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Medicine

Caffeine May Counter Age-Related Inflammation, Says Study (stanford.edu) 60

According to a new Stanford study published in the journal Nature Medicine, caffeine may help to counter the inflammatory process that occurs in some older people. The researchers have found a connection between advancing age, systemic inflammation, cardiovascular disease and coffee consumption by analyzing blood samples, survey data and medical and family histories obtained from more than 100 human participants in a multiyear study. Stanford Medical Center Report adds: The study implicates this inflammatory process as a driver of cardiovascular disease and increased rates of mortality overall. Metabolites, or breakdown products, of nucleic acids -- the molecules that serve as building blocks for our genes -- circulating in the blood can trigger this inflammatory process, the study found. The study also provides evidence that caffeine and its own metabolites may counter the action of these circulating nucleic-acid metabolites, possibly explaining why coffee drinkers tend to live longer than abstainers. Notably, this inflammatory mechanism was found to be activated only in some, but not all, of the older study participants. Those in whom it was relatively quiescent tended to drink more caffeinated beverages. Laboratory experiments revealed that the mechanism was directly countered by caffeine and associated compounds. For the new study, the researchers compared blood drawn from older versus younger study participants to see which genes tended to be more highly activated in older people. They zeroed in on two clusters of genes whose activity was associated with the production of a potent circulating inflammatory protein called IL-1-beta. The genes within each cluster appeared to work in coordination with one another. The researchers found that incubating a type of immune cell with two of those nucleic-acid metabolites boosted activity in one of the gene clusters, resulting in increased IL-1-beta production. When injected into mice, the substances triggered massive systemic inflammation, along with high blood pressure. In addition, immune cells infiltrated and clogged the animals' kidneys, increasing renal pressure substantially. Intrigued by the correlation between older participants' health, gene-cluster activation and self-reported rates of caffeine consumption, the researchers followed up and verified that blood from the group with low cluster activity was enriched for caffeine and a number of its metabolites, compared with blood from the group with high cluster activity. (Examples of these metabolites are theophylline, also found in tea, and theobromine, which abounds in chocolate.) Incubating immune cells with caffeine and its breakdown products along with the inflammation-triggering nucleic acid metabolites substantially prevented the latter from exerting their powerful inflammatory effect on the cells.
Privacy

Hackers Corrupt Data For Cloud-Based Medical Marijuana System (bostonglobe.com) 139

Long-time Slashdot reader t0qer writes: I'm the IT director at a medical marijuana dispensary. Last week the point of sales system we were using was hacked... What scares me about this breach is, I have about 30,000 patients in my database alone. If this company has 1,000 more customers like me, even half of that is still 15 million people on a list of people that "Smoke pot"...
" No patient, consumer, or client data was ever extracted or viewed," the company's data directory has said. "The forensic analysis proves that. The data was encrypted -- so it couldn't have been viewed -- and it was never extracted, so nobody has it and could attempt decryption." They're saying it was a "targeted" attack meant to corrupt the data rather than retrieve it, and they're "reconstructing historical data" from backups, though their web site adds that their backup sites were also targeted.

"In response to this attack, all client sites have been migrated to a new, more secure environment," the company's CEO announced on YouTube Saturday, adding that "Keeping our client's data secure has always been our top priority." Last week one industry publication had reported that the outage "has sent 1,000 marijuana retailers in 23 states scrambling to handle everything from sales and inventory management to regulatory compliance issues."
Medicine

'Superbug' Resistant To 26 Antibiotics Kills A Patient In Nevada (upi.com) 291

An anonymous reader quotes UPI: A Nevada woman in her 70s who'd recently returned from India died in September from a "superbug" infection that resisted all antibiotics, according to a report released Friday... The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "basically reported that there was nothing in our medicine cabinet to treat this lady," report co-author Dr. Randall Todd told the Reno Gazette-Journal. He's director of epidemiology and public health preparedness for the Washoe County Health District, in Reno... CDC testing subsequently revealed the germ was New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase -- a highly resistant form of CRE typically found outside the United States.
Medicine

Study Shows Wearable Sensors Can Tell When You Are Getting Sick (phys.org) 54

skids quotes a report from Phys.Org: Wearable sensors that monitor heart rate, activity, skin temperature and other variables can reveal a lot about what is going on inside a person, including the onset of infection, inflammation and even insulin resistance, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Altogether, the team collected nearly 2 billion measurements from 60 people, including continuous data from each participant's wearable biosensor devices and periodic data from laboratory tests of their blood chemistry, gene expression and other measures. Participants wore between one and eight commercially available activity monitors and other monitors that collected more than 250,000 measurements a day. The team collected data on weight; heart rate; oxygen in the blood; skin temperature; activity, including sleep, steps, walking, biking and running; calories expended; acceleration; and even exposure to gamma rays and X-rays. "We want to study people at an individual level," said Michael Snyder, PhD, professor and chair of genetics. "We have more sensors on our cars than we have on human beings," said Snyder. In the future, he said, he expects the situation will be reversed and people will have more sensors than cars do.

Slashdot reader skids adds: "IT security being in the state it is, will we face the same decision about our actual lives that we already face about our social lives/identities: either risk very real hazards of misuse of your personal data, or get left behind?

Medicine

CVS Announces Super Cheap Generic Alternative To EpiPen (arstechnica.com) 371

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Pharmaceutical giant CVS announced Thursday that it has partnered with Impax Laboratories to sell a generic epinephrine auto-injector for $109.99 for a two-pack -- a dramatic cut from Mylan's Epipen two-pack prices, which list for more than $600 as a brand name and $300 as a generic. The lower-cost auto-injector, a generic form of Adrenaclick, is available starting today nationwide in the company's more than 9,600 pharmacies. Its price resembles that of EpiPen's before Mylan bought the rights to the life-saving devices back in 2007 and raised the price repeatedly, sparking outcry. Helena Foulkes, president of CVS Pharmacy, said the company felt compelled to respond to the urgent need for a more affordable alternative. "Over the past year, nearly 150,000 people signed on to a petition asking for a lower-cost epinephrine auto-injector option and millions more were active in social media searching for a solution," she said in a statement. The price of $109.99 for the alternative applies to those with and without insurance, CVS noted. And Impax is also offering a coupon to reduce the cost to just $9.99 for qualifying patients. Also in the press statement, Dr. Todd Listwa of Novant Health, a network of healthcare providers, noted the importance of access to epinephrine auto-injectors, which swiftly reverse rapid-onset, deadly allergic reactions in some. "For these patients, having access to emergency epinephrine is a necessity. Making an affordable epinephrine auto-injector device accessible to patients will ensure patients have the medicine they need, when they need it."
Medicine

Scientists Use Stem Cells To Regenerate the External Layer of a Human Heart (indy100.com) 51

schwit1 quotes a report from Indy100: A team of scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School have used adult skin cells to regenerate functional human heart tissue. The study, published in the journal Circulation Research, detailed that the team took adult skin cells, using a technique called messenger RNA to turn them into pluripotent stem cells, before inducing them to become two different types of cardiac cells. Then for two weeks they infused the hearts with a nutrient solution, allowing them to develop under the same circumstances a heart would grow inside a human body. After the two week period, the hearts contained well-structured tissue, which appeared similar to that contained in developing human hearts. When shocked with electricity, they started beating. This represents the closest that medical researchers have come to growing an entire beating human heart.
Science

New Research Suggests the Appendix Has a Purpose After All (qz.com) 133

The appendix is an organ thought to have gone the way of our wisdom teeth and body hair: At one point we all needed them, now people can get by just fine without them. However, it turns out, at least the appendix has some purpose in the body. From a report: Scientists, though, have never been certain what the appendix used to do -- and if it is still, in fact, useless. On Jan. 9, a team of researchers led by scientists at Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine published a review study proposing an answer: the appendix is a secondary immune function that both catalyzes immune cell responses and floods your gut with beneficial bacteria when they've been depleted. And it still plays that role, in a limited fashion, in human body function."We can function okay without it, but the appendix does provide some degree of immunity and beneficial bacteria,â Heather Smith, an anatomist and lead author of the paper said.
Medicine

'Tooth Repair Drug' May Replace Fillings (bbc.com) 130

Teeth can be encouraged to repair themselves in a way that could see an end to fillings, according to scientists. From a report on BBC: The team at King's College London showed that a chemical could encourage cells in the dental pulp to heal small holes in mice teeth. A biodegradable sponge was soaked in the drug and then put inside the cavity. The study, published in Scientific Reports, showed it led to "complete, effective natural repair." Teeth have limited regenerative abilities. They can produce a thin band of dentine -- the layer just below the enamel -- if the inner dental pulp becomes exposed, but this cannot repair a large cavity. [...] Scientists discovered that a drug called Tideglusib heightened the activity of stem cells in the dental pulp so they could repair 0.13mm holes in the teeth of mice. A drug-soaked sponge was placed in the hole and then a protective coating was applied over the top. As the sponge broke down it was replaced by dentine, healing the tooth.
Medicine

New Study Finds 'Mediterranean' Diet Significantly Reduces Brain Shrinkage (bbc.com) 176

schwit1 writes that 562 elderly research subjects cut their brain shrinkage in half just by changing their diet. (Paywalled article here). The BBC reports: A study of pensioners in Scotland found that those with a diet rich in fresh fruit, vegetables and olive oil had healthier brains than those with different eating habits. They suffered less brain shrinkage than those who regularly ate meat and dairy products. The study was carried out by University of Edinburgh researchers.... Scientists found that those who adhered most closely to the diet retained significantly greater brain volume after three years than those who did not... Lead researcher Dr Michelle Luciano said: "As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells, which can affect learning and memory. This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health."
Biotech

Theranos Is Laying Off 155 People, About 41 Percent Of Its Workforce (cnbc.com) 52

The embattled blood-testing company Theranos is laying off 155 people, about 41 percent of its workforce, as it struggles to recover from the backlash generated when the company failed to provide accurate results to patients using its proprietary blood test technology. The job cuts announced today are similar to the cuts announced last year in October, when the company said it would shut down its blood-testing facilities and shrink its workforce by more than 40%. CNBC reports: The start-up will let go of its workers after months of regulatory setbacks as well as lawsuits and scrutiny. That would leave 220 workers to focus on its business plans, primarily its blood testing product called the miniLab. "These are always the most difficult decisions; however, this move allows Theranos to marshal its resources most efficiently and effectively," Theranos said in a statement.
Medicine

Brain Region That Recognizes Faces Keeps Growing in Adulthood (engadget.com) 47

An anonymous reader shares an Engadget report: Neurologists thought that your brain was basically set once you hit early childhood, but researchers from Stanford have discovered one part that keeps growing. Using new MRI imaging techniques, they found that the "fusiform gyrus," which is mostly responsible for recognizing human faces, keeps expanding well after other regions have stopped. The research could lead to more sophisticated cellular analysis of the brain and help patients with a disorder called "facial blindness." Normally, our brain actually loses neurons between early childhood and puberty in a process called "pruning." That applies to visual parts of the brain that identify things like cityscape or hallways, but not faces. The researchers used two different MRI machines to scan both brain activity and density in two different parts of the brain: the region responsible for identifying faces, and an area used for other types of visual recognition. They then compared those structures in the brains of children (aged five to 12) to adults between 22 to 28. It turned out that adults had thicker fusiform gyrus regions than kids, different levels of proteins and cells and more activity. By contrast, the other visual regions showed lower levels of development.
Medicine

Scientists Identify New Organ In Humans (livescience.com) 112

Scientists have classified a new organ called the mesentery, which connects a person's small and large intestines to the abdominal wall and anchors them in place, according to the Mayo Clinic. Until recently, it was thought of a number of distinct membranes by most scientists. It was none other than Leonardo da Vinci who identified the membranes as a single structure, according to a recent review. Live Science reports: In the review, lead author Dr. Calvin Coffey, a professor of surgery at the University of Limerick's Graduate Entry Medical School in Ireland, and colleagues looked at past studies and literature on the mesentery. Coffey noted that throughout the 20th century, anatomy books have described the mesentery as a series of fragmented membranes; in other words, different mesenteries were associated with different parts of the intestines. More recent studies looking at the mesentery in patients undergoing colorectal surgery and in cadavers led Coffey's team to conclude that the membrane is its own, continuous organ, according to the review, which was published in November in the journal The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology. The reclassification of the mesentery as an organ "is relevant universally as it affects all of us," Coffey said in a statement. By recognizing the anatomy and the structure of the mesentery, scientists can now focus on learning more about how the organ functions, Coffey said. In addition, they can also learn about diseases associated with the mesentery, he added.
Medicine

France Begins Opt-Out Organ Donation (theoutline.com) 445

Laura June, reporting for The Outline: France began to use a new opt-out system of organ donation on Jan. 1, making it one of a large number of European nations that now use a "presumed consent" system. This means that any adult who dies will now donate their organs by default, regardless of their survivors' wishes, unless they have signed a refusal registry in advance. The new law gets around what has historically been a stumbling block for organ donation: the surviving families of the deceased. A survey in France previously showed that while up to 80 percent of the population was in favor of donating their own organs, about 40 percent of families refuse when pressed to make the choice.
Medicine

Baby's Skull Rebuilt With Help From A 3D Printer (newsday.com) 41

schwit1 writes: A team at Stony Brook Children's Hospital was able to use a 3-D printer to produce a replica of baby Vincent's skull, which, in turn, allowed the medical team to fully rehearse the surgery long before they stepped into the operating room. Through a collaboration with Medical Modeling in Colorado, known now as 3D Systems, Egnor and Duboys were able to virtually plan the entire surgery in advance. Duboys said images from a CT scan of baby Vincent's head were sent to the company, which then manufactured a model skull using the CT information as a template. The company also created a model of what Vincent's skull should look like after surgery.
Biotech

You're An Adult, But Your Brain Might Not Be, Researchers Say (cnn.com) 261

"The human brain reaches its adult volume by age 10, but the neurons that make it up continue to change for years after that," reports the New York Times, citing a new paper by neuroscience researchers that questions when "adulthood" really begins. An anonymous reader writes: One of the paper's authors -- an associate psychology professor at Harvard -- tells CNN that "There is no agreed-on benchmark that, when reached, would allow a neuroscientist to say 'Aha! This brain is fully developed'. However, it is safe to say that by almost any metric, the brain is continuing to develop actively well past the age of 18..."

"Some children, researchers have found, have neural networks that look as if they belong to an adult..." adds the Times, noting that adolescents also "do about as well as adults on cognition tests, for instance. But if they're feeling strong emotions, those scores can plummet. The problem seems to be that teenagers have not yet developed a strong brain system that keeps emotions under control."

And this cuts both ways, according to a psychologist at Temple University who wants the voting age lowered to 16. ("Sixteen-year-olds are just as good at logical reasoning as older people are," he tells the Times) But he also believes judges should consider the lack of emotional control when sentencing defendants -- even if they're in their early 20s. "Most crime situations that young people are involved in are emotionally arousing situations -- they're scared, or they're angry, intoxicated or whatever."
Medicine

Flickering Lights May Illuminate A Path To Alzheimer's Treatment (latimes.com) 30

Slashdot reader rpavlicek writes, "Research done by MIT late this year has shown that light signals can improve the brain's neuron gamma frequency which can reverse the effects of Alzheimer's disease (by removing brain plaque). Beneficial effects were found in both intercranial and optical stimuli." The Los Angeles Times reports: New research demonstrates that, in mice whose brains are under attack by Alzheimer's dementia, exposure to lights that flicker at a precise frequency can right the brain's faulty signaling and energize its immune cells to fight off the disease... In mice, these effects were limited to the visual cortex. In humans with Alzheimer's, that's not one of the brain regions that gets gummed up early or significantly by amyloid plaques. But the authors of the new research held out hope that the light therapy might induce gamma oscillations, or their immune-boosting effect, more broadly in human brains, or that some change in delivery of the light might extend its effects to brain regions, such as the hippocampus, that are profoundly affected by Alzheimer's.
A startup has already approached the FDA seeking clinical trials, and the L.A. Times adds that "Even if the new research does not yield a treatment for Alzheimer's, it is expected to deepen understanding of a key player in the disease -- the brain's dedicated immune system -- and point to ways it can be used to fight the disease."
Medicine

New Test Spots Human Form of Mad Cow Disease With 100-Percent Accuracy (scientificamerican.com) 133

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Scientific American: Eating beef from an animal infected with mad cow disease can lead to an untreatable condition that attacks the brain and is universally fatal, but symptoms can take decades to emerge. Thankfully, Claudio Soto, a neurologist at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston, and her team, as well as a team led by Daisy Bougard of the French Blood Establishment in Montpellier, France, have developed new blood-screening technology that can spot Mad Cow Disease (known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) with 100 percent accuracy -- perhaps years before it attacks. From the Scientific American: "Misfolded proteins called prions cause both mad cow and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Once they invade the brain, they begin recruiting normal proteins and forcing them to adopt the same abnormal shape. The prions and the blighted proteins clump together forming increasingly large aggregate deposits that wreak havoc on the brain and invariably lead to death. The disease, however, has a long incubation period. In the interim, the prions hang out in non-brain tissues such as the appendix and tonsils, and because they do not cause symptoms, the infected person becomes a silent carrier. [The two teams] ran the test on blood samples from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease patients in the U.K. and France. The two teams used slightly different methods, but the basic idea was the same: the test essentially mimics the progression of the disease in an accelerated, artificial environment. First the prion proteins are separated from the blood and combined with normal proteins, which take on an abnormal shape, forming aggregate clumps. Then, the aggregates are pulled apart and recombined with more normal proteins. The process is repeated over and over again, in effect replicating the prion proteins until very small quantities are amplified enough to be easily detected. If there are no prions present in the blood, nothing happens. Between the two studies, the test was able to identify a total of 32 cases of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease with 100% percent accuracy, and there were no false positives among the 391 controls, which included regular blood donors, patients with a different form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and patients with other neurological diseases. In addition, Bougard's group was able to diagnose variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the blood of two patients 1.3 and 2.6 years before they developed clinical symptoms." The two studies -- "Detection of prions in blood from patients with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease" and "Detection of prions in the plasma of presymptomatic and symptomatic patients with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease" -- were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Businesses

7-Eleven Beats Google, Amazon To First Commercial Drone Delivery Service In US (phys.org) 42

schwit1 quotes a report from Phys.Org: U.S. drone delivery service Flirtey on Monday announced that its self-piloting flying machines have whisked flu medicine, hot food and more from 7-Eleven convenience stores to customers' homes. The Nevada-based company boasted of being the first drone service to complete regular commercial deliveries to residences in this country, having completed 77 such autonomous missions. "We have now successfully completed the first month of routine commercial drone deliveries to customer homes in partnership with 7-Eleven," Flirtey chief executive Matthew Sweeny said in a release. "This is a giant leap towards a future where everyone can experience the convenience of Flirtey's instant store-to-door drone delivery." Flirtey said it made 77 drone deliveries to homes of select customers on weekends in November, filling orders placed using a special application.Ordered items, including food and over-the-counter medicine, were packed into special containers and flow by drones that used GPS capabilities to find addresses, according to Flirtey. Drones hovered in the air and lowered packages to the ground, on average getting items to customers within 10 minutes, the company reported.
Medicine

Are Psychiatric Medications Hurting More Patients Than They Help? (scientificamerican.com) 432

An anonymous reader quotes Scientific American's Cross-Check blog: Two new posts on this website have me contemplating, once again, the terrible possibility that psychiatry is hurting more people than it helps. Reporter Sarah G. Miller notes in "1 in 6 Americans Takes a Psychiatric Drug" that prescriptions for mental illness keep surging. As of 2013, almost 17 percent of Americans were taking at least one psychiatric drug, up from 10 percent in 2011, according to a new study. "Antidepressants were the most common type of psychiatric drug in the survey, with 12 percent of adults reporting that they filled prescriptions for these drugs..."

This increase in medications must be boosting our mental health, right? Wrong. In "Is Mental Health Declining in the U.S.?," Edmund S. Higgins, professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, acknowledges the "inconvenient truth" that Americans' mental health has, according to some measures, deteriorated...

It's all more evidence of something their blogger wrote in 2012. "American psychiatry, in collusion with the pharmaceutical industry, may be perpetrating the biggest case of iatrogenesis -- harmful medical treatment -- in history."
Medicine

Human Zika Antibodies Prevent Infection in Mice (voanews.com) 12

An anonymous reader quotes VOA News: Chinese researchers have identified broadly neutralizing human antibodies from a Zika patient that protected mice against infection with the mosquito-borne illness. The substances are part of a growing arsenal of antibody-related treatments to fight the disease, which causes severe birth defects in babies... Unlike other Zika-neutralizing antibodies that have been isolated from human patients, the newly-discovered antibodies only target the virus.

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