaces and is also resistant to many cleaning solutions. That means it can spread to people who touch these surfaces, causing further infections and maintaining the cycle of infection. Copper surfaces, like door handles and taps, can disrupt the cycle and lower the risk of outbreaks.” The study ‘Inactivation of norovirus on dry copper alloy surfaces’ is published in the latest issue of the journal PLOS ONE. Previous laboratory studies by the University of Southampton have described the rapid death of bacterial, fungal and viral pathogens such as MRSA on copper alloy surfaces and also prevention of antibiotic resistance horizontal gene transfer between pathogens.

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NASA’s black-hole-hunter catches its first 10 supermassive black holes

Sep. 9, 2013 — NASA’s black-hole-hunter spacecraft, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has “bagged” its first 10 supermassive black holes. The mission, which has a mast the length of a school bus, is the first telescope capable of focusing the highest-energy X-ray light into detailed pictures.The new black-hole finds are the first of hundreds expected from the mission over the next two years. These gargantuan structures — black holes surrounded by thick disks of gas — lie at the hearts of distant galaxies between 0.3 and 11.4 billion light-years from Earth.”We found the black holes serendipitously,” explained David Alexander, a NuSTAR team member based in the Department of Physics at Durham University in England and lead author of a new study appearing Aug. 20 in The Astrophysical Journal. “We were looking at known targets and spotted the black holes in the background of the images.”Additional serendipitous finds such as these are expected for the mission. Along with the mission’s more targeted surveys of selected patches of sky, the NuSTAR team plans to comb through hundreds of images taken by the telescope with the goal of finding black holes caught in the background.Once the 10 black holes were identified, the researchers went through previous data taken by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite, two complementary space telescopes that see lower-energy X-ray light. The scientists found that the objects had been detected before. It wasn’t until the NuSTAR observations, however, that they stood out as exceptional, warranting closer inspection.By combining observations taken across the range of the X-ray spectrum, the astronomers hope to crack unsolved mysteries of black holes. For example, how many of them populate the universe?”We are getting closer to solving a mystery that began in 1962,” said Alexander. …

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Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus: MERS-CoV treatment effective in monkeys

Sep. 8, 2013 — National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists report that a combination of two licensed antiviral drugs reduces virus replication and improves clinical outcome in a recently developed monkey model of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection.Share This:Their study, which appears as a letter in the Sept. 8 edition of Nature Medicine, expands on work published in April showing that a combination of ribavirin and interferon-alpha 2b stops MERS-CoV from replicating in cell culture. Both antivirals are routinely used together to treat viral diseases such as hepatitis C.In the latest study, investigators at NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) infected six rhesus macaques with MERS-CoV and, eight hours later, treated half of them with the two-drug regimen. Compared to the untreated animals, the treatment group showed no breathing difficulties and only minimal X-ray evidence of pneumonia. The treated animals also had lower amounts of virus and less severe tissue damage in the lungs.As of Aug. 30, 2013, the World Health Organization has reported 108 human cases of MERS-CoV infection, including 50 deaths. Given the current lack of treatment options, the authors of this study conclude that combined ribavirin and interferon-alpha 2b therapy should be considered as an early intervention.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above. …

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1 baby in every 46 born with a congenital anomaly says new report

Sep. 6, 2013 — The report by researchers at Queen Mary University of London collates data from six regional registers, a national coverage of 36 per cent of the births in England and Wales. Examples of congenital anomalies include heart and lung defects, Down syndrome, neural tube defects such as spina bifida, and limb malformations such as club foot.Share This:Funded by Public Health England (PHE), the study is the most up-to-date and comprehensive of its kind, bringing together existing data in England and Wales from 2007 to 2011. However, the editor of the report, Professor Joan Morris, from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, part of Queen Mary said: “We remain concerned that data for substantial parts of the country, including London, are not currently monitored, meaning large regional increases in congenital anomalies could go unnoticed and their causes not investigated. Currently there are no registers in London, the South East, the North West and East Anglia.”With formal responsibility for surveillance of congenital anomalies in England being met by PHE, there is an opportunity to expand the current system to the whole of England. Professor Elizabeth Draper from the University of Leicester, who is Chair of BINOCAR, commented: “This important report again highlights the value of the existing regional registers. We are working closely with PHE to establish regional registers in those areas not currently covered by a congenital anomaly register.”The number and types of congenital anomalies have been monitored since the thalidomide epidemic in the 1960s. Since the 1980s, regional registers have been established in some parts of the country to actively collect data from hospital, laboratories and health records. In the intervening years, lack of strategic funding coupled with a lack of support at national level has led to the closure of some of the regional registers. The creation of a stable system of funding for an entire surveillance network would make it possible to fulfil the potential that the existing registers offer for public health, service planning, clinical audit, outcomes monitoring, research and other purposes.The main findings from today’s report are:2.2% of babies had a congenital anomaly in England and Wales in 2011. …

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Dishonest deeds lead to ‘cheater’s high,’ as long as no one gets hurt, study finds

Sep. 5, 2013 — People who get away with cheating when they believe no one is hurt by their dishonesty are more likely to feel upbeat than remorseful afterward, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.Although people predict they will feel bad after cheating or being dishonest, many of them don’t, reports a study published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.”When people do something wrong specifically to harm someone else, such as apply an electrical shock, the consistent reaction in previous research has been that they feel bad about their behavior,” said the study’s lead author, Nicole E. Ruedy, of the University of Washington. “Our study reveals people actually may experience a ‘cheater’s high’ after doing something unethical that doesn’t directly harm someone else.”Even when there was no tangible reward, people who cheated felt better on average than those who didn’t cheat, according to results of several experiments that involved more than 1,000 people in the U.S. and England. A little more than half the study participants were men, with 400 from the general public in their late 20s or early 30s and the rest in their 20s at universities.Participants predicted that they or someone else who cheated on a test or logged more hours than they had worked to get a bonus would feel bad or ambivalent afterward. When participants actually cheated, they generally got a significant emotional boost instead, according to responses to questionnaires that gauged their feelings before and after several experiments.In one experiment, participants who cheated on math and logic problems were overall happier afterward than those who didn’t and those who had no opportunity to cheat. The participants took tests on computers in two groups. In one group, when participants completed an answer, they were automatically moved to the next question. In the other group, participants could click a button on the screen to see the correct answer, but they were told to disregard the button and solve the problem on their own. …

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Heart attack death rates unchanged in spite of faster care at hospitals

Sep. 4, 2013 — Heart attack deaths have remained the same, even as hospital teams have gotten faster at treating heart attack patients with emergency angioplasty, according to a study in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.Hospitals across the country have successfully raced to reduce so-called door-to-balloon time, the time it takes patients arriving at hospitals suffering from a heart attack to be treated with angioplasty, to 90 minutes or less in the belief that it would save heart muscle and lives.In an analysis led by the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center of 100,000 heart attack admissions across the United States between 2005 and 2009, a time period that coincided with a national effort to reduce door-to-balloon time, 4.7 percent of patients died. The rate was virtually unchanged in spite of the faster care.”The data suggests that efforts to reduce door-to-balloon time further may not result in lower death rates,” says lead study author and interventional cardiologist Daniel Menees, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.”Potential strategies to improve care may include increasing patient awareness of heart attack symptoms, reducing delays for treatment once symptoms begin, and shortening transfer time between health care facilities once a heart attack is recognized.”Door-to-balloon time describes the amount of time between when a patient arrives at the hospital and when they receive percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), such as angioplasty, in which a catheter with a small balloon at the tip is inserted and inflated to open a blocked artery.The New England Journal of Medicine study of patients treated for heart attack at 515 hospitals participating in the CathPCI Registry® found door-to-balloon time fell from 83 minutes in 2005-2006 to 67 minutes in 2008-2009.The findings show the result of collaboration and teamwork among teams led by cardiologists, emergency medicine physicians and emergency medical services to reduce the time it takes to treat a heart attack.Health care quality has been measured by how well hospitals meet the 90-minute time goal. The U-M Health System is among those hospitals reporting its own performance publicly on the Web.”But the pendulum may have swung too far,” Menees says. “In our rush to provide treatment even faster, we may be taking patients for angioplasty who don’t need one and possibly even placing those patients at-risk.”Door-to-balloon time is easy to measure and something we can control but it’s only a fraction of the total ischemic time,” he says.Each year, almost 250,000 Americans have the most serious kind of heart attack called a “STEMI,” which stands for ST-elevated myocardial infarction. It is caused by a blocked artery shutting down blood supply to a large area of the heart.”Heart muscle is dying while a patient is thinking, ‘Is this real? Should I call, or should I not call for help?’ ” says senior study author and interventional cardiologist Hitinder Gurm, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School. “We’re seeing a fair amount of delay in seeking treatment. That has been harder to fix.”The study showed the percentage of heart attack patients receiving care in 90 minutes or less improved from 59.5 percent to 83.1 percent. However the heart attack mortality rate remained virtually unchanged at 4.8 percent in 2005 and 4.7 percent in 2009.”Emergency teams and the cardiology community have worked hard with the hope that reducing door-to-balloon time would improve patient outcomes,” Gurm says. …

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Red spruce reviving in New England, but why?

Aug. 30, 2013 — In the 1970s, red spruce was the forest equivalent of a canary in the coal mine, signaling that acid rain was damaging forests and that some species, especially red spruce, were particularly sensitive to this human induced damage. In the course of studying the lingering effects of acid rain and whether trees stored less carbon as a result of winter injury, U.S. Forest Service and University of Vermont scientists came up with a surprising result — three decades later, the canary is feeling much better.Decline in red spruce has been attributed to damage that trees sustain in winter, when foliage predisposed to injury by exposure to acid rain experiences freezing injury and dies. Paul Schaberg, a research plant physiologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Burlington, Vt., and partners studied red spruce trees in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. They found that the influence of a single damaging winter injury event in 2003 continued to slow tree growth in New England for 3 years, longer than had been expected, and had a significant impact on carbon storage.They also found something they did not expect.”The shocking thing is that these trees are doing remarkably well now,” said Schaberg, a co-author on the study. Researchers found that diameter growth is now the highest ever recorded for red spruce, indicating that it is now growing at levels almost two times the average for the last 100 years, a growth rate never before achieved by the trees examined. “It raises the question ‘why?'” Schaberg said.The theories that Schaberg and his colleagues are eager to test include whether the red spruce turn-around can be credited to reductions in pollution made possible by the Clean Air Act of 1990, which helped reduce sulfur and nitrogen pollution. Another possibility is that red spruce may be one of nature’s winners in the face of climate change. …

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Time for tech transfer law to change? Doctor looks at history of Bayh-Dole, and says yes

Aug. 29, 2013 — The law that has helped medical discoveries make the leap from university labs to the marketplace for more than 30 years needs revising, in part to ensure the American people benefit from science their tax dollars have paid for, says a University of Michigan Medical School physician and medical historian.In a new commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine, Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., director of the U-M Center for the History of Medicine, looks at the fluke-ridden history of how the law known as Bayh-Dole Technology Transfer Act was passed in 1980. The law made it much easier for research findings made by academics to be patented, licensed by companies and commercialized.The haphazard history of Bayh-Dole, and the issues and risks that have arisen since it was passed, suggest it is time to re-examine and revise the law, says Markel.The need for more modern guidance of the process known as technology transfer, and the conduct of ethical and socially just partnerships between academia and industry, was reflected in the recent unanimous Supreme Court ruling that barred the patenting of human genes — though allowed other patents of gene-related discoveries, Markel says.He traces the history of the Bayh-Dole law, which allows universities and other institutions that receive federal research dollars to grant exclusive licenses to companies that wish to commercialize discoveries made by academic researchers.Initially conceived as a way to help the United States economy at a time when industry was struggling to keep up with German and Japanese innovation, the proposal only became law because of last-minute wrangling during the final days of a lame-duck Congressional and presidential term.”The Bayh-Dole Act has had such far-reaching influence in both academia and American society, but it certainly is not a law that should be set in stone,” says Markel. “The very passage of the act was based on a series of quirky, historically improbable events, and random and entropic processes. There have been many great things and grave problems that have emerged since the passage of Bayh-Dole, but because the landscape of biotechnologies in universities and industry has evolved so far, so fast, it’s time to have a rational, serious dialogue about revising it to reduce the risks the law has created.”Markel notes that partnerships between industry and academia are important, and is not calling for a separation of the two spheres.Rather, he feels that more consideration needs to the ethics of industry/academic interaction, the need for continued support of basic research, scientific data sharing, and the payback for American taxpayers whose dollars support research before commercialization.”We’re all paying for these discoveries, which can lead to profits for the individual researchers, their institution and the company that commercializes the idea,” he says. “But the one investor that can be left out of the profit equation is the American taxpayer.”

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Not the end of the world: Why Earth’s greatest mass extinction was the making of modern mammals

Aug. 28, 2013 — The ancient closest relatives of mammals — the cynodont therapsids — not only survived the greatest mass extinction of all time, 252 million years ago, but thrived in the aftermath, according to new research published today (28th August).The first mammals arose in the Triassic period, more than 225 million years ago. These early fur balls include small shrew-like animals such as Morganucodon from England, Megazostrodon from South Africa and Bienotherium from China.They had differentiated teeth (incisors, canines, molars) and large brains and were probably warm-blooded and covered in fur — all characteristics that stand them apart from their reptile ancestors, and which contribute to their huge success today.However, new research suggests that this array of unique features arose gradually over a long span of time, and that the first mammals may have arisen as a result of the end-Permian mass extinction — which wiped out 90 per cent of marine organisms and 70 per cent of terrestrial species.The research was conducted by the University of Lincoln, UK, the National Museum in Bloemfontein, South Africa, and the University of Bristol, UK, and has been published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.Lead author Dr Marcello Ruta, evolutionary palaeobiologist from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “Mass extinctions are seen as entirely negative. However, in this case, cynodont therapsids, which included a very small number of species before the extinction, really took off afterwards and were able to adapt to fill many different niches in the Triassic — from carnivores to herbivores.”Co-author Dr Jennifer Botha-Brink of the National Museum in Bloemfontein, South Africa, said: “During the Triassic, the cynodonts split into two groups, the cynognathians and the probainognathians. The first were mainly plant-eaters, the second mainly flesh-eaters and the two groups seemed to rise and fall at random — first one expanding, and then the other. In the end, the probainognathians became the most diverse and most varied in adaptations, and they gave rise to the first mammals some 25 million years after the mass extinction.”Co-author Professor Michael Benton, of the University of Bristol, UK, added: “We saw that when a major group, such as cynodonts, diversifies, it is the body shape or range of adaptations that expands first. The diversity, or number of species, rises after all the morphologies available to the group have been tried out.”The researchers concluded that cynodont diversity rose steadily during the recovery of life following the mass extinction, with their range of form rising rapidly at first before hitting a plateau. This suggests there is no particular difference in morphological diversity between the very first mammals and their immediate cynodont predecessors.

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Evaluating medical research: New treatments better than standard ones just over half the time

Aug. 27, 2013 — USF Distinguished Professor Benjamin Djulbegovic, MD, PhD, has studied the ethics of randomized clinical trials and their effectiveness in evaluating the outcomes of new treatments for decades.Now, in a paper published Aug. 22 in the top journal Nature, Dr. Djulbegovic and colleagues report that on average new treatments work better than existing ones just over half the time. On scientific and ethical grounds, they say, the randomized controlled trial (RCT) system’s little more than 50-50 success rate over the past half century is evidence that the system is working as intended.The researchers analyzed 860 phase III published and unpublished RCTs performed by academic institutions or pharmaceutical companies. These trials collectively involved more than 350,000 patients.”Our retrospective review of more than 50 years of randomized trials shows that they remain the ‘indispensable ordeals’ through which biomedical researchers’ responsibility to patients and the public is manifested,” the researchers conclude. “These trials may need tweak and polish, but they’re not broken.”People who consent to participate RCTs are willing to be randomly allocated to new or existing treatments. While RCTs are considered the gold standard for comparing the effects of one treatment to another, the gradual progress they yield can seem frustratingly slow — particularly for patients with poor standard treatment options.Yet, the genuine uncertainty associated with individual RCTs has been vital to the gains in therapeutics, said Dr. Djulbegovic, professor of medicine and oncology at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Moffitt Cancer Center. If there was significant likelihood that one treatment in a comparison was better than the other, it would be unethical to deny some patients the superior treatment, and well-informed patients would probably refuse to participate in the study, he said.Incremental advances in treatment generated by RCTs over time — such as childhood leukemia cure rates moving from zero to 80 percent even though only 2 to 5 percent of new treatments provided a breakthrough — have translated into important improvements in health and lifespan, the authors say. …

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