Friday, October 31, 2008

Panel Faults F.D.A. on Stance That Chemical in Plastic Is Safe


A scientific panel has issued a blistering report against the Food and Drug Administration, saying it ignored important evidence in reassuring consumers about the safety of the controversial chemical bisphenol-A.

The panel, in a report issued this week, did not draw any conclusions about the safety of the chemical, known as BPA. But it criticized the drug agency as ignoring crucial studies and using what it said were flawed methods in reaching its conclusions.

The agency’s evaluation of BPA “creates a false sense of security” and “overlooks a wide range of potentially serious findings,” the report said.

In a statement, the agency said that the report “raised important questions” and that more study was needed, but it did not back away from its claim that the chemical was safe. It will review the report on Friday.

BPA is widely used to make hard, clear plastic water bottles and baby bottles, and it is found in the lining of nearly every soft drink and canned food product. The chemical appears to have estrogen-like effects, and in animal studies it appears to accelerate puberty and pose a cancer risk.

While most worries about BPA focus on children, some reports suggest BPA may interfere with chemotherapy, and in adults the chemical has been tied to higher risk for heart disease and diabetes. The drug agency has said the levels of BPA to which children and adults are exposed do not pose a meaningful risk.

This fall, the agency asked an independent panel of scientific advisers to review its conclusions on BPA. The seven-member panel includes environmental health, toxicology and statistics experts from three major universities, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These are among the concerns raised by the panel:

¶The F.D.A. assessment does not have an adequate number of infant-formula samples and relies too heavily on averages, rather than accounting for variability in the samples.

¶The agency excluded several important animal studies that raised questions about the safety of BPA.

¶New research on BPA in adult humans and animals was published after the F.D.A.’s draft report and should be included.

¶The margins of safety for BPA exposure used by the agency are “inadequate.”

In its statement, the agency said consumers should know that “based on all available evidence, the present consensus among regulatory agencies in the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan is that current levels of exposure to BPA through food packaging do not pose an immediate health risk to the general population, including infants and babies.”

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What Went Into the Updated Pepsi Logo

By Natalie Zmuda

NEW YORK ( -- How long does it take to remake an icon? Try five months.

That's the amount of time Pepsi took to revamp its famous logo, after top executives Indra Nooyi and Massimo d'Amore called for a "quantum leap" forward in transforming the soft-drink category and defining Pepsi as a cultural leader, said Frank Cooper, Pepsi's VP-portfolio brands.

"We felt like, as we move out of this traditional mass marketing and mass distribution era into today's culture, there's an opportunity to bring humanity back, both in terms of the design but also in the way we engage consumers," he said. "By making the logo more dynamic and more alive ... [it is] absolutely a huge step in the right direction."

And a costly one. Pepsi would not discuss what it's paying for the revamp, but experts estimate the cost for a top firm to work five months at north of $1 million. But that's just the beginning. The real cost, said an expert, is in removing the old logo everywhere it appears and putting new material up. For Coke or Pepsi, when you add up all the trucks, vending machines, stadium signage, point-of-sale materials and more around the world, it could easily tally several hundred million dollars, the expert said.

The new logo is a white band in the middle of Pepsi's circle that loosely forms a series of smiles: A smile will characterize brand Pepsi, while a grin is used for Diet Pepsi and a laugh is used for Pepsi Max. The new logo is Pepsi's 11th in its 110-year history. Five logos have been introduced in the past 21 years, with the last update in 2002.

Less than subtle
Omnicom's Arnell Group was tapped to work on the redesigns, which also include Mountain Dew -- soon to be known as Mtn Dew -- and Sierra Mist. The agency already had experience working with Pepsi, having spearheaded more than 35 packaging designs for the company.

Consumers won't see a new campaign for a while. Mr. Cooper said the launch isn't expected until 2009. But "when we turn the lights on, hate it or love it, you will absolutely know that Pepsi is out in the marketplace," he said.

So far, branding experts are in both camps. "It's tilting the whole brand presentation from a classic expression of uniqueness and quality into something that is much more humorous, almost flippant," said Tony Spaeth, an identity consultant. "It worries me that it is less durable, less permanent and classic. It comes across as more of a campaign idea than an enduring brand expression."

"This seems to be a really good solution. It feels like the same Pepsi we know and love, but it's more adventurous, more youthful, with a bit more personality to it," said Chris Campbell, executive creative director at Interbrand. "In theory, what they're doing sounds like a really clever solution to link together a family of brands."

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The End of Manual Labor?

By Lawrence Ulrich of MSN autos
2008 BMW M3 Convertible (© BMW North America)

Manually shifted transmissions are an endangered species. In 1980, more than 35 percent of cars sold had a stick; in 2007 the number had dropped to 7.7 percent.

Is the manual transmission — the tormentor of generations of driver’s ed students — going the way of the buggy whip, the eight-track, the Hummer? That sounds like heresy to driving purists like me, who have always assumed that automatics are for wimps, for people who couldn’t tell a clutch pedal from a daisy petal.

Yet here I am, flying at 140 mph down the banked straightaway at Pocono Speedway in the new BMW M3. This 400-horsepower beauty of a sports sedan happens to be equipped with BMW’s latest high-tech, no-clutch-pedal 7-speed automated-manual transmission — basically a manual gearbox that can shift by itself.

A right-hand turn approaches, and it’s time to stand on the brakes. But instead of mashing the clutch, yanking the stick and blipping the gas with the same foot that’s squeezing the brake — the old “heel and toe” downshift maneuver — I simply flick a little metal paddle attached to the steering column. Both hands stay put on the steering wheel, making it easier to stay on path.

With no clutch pedal to push, my left foot sits there, as unoccupied as a teenager on summer vacation. The BMW even blips its own throttle automatically, danke schoen, making sure the dolt behind the wheel doesn’t screw it up. I arrive back in the pits, and the guilty thought flashes like a checkered flag: What’s the point of a stick, if I can have a self-shifting transmission this good?

Let’s be clear: I’ve been a stick-shift disciple for nearly 30 years. In fact, I’ve never owned an automatic transmission car in my life. But these new gearboxes are just so versatile, so easy — swift, precise, convenient – that I’m considering a date with the dark side. As with similar systems, BMW’s M DCT with Drivelogic offers the best of both worlds: Sit back, relax, drive it like any conventional automatic. But when the curvy road beckons you can shift manually, even selecting settings that boost the intensity of gear changes until you’re in Speed Racer territory.

Manually shifted transmissions are certainly an endangered species. Back in 1980, more than 35 percent of all cars were sold with a stick. Because they cost less and boosted fuel mileage, manuals were more popular when gas prices went up or the economy went down, according to Mike Omotoso, powertrain analyst for J.D. Power and Associates.

Then the SUV appeared, which often came automatic-only. By 2005 only 6 percent of all buyers bothered with a stick. Skyrocketing fuel prices and more choices in small cars brought a mild uptick to 7.7 percent last year, but the trend is clear.

Porsche is one carmaker that has kept the faith. The sports car-centric brand sells a higher percentage of sticks than any other, from 60 to 65 percent on all its sports cars. Yet even Porsche officials say that automated gearboxes are a key to maintaining the brand’s appeal among new generations. “So many young people never learn how to drive a stick, unless a parent makes a point of teaching them,” said spokesman Tony Fouladpour.

As such, the German automaker expects its new PDK dual-clutch automatic to be the company's most popular automatic ever. "That's the progression even pure sports cars have taken," says Porsche spokesman Dave Engelman. As a result, Porsche anticipates that 70 to 80 percent of 911 owners will opt for the auto box, especially in the early going.

These systems are dramatically defying the old arguments for a manual transmission. For instance, it's widely believed that manuals are more fuel-efficient than automatics. Sorry, that's no longer true. The latest Porsche is one of several cars that's more economical with the automatic: 19/27 mpg in city/highway driving, compared to 18/25 mpg with the stick.

2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 (© General Motors) Click picture to enlarge

Chevrolet does not offer a manual transmission on its new Corvette ZR1. However, folks at Chevy say there will always be demand for manual-transmission 'Vettes, so buyers will have the option on certain models.

Another myth is that manuals accelerate faster. Wrong again. The Porsche and other models are faster with computer-controlled trannies. These automatics shift so quickly that no human being, not even the world's best drivers in Formula 1, can match their abilities.

Lapping the 911 Carrera and Carrera S at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, I get my own high-speed introduction to the system's no-excuses performance. And as I segue from the track to a relaxed run to Park City, I realize the 911, which has always been one of the world's most versatile sports cars, is even more of a dual-threat machine. Porsche spokesman Bernd Harling took pains to distinguish the new breed of automatics from the "geriatric support systems" of old.

"They're faster, they make you a better driver, yet fuel consumption goes down," he said. The latter is no small matter, with automakers warily eyeing a federal mandate that will require cars and trucks to average 35 mpg by 2020.

It's the same story with the venerable Chevy Corvette. As its automatic transmissions become better and faster, more customers take the plunge. Two of every three Corvette coupe buyers choose the six-speed paddle-shifted automatic. For the convertible, 75 percent choose the clutch-free version.

Harlan Charles, Corvette product manager, notes that the ultra-high-performance Z06 and ZR1 models don’t offer an automatic at all. And the ‘Vette purist still demands a stick. “For the Corvette, there will always be sufficient demand, so the manual is here to stay,” Charles said.

One remaining hang-up is cost. Audi’s S Tronic (formerly called DGS), the pioneering dual-clutch system that’s now shared with VW models, adds more than $2,000 to the price. Porsche’s PDK will add an eye-popping $4,080. Yet some serious performance cars, including the Nissan GT-R and the $1.3 million Bugatti Veyron, are automated trannies or nothing. Among Ferraris and Lamborghinis I’ve driven lately, finding a stick shift is like finding an honest banker on Wall Street.

Honestly, I still find joy in self-shifting. One of my biggest kicks recently was testing the Koenigsegg CCX — an insanely rare, 806-horsepower, $1.1 million Swedish supercar. I jumped in and discovered a classic aluminum manual shifter, just waiting to grab my hand and go out to play.

Perhaps the only argument left for manuals that holds any water: A stick is simply more fun. It makes you feel like the pilot, in control instead of along for the ride. I’ll agree with the purists that a stick is more “involving.”

"It's not all about lap times," said Timo Resch, Porsche's North American product planner. "At least for now, some customers still want to use their left foot and shift."

Yet when technology and traditionalism fight, we know what usually wins. I’m sure twisting a crank to start your car felt pretty involving. I remember what panic stops in the rain felt like before the advent of anti-lock brakes. Those are feelings I can do without. And the older I get, the less patience I have for driving a manual in heavy rush-hour traffic — the constant shifting, the two-step polka on the pedals.

Sure, learning to drive a stick was a rite of passage, handed down for generations. Mastering a manual said not only that you knew your way around a car, but that you were becoming a man. But 20 years from now, young drivers may wonder what the fuss was about. Like kids who’ve never heard of the Beatles, they’ll give us a pitying look when we start going on about the days when “real” cars had three foot-pedals and something called a “shift knob.”

A Michigan native raised and forged in Detroit and a former auto critic at the Detroit Free Press, Lawrence Ulrich now lives in Brooklyn, New York. His reviews and features appear regularly in The New York Times, Robb Report, Popular Science and Travel + Leisure Golf.

For commentary on the latest auto industry trends or in-depth analysis of developments affecting consumers, turn to MSN Autos’ Industry Insider for the real story behind the facts and figures. Written by respected veterans in the field, Industry Insider delivers expertise and insight that helps make sense of the automotive world.

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2009 Nissan 370Z Breaks Cover

By Matt Hardigree

We've given you our guess of what the 2009 Nissan 370Z will look like and, according to the first official photos below, we were fairly close. The vehicle is clearly more shapely with a more aggressive nose than the current Nissan 350Z. You'll also notice a little wedge on the C-pillar. Is that a Hoffmeister Kink? More details at the LA Auto Show, in the meantime you can enjoy the official photos and press release below.

The Nissan 370z

Nissan offers the first look at the upcoming 2009 370Z Coupe, which makes its world debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show on 19 November. The all-new 2009 Nissan 370Z, the first full redesign of the iconic Nissan Z since its reintroduction as a 2003 model, solidifies the strengths of its predecessor with an unmatched balance of performance, style and value. The all-new Z will go on sale at Nissan dealers in early 2009.

[Source: Nissan]

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Beautiful Tree in a Japanese Garden

World's Next Great Cities

by Matt Woolsey

© iStockphoto
Shanghai, China

Thirty years ago, Shenzhen, China, was little more than a fisherman's port. A decade ago it had blossomed into a small regional shipping center.

Today, it handles more container ships than Dubai, New York and Tokyo combined, according to data from the American Association of Port Authorities. It also boasts China's second-largest stock exchange.

Shenzhen's meteoric rise from obscurity to global prominence is related to China's rise. But it's also illustrative of how globalization turns secondary cities into commercial powers. Shenzhen ranks 10th on a new list of the world's most powerful emerging cities. It trails domestic neighbors Shanghai and Beijing, which rank first and second respectively.

These cities and others like them are blossoming as traditional powerhouses are suffering from the global economic slowdown. Whether it's due to the ease of operating an international business from Kuala Lumpur or the increased financial services activity in Mexico City, these cities are becoming increasingly important.

Behind the Numbers

Our rankings are from the MasterCard Worldwide Emerging Markets Index, which ranks 65 cities in 30 emerging markets on the basis of eight criteria: business environment; economic growth; economic environment, which assesses credit markets and investor protection; and the financial services environment, measuring the size of equity, bond, derivative and commodities trading

Then, the rankings examine how connected to the world the city is through commercial air and sea traffic; how educated and wired the city is; quality of life; and safety.

While growth and diversification are driving these cities' growth--notice that outsourcing capitals like Bangalore, Chennai, Manila and Xiamen did not crack the top 10--they are not immune to the global economic downturn.

"In the short term there's going to be a shrinking of worldwide aggregate demand," says Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, an economic adviser for MasterCard Worldwide. "In the U.S. especially we're already seeing an increased savings rate and we expect that to continue."

Protected Places

As the global financial crisis progresses, cities with the least exposure to the bad bets in the credit markets are in the best position to continue growing. Though Budapest scores well by most measures on our list, Hungary's recent need for a $6.5 billion bailout from the European Central Bank spells trouble for the capital city.

© iStockphoto
Budapest, Hungary

Less exposed, it seems so far, are cities in China, which dominate the list. The country posts four cities in the top 10 and 15 in the top 30. While the full extent of subprime and credit market woes have yet to be fully discovered, China hasn't taken a significant hit to its banking sector. It would have been a different story had Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac gone insolvent, two entities China was heavily invested in, but for now they've avoided the major bank problems of the West.

Still, the spots that performed well weren't just the world's budding megatropolises. Santiago, Chile, with its 250,000 people, landed at number five overall. Santiago ranked first of any emerging market for its economic and commercial environment, which includes government bond ratings, ease of dealing with licenses and costs of exporting and importing cargo. Even though the city is small, it's specialization in this category makes it a hub for businesses looking to forge operations in South America.

"Small cities can be a global platform for companies' global expansion," says Saskia Sassen, a professor on Columbia University's Committee on Global Thought.

Whether that's as a conduit to a region, like Budapest to the former Soviet nations, or because of unique services available, like Beijing's IT sector, cities are competing within sectors--not necessarily to become the next New York or London.

"I think we're seeing that there's no perfect global city," she says, "and that cities are developing specialized differences to compete."

A good example might be Singapore, which has leveraged its location between China and India to become one of the world's larger trade hubs, helping it graduate from the ranks of developing markets.

"Who would have thought, 10 years ago, that Singapore would be at the center of world distribution?" asks Wim Elfrink, chief globalization officer of Cisco Systems.

Today the city features the world's busiest port and, based on Elfrink's assessment, is rapidly becoming one of the world's centers for pharmaceutical research.

That development strategy, focused on commerce over finance, might help soften the ensuing economic blow for many of the emerging cities on our list.

"Many of these emerging economies have not been as financialized as those in established countries," says Sassen. "We used to think of that as a disadvantage, but it may turn out to be these cities' great advantage."

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University of Minnesota breaks flu shot record

Posted by Emily Kaiser

The University of Minnesota's Boynton Health Service is reporting that they broke the Guinness World Record for flu shots given in one day. They have more than doubled the record and still have more than two hours to go.

They can't say they are a top three research university, but at least they can brag about a world record. How does the campus celebrate? Students sulked home with minor flu-like symptoms and went back to bed.

As of 2 p.m, the school has given 6,680 shots. The previous record was 3,271.

The U will continue to give shots until 5 p.m. The shots are free to all students, staff and faculty. For more information and a list of locations, visit the BHS site.

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Grapes may aid a bunch of heart risk factors, animal study finds

The new study, published in the October issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences, gives tantalizing clues to the potential of grapes in reducing cardiovascular risk. The effect is thought to be due to the high level of phytochemicals – naturally occurring antioxidants – that grapes contain.
The study was performed in laboratory rats. The researchers noted that while these study results are extremely encouraging, more research needs to be done.

The researchers studied the effect of regular table grapes (a blend of green, red, and black grapes) that were mixed into the rat diet in a powdered form, as part of either a high- or low-salt diet. They performed many comparisons between the rats consuming the test diet and the control rats receiving no grape powder — including some that received a mild dose of a common blood-pressure drug. All the rats were from a research breed that develops high blood pressure when fed a salty diet.

In all, after 18 weeks, the rats that received the grape-enriched diet powder had lower blood pressure, better heart function, reduced inflammation throughout their bodies, and fewer signs of heart muscle damage than the rats that ate the same salty diet but didn't receive grapes. The rats that received the blood-pressure medicine, hydrazine, along with a salty diet also had lower blood pressure, but their hearts were not protected from damage as they were in the grape-fed group.

Says Mitchell Seymour, M.S., who led the research as part of his doctoral work in nutrition science at Michigan State University, "These findings support our theory that something within the grapes themselves has a direct impact on cardiovascular risk, beyond the simple blood pressure-lowering impact that we already know can come from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables." Seymour manages the U-M Cardioprotection Research Laboratory, which is headed by U-M heart surgeon Steven Bolling, M.D.

Bolling, who is a professor of cardiac surgery at the U-M Medical School, notes that the animals in the study were in a similar situation to millions of Americans, who have high blood pressure related to diet, and who develop heart failure over time because of prolonged hypertension.

"The inevitable downhill sequence to hypertension and heart failure was changed by the addition of grape powder to a high-salt diet," he says.

"Although there are many natural compounds in the grape powder itself that may have an effect, the things that we think are having an effect against the hypertension may be the flavanoids – either by direct antioxidant effects, by indirect effects on cell function, or both. These flavanoids are rich in all parts of the grape - skin, flesh and seed, all of which were in our powder." Bolling explains.

Such naturally occurring chemicals have already been shown in other research, including previous U-M studies, to reduce other potentially harmful molecular and cellular activity in the body.

Although the current study was supported in part by the California Table Grape Commission, which also supplied the grape powder, the authors note that the commission played no role in the study's design, conduct, analysis or the preparation of the journal article for publication. Seymour also receives funding from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, through a National Research Service Award.

"Though it's true that your mom told you to eat all your fruits and your vegetables, and that we are learning a lot about what fruits, including grapes, can do in this particular model of hypertension and heart failure, we would not directly tell patients to throw all their pills away and just eat grapes," says Bolling.

However, research on grapes and other fruits containing high levels of antioxidant phytochemicals continues to show promise. So does research on the impact of red wine on heart health, though that issue is also far from settled.

The U-M team notes that a clinical research on grapes may be a possibility in the future, but is not currently planned.

In the meantime, Bolling says, people who want to lower their blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart failure, or help their weakened hearts retain as much pumping power as possible should follow tried-and-true advice: Cut down on the amount of salt you get through your food and drink.

"There is, as we now know, a great variability, perhaps genetic even, in sensitivity to salt and causing hypertension," he says. "Some people are very sensitive to salt intake, some are only moderately so, and there are perhaps some people who are salt resistant. But in general we say stay away from excess salt."

He notes that the popular DASH diet, which is low in salt and high in fruits and vegetables, has been proven to reduce mild high blood pressure without medication. The dose of whole table grape powder that was consumed in the study was roughly equivalent to a person eating nine human-sized servings of grapes a day. Currently, five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables are recommended as part of the DASH diet.

The rats in the study were from a strain called Dahl rats, which have been specially bred to all be susceptible to salt-induced hypertension. This allowed the researchers to look at a uniform sample of rats that would be affected in the same way by their diet, so that the effects of the salt level, grape powder and hydrazine could be seen clearly.

Each group of 12 rats was fed the same weight of food each day, with powdered grapes making up 3 percent of the diet (by weight) for rats that received grapes as part of either a low-salt or high-salt diet. The rats that received hydrazine were fed it through their water supply in a dose that has been previously shown to be effective in reducing blood pressure.

The rats in the high-salt grape and high-salt hydrazine groups did develop high blood pressure over time, but they had lower systolic blood pressures than the high-salt rats that did not receive grapes.

The researchers also measured the distortion of the heart size, weight and function that occurred over time – characteristics of heart failure – and found that the high-salt grape group had less of a change than the high-salt hydrazine group. Parameters related to the diastolic blood pressure – an important factor in human heart failure — and to the heart's relaxation during the diastolic phase also changed in just the high-salt grape group. Finally, the grape-fed rats had improved cardiac output, or more blood pumped per unit of time.

The researchers also looked for signs of inflammation, oxidative damage and other molecular indicators of cardiac stress. Again, the rats that received the high-salt grape diet had lower levels of these markers than rats that received the high-salt diet with hydrazine – and even the low-salt grape-eating rats had lower levels than the rats that received a low-salt diet alone.

In all, the researchers say, the study demonstrates that a grape-enriched diet can have broad effects on the development of hypertension and the risk factors that go along with it. Whether the effect can be replicated in humans, they say, remains to be seen.

Source: University of Michigan Health System

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Yoga and trumpets put eyes at risk

By Tamara McLean

EVERY day activities like swimming, doing a gym workout or playing a musical instrument could be making pressure-related eye diseases worse, Australian research says.

Rubbing the eyes has been proven to contribute to conditions like glaucoma and short-sightedness, but eye specialists have discovered many other basic behaviours also increase risk.

"Yoga head stands, weightlifting, sleeping face down, playing instruments like the trumpet and swimming laps are some of the many ways of causing eye pressure spikes," said Professor Charles McMonnies, from the University of New South Wales School of Optometry and Vision Science.

"Pressure spikes are fine if you have healthy eyes. But all the people out there with these conditions, and so many others at risk of them, can be negatively affected, and many don't know it."

Glaucoma affects more than 300,000 Australians, causing blindness as the disease progresses, while rapidly increasing myopia, or short-sightedness, affects almost one in five people.

Prof McMonnies tested the effects of eye rubbing and compared the pressure effects with other activities in a paper published in the journal Optometry and Vision Science.

He found eye rubbing caused the biggest spike, raising pressure to ten times normal levels, but may be only an occasional harmless event.

The literature review found the risk may be higher for activities carried out regularly and for long periods, like wearing goggles while swimming lengths.

People who play a high wind-resistance instrument like a trumpet, oboe, French horn or bassoon, especially when they play high-pitched notes, can more than double their eye pressure.

Weight-lifting from a bench, doing sit ups on a slant board or upside down poses in yoga also increase pressure, Prof McMonnies said.

Sleeping face down was another major contributor that most people were unaware of, he said.

"Avoiding sleeping with the eyes in contact with a pillow or sleep mask may help to slow the progression of pressure-sensitive eye diseases," the specialist said.

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Copper door handles and taps kill 95% of superbugs in hospitals

Copper fittingsBy Fiona Macrae

Hope: Copper taps, toilet seats and push plates on doors all but eliminated common bugs, the study found

Making door handles, taps and light switches from copper could help the country beat superbugs, scientists say.

A study found that copper fittings rapidly killed bugs on hospital wards, succeeding where other infection control measures failed.

In the trial at Selly Oak hospital, in Birmingham, copper taps, toilet seats and push plates on doors all but eliminated common bugs.

It is thought the metal 'suffocates' germs, preventing them breathing. It may also stop them from feeding and destroy their DNA.

Lab tests show that the metal kills off the deadly MRSA and C difficile superbugs.

It also kills other dangerous germs, including the flu virus and the E coli food poisoning bug.

Although the number of cases of MRSA and C difficile is falling, the two bugs still claim thousands of lives a year.

During the ten-week trial on a medical ward, a set of taps, a lavatory seat and a push plate on an entrance door were replaced with copper versions. They were swabbed twice a day for bugs and the results compared with a traditional tap, lavatory seat and push plate elsewhere in the ward.

The copper items had up to 95 per cent fewer bugs on their surface whenever they were tested, a U.S. conference on antibiotics heard yesterday.

Professor Tom Elliott, the lead researcher and a consultant microbiologist at the hospital, said: 'The findings of 90 to 95 per cent killing of those organisms, even after a busy day on a medical ward with items being touched by numerous people, is remarkable.

'I have been a consultant microbiologist for several decades. This is the first time I have seen anything like copper in terms of the effect it will have in the environment.

'It may well offer us another mechanism for trying to defeat the spread of infection.'

Researcher Professor Peter Lambert, of Aston University, Birmingham, said: 'The numbers decreased always on copper but not on the steel surfaces.'

If further hospital-based trials prove as successful, the researchers would like copper fixtures and fittings installed in hospitals around the country.

Doorknobs, taps, light switches, toilet seats and handles and bathroom 'grab rails' could all be ripped out and replaced with copper versions.

C difficile

Making door handles, taps and light switches from copper could help the country beat superbugs, scientists say

Although it is usually thought to be an expensive metal, copper is actually a similar price to stainless steel, the researchers said. Nursing homes and even our houses could also benefit from the metal's ability to wipe out dangerous bugs.

The healing power of copper has been recognised for thousands of years.

More than 4,000 years ago, the Egyptians used it to sterilise wounds and drinking water and the Aztecs treated skin conditions with the metal.

The ancient Greeks also knew of its benefits. Hippocrates, sometimes called 'the father of medicine', noted that it could be used to treat leg ulcers.

Today, copper is a common constituent in medicines including antiseptic and antifungal creams. It is also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Many of those with arthritis wear copper bangles.

Although they provide relief to many, there is no scientific evidence that they work.

Copper is present in our diet in trace amounts and plays an important role in the formation of red blood cells and in keeping our blood vessels, nerves and bones healthy.

The research was funded by the copper industry.

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The Great Pizza Orientation Test

Regardless of your feelings about Domino's, the fact that you can order it online without having to talk to a human being is fantastic.

Type a little on your computer and magically a pizza shows up at your door. It's the closest thing we have to Star Trek's food replicator. Only it takes about 25 minutes to work. And the food delivery unit at my Domino's has a bad mustache.

But I also love the amount of control they give you. Beyond choosing your crust, each topping comes with your choice of "light," "normal," or "heavy." Just like tampons. (Am I right, ladies?)

But what I've become obsessed with is that when you only want a particular topping on half of your pizza, they make you specify WHICH HALF. LEFT or RIGHT.

I had ordered from them a few times but never paid attention to see if they got the halves correct. I was curious to see if it really would arrive the way I ordered it.

Last night I performed a test.

I placed my order, requesting PEPPERONI on the LEFT and MUSHROOMS on the RIGHT.

They also offer a "NONE" option on all toppings. It's even available on the "CHEESE" and "SAUCE" rows -- so just to be a dick, I also ordered a 6-inch individual "NONE" pizza with BEEF (on the left).

25 minutes later there was a dude at my door with food. (Someday that dude will be a robot with a bad mustache and my life will be perfect.)

It is flat-out sad how excited I was to open the boxes.

Did the Domino's food synthesizer honor the options I was forced to choose?


The dividing line was exactly 90 degrees up the middle, but mushrooms were on the left!

I realize it's all arbitrary and the options are presented for clarity, but if they're going to force me to make the choice, then they could at least give me what I wanted and put it in the box correctly.

And as far as the "NONE Pizza with Left Beef"...

It was close, but the whole pizza was so small and light it must have shifted during delivery. And the little beef pellets didn't have any sauce or cheese to hang on to, so a few lost their footing from the left half.

After we ate most of it I saw on the box that my satisfaction was "guaranteed," and that if I wasn't completely satisfied -- they would "make it right" or refund my money.

Unfortunately it was too late for me to call and request that someone come back to my house to rotate the pizzas and re-position my beef pellets.

I may be writing a letter to the president of Domino's this weekend.

Posted by Steven

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Dressed to impress: Why the boys always fall for a lady in red

By Fiona Macrae

Forget that little black dress. Gentlemen really prefer a lady in red. As actress Kelly Brook knows only too well.

Blushing in shades of crimson, scarlet or deep rose, a girl is regarded as prettier and more desirable, research shows.

She is also more likely to be asked out on a date - and have more money lavished on her during the outing.

Gentlemen prefer a lady in red? Dazzling Kelly Brook gets noticed
Seeing red: Kelly Brook and Sienna Miller impress in their dresses

Seeing red: Kelly Brook and Sienna Miller impress in their dresses

What is more, men seem completely oblivious to the effect that a glimpse of red can have on their emotions.

The researchers said it appeared they were driven by primal instincts that associate the colour with sex.

The study, carried out at the University of Rochester in the U.S., involved a series of experiments in which men were shown a photo of a 'moderately attractive' young woman.

In some cases, the colour of the border framing the picture was changed, in other cases the colour of the woman's blouse varied. Red, blue, green, grey and white were tested. In all cases, red was judged the most attractive.

The men were much more likely to ask out a woman wearing red. And they estimated they would spend almost twice as much on her as one in blue.

Despite the clear effect, the men insisted colour played little role in their choices, suggesting they were oblivious to the power of red.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, claims to provide the first hard evidence of 'society's enduring love affair with red'.

From the red body paints used in ancient fertility rituals, to the phrase 'red light district' and the red hearts of Valentine's Day, the colour has long been associated with romance.

In the animal world, red often signals a female is at her most fertile, with female baboons and chimps blushing conspicuously at this time.

Men are not alone in being attracted to red. The research suggests a man in scarlet is just as irresistible to women.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sudden Cardiac Death No. 1 Risk for Patients on Dialysis

Study: Inflammation, malnutrition identified as key risk factors

By Eric Vohr
Johns Hopkins Medicine

In a 10-year study of more than a thousand kidney failure patients, sudden cardiac death emerged as the No. 1 cause of death for patients on dialysis, according to a Johns Hopkins researcher.

The study, already published online and appearing in the Nov. 2 issue of Kidney International, identified systemic inflammatory response and malnutrition as key risk factors for the fatal heart attacks.

"This is believed to be the first time anyone has taken a rigorous prospective look at why so many patients on dialysis die from sudden cardiac death, and the results could help doctors identify those at highest risk and potentially save lives," said Rulan S. Parekh, associate professor in the Department of Nephrology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Parekh and her team gathered their data from a cohort of 1,041 end-stage renal disease patients on dialysis who were part of Choices for Healthy Outcomes in Caring for ESRD, known as CHOICE. In a 9.5-year period, 658 of this group died. The largest number of these deaths, 146, was the result of sudden cardiac death, or SDC — in this case, unexpected deaths that occurred outside the hospital setting.

The researchers then looked at previously recorded blood test results from 122 of these 146 sudden cardiac death patients to search for a possible relationship between the deaths and levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive (hsCRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and albumin. The proteins IL-6 and hsCRP are both markers for widespread blood vessel and organ inflammation, while low albumin levels are associated with malnutrition.

Results showed that patients with high levels of either hsCRP or IL-6 were twice as likely to die from sudden cardiac death as those with low levels of these proteins. Low albumin levels were associated with a 1.35 times increase in the risk of dying of sudden cardiac death when compared with high levels, according to Parekh. In addition, those with low levels of albumin and high levels of hsCRP were four times more likely to die of sudden cardiac death than those with high levels of albumin and low levels of hsCRP.

"These results tell us that ESRD patients with low albumin and/or high levels of IL-6 and hsCRP are at a significantly higher risk of SCD," Parekh said.

The half-million people in the United States with ESRD are 10 to 100 times more likely than the general public to die from cardiovascular disease, depending on age, according to Parekh. They have an annual mortality rate of more than 20 percent, and one-fifth of these deaths are attributed to sudden cardiac death.

Systemic inflammatory response is common with ESRD patients and occurs when the body responds to an infectious or noninfectious attack. Parekh said that because those with kidney failure are quite ill, the chance of infection and chronic inflammation is higher. Also common with ESRD patients is malnutrition from the stress of kidney failure, loss of appetite and a highly restricted diet; compounding the issue, she said, is that Medicare does not cover oral nutritional supplements.

"When people think of heart attacks, they think of cholesterol and obesity," Parekh said, "but these are risk factors for hardening of the arteries and are not directly linked to sudden heart death among patients on dialysis."

Other researchers from Johns Hopkins who contributed to this study are Neil R. Powe, Josef Coresh, Lucy A. Meoni, Bernard G. Jaar and Nancy E. Fink, all of the School of Medicine; and Michael J. Klag, W.H. Linda Kao and Laura C. Plantinga, all of the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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A Rise in Kidney Stones Is Seen in U.S. Children


Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times YOUNG VICTIM Tessa Cesario, 11, developed a kidney stone in February. She has since cut back on salt and is drinking more water.

To the great surprise of parents, kidney stones, once considered a disorder of middle age, are now showing up in children as young as 5 or 6.

While there are no reliable data on the number of cases, pediatric urologists and nephrologists across the country say they are seeing a steep rise in young patients. Some hospitals have opened pediatric kidney stone clinics.

“The older doctors would say in the ’70s and ’80s, they’d see a kid with a stone once every few months,” said Dr. Caleb P. Nelson, a urology instructor at Harvard Medical School who is co-director of the new kidney stone center at Children’s Hospital Boston. “Now we see kids once a week or less.”

Dr. John C. Pope IV, an associate professor of urologic surgery and pediatrics at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, said, “When we tell parents, most say they’ve never heard of a kid with a kidney stone and think something is terribly wrong with their child.”

In China recently, many children who drank milk tainted with melamine — a toxic chemical illegally added to watered-down milk to inflate the protein count — developed kidney stones.

The increase in the United States is attributed to a host of factors, including a food additive that is both legal and ubiquitous: salt.

Though most of the research on kidney stones comes from adult studies, experts believe it can be applied to children. Those studies have found that dietary factors are the leading cause of kidney stones, which are crystallizations of several substances in the urine. Stones form when these substances become too concentrated.

Forty to 65 percent of kidney stones are formed when oxalate, a byproduct of certain foods, binds to calcium in the urine. (Other common types include calcium phosphate stones and uric acid stones.) And the two biggest risk factors for this binding process are not drinking enough fluids and eating too much salt; both increase the amount of calcium and oxalate in the urine.

Excess salt has to be excreted through the kidneys, but salt binds to calcium on its way out, creating a greater concentration of calcium in the urine and the kidneys.

“What we’ve really seen is an increase in the salt load in children’s diet,” said Dr. Bruce L. Slaughenhoupt, co-director of pediatric urology and of the pediatric kidney stone clinic at the University of Wisconsin. He and other experts mentioned not just salty chips and French fries, but also processed foods like sandwich meats; canned soups; packaged meals; and even sports drinks like Gatorade, which are so popular among schoolchildren they are now sold in child-friendly juice boxes.

Children also tend not to drink enough water. “They don’t want to go to the bathroom at school; they don’t have time, so they drink less,” said Dr. Alicia Neu, medical director of pediatric nephrology and the pediatric stone clinic at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. Instead, they are likely to drink only once they’re thirsty — but that may be too little, too late, especially for children who play sports or are just active.

“Drinking more water is the most important step in the prevention of kidney stones,” Dr. Neu said.

The incidence of kidney stones in adults has also been rising, especially in women, and experts say they see more adults in their 20s and 30s with stones; in the past, it was more common in adults in their 40s and 50s.

“It’s no longer a middle-aged disease,” Dr. Nelson said. “Most of us suspect what we’re seeing in children is the spillover of the overall increase in the whole population.”

The median age of children with stones is about 10.

Many experts say the rise in obesity is contributing to kidney stones in children as well as adults. But not all stone centers are seeing overweight children, and having a healthy weight does not preclude kidney stones. “Of the school-age and adolescent kids we’ve seen, most of them appear to be reasonably fit, active kids,” Dr. Nelson said. “We’re not seeing a parade of overweight Nintendo players.”

Dr. Slaughenhoupt has seen more overweight children at his clinic. “We haven’t compared our data yet,” he said, “but my sense is that children with stones are bigger, and some of them are morbidly obese.”

Dr. Pope, in Nashville, agreed. His hospital lies in the so-called stone belt, a swath of Southern states with a higher incidence of kidney stones, and he said doctors there saw two to three new pediatric cases a week.

“There’s no question in my mind that it is largely dietary and directly related to the childhood obesity epidemic,” he said.

Fifty to 60 percent of children with kidney stones have a family history of the disease. “If you have a family history, it’s important to recognize your kids are at risk at some point in their life,” Dr. Nelson said. “That means instilling lifelong habits of good hydration, balanced diet, and avoiding processed high-salt, high-fat foods.”

There is also evidence that sucrose, found in sodas, can also increase risk of stones, as can high-protein weight-loss diets, which are growing in popularity among teenagers.

A common misconception is that people with kidney stones should avoid calcium. In fact, dairy products have been shown to reduce the risk of stones, because the dietary calcium binds with oxalate before it is absorbed by the body, preventing it from getting into the kidneys.

Children with kidney stones can experience severe pain in their side or stomach when a stone is passing through the narrow ureter through which urine travels from the kidneys to the bladder. Younger children may have a more vague pain or stomachache, making the condition harder to diagnose. Children may feel sick to their stomach, and often there is blood in the urine.

One Saturday last February, 11-year-old Tessa Cesario of Frederick, Md., began having back pains. An aspiring ballerina who dances en pointe five nights a week, she was used to occasional aches and strains. But this one was so intense that her parents took her to the doctor.

The pediatrician ordered an X-ray, and when he phoned with the results, her parents were astonished.

“I was afraid he was calling to say she pulled something and wouldn’t be able to dance,” said her mother, Theresa Cesario. Instead, they were told that Tessa had a kidney stone.

“I thought older men get kidney stones, not kids,” Ms. Cesario said.

The treatment for kidney stones is similar in children and adults. Doctors try to let the stone pass, but if it is too large, if it blocks the flow of urine or if there is a sign of infection, it is removed through one of two types of minimally invasive surgery.

Shock-wave lithotripsy is a noninvasive procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to blast the stones into fragments that are then more easily passed. In ureteroscopy, an endoscope is inserted through the ureter to retrieve or obliterate the stone.

Tessa Cesario is taking a wait-and-see approach. Her stone is not budging, so her parents are putting off surgery until they can work it into her dance schedule. In the meantime, she has vastly reduced her salt intake by cutting back on sandwich meats, processed soups and chips.

And, her mother said, “she drinks a ton more water.”

Original here

Police say teen driver hit 107 mph in a construction zone

By KVAL Web Staff

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. -- Police jailed a Springfield teen after she sped away from a state trooper through a construction zone at 107 mph -- and then told the trooper she was having trouble seeing while talking on her cell phone, according to Oregon State Police.

Kimberly Messer, 18, from Springfield, Ore., was arrested on charges of reckless driving and recklessly endangering another person and lodged in the Lane County Jail, according to OSP.

OSP Trooper Ryan Hockema tried to stop a red 1995 Ford Mustang he spotted going 87 mph near a construction site. According to the trooper, the vehicle then accelerated to speeds as high as 107 mph in the work zone while failing to maintain the travel lane, following other vehicles too closely and making unsafe lane changes.

The driver, Messer, allegedly told the trooper she had trouble seeing while talking on her cell phone before stopping for the officer, according to OSP.

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Starbucks as an economic indicator


Over at Slate, resident business expert Daniel Gross has an interesting article that, in essence, makes a correlation between the state of a country's banking crisis and how invasive Starbucks has become there. For instance, London and Spain are being hit extremely hard by the financial crisis and they both have high densities of Starbucks.

It's an article straight out of Thomas Friedman's theories (Gross references Friedman's Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention) and while it may work for international banking, it got me wondering if the theory would also hold up a little closer to home.

Have U.S. cities with high percentages of Starbucks been hit harder by the housing and banking burst than cities with lower percentages?

When it comes to a housing crisis, yes. This survey from 2006 shows the city with the most Starbucks per capita to be Las Vegas. Guess what state has had the nation's highest foreclosure rate for 20 straight months? Yep, Nevada. (Las Vegas ranks seventh-highest among cities in foreclosure rate.) Foreclosures have hit hardest in California, which makes up nearly a third of all foreclosures in the United States. California's number-one city in terms of foreclosures is Stockton, followed by Merced, Modesto and Vallejo-Fairfield. Stockton and Vallejo had the eighth-highest number of Starbucks per capita. Modesto lies between San Francisco and Sacramento, which has the fourth-highest number of Starbucks per capita.

More correlations: Denver is sixth in Starbucks density and Colorado Springs is 13; Colorado has the eighth-highest foreclosure rate. Georgia is sixth in foreclosures; capital city Atlanta is seventh in Starbucks density. Ohio is seventh in foreclosures and Cincinnati is 10th in Starbucks density.

When it comes to the banking crisis, things get murkier. BusinessWeek put together a list of 20 cities that are going to be hit hardest by the financial meltdown. Coming in at number-one was Darien, Connecticut, which only has one Starbucks for its 20,000- plus population. The number-two city was Bloomington, Illinois, population 50,000 and home of two Starbucks. Going through the list it was clear that towns in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York are going to be hardest hit. Yet none of those states have especially high Starbucks densities.

Going a little deeper into the numbers I realize why. New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are all prime Dunkin' Donuts territories. Darien, Connecticut, has only one Starbucks but two Dunkin' Donuts. A quick search of Google Maps reveals 395 Starbucks near Manhattan and 295 Dunkin' Donuts. The same search reveals 409 Starbucks in smaller San Francisco and not one Dunkin' Donuts.

The conclusion: The housing bubble is mainly in the West and South, which is strong Starbucks country. The financial meltdown is mainly in the East and Northeast, which is as much Dunkin' Donuts territory as it is Starbucks.

Either way, I am still glad that Kansas City doesn't have that many Starbucks.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

French doctor unveils artificial heart

By Henry Samuel in Paris

French heart transplant specialist Alain Carpentier presents a prototype of the world's first fully implantable artificial heart.
French heart transplant specialist Alain Carpentier presents a prototype of the world's first fully implantable artificial heart. Photo: AP

Three decades after the world's first human heart transplant, this revolutionary life-size mixture of animal tissue, titanium and missile technology that its inventor says perfectly replicates the human organ could save the lives of thousands of heart patients, many of whom die while waiting for a heart donation.

Pumping and rippling in an eerily lifelike way, the new heart is covered in specially treated tissue to avoid rejection by the body's immune system and in particular the formation of blood clots.

Thanks to the latest electronic sensor technology used in guided missiles, the heart can also respond instantly to changes in blood pressure and flow and adapt the heart beat rate accordingly.

"If you showed the electrocardiogram to a cardiologist he would say 'that's a human heart.' Well no, it isn't: it's a prosthesis," said its creator, Prof Alain Carpentier, head of research on cardiac grafts and prostheses at Georges Pompidou hospital in Paris.

Prof Carpentier has been working in the utmost secrecy on the project for 15 years in conjunction with engineers from the Franco-German defence and aerospace company EADS.

While there are other rival laboratories working on artificial hearts in America, Japan and South Korea, the French say their design is superior.

In particular, Prof Carpentier used his expertise as a world authority in artificial heart valves to overcome the problem of blood clots - the main stumbling block in other attempts to build an artificial heart. He did this by using specially sterilised "bioprosthetic" pig cartilage and by replicating the exact same blood flow - or hemodynamics - of the human heart that reduce blood clot risks.

"The aim of this heart is to allow patients to go from an impossible life where they can do just a few steps from their bed to an armchair to a normal social life. They will even be able to run - although naturally not a marathon," he said.

Weighing around a kilo, the only external part of the man-made organ is its battery which has a five-hour charge life.

Prof Carpentier said the new heart was necessary given the chronic shortage of heart donors and growing heart patient waiting lists. "I couldn't stand seeing young, active people dying aged 40 from massive heart attacks," he said.

Heart disease is among the world's biggest killers, claiming 17 million lives per year.

About 55 million euros (£44 million) has been spent creating the prototype. The groundbreaking organ has already been successfully implanted in calves although most tests have been done via computer simulation.

"The artificial heart is ready and now needs to be industrially made," said Prof Carpentier, who added that none of its parts had shown any sign of "wearing out".

Assuming French medical authorities give the go-ahead, it will be tested on around 20 volunteer heart patients within the next two and a half years.

The heart will be built by Carmat, a biomedical subsidiary of EADS, with funding from Oseo, the French state bank that supports innovative companies, as well as from venture capitalists.

Given the materials and technology involved, it is estimated that each heart will cost around £120,000.

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Suicide linked to brain changes

The researchers looked at brain tissue

The brains of people who commit suicide are chemically different to those who die from other causes, a Canadian study has suggested.

Researchers analysed brain tissue from 20 dead people and, in those who killed themselves, they found a higher rate of a process that affects behaviour.

Writing in Biological Psychiatry, they said it appeared environmental factors played a part in the changes.

And they said the discovery opened up a new avenue of research.

This is exciting new evidence that genetic and environmental factors may interact to produce specific and long-lasting modifications in brain circuits
John Krystal, Biological Psychiatry editor

The researchers, from the University of Western Ontario, Carleton University and University of Ottawa, analysed tissue from 10 people who had a serious depressive disorder and had committed suicide and 10 who had died suddenly from other causes, such as a heart attack.

They found that the DNA in the suicide group was being chemically modified by a process normally involved in regulating cell development, called methylation.

It is methylation which shuts down the unwanted genes in a cell - so the necessary genes are expressed to make a cell a skin cell rather than, for example, a heart cell.

The rate of methylation in the suicide brains was almost 10 times that of the other group, and the gene that was being shut down was a chemical message receptor that plays a major role in regulating behaviour.

In the paper, the researchers suggest this reprogramming could contribute to the "protracted and recurrent nature of major depressive disorder".

Previous research has suggested that changes to the methylation process can be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors called epigenetics.

Modifications 'shape life'

Dr Michael Poulter, who led the research, said: "The whole idea that the genome is so malleable in the brain is surprising, because brain cells don't divide.

"You get dealt your neurons at the start of life, so the idea that there are still epigenetic mechanisms going on is pretty unusual."

He said the findings of the study opened up a new avenue of research and potential therapies for depression and suicidal tendencies.

John Krystal, the editor of Biological Psychiatry, said: "This is exciting new evidence that genetic and environmental factors may interact to produce specific and long-lasting modifications in brain circuits.

"Further, these modifications may shape the course of one's life in extremely important ways, including increasing the risk for major depressive disorder and perhaps suicide."

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Cancer cure in a sponge? Institute tests synthetic version of substance

By Robyn Shelton, Medicine & Health / Cancer

As one of their first projects in Florida, scientists at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in Orlando have created a man-made version of the substance.

Previous research showed the compound could zap the cancer cells in lab tests. Now the goal is to improve on nature to make it more potent, yet less toxic, so it someday can be tested as a drug for patients.

"The sponge itself only has very tiny quantities of the material," said Gregory Roth, Burnham's director of medicinal chemistry and exploratory pharmacology. "By making it synthetically, we can get larger quantities to do the kind of testing we need."

Roth's laboratory is working on the project with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution at Florida Atlantic University, which discovered the substance's cancer-fighting abilities in routine testing of deep-sea creatures.

Many sponges produce a variety of compounds themselves or harbor microorganisms that churn them out. Scientists don't always know what the substances do in nature, though they likely repel predators or serve as chemical signals, said Amy E. Wright, who directs Harbor Branch's biomedical-marine-research program.

The sponge - called Aphrocallistes Beatrix - lives on the cold-water reef that lies deep under the ocean off Florida's coast.

Wright's team uses a submersible vehicle that can dive 3,000 feet to collect a variety of sponges, soft corals and other organisms. The sponge was ground up and made into a solution tested with various cancer cells. It showed the most promise with colon and pancreatic cells, which together are expected to kill about 83,000 Americans this year.

Scientists rate a substance's cancer-fighting ability by the amount needed to wipe out 50 percent of the tumor cells in a lab test.

"This compound is about as potent as the best drug that's currently used for pancreatic cancer," Wright said.

Her team collects sea life on regular expeditions. A chemist in Roth's laboratory, Jennifer Hoffman, went with Harbor Branch on a recent dive. Sitting in the four-person submersible vehicle, Hoffman could see shrimp, squid and other creatures swimming in the lights as they traversed the dark, cool waters. The sub is equipped with a robotic arm that can pluck sponges off the coral and place them in containers.

Hoffman, who previously worked for the Pfizer drug company, said more work is needed before the compound even can be considered for human testing.

"It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort by many different people to develop a drug," said Hoffman, a senior research associate with Burnham. "But we know the compound is active, so we'll be making little changes to it and see if we can improve upon it."

Original here

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Purple tomato 'may boost health'

Purple tomatoes
The tomatoes are full of a beneficial pigment

Scientists have developed purple tomatoes which they hope may be able to keep cancer at bay.

The fruit are rich in an antioxidant pigment called anthocyanin which is thought to have anti-cancer properties.

A team from the John Innes Centre, Norwich, created the tomatoes by incorporating genes from the snapdragon flower, which is high in anthocyanin.

The study, published in Nature Biotechnology, found mice who ate the tomatoes lived longer.

This offers the potential to promote health through diet by reducing the impact of chronic disease
Professor Cathie Martin
John Innes Centre

Anthocyanins, found in particularly high levels in berries such as blackberry, cranberry and chokeberry, have been shown to help significantly slow the growth of colon cancer cells.

They are also thought to offer protection against cardiovascular disease and age-related degenerative diseases.

There is also evidence that the pigments have anti-inflammatory properties, help boost eyesight, and may help stave off obesity and diabetes.

The John Innes team is investigating ways to increase the levels of health-promoting compounds in more commonly eaten fruits and vegetables.

Tomatoes already contain high levels of beneficial antioxidant compounds, such as lycopene and flavonoids.

More benefit

Professor Cathie Martin, from the centre, said: "Most people do not eat five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, but they can get more benefit from those they do eat if common fruit and veg can be developed that are higher in bioactive compounds."

It is too early to say whether anthocyanins obtained through diet could help to reduce the risk of cancer
Dr Lara Bennett
Cancer Research UK

The John Innes team took two genes from snapdragon that induce the production of anthocyanins in snapdragon flowers, and turned them on in tomato fruit.

Anthocyanins accumulated in tomatoes at higher levels than anything previously achieved in both the peel and flesh of the fruit, giving them an intense purple colour.

Tests on mice bred to be susceptible to cancer showed that animals whose diets were supplemented with the purple tomatoes had a significantly longer lifespan compared to those who received only normal red tomatoes.

Professor Martin said: "This is one of the first examples of metabolic engineering that offers the potential to promote health through diet by reducing the impact of chronic disease.

"And certainly the first example of a GMO [genetically modified organism] with a trait that really offers a potential benefit for all consumers."

She said the the next step would be test the tomatoes on human volunteers.


Dr Lara Bennett, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "It is exciting to see new techniques that could potentially make healthy foods even better for us.

"But it is too early to say whether anthocyanins obtained through diet could help to reduce the risk of cancer.

"We do know that eating a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fibre, fruit and vegetables - and low in red and processed meat - is an important way to reduce your cancer risk."

Dr Paul Kroon, of the Food Research Institute in Norwich, said the research was an "important study".

"The technology offers great scope for altering colours of fruits and vegetables, and their content of potentially health-protective compounds."

However, he said it would be wrong to assume the effects seen in mice would necessarily occur in humans.

Anna Denny, a nutrition scientist for the British Nutrition Foundation, stressed there was no "magic bullet" against diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

"Fruit and veg with higher levels of health-promoting compounds should not been seen as a replacement for eating a healthy balanced diet."

Original here

10 Fun Facts About Pablo Picasso

Guernica by Pablo Picasso (1937) - turned into 3D art by Lena Gieseke in 2008

Today is Pablo Picasso's birthday, and to help celebrate the Cubist movement co-founder, here are Neatorama's quick 10 fun facts about the guy:

1. Picasso's Full Name Has 23 Words

Picasso was baptized Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Picasso. He was named after various saints and relatives. The "Picasso" is actually from his mother, Maria Picasso y Lopez. His father is named Jose Ruiz Blasco.

2. When He Was Born, The Midwife Thought He Was Stillborn

Picasso had such a difficult birth and was such a weak baby that when he was born, the midwife thought that he was stillborn so she left him on a table to attend his mother. It was his uncle, a doctor named Don Salvador, that saved him:

'Doctors at that time,' he told Antonina Vallentin, 'used to smoke big cigars, and my uncle was no exception. When he saw me lying there he blew smoke into my face. To this I immediately reacted with a grimace and a bellow of fury'" (Source)

3. Picasso's First Word: Pencil

It's like Picasso was born an artist: his first word was "piz," short of lápiz the Spanish word for 'pencil.' His father Ruiz, an artist and art professor, gave him a formal education in art starting from the age of 7. By 13, Ruiz vowed to give up painting as he felt that Pablo had surpassed him. (Photo of Picasso as a 4-year-old-boy: Source)

4. Pablo's First Drawing

Le Picador by Pablo Picasso (1890)

At the tender young age of 9, Picasso completed his first painting: Le picador, a man riding a horse in a bullfight.

La première communion (First Communion) by Pablo Picasso (1896)

His first major painting, an "academic" work is First Communion, featuring a portrait of his father, mother, and younger sister kneeling before an altar. Picasso was 15 when he finished it. (Source)

5. Picasso was a Terrible Student

No doubt about it, Picasso was brilliant: artistically, he was years ahead of his classmates who were all five to six years older than him. But Picasso chafed at being told what to do and he was often thrown into "detention":

"For being a bad student I was banished to the 'calaboose' - a bare cell with whitewashed walls and a bench to sit on. I liked it there, because I took along a sketch pad and drew incessantly ... I could have stayed there forever drawing without stopping" (Source)

6. Picasso's First Job

Picasso signed his first contract in Paris with art dealer Pere Menach, who agreed to pay him 150 francs per month (about US$750 today).

7. Did Picasso Steal the Mona Lisa?

Actually no, but in 1911, when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, the police took in Picasso's friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Apollinaire fingered Picasso as a suspect, so the police hauled him in for questioning. Both were later released. (Source)

8. Cubism: Full of Little Cubes

Le Guitariste (The Guitarist) by Pablo Picasso (1910)

In 1909, Picasso and French artist Georges Braque co-founded an art movement known as cubism. Actually, it was a French art critic Louis Vauxcelles who first called it "bizarre cubiques" or cubism, after noting that Picasso and Braque's paintings are "full of little cubes."

9. Picasso was a Playboy

Being a famous artist certainly helped Picasso get the girl. Girls, in fact - many, many girls. Here's a short list of known wives and lovers of Picasso (Source; Many photos here: Link)

- Fernande Olivier (Picasso's first love, she was 18?; he was 23)
- Marcelle Humbert AKA Eva Gouel (she was 27, Picasso was 31)
- Gaby Lespinasse (he was 34, I don't know how old Gaby was, but she was young, that's for sure!)
- Olga Khokhlova (Picasso's first wife; she was 26 and he was 36 when they met)
- Marie-Thérèse Walter (she was 17, he was 46)
- Dora Maar (she was 29, Picasso was 55)
- Françoise Gilot (she was 21 when she met Picasso, who was 61)
- Geneviève Laporte (one of Picasso's last lovers. She was in her mid-twenties and a French model of Picasso, who was in his seventies when the affair started)
- Jacqueline Roque (who became Picasso's second wife. She was 27 and he was 79)

Le Rêve (The Dream) by Pablo Picasso (1932)

Marie-Thérèse Walter was Picasso's model for Le Rêve. In 2006, casino magnate Steve Wynn agreed to sell the painting for $139 million, but accidentally put his elbow through the canvas the day before the sale was to be completed!

10. Picasso's Car

Okay, it's not exactly his car, but I couldn't resist. Last year, 44-year-old mechanic Andy Saunders of Dorset, England, spent six months converting his old Citroen 2CV into a cubist work inspired by Pablo Picasso!

Original here

Pictured: The white van man who followed his sat-nav too closely and ended up in the middle of a lake

By Daily Mail Reporter

A Polish white van man who was too sure of his sat-nav ended up neck-deep in a lake after ignoring road signs warning of a dead-end ahead, Polish police said today.

The road hasn't been used for a year after it was flooded out when an artificial lake was created.

It was dark and the un-named driver had been drinking, but he still managed to miss three signs warning him there was a lake ahead.

Firemen standing in an artificial lake near the partly submerged van of a Polish driver who drove the vehicle into the water after following the instructions of his GPS

Police said the driver had 'The man took a road that was closed a year ago when the area was flooded to make an artificial lake serving as a water reservoir -- he ignored three road signs warning of a dead-end,' said Piotr Smolen, police spokesman in Glubczyce, southern Poland.

'It was still night time and he didn't notice the road led into the lake. His GPS told him to drive straight ahead and he did.'

Mr Smolen added that the driver had been under the influence of alcohol.

Whoops: The road has been closed for over one year since being flooded by the creation of the lake

The road ran straight downhill into the lake. The Mercedes mini-van was nearly entirely submerged and was unable to back out on its own after being inundated with water.

The driver and two passengers escaped unharmed from the submerged vehicle and waited on its roof for police and fire rescue crews.

The driver placed the first call to emergency services while still inside the sinking van.

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