Drug companies paid big bucks to attend FDA painkiller meetings

  • Article by: Peter Whoriskey
  • Washington Post
  • October 6, 2013 – 11:15 PM

 

WASHINGTON – A scientific panel that shaped the federal government’s policy for testing the safety and effectiveness of painkillers was funded by major pharmaceutical companies that paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the chance to affect the thinking of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to hundreds of e-mails obtained by a public records request.

The e-mails show that the companies paid as much as $25,000 to attend any given meeting of the panel, which had been set up by two academics to provide advice to the FDA on how to weigh the evidence from clinical trials. A leading FDA official later called the group “an essential collaborative effort.”

Patient advocacy groups said the electronic communications suggest that the regulators had become too close to the companies trying to crack into the $9 billion painkiller market in the United States.

FDA officials who regulate painkillers sat on the steering committee of the panel, which met in private, and cowrote papers with employees of pharmaceutical companies.

The FDA has been criticized for not taking precautions that might have averted the epidemic of addiction to prescription drugs including OxyContin and other opioids.

“These e-mails help explain the disastrous decisions the FDA’s analgesic division has made over the last 10 years,” said Craig Mayton, the Columbus, Ohio, attorney who made the public records request to the University of Washington. “Instead of protecting the public health, the FDA has been allowing the drug companies to pay for a seat at a small table where all the rules were written.”

Even as the meetings were taking place, the idea of FDA officials meeting with firms that had paid big money for an invitation raised eyebrows for some. In an e-mail to organizers, an official from the National Institutes of Health worried whether the arrangements made it look as if the private meetings were a “pay to play process.”

FDA officials did not benefit financially from their participation in the meetings, the agency said. But two later went on to work as pharmaceutical consultants and more than this, the critics said, the e-mails portray an agency that, by allowing itself to get caught up in a panel that seemed to promise influence for money, had blurred the line between the regulators and the regulated.

In a statement, the FDA said “we take these concerns very seriously.” But, it said, “we are unaware of any improprieties” associated with the group.

http://www.startribune.com/business/226694611.html

 

© 2013 Star Tribune

Brain-to-brain breakthrough in mind control experiment

Two minds with but a single thought as University of  Washington researcher controls colleague’s hand movements

 

LAST UPDATED AT 13:48 ON Wed 28 Aug  2013

SCIENTISTS have achieved human mind control for the first time in an  experiment at the University of Washington. Using recorded brain signals and the  magnetic stimulation of muscles, researchers were able to remotely control the  hand movements of a person in another room.

The technique called “non-invasive brain-to-brain interfacing” uses the  internet to connect two brains directly, a scenario reminiscent of the  brainwashing scene in John Frankenheimer’s Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate.

Brain-to-brain communication between two rats has already been demonstrated  by researchers at Duke University in North Carolina. And scientists at Harvard  have forged a connection between a human and a rat. But the experiment at the  University of Washington is the first demonstration of human-to-human brain  interfacing.

Andrea Stocco, who took part in the experiment, said the researchers wanted  to take knowledge and “transmit it directly from brain to brain”.

“The internet was a way to connect computers,” he said, “and now it can be a  way to connect brains.”

In the experiment, researcher Rajesh Rao imagined tapping a  keyboard with his finger. His thoughts caused an electrical signal to be sent  via the internet to Stocco, whose finger promptly performed the action.

The researchers captured this and other similar experiments on  camera.

Rao has been studying brain-computer interfacing for more than a decade. He  said that it was both “exciting and eerie” to see a thought turned into action  by another person’s brain.

“This was basically a one-way flow of information from my brain to his,” he  said. “The next step is having a two-way conversation directly between the two  brains.”

The diagram below shows how the spooky experiment works:

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Read more:  http://www.theweek.co.uk/health-science/54852/brain-brain-breakthrough-mind-control-experiment#ixzz2dKBK2xoV

Is Jenny McCarthy the most dangerous woman on US television? – The continuation of an orchestrated campaign

EEV: We support the freedom of choice, We Support Jenny McCarthy. All because something it deemed the title vaccine, does not mean the benefit will always outweigh for the risk. We support ABC for their decision.

 

 

Yes, if you think it’s wrong to give a woman who campaigns against child vaccinations a spot on America’s top daytime talk show

David Usborne

Friday, 19 July 2013

Owned by Disney, the ABC Network might have wanted to burnish its family-friendly credentials as it scoured the land for a new co-host for its all-female daytime talk show, The View.

Surprisingly, perhaps, they plumped this week for Jenny McCarthy, onetime Playboy cover girl, sex author and comedienne.

But this hardly gives McCarthy, now 40, her due. She is also outspoken on family health and has made the case, with a book, TV appearances and on the lecture circuit, that vaccinating infants is not without risk.

It is her campaigning on this issue which has led some commentators and medical professionals to describe McCarthy as “dangerous”. Equally harsh words are now being directed towards the network that hired her. James Poniewozik, Time magazine’s TV critic, said ABC’s decision to put McCarthy on The View was “irresponsible and shameful” and would “legitimise [her] dangerous anti-science” views. Alex Pareene, a writer for Slate, went further, saying the decision would “kill children”.

McCarthy is mightily telegenic. She’s also articulate, she talks directly to young mothers and she’s controversial. The perennially popular talk show and its creator and current (but soon to retire) chief host, Barbara Walters, must have thought they had found themselves the golden ticket. But who in their right mind would deny their offspring proven protection against potentially fatal diseases like mumps and measles? As many people watch The View as live in Iowa. That’s a big audience and it tunes in every day. Could it be that McCarthy is set to become the most dangerous person on American television?

Her foray into medical scholarship followed the birth of her son, Evan, in 2002 and a subsequent diagnosis of autism. Any parent confronted with that sort of crisis is entitled to speculate on its source. But she described the tie between vaccinations and autism as fact and used her fame to peddle it, partly through her book, Mother Warrior. Her then partner, the actor Jim Carrey, lent his voice to her anti-inoculation quest. She has said latterly that Evan has since overcome his autism, in part by good diet choices.

The idea that autism might be caused by vaccines – specifically the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine – was not new, having been mooted notably by a British gastroenterologist, Andrew Wakefield, in 1998. But the paediatric community widely debunked the theory and has blamed McCarthy for scaring parents in the US into depriving children of life-saving protection. Some implicate her in a whooping cough outbreak in California in 2010, the worst in 40 years, that killed 10. A website, http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com, tracks with a digital counter the number of preventable deaths among non-immunised youngsters.

“Her information, at least when it comes to vaccines, is absolutely baseless,” Dr Edgar Marcuse, a professor of paediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Washington in Seattle, noted last week. “It has no scientific support whatsoever.”

The impact of the autism-vaccination claims were notably dissected in The Panic Virus, an award-winning book by Seth Mnookin published in 2011. The author focuses first on Dr Wakefield but dedicates a chapter to McCarthy, whom he accuses of having “worked methodically and relentlessly to undermine public health”. Last week he observed: “In this country, certainly she is the single most important figure in popularising this notion that vaccines are dangerous and could potentially cause autism.”

Could it be that this casting choice will come back to haunt Walters, who means herself to retire from television entirely next summer?

The growing pressure on her to change her mind would suggest so. Letters of protest have swamped ABC headquarters in New York City, including one from Every Child by Two, which runs its own campaign to ensure parents are not tempted to skimp on infant vaccinations.

“McCarthy’s unfounded claims that vaccines cause autism have been one of the greatest impediments to public health in recent decades,” it said. “These false assertions… have spread fear among young parents, which has led to an increased number of children who have not received lifesaving vaccines.”

Critics are particularly concerned because young women make up such a large share of The View’s daily audience. “While Jenny cannot deliver direct medical advice, she is definitely influencing many young mothers as to what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in terms of childcare and immunisations,” Dr Shilpi Agarwal, a family doctor, told Fox News.

“I suspect she will get a lot of pushback, which may be exactly what a show like The View wants.” Maybe so, but it may not be the kind of legacy the retiring Walters wants.

Jenny McCarthy: In her own words

“Let me see if I can put this in scientific terms: think of autism like a fart, and vaccines are the finger you pull to make it happen.”

“The reason why [the medical community] is reluctant to talk about it is because there’s such a huge business in pharmaceuticals.”

– Speaking to CNN in November  last year.

“If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the measles.”

– To Time in February 2010

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/is-jenny-mccarthy-the-most-dangerous-woman-on-us-television-8721232.html#

Study links chemicals widely found in plastics and processed food to elevated blood pressure in children and teens

Contact: Lorinda Klein lorindaann.klein@nyumc.org 212-404-3533 NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine

Data from nearly 3,000 children shows dietary exposure to certain plastics may play a hidden role in epidemic increases in childhood hypertension

NEW YORK, May 22, 2013. Plastic additives known as phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are odorless, colorless and just about everywhere: They turn up in flooring, plastic cups, beach balls, plastic wrap, intravenous tubing and—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the bodies of most Americans. Once perceived as harmless, phthalates have come under increasing scrutiny. A growing collection of evidence suggests dietary exposure to phthalates (which can leech from packaging and mix with food) may cause significant metabolic and hormonal abnormalities, especially during early development.

Now, new research published this Wednesday in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that certain types of phthalates could pose another risk to children: compromised heart health. Drawing on data from a nationally representative survey of nearly 3,000 children and teens, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington and Penn State University School of Medicine, have documented for the first time a connection between dietary exposure to DEHP (di-2-ethyhexylphthalate), a common class of phthalate widely used in industrial food production, and elevated systolic blood pressure, a measure of pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts.

“Phthalates can inhibit the function of cardiac cells and cause oxidative stress that compromises the health of arteries. But no one has explored the relationship between phthalate exposure and heart health in children” says lead author Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, associate professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at NYU Langone Medical Center. “We wanted to examine the link between phthalates and childhood blood pressure in particular given the increase in elevated blood pressure in children and the increasing evidence implicating exposure to environmental exposures in early development of disease.”

Hypertension is clinically defined as a systolic blood-pressure reading above 140 mm Hg. It’s most common in people over 50 years old, although the condition is becoming increasingly prevalent among children owing to the global obesity epidemic. Recent national surveys indicate that 14 percent of American adolescents now have pre-hypertension or hypertension. “Obesity is driving the trend but our findings suggest that environmental factors may also be a part of the problem,” says Dr. Trasande. “This is important because phthalate exposure can be controlled through regulatory and behavioral interventions.”

Researchers from NYU School of Medicine, the University of Washington and Penn State University School of Medicine examined six years of data from a nationally representative survey of the U.S. population administered by the National Centers for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Phthalates were measured in urine samples using standard analysis techniques. Controlling for a number of potential confounders, including race, socioeconomic status, body mass index, caloric intake and activity levels, the researchers found that every three-fold increase in the level of breakdown products of DEHP in urine correlated with a roughly one-millimeter mercury increase in a child’s blood pressure. “That increment may seem very modest at an individual level, but on a population level such shifts in blood pressure can increase the number of children with elevated blood pressure substantially,” says Dr. Trasande. “Our study underscores the need for policy initiatives that limit exposure to disruptive environmental chemicals, in combination with dietary and behavioral interventions geared toward protecting cardiovascular health.”

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This research was made possible through the generous support of KiDs of NYU Langone, an organization of parents, physicians, and friends that supports children’s health services at New York University Langone Medical Center through philanthropy, community service, and advocacy.

About NYU Langone Medical Center

NYU Langone Medical Center, a world-class, patient-centered, integrated, academic medical center, is one on the nation’s premier centers for excellence in clinical care, biomedical research and medical education. Located in the heart of Manhattan, NYU Langone is composed of four hospitals – Tisch Hospital, its flagship acute care facility; the Hospital for Joint Diseases, one of only five hospitals in the nation dedicated to orthopaedics and rheumatology; Hassenfeld Pediatric Center, a comprehensive pediatric hospital supporting a full array of children’s health services; and Rusk Rehabilitation, ranked the best rehabilitation program in New York and one of the top ten in the country since 1989, when U.S. News & World Report introduced its annual “Best Hospitals” rankings– plus NYU School of Medicine, which since 1841 has trained thousands of physicians and scientists who have helped to shape the course of medical history. The medical center’s tri-fold mission to serve, teach and discover is achieved 365 days a year through the seamless integration of a culture devoted to excellence in patient care, education and research. For more information, go to http://www.NYULMC.org

Could eating peppers prevent Parkinson’s?

Contact: Dawn Peters sciencenewsroom@wiley.com 781-388-8408 Wiley

Dietary nicotine may hold protective key

New research reveals that Solanaceae—a flowering plant family with some species producing foods that are edible sources of nicotine—may provide a protective effect against Parkinson’s disease. The study appearing today in Annals of Neurology, a journal of the American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society, suggests that eating foods that contain even a small amount of nicotine, such as peppers and tomatoes, may reduce risk of developing Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder caused by a loss of brain cells that produce dopamine. Symptoms include facial, hand, arm, and leg tremors, stiffness in the limbs, loss of balance, and slower overall movement. Nearly one million Americans have Parkinson’s, with 60,000 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and up to ten million individuals worldwide live with this disease according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, but symptoms are treated with medications and procedures such as deep brain stimulation.

Previous studies have found that cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco, also a Solanaceae plant, reduced relative risk of Parkinson’s disease. However, experts have not confirmed if nicotine or other components in tobacco provide a protective effect, or if people who develop Parkinson’s disease are simply less apt to use tobacco because of differences in the brain that occur early in the disease process, long before diagnosis.

For the present population-based study Dr. Susan Searles Nielsen and colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle recruited 490 patients newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the university’s Neurology Clinic or a regional health maintenance organization, Group Health Cooperative. Another 644 unrelated individuals without neurological conditions were used as controls. Questionnaires were used to assess participants’ lifetime diets and tobacco use, which researchers defined as ever smoking more than 100 cigarettes or regularly using cigars, pipes or smokeless tobacco.

Vegetable consumption in general did not affect Parkinson’s disease risk, but as consumption of edible Solanaceae increased, Parkinson’s disease risk decreased, with peppers displaying the strongest association. Researchers noted that the apparent protection from Parkinson’s occurred mainly in men and women with little or no prior use of tobacco, which contains much more nicotine than the foods studied.

“Our study is the first to investigate dietary nicotine and risk of developing Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Searles Nielsen. “Similar to the many studies that indicate tobacco use might reduce risk of Parkinson’s, our findings also suggest a protective effect from nicotine, or perhaps a similar but less toxic chemical in peppers and tobacco.” The authors recommend further studies to confirm and extend their findings, which could lead to possible interventions that prevent Parkinson’s disease.

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This study is published in Annals of Neurology. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact sciencenewsroom@wiley.com.

Full citation: “Nicotine from Edible Solanaceae and Risk of Parkinson Disease.” Susan Searles Nielsen, Gary M. Franklin, W.T. Longstreth Jr, Phillip D. Swanson and Harvey Checkoway. Annals of Neurology; Published May 9, 2013 (DOI:10.1002/ana.23884).

URL Upon Publication: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/ana.23884

Author Contact: To arrange an interview with Dr. Susan Searles Nielsen, please contact Leila Gray with the University of Washington Health Sciences News Office at +1 206-685-0381 or at leilag@uw.edu.

About the Journal

Annals of Neurology, the official journal of the American Neurological Association and the Child Neurology Society, publishes articles of broad interest with potential for high impact in understanding the mechanisms and treatment of diseases of the human nervous system. All areas of clinical and basic neuroscience, including new technologies, cellular and molecular neurobiology, population sciences, and studies of behavior, addiction, and psychiatric diseases are of interest to the journal. The journal is published by Wiley on behalf of the American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society. For more information, please visit http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/ana.

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Smart dust computers are no bigger than a snowflake

 

Thousands of tiny computers that scavenge power from their surroundings could one day be used to monitor your world

THOUGHT your smartphone or tablet packed a big punch for its size? Pah, that’s nothing. The next generation of computers will be able to carry out complex calculations but will be little bigger than a snowflake.

Such tiny computers – nicknamed smart dust – would work much like their larger cousins, says Prabal Dutta at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They will have tiny CPUs that run programs on a skeleton operating system and be able to access equally small banks of RAM and flash memory. The plan is for such sensor-packed machines to be embedded in buildings and objects in their hundreds or even thousands, providing constant updates on the world around us.

Dutta’s group is creating the first prototypes, which they have dubbed Michigan Micro Motes. These devices, a cubic millimetre in size, come equipped with sensors to monitor temperature or movement, say, and can send data via radio waves.

But how do you charge something so small? “The vision of blanketing the world with smart sensors is very compelling,” says Joshua Smith, head of the Sensor Systems Laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle. “But a lot of sensor networks researchers found themselves surrounded by mountains of depleted batteries and dead sensor nodes.”

So, like microscopic Robinson Crusoes, the motes will live off the power they can scavenge from their surroundings. A mote near a light source might use a tiny solar panel, while a mote running somewhere with greater temperature extremes can be built to tap into that, by converting the heat energy that flows between hot and cold into electricity.

So what will be smart dust’s killer app? The Michigan team says Micro Motes could be used to monitor every tiny movement of large structures like bridges or skyscrapers. And motes in a smart house could report back on lighting, temperature, carbon monoxide levels and occupancy. With motes embedded in all of your belongings it might be possible to run a Google search in the physical world. For example, asking Google “where are my keys?” would give you the right answer if they have been fitted with a mote.

Smart dust computers could make efficient medical implants too. The idea is that motes placed inside the body would monitor a patient’s vital signs. For example, in as-yet-unpublished research, the Michigan team has implanted a Micro Mote inside a mouse tumour so that it can report back on its growth.

Smith is also working on miniature computing, with his wireless identification and sensing platforms (WISPs). Further along in development than Micro Motes – albeit larger – WISPs communicate via radio frequency identification devices, using the same computer language that your next-generation credit card uses. Like Micro Motes, WISPs don’t need batteries and only consume what they can scavenge – stray signals from a nearby TV tower might do the trick, for instance.

But communication remains a key bottleneck for the next wave of computer miniaturisation, says Dutta. For the same chunk of energy a mote could perform 100,000 operations on its CPU but only transmit one bit of information to the outside world, he says.

This article appeared in print under the headline “A sprinkling of smart dust”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21829146.400-smart-dust-computers-are-no-bigger-than-a-snowflake.html

 

Nearly half of veterans found with blast concussions might have hormone deficiencies

Contact: Donna Krupa dkrupa@the-aps.org American Physiological Society

Condition often unrecognized, mimics symptoms of PTSD, depression

BOSTON—Up to 20 percent of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have experienced at least one blast concussion. New research suggests that nearly half these veterans may have a problem so under-recognized that even military physicians may fail to look for it. A new study conducted by Charles W. Wilkinson, Elizabeth A. Colasurdo, Kathleen F. Pagulayan, Jane. B. Shofer, and Elaine R. Peskind, all of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and the University of Washington in Seattle, has found that about 42 percent of screened veterans with blast injuries have irregular hormone levels indicative of hypopituitarism.

Many conditions associated with hypopituitarism mimic other common problems that veterans can suffer, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, explains study leader Wilkinson. However, unlike those other conditions, those under the banner head of hypopituitarism can be can often be well-controlled by replacing the deficient hormones. “This could be a largely missed opportunity for successful treatment,” Wilkinson says.

The team will discuss their study, entitled, “Prevalence of Chronic Hypopituitarism After Blast Concussion,” at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting, being held April 20-24, 2013 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Boston, Mass. The poster presentation is sponsored by the American Physiological Society (APS), a co-sponsor of the event.  As the findings are being presented at a scientific conference, they should be considered preliminary, as they have not undergone the peer review process that is conducted prior to the data being published in a scientific journal.

A Simple Screen

Wilkinson explains that researchers have recently recognized that traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can cause hypopituitarism—a decrease in the concentrations of at least one of eight hormones produced by the pituitary, a gland seated at the base of the brain. Studies in the last few years have suggested that between 25 and 50 percent of people who receive TBIs have low pituitary hormone levels. However, these early studies have focused on injuries that civilians are more likely to receive, such as an automobile accident.

As a research physiologist who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Wilkinson decided to investigate whether veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq who suffer blast injuries show a similar frequency of hypopituitarism.

He and his colleagues collected blood samples from 35 veterans coming home from these wars and diagnosed with a blast concussion about a year prior—enough time for hormone changes to become evident. They then did a screen to compare blood concentrations of the eight hormones produced by the pituitary with the documented normal levels of these hormones.

Missed Opportunity for Treatment

The researchers found that about 42 percent of these veterans showed abnormally low levels of at least one of these hormones. The most common low hormone was human growth hormone, which can cause behavioral and cognitive symptoms similar to PTSD and depression, along with increases in blood lipids and changes in metabolism and blood pressure that can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. The second most common problem was hypogonadism, changes in sexual hormones that can affect body composition and sexual function.

The researchers also saw that some veterans had abnormally low levels of vasopressin and oxytocin, hormones that have been linked to psychiatric problems and bonding. Problems with these hormone levels, in addition to growth hormone, could lead to personality changes that affect relationships with loved ones, Wilkinson explains.

He notes that the prevalence of hypopituitarism in the general population is estimated at 0.03 percent. The 42 percent prevalence that these results suggest is cause for further investigation, he says.

“We’re not diagnosing definite disorders in this study—these individuals would still need a clinical evaluation,” he explains. “But if even 10 percent of these veterans have hypopituitarism, it’s a problem that physicians should be aware of.”

Wilkinson adds that many veterans who suffer blast injuries may never see an endocrinologist—and a neurologist or a psychiatrist, whom they’re more likely to see for post-concussion follow-up, is unlikely to screen for hormonal deficiencies. Because low hormone levels can often be successfully treated, he says, it’s a missed opportunity to help veterans. The work was supported by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

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About Experimental Biology 2013

Six scientific societies will hold their joint scientific sessions and annual meetings, known as Experimental Biology, from April 20-24, 2013, in Boston. This meeting brings together the leading researchers from a broad array of life science disciplines. The societies include the American Association of Anatomists (AAA), American Physiological Society (APS), American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP), American Society for Nutrition (ASN), and American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET). Additional information about the meeting is online at http://bit.ly/ymb7av.

About the American Physiological Society (APS)

The American Physiological Society (APS) is a nonprofit organization devoted to fostering education, scientific research, and dissemination of information in the physiological sciences. The Society was founded in 1887 and today represents more than 11,000 members and publishes  14 peer-reviewed journals.

NOTE TO EDITORS: To receive a copy of the abstract or schedule an interview with a member of the research team, please contact Donna Krupa at DKrupa@the-aps.org, 301.634.7209 (office) or 703.967.2751 (cell) or @Phyziochick on Twitter.

Study: Husbands who do more traditionally female housework have less sex

Contact: Daniel Fowler pubinfo@asanet.org 202-527-7885 American Sociological Association

WASHINGTON, DC, January 24, 2013 — Married men who spend more time doing traditionally female household tasks—including cooking, cleaning, and shopping—report having less sex than husbands who don’t do as much, according to a new study in the February issue of the American Sociological Review.

“Our findings suggest the importance of socialized gender roles for sexual frequency in heterosexual marriage,” said Sabino Kornrich, the study’s lead author and a junior researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Juan March Institute in Madrid. “Couples in which men participate more in housework typically done by women report having sex less frequently. Similarly, couples in which men participate more in traditionally masculine tasks—such as yard work, paying bills, and auto maintenance—report higher sexual frequency.”

The study, “Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” which considers heterosexual married couples in the United States, relies on nationally representative data from the National Survey of Families and Households. Men in the study reported having had sex an average of 5.2 times in the month prior to the survey while women reported 5.6 times on average. But, both men and women in couples with more gender-traditional divisions of household labor reported having had more sex than those with more egalitarian divisions.

“The results suggest the existence of a gendered set of sexual scripts, in which the traditional performance and display of gender is important for creation of sexual desire and performance of sexual activity,” said Kornrich, who co-authored the study with two University of Washington researchers, Julie Brines, an associate professor of sociology, and Katrina Leupp, a doctoral candidate in sociology.

The researchers also investigated, and ultimately ruled out, a number of other possible explanations for their findings. For example, they explored the possibility that couples with more traditional divisions of labor had more sex because the husbands in those relationships were sexually coercive. “Wives’ reported satisfaction with their sex life has the same relationship to men’s participation in household labor as sexual frequency,” Kornrich said. “Had satisfaction with sex been low, but frequency high, it might have suggested coercion. However, we didn’t find that.”

In addition, the researchers found that happiness, religion, gender ideology, and a range of other variables did not affect the relationship between more traditional divisions of labor and more frequent sexual activity.

“The importance of gender has declined over time, but it continues to exert a strong influence over individual behaviors, including sexual frequency within marriage,” Kornrich said.

But, for husbands who might see the study as justification for not cooking, cleaning, shopping, or performing other traditionally female household tasks, Kornrich issued a warning. “Men who refuse to help around the house could increase conflict in their marriage and lower their wives’ marital satisfaction,” he said. “Earlier research has found that women’s marital satisfaction is indeed linked to men’s participation in overall household labor, which encompasses tasks traditionally done by both men and women.”

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About the American Sociological Association and the American Sociological Review

The American Sociological Association, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society. The American Sociological Review is the ASA’s flagship journal.

The research article described above is available by request for members of the media. For a copy of the full study, contact Daniel Fowler, ASA’s Media Relations and Public Affairs Officer.

Overeating now bigger global problem than lack of food

 

Not good for global health <i>(Image: Peter Reali/Plainpicture)</i>Not good for global health (Image: Peter Reali/Plainpicture)

The largest ever study into the state of the world’s health has revealed that, for the first time, the number of years of healthy living lost as a result of people eating too much outweigh the number lost by people eating too little.

The Global Burden of Disease report – a massive research effort involving almost 500 scientists in 50 countries – also concludes that we have finally got a handle on some common infectious diseases, helping to save millions of children from early deaths. But collectively we are spending more of our lives living in poor health and with disability.

“The Global Burden of Disease 2010 is the most comprehensive assessment of human health in the history of medicine,” says Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, in which the report will be published. “It provides insights into human health that are comparable in scope and depth to the sequencing of the human genome.”

The report assessed the prevalence of diseases and causes of death across the globe in 2010, and compared these to data collected in 1990 to identify any trends.

For the first time on a global scale, being overweight has become more of a health problem than lack of nutrition. In 1990, undernutrition was the leading cause of disease burden, measured as the number of years of healthy life an average person could expect to lose as a result of illness or early death. Back then, a high body-mass index, or BMI, was ranked tenth. Now, undernutrition has dropped to eighth place, while BMI has risen to become the sixth leading cause of disease burden.

Too much to eat

“A greater amount of disease burden has occurred because people are fat and have too much to eat, as opposed to having too little to eat,” says Alan Lopez at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who worked on the study.

Being overweight can hike a person’s blood pressure and cause stroke and heart disease; together, these two conditions are responsible for a quarter of all deaths. And the problem isn’t limited to the west – the Middle East is one region that is seeing significant increases in BMI.

But while more of us may be overweight, we are also living longer. In some countries, the change has been huge – the Maldives, for example, has seen an increase in life expectancy of almost 30 years since the 1970s. Rural health programmes have also contributed to big improvements in countries including Bangladesh and Iran.

“There has been a lot of progress,” says Majid Ezzati at Imperial College London, who led part of the study investigating the risk factors of disease. “These are countries that have implemented programmes in large regions and nationwide to get interventions to the people that really need them.”

Progress in eliminating the causes of early childhood death – mainly infections, diarrhoea and birth problems – has been astounding. The rate of death in the under-5s has dropped by 60 per cent since 1990.

High mortality

Sub-Saharan Africa is still experiencing high levels of mortality from infectious diseases such as HIV and malaria, yet globally deaths from infectious diseases have dropped. In fact, we are more likely to die from non-infectious diseases – especially those caused by being overweight.

Looking forward, obesity and the use of tobacco and alcohol are obvious targets for health policy change. But it is also important to focus on healthy ageing.

“The large burden [of disease] related to disability was a surprise,” says Christopher Murray at the University of Washington in Seattle. “There’s been a focus on mortality, but there’s a huge volume [of disease burden] related to things that don’t really kill you.”

Musculoskeletal disorders – such as neck and back pain – dominate this category, as do mental disorders and substance abuse.

There’s a need to improve awareness of these chronic conditions in the developing world, says Irene Agyepong at the University of Ghana in Accra, who was not involved in the study. “The kind of awareness we have in the western world is not there in the south,” she says. “We have to focus on it now rather than wait until it is upon us, like the HIV AIDS epidemic is on us.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23004-overeating-now-bigger-global-problem-than-lack-of-food.html?full=true&print=true

 

Do we live in a computer simulation? UW researchers say idea can be tested

By Vince StricherzNews and Information

A decade ago, a British philosopher put forth the notion that the universe we live in might in fact be a computer simulation run by our descendants. While that seems far-fetched, perhaps even incomprehensible, a team of physicists at the University of Washington has come up with a potential test to see if the idea holds water.

The concept that current humanity could possibly be living in a computer simulation comes from a 2003 paper published in Philosophical Quarterly by Nick Bostrom, a philosophy professor at the University of Oxford. In the paper, he argued that at least one of three possibilities is true:

  • The human species is likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage.
  • Any posthuman civilization is very unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history.
  • We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

He also held that “the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.”

A graphical representation of two theoretical views of our universe.

With current limitations and trends in computing, it will be decades before researchers will be able to run even primitive simulations of the universe. But the UW team has suggested tests that can be performed now, or in the near future, that are sensitive to constraints imposed on future simulations by limited resources.

Currently, supercomputers using a technique called lattice quantum chromodynamics and starting from the fundamental physical laws that govern the universe can simulate only a very small portion of the universe, on the scale of one 100-trillionth of a meter, a little larger than the nucleus of an atom, said Martin Savage, a UW physics professor.

Eventually, more powerful simulations will be able to model on the scale of a molecule, then a cell and even a human being. But it will take many generations of growth in computing power to be able to simulate a large enough chunk of the universe to understand the constraints on physical processes that would indicate we are living in a computer model.

However, Savage said, there are signatures of resource constraints in present-day simulations that are likely to exist as well in simulations in the distant future, including the imprint of an underlying lattice if one is used to model the space-time continuum.

The supercomputers performing lattice quantum chromodynamics calculations essentially divide space-time into a four-dimensional grid. That allows researchers to examine what is called the strong force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature and the one that binds subatomic particles called quarks and gluons together into neutrons and protons at the core of atoms.

“If you make the simulations big enough, something like our universe should emerge,” Savage said. Then it would be a matter of looking for a “signature” in our universe that has an analog in the current small-scale simulations.

Savage and colleagues Silas Beane of the University of New Hampshire, who collaborated while at the UW’s Institute for Nuclear Theory, and Zohreh Davoudi, a UW physics graduate student, suggest that the signature could show up as a limitation in the energy of cosmic rays.

In a paper they have posted on arXiv, an online archive for preprints of scientific papers in a number of fields, including physics, they say that the highest-energy cosmic rays would not travel along the edges of the lattice in the model but would travel diagonally, and they would not interact equally in all directions as they otherwise would be expected to do.

“This is the first testable signature of such an idea,” Savage said.

If such a concept turned out to be reality, it would raise other possibilities as well. For example, Davoudi suggests that if our universe is a simulation, then those running it could be running other simulations as well, essentially creating other universes parallel to our own.

“Then the question is, ‘Can you communicate with those other universes if they are running on the same platform?’” she said.

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For more information, contact Savage at 206-543-7481 or mjs5@uw.edu; or Davoudi at 206-543-9310 or davoudi@uw.edu.

Long-term effects of statin therapy could lead to transient or permanent cognitive impairment

2009 study posted for filing

Contact: Nick Zagorski
nzagorski@asbmb.org
301-634-7366
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Statins show dramatic drug and cell dependent effects in the brain

Besides their tremendous value in treating high cholesterol and lowering the risk of heart disease, statins have also been reported to potentially lower the risks of other diseases, such as dementia. However, a study in the October Journal of Lipid Research finds that similar statin drugs can have profoundly different effects on brain cells –both beneficial and detrimental. These findings reinforce the idea that great care should be taken when deciding on the dosage and type of statin given to individuals, particularly the elderly.

John Albers and colleagues compared the effects of two commercially used statins, simvastatin and pravastatin, on two different types of brain cells, neurons and astrocytes (support cells that help repair damage). By directly applying the drugs to cells as opposed to administering them to animals, they could eliminate differences in the drugs’ ability to cross the blood-brain barrier as a reason for any differing effects. Albers and colleagues looked at the expression of genes related to neurodegeneration, and found that indeed, despite using biologically equivalent drug concentrations, differences were seen both between cells, and between drugs; for example, simvastatin reduced the expression of the cholesterol transporter ABCA1 by approximately 80% in astrocytes, while pravastatin lowered expression by only around 50%. Another interesting difference was that while both statins decreased expression of the Tau protein –associated with Alzheimer’s disease—in astrocytes, they increased Tau expression in neurons; pravastatin also increased the expression of another Alzheimer’s hallmark, amyloid precursor protein (APP).

While increased levels of these two proteins may account for potential risks of disease, Albers and colleagues also note that large decreases in cholesterol proteins like ABCA1 should be considered. Brain cholesterol levels tend to be reduced in elderly people, and in such individuals the long-term effects of statin therapy could lead to transient or permanent cognitive impairment.

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From the article: “Differential effects of simvastatin and pravastatin on expression of Alzheimer’s disease-related genes in human astrocytes and neuronal cells” by Weijiang Dong, Simona Vuletic and John J. Albers
Corresponding Author: John J Albers, Northwest Lipid Metabolism and Diabetes Research Laboratories, University of Washington jja@u.washington.edu

Scientists cure color blindness in monkeys

2009 study posted for filing

Contact: John Pastor
jdpastor@ufl.edu
352-273-5815
University of Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Florida used gene therapy to cure two squirrel monkeys of color blindness — the most common genetic disorder in people.

Writing online Wednesday in the journal Nature, scientists cast a rosy light on the potential for gene therapy to treat adult vision disorders involving cone cells — the most important cells for vision in people.

“We’ve added red sensitivity to cone cells in animals that are born with a condition that is exactly like human color blindness,” said William W. Hauswirth, Ph.D., a professor of ophthalmic molecular genetics at the UF College of Medicine and a member of the UF Genetics Institute and the Powell Gene Therapy Center. “Although color blindness is only moderately life-altering, we’ve shown we can cure a cone disease in a primate, and that it can be done very safely. That’s extremely encouraging for the development of therapies for human cone diseases that really are blinding.”

The finding is also likely to intrigue millions of people around the world who are colorblind, including about 3.5 million people in the United States, more than 13 million in India and more than 16 million in China. The problem mostly affects men, leaving about 8 percent of Caucasian men in the United States incapable of discerning red and green hues that are important for everyday things like recognizing traffic lights.

“People who are colorblind feel that they are missing out,” said Jay Neitz, Ph.D., a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Washington. “If we could find a way to do this with complete safety in human eyes, as we did with monkeys, I think there would be a lot of people who would want it. Beyond that, we hope this technology will be useful in correcting lots of different vision disorders.”

The discovery comes about 10 years after Neitz and his wife Maureen Neitz, Ph.D., a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Washington and senior author of the study, began training two squirrel monkeys named Dalton and Sam.

In addition to teaching the animals, the Neitz research group worked with the makers of a standard vision-testing technique called the Cambridge Colour Test to perfect a way the monkeys could “tell” them which colors they were seeing.

The tests are similar to ones given to elementary children the world over, in which students are asked to identify a specific pattern of colored dots among a field of dots that vary in size, color and intensity. The researchers devised a computer touch screen the monkeys could use to trace the color patterns. When the animals chose correctly, they received a reward of grape juice.

Likewise, decades were spent by Hauswirth and colleagues at the University of Florida to develop the gene-transfer technique that uses a harmless adeno-associated virus to deliver corrective genes to produce a desired protein.

In this case, researchers wanted to produce a substance called long-wavelength opsin in the retinas of the monkeys. This particular form of opsin is a colorless protein that works in the retina to make pigments that are sensitive to red and green.

“We used human DNAs, so we won’t have to switch to human genes as we move toward clinical treatments,” said Hauswirth, who is also involved in a clinical trial with human patients to test gene therapy for the treatment of Leber congenital amaurosis, a form of blindness that strikes children.

About five weeks after the treatment, the monkeys began to acquire color vision, almost as if it occurred overnight.

“Nothing happened for the first 20 weeks,” Neitz said. “But we knew right away when it began to work. It was if they woke up and saw these new colors. The treated animals unquestionably responded to colors that had been invisible to them.”

It took more than a year and a half to test the monkeys’ ability to discern 16 hues, with some of the hues varying as much as 11-fold in intensity.

Dalton is named for John Dalton, an English chemist who realized he was colorblind and published the first paper about the condition in 1798.

“We’ve had Dalton and Sam for 10 years. They are like our children,” Neitz said. “This species are friendly, docile monkeys that we just love. We think it is useful to continue to follow them — it’s been two years now that they’ve been seeing in color, and continuing to check their vision and allowing them to play with the computer is part of their enrichment.”

With the discovery, the researchers are the first to address a vision disorder in primates in which all photoreceptors are intact and healthy, providing a hint of gene therapy’s full potential to restore vision.

About 1 in 30,000 Americans have a hereditary form of blindness called achromatopsia, which causes nearly complete color blindness and extremely poor central vision. “Those patients would be targets for almost exactly the same treatment,” Hauswirth said.

Even in common types of blindness such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, vision could potentially be rescued by targeting cone cells, he said.

“The major thrust of the study is you can ameliorate if not cure color blindness with gene therapy,” said Gerald H. Jacobs, Ph.D., a research professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the research. “There are still questions about safety, but in these monkeys at least, there were no untoward effects. Those who are motivated to ameliorate their color defect might take some hope from the findings.

“This is also another example of how utterly plastic the visual system is to change,” Jacobs said. “The nervous system can extract information from alterations to photopigments and make use of it almost instantaneously.”

Cancer institute tackles sloppy data

Funder demands better evidence for biomarkers in clinical trials.

Monya Baker

12 October 2012

Biologists combing through massive patient data sets often find potential biomarkers of certain diseases, but many of these signals turn out to be false. To weed out these useless associations, the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) yesterday released a draft list of 29 criteria, such as documenting where specimens came from and ensuring experiments can be properly replicated, that researchers must address before receiving NCI funds to run a clinical trial.

The goal of the guidelines is to divert some of the problems that arise in developing tests on the basis of ‘omics’ studies — investigations of thousands of genes, proteins and other biomolecules within patient samples. Such tests could help to predict the best treatments for patients with cancer, but evaluating them can be tricky, says Lisa McShane, a biostatistician at the NCI in Rockville, Maryland, and a co-author of the guidelines.

Problems with omics predictions captured headlines after clinical trials for cancer at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, were halted in 2010 owing to suspicion of data alteration. More than two dozen papers were retracted in association with the scandal, and the lead investigator, Anil Potti, resigned amid an investigation of research misconduct (see ‘Cancer trial errors revealed‘).

After the investigation, the US Institute of Medicine released a report in March calling for higher standards in developing omics tests to guide treatment decisions in clinical trials (see ‘Lapses in oversight compromise omics results’). That report outlined principles for discovering, evaluating and validating omics tests, and specified that any tests used to determine a patient’s medical care within a clinical trial should first be reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The NCI guidelines address similar problems as the IOM report but are more like a how-to manual, says McShane, and they are not just a checklist — because the NCI approves and funds clinical trials, the guidelines are enforceable.

Although cases of outright misconduct are rare, many papers and protocols contain serious scientific flaws, says McShane. Intuition breaks down when so many variables are considered, she says, making researchers blind to methodological flaws.

Keith Baggerly, a bioinformatician at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, who, along with McShane, helped to uncover problems in the Duke trials says that no one expected that it would be so easy to find spurious patterns in genomic data.

“Early after the genome was mapped, there was a notion we could take this wonderful data, plug it through some mathematical algorithms, and out would pop the secrets of biology. Guess what? It’s not that easy,” says Larry Kessler, who studies how research can best move into clinical practice at the University of Washington in Seattle.

One of the most egregious flaws, says McShane, is ‘resubstitution’, in which some of the data used to build a hypothesis are also used to evaluate it. “You can see that even in top journals,” says McShane. Other problems occur when researchers fail to thoroughly document where patient specimens come from or how they’ve been assayed, making it hard to replicate results.

“The guidelines are so important and necessary,” says Kessler. “A lot of experiments have not been done with the [necessary] rigour and replication.” Neither funders nor scientists get excited about replicating studies, he says, but not doing so is wasteful at best. The guidelines enforce replication at several levels, such as requiring researchers to repeat an assay on the same sample to make sure it provides consistent results, to document computer code in enough detail for someone else to reproduce an analysis, or to check that the same biomarkers are associated with the same conditions in independent data sets.

Part of the problem is cultural, says David Ransohoff, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who says that the NCI guidelines are a good start. There is a big difference between assessing data for clinical research and generating hypotheses in labs. “Whatever you’re using, you have to give it a fair, blinded hypothesis test to validate it, and if you don’t, you don’t have strong enough data to be doing patient management.”

What researchers might bill as blinded is not necessarily so, says McShane. If results don’t come out as expected, researchers may tweak a model or disregard outlier data and then rerun a test without realizing that those tweaks corrupt validation studies. “People don’t realize how much bias that can introduce,” she says.

McShane says that she hopes the guidelines will protect patients and make research more efficient. “We are seeing these guidelines not as something making people’s life difficult, but something that can spare people pain,” says McShane. “So they won’t write up a bad protocol or hype a bad study.”

Journal name:
Nature
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nature.2012.11580
 

http://www.nature.com/news/cancer-institute-tackles-sloppy-data-1.11580

 

Pacemakers Vulnerable to Hackers: Malicious hackers can kill

2008 posted for filing
Contact: Claire Bowles
claire.bowles@newscientist.com
44-207-611-1210
New Scientist

How to stop a new type of heart attack

PACEMAKERS are supposed to protect people from heart attacks. But to do that they have to provide digital as well as biological security.

Earlier this year, a team led by William Maisel at Harvard Medical School demonstrated how a commercial radio transmitter could be used to modify wireless communications from a pacemaker (New Scientist, 22 March, p 23). Doctors normally use these signals to monitor and adjust the implanted device, but a malicious hacker could reprogram the pacemaker to give its wearer damaging shocks, or run down its batteries.

Such irresponsible attacks might seem inconceivable, but Tamara Denning, a computer scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, points out that in 2007 hackers posted flashing images to the Epilepsy Foundation’s website, apparently with the aim of triggering attacks in people with photosensitive epilepsy.

Pacemaker users could be similarly targeted, and there are a growing number of other implantable medical devices (IMDs) – such as drug pumps, neural stimulators, swallowable cameras and prosthetics – which could also be undermined by pranksters or even killers. Researchers like Denning believe it’s worth being prepared. “We wanted to draw attention not to a prevalent threat, but to a possible future one,” she says.

Securing IMDs is problematic, however, because it is difficult to distinguish between malicious and benevolent communications. Some seemingly obvious solutions are unsuitable: for example, encrypting the IMD signals would be risky because doctors might not be able to get hold of the encryption key in an emergency.

Denning and her colleagues have proposed that IMD users wear a “cloaker” device that tells the IMD to ignore any unexpected instructions. When doctors need to talk to the device, they can simply remove the cloaker.

Designing the system poses unique challenges. The cloaker itself has to be resistant to electronic attack, and the system must “fail open” rather than “fail closed”, allowing doctors access to the IMD if the cloaker breaks down or is lost. And continual communication with the cloaker will eat into the IMD’s battery life.

The researchers have built a PC-based simulation of how a cloaker might work, and suggest that it could be worn like a wristwatch.

Maisel, however, thinks the proposal is unrealistic. In an emergency, the cloaker might be hard for doctors to find – hidden in the patient’s clothing, for example. “You’re asking hundreds of thousands or millions of people to wear something every day for a theoretical risk.”

 

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IF REPORTING ON THIS STORY, PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE AND, IF REPORTING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A LINK TO: http://www.newscientist.com

UK CONTACT – Claire Bowles, New Scientist Press Office, London:
Tel: +44(0)20 7611 1210 or email claire.bowles@newscientist.co.uk

US CONTACT – New Scientist Boston office:
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Toxic chemicals found in common scented laundry products, air fresheners

Contact: Hannah Hickey hickeyh@u.washington.edu 206-543-2580 University of Washington

A University of Washington study of top-selling laundry products and air fresheners found the products emitted dozens of different chemicals. All six products tested gave off at least one chemical regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws, but none of those chemicals was listed on the product labels.

“I first got interested in this topic because people were telling me that the air fresheners in public restrooms and the scent from laundry products vented outdoors were making them sick,” said Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs. “And I wanted to know, ‘What’s in these products that is causing these effects?'”

She analyzed the products to discover the chemicals’ identity.

“I was surprised by both the number and the potential toxicity of the chemicals that were found,” Steinemann said. Chemicals included acetone, the active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover; limonene, a molecule with a citrus scent; and acetaldehyde, chloromethane and 1,4-dioxane.

“Nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from these six products, and none were listed on any product label.  Plus, five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic ‘hazardous air pollutants,’ which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level,” Steinemann said.

Her study was published online today by the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review. Steinemann chose not to disclose the brand names of the six products she tested.  In a larger study of 25 cleaners, personal care products, air fresheners and laundry products, now submitted for publication, she found that many other brands contained similar chemicals.

Because manufacturers of consumer products are not required to disclose the ingredients, Steinemann analyzed the products to discover their contents. She studied three common air fresheners (a solid deodorizer disk, a liquid spray and a plug-in oil) and three laundry products (a dryer sheet, fabric softener and a detergent), selecting a top seller in each category. She bought household items at a grocery store and asked companies for samples of industrial products.

In the laboratory, each product was placed in an isolated space at room temperature and the surrounding air was analyzed for volatile organic compounds, small molecules that evaporate from the product’s surface into the air.

Results showed 58 different volatile organic compounds above a concentration of 300 micrograms per cubic meter, many of which were present in more than one of the six products. For instance, a plug-in air freshener contained more than 20 different volatile organic compounds. Of these, seven are regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws. The product label lists no ingredients, and information on the Material Safety Data Sheet, required for workplace handling of chemicals, lists the contents as “mixture of perfume oils.”

This study does not address links between exposure to chemicals and health effects. However, two national surveys published by Steinemann and a colleague in 2004 and 2005 found that about 20 percent of the population reported adverse health effects from air fresheners, and about 10 percent complained of adverse effects from laundry products vented to the outdoors.  Among asthmatics such complaints were roughly twice as common.

Manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients used in laundry products and air fresheners. Personal-care products and cleaners often contain similar fragrance chemicals, Steinemann said. And although cosmetics are required by the Food and Drug Administration to list ingredients, no law requires products of any kind to list chemicals used in fragrances.

“Fragrance chemicals are of particular interest because of the potential for involuntary exposure, or second-hand scents,” Steinemann said.

“Be careful if you buy products with fragrance, because you really don’t know what’s in them,” she added. “I’d like to see better labeling. In the meantime, I’d recommend that instead of air fresheners people use ventilation, and with laundry products, choose fragrance-free versions.”

The European Union recently enacted legislation requiring products to list 26 fragrance chemicals when they are present above a certain concentration in cosmetic products and detergents. No similar laws exist in the United States.

“I hope this study will raise public awareness, and reduce exposures to potentially hazardous chemicals,” said Steinemann.

 

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For more information, contact Steinemann at (206) 616-2661 or acstein@u.washington.edu.

Is your scent making you ill? Today’s obsession with perfuming everything from candles to bin liners could be to blame

By Victoria Lambert

PUBLISHED:16:34 EST, 17  September 2012| UPDATED:16:45 EST, 17 September 2012

Nearly a third of people may suffer adverse health effects from being exposed to scentsNearly a third of people may suffer adverse health  effects from being exposed to scents

The smell of fresh air is becoming something  of a distant memory, thanks to our increasing use of fragrance. From air  fresheners to scented candles, perfumed loo roll and bin liners, in-car scents  and even scented socks, we live in a miasma of scent.

Share a lift or train carriage and the aroma  of spray deodorant and perfume can be overwhelming. Recent figures show seven in  ten use air fresheners or scented candles to keep our homes smelling sweet.

Yet recent reports suggest that perfumed  products could affect our health, causing problems including allergies, asthma  and migraine, and even interfere with sexual desire.

One leading expert suggests nearly a third of  people suffer adverse health effects from being exposed to scents. A major  problem is so-called ‘contact’ allergy — where perfumes and scented products  trigger eczema and dermatitis when they come into contact with  skin.

Molecules in the product trigger an immune  response, causing itchiness and even scaly, cracked skin.

About one in 20 is thought to be affected by  fragrance allergy — though this number may be growing.

‘Allergies are on the increase, and the  amount of perfumed products is also on the rise,’ says Dr Susannah Baron,  consultant dermatologist at Kent & Canterbury hospital, and BMI Chaucer  Hospital.

‘Fragrance allergy can show up as contact  dermatitis in the site a perfumed product is applied, or as a flare-up of  existing eczema. It can be a real problem.’

In July, the EU Scientific Committee on  Consumer Safety asked perfume manufacturers to list potential allergens in their  product after reports that they triggered skin reactions.

Earlier this year, the U.S. state of New  Hampshire banned workers from wearing scents to protect their co-workers.

Often it may not be immediately obvious that  you’ve developed a fragrance allergy, says Dr Baron.

‘You don’t react immediately; the body notes  that it does not like the chemical and develops “memory cells”, which cause  inflammation when the body is next exposed to this chemical.

‘Gradually, as you are exposed more and more,  the body ramps up its reaction, until it becomes more noticeable to you.’

People with pre-existing eczema are  particularly vulnerable. ‘The eczema worsens in areas in  contact with  perfumes or perfume- containing shampoos, conditioners and shower gels,’ says Dr  Baron.

But even those without allergies can be at  risk of fragrance allergy.

‘You can become suddenly allergic to perfumes  and personal care products that you have been using for years.

‘You can also have problems with unexpected  products such as scented toilet roll and scented wipes which can cause  irritation.’

And strong scents can also cause headaches.

According to Dr Vincent Martin, a headache  specialist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, fragrances  activate the nose’s nerve cells, stimulating the nerve system associated with  head pain.

UK charity Migraine Action warns that intense  or penetrating smells can even trigger migraine for the same reason.

To minimise risks, migraine sufferers are  advised to keep diaries of all triggers including scent, so they can minimise  contact.

Meanwhile, products such as plug-in  deodorisers and even mild air fresheners contain chemicals that could  trigger  asthma attacks, experts have warned.

Charity Asthma UK says that perfumes can  irritate the airways in those with asthma, causing breathing  problems.

Dr Stanley Fineman, of the Atlanta Allergy  and Asthma Clinic in the U.S.,  says those with asthma are especially sensitive,  and that his research  indicates a change in lung function when exposed to  certain chemical  fragrances.

People with eczema are particularly vulnerable to perfumes and should wash with non-fragranced emollient products
People with eczema are particularly vulnerable to  perfumes and should wash with non-fragranced emollient products

The fashion for scented intimate products can  be linked to health issues, too, says Dr Sovra Whitcroft, a gynaecologist at the  Surrey Park Clinic, Guildford.

‘The problem with perfumed products is that  they change the natural pH or acidity of the vagina.

‘The normal pH is four to five. If this is  altered and made less acidic, it loses its natural protection and bacteria are  allowed to thrive and multiply. The very product designed to improve body odour  can, in a short space of time, do the opposite by contributing to an overgrowth  of odour-producing bacteria.

‘And many strong chemicals and perfumes can  have a direct irritant effect on the sensitive mucosal lining of the vagina as  well as the relatively thin and delicate skin, causing contact dermatitis or  inflammation. This can make the area more prone to harbouring bacteria, causing  secondary infections.

‘In the longer term, if products containing  talcum powder are sprayed around the vaginal area, the tiny particles can be  driven up into the female reproductive system.

‘There have been many studies suggesting a  link between these talcum particles and ovarian cancer and while it is difficult  to know whether these results are true, it is important to steer clear from  anything which can cause such potential harm.

‘The truth is as long as a woman is healthy,  washes thoroughly with soap and water frequently and changes her underwear every  day there should be no need for cover-up deodorants. Using a chemical perfume to  cover potential odours may mask an underlying infection or even cause  one.’

Commonly used chemicals in fragrances include  synthetic musk, linked to hormone disruption.

A 2009 study of Austrian college students  published in the journal Science of the Total Environment found that those who  used the most perfume and scented lotion also had the highest levels of  synthetic musks, including Galaxolide and Tonalide, in their  blood.

These can bind to and stimulate human  oestrogen receptors; they have also been shown to affect male hormone receptors.

‘Fragrance suggests cleanliness — yet people  are smelling a potentially hazardous chemical mixture,’ says Anne Steinemann,  professor of civil and environmental engineering and public affairs at the  University of Washington, who has investigated the effects of scents on public  health for more than a decade. ‘We often use them to mask one problem — as with  air fresheners — but create a greater one — adding toxic chemicals to the  air.’

Two surveys she did found more than 30 per  cent of the public report adverse health effects from being exposed to scents in  ordinary life.

‘Since then, I have received thousands of  messages from people all over the world saying they get sick around fragranced  products.

‘They are suffering seizures, losing  consciousness, can’t concentrate on work, as well as suffering  rashes, migraine headaches and asthma attacks.’

Longer term, our obsession with artificial  scent may even affect sexual desire, suggest Mel Rosenberg, professor of  microbiology at Tel Aviv University.

‘For thousands of years, we’ve been applying  the natural scents of flowers and animals to attract people and to appear more  sexually attractive,’ he says.

‘Now we have learned how to replicate natural  smells identically and to create chemical fragrances much more cheaply.

‘We fragrance our world so much that if odour  recognition is important in sexual biology, and I believe it is vital, we are  falling for the wrong people.

‘You could fall in love with a girl because  of the scent of her hair conditioner, not her natural hormones.

‘We should pick a mate by natural odour.  That’s why we traditionally go dancing and play sports — where we get natural  odours.’

The biggest problem is detecting the  substance to blame. Since the body reacts slowly, an affected part of skin could  have been touched by fragranced soap or deodorant, or clothes washed in  fragranced powder as much as perfume applied directly. So finding a culprit is  hard.

Lindsey McManus of charity Allergy UK warns: ‘Many chemicals have the potential to irritate skin, including rubber or  formaldehyde, which is added to preserve the fragrance. People have to be their  own detectives.’

But it is not just chemicals we have to watch  out for: Dr Baron cites a natural ingredient — balsam of Peru (a sticky aromatic  liquid that comes from cutting the bark of the tree Myroxyolon balsamum,) which  is common in fragrances — as a trigger for fragrance allergy.

Would reducing the number of scents  surrounding us help? Dr Baron does not think it is the number of fragrances  around us that may be responsible for rising numbers of cases, ‘but there are  more cases of eczema so that increases the chance of contact allergies  developing’.

She recommends that if you do have sensitive  or eczema-prone skin, use non-fragranced products if possible in order to  prevent an allergic reaction.

Eczema sufferers should limit their use of  soap and instead wash with non-fragranced emollient products.

But avoiding all perfume is not an easy task.  Though you can have allergy testing for the constituents in fragrances and other  common allergens at your local dermatology department, we are surrounded by  scented products.

‘Even if you know which fragrance causes a  problem, it can be difficult to avoid as most personal care products — soap,  shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, sun cream, shaving gel and washing powder — contain fragrances,’ says Dr Baron.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2204745/Is-scent-making-ill-Todays-obsession-perfuming-candles-bin-liners-blame.html#ixzz26nYTcRQ2

Official U.S. poverty rate remains high, middle class incomes decline

September 12, 2012

 

By Molly McElroyNews and Information

 

Posted under: News Releases, Social Science

 

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau today show that, after increasing since 2008, the poverty rate for the U.S. remained stable at 15 percent between 2010 and 2011. Poverty is greatest among children (21.9 percent), compared with seniors (8.7 percent) and working-age adults (13.7 percent).

While poverty remained unchanged, the median annual household income declined for the second year in a row, to $50,054, down 1.5 percent from 2010.

In Washington state, the estimated poverty rate increased from 11.5 percent (774,000 residents) to 12.5 percent (854,000 residents) between 2010 and 2011.

Researchers at the West Coast Poverty Center at the University of Washington note that the data released by the Census Bureau is just one way of measuring economic need. Because it relies on an outdated formula to determine the minimum income needed to survive, the poverty rate likely underestimates the number of impoverished Americans, the researchers said.

In 2011, a family of two working-age adults and two children was considered poor if its annual income fell below $22,811. But the poverty line does not take into account issues like geographic variation in the cost of living or the value of government benefits like food stamps.

“The poverty rate is useful for comparing trends over time, but it doesn’t do a good job of setting a bar for how much money families need to get by,” said Jennifer Romich, director of the West Coast Poverty Center and an associate professor at the UW School of Social Work. “In spite of its imperfections, what the poverty measure does tell us is that over 46 million people are living with incomes below a very low threshold.”

The data released today give a preliminary view of poverty variations across states. In the greater northwest area, poverty increased in some states and decreased in others. Washington continues to have lower poverty rates than California and Oregon, which had 2011 poverty rates of 16.9 percent and 14.4 percent, respectively.

The poverty rate for Washington State continues to be well above pre-recession levels. “Since it usually reflects unemployment, the poverty rate won’t decrease until after unemployment drops significantly,” said Marieka Klawitter, an associate professor at the UW Evans School of Public Affairs and an affiliate of the West Coast Poverty Center.

The Census Bureau will release more accurate state-level estimates and estimates for large cities and counties on Sept. 20, followed by a report in November that will include a more complete picture of income, expenses and the cost of living.

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For more information, contact Romich at 206-616-6121 or romich@uw.edu or Klawitter at 206-616-1673 or marieka@uw.edu.

A report on poverty estimates and poverty in Washington and the Northwest area states is available at www.wcpc.washington.edu, or email mollywmc@uw.edu.

A genetic blueprint of your unborn baby

08 September 2012 by Harriet A. Washington

Sequencing the whole genome of a fetus could provide a medical early warning on a previously unknown scale – but it also brings dilemmas, says Harriet A. Washington

BOY or girl? This you can easily discover, but wouldn’t you like to know more? If you could peer into your baby’s medical future, what traits would you most want assurance about?

Most parents wouldn’t hesitate: a healthy child. Soon science will be able to help them with that more quickly, completely – and safely – than ever before.

In June, a team at the University of Washington in Seattle announced a new technique that enables the construction of a comprehensive genome sequence – a genetic “blueprint”, as they described it – of the developing fetus from as early as the first trimester (Science Translational Medicine, vol 4, p 137ra76). The test could be available in clinics in as little as five years.

Then, in July, a team at Stanford University in California announced a slightly different technique for obtaining the same information (Nature, vol 487, p 320).

Both techniques rely on the fact that fetal DNA circulates in the mother’s bloodstream and can be isolated and sequenced. The Seattle test needs only a sample of saliva or blood from the father and blood from the mother. After determining the parents’ genomes, it is possible to discern which DNA comes from the fetus. The Stanford test requires only maternal blood.

Both tests are non-invasive, thus avoiding the 2 per cent risk of miscarriage posed by today’s most common antenatal genetic tests, amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling. These require a needle to be inserted into the amniotic sac so that the fetal DNA can be tested for Down’s syndrome and other genetic disorders.

The existing antenatal tests can also spot other chromosomal abnormalities, including cystic fibrosis, trisomy 13, and Turner, Klinefelter and fragile-X syndromes. In contrast, the genetic blueprint can finger thousands of potentially problematic genes. It is “like going from being able to see that two books are stuck together to being able to notice one word misspelled on a page”, says Jacob Kitzman, a member of the University of Washington team.

The benefit is a medical early warning on a previously unknown scale. Children with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria, for example, are usually diagnosed after birth and must be put on a strict, lifelong diet. Knowing the child’s status beforehand would be helpful.

Given this and other potential benefits, should we not hasten to make blueprint screening mandatory, as many newborn tests are today? Not until we know more, and maybe not even then.

Today, only around 5 per cent of women who have prenatal tests receive bad news. Full genome screens will detect many more problems – and will introduce much more uncertainty because whole-genome mapping predicts the mere possibility of disease. Not all genetic anomalies are expressed as pathology.

The test will also produce false positives that frighten parents into thinking their child will have a disability when in fact he or she will be healthy.

For that matter, what is “healthy” anyway? When is a genetic anomaly a disease? Males with the chromosome disorder XYY were once thought to have a high risk of violent behaviour, and many XYY fetuses were aborted. But research has shown that XYY males are essentially normal.

The price of genetic knowledge can be high because of the anxiety caused by the knowledge of a propensity for a disease that has no known treatment or cure, or that may never appear.

Before using such a test parents must ask themselves “what can we do with the information?” If abortion is not an option, perhaps because the fetus is past the maximum gestation period or because of moral beliefs, the information can be useless – or worse than useless, thanks to the needless anxiety. Moreover, the dearth of treatment options for some disorders makes the information medically useless, but potentially risky if insurers use it to hike rates or deny cover.

If abortion is an option, new problems emerge: which disorders justify abortion? For some conditions the choice is perhaps clearer. For example, children with the infantile form of Tay-Sachs or Canavan disease go into an immediate, inexorable decline. There is no cure or effective treatment and most children with the disease die in childhood.

But what of genes that entail a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, typical prostate cancers or Huntington’s? These diseases emerge only after decades of productive life, and may not emerge at all.

Changing perceptions of disorders over time must also be taken into consideration. For example, we have seen a cultural sea change in the perception of Down’s syndrome. Fifty years ago, parents were often advised to institutionalise affected children. Today people with the condition mostly live in mainstream society and have found wide acceptance.

There are other ethically and legally sensitive issues. Who has a right to a child’s genetic information? If the screen reveals an unmanageable condition such as Huntington’s that will not manifest until the child is old enough to make his or her own decisions, should the parents decide whether to share the information with other family members who may share the risk? Should there be regulations that compel a physician or the parents to alert siblings and others who may be at high risk of harbouring the gene?

The Seattle test can also reveal unexpected paternity. Should doctors have to disclose this, or should parents be able to opt out of being informed?

Whole-genome fetal sequencing is still years away from being used in the real world. It’s a good job, as we have a lot to sort out before then.

Harriet A. Washington is a medical ethicist and writer based in New York. She is the author of Deadly Monopolies (Doubleday, 2011) and Medical Apartheid (Doubleday, 2007)

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528814.200-a-genetic-blueprint-of-your-unborn-baby.html

Organic diets lower children’s exposure to two common pesticides

Contact: Tia McCollors tia.mccollors@emory.edu 404-727-5692 Emory University Health Sciences Center

Organic diets lower children’s dietary exposure to two common pesticides used in U.S. agricultural production, according to a study by Emory University researcher Chensheng “Alex” Lu, PhD. The substitution of organic food items for children’s normal diets substantially decreased the pesticide concentration to non-detectable levels.

Dr. Lu, an assistant professor in the department of environmental and occupational health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, will review his findings from the recent study at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in St. Louis.  The seminar, entitled, “Opportunities to Reduce Children’s Exposures to Pesticides Through Organic Food and Farming,” will take place on Sunday, February 19.

Previous research has linked organophosphorus pesticides to causes of neurological effects in animals and humans, Dr. Lu says.

“The use of organophosphorus pesticides in residential areas has either been banned or restricted by recent regulatory changes,” Dr. Lu continues. “This helps to minimize children’s exposure, but still few restrictions have been imposed in agriculture.”

In his initial research, Dr. Lu and his colleagues from Emory University, the University of Washington, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically measured the exposure of two organophosphorus pesticides (OP) – malathion and chlorpyrifos – in 23 elementary students in the Seattle area by testing their urine over a 15-day period.

The participants, ages 3 to 11-years-old, were first monitored for three days on their conventional diets before the researchers substituted most of the children’s conventional diets with organic food items for five consecutive days.  The children were then re-introduced to their normal foods and monitored for an additional seven days.

According to Dr. Lu, there was a “dramatic and immediate protective effect” against the pesticides until the conventional diets were re-introduced. While consuming organic diets, most of the childrenÕs urine samples contained zero concentration for the malathion metabolite.  However, once the children returned to their conventional diets, the average malathion metabolite concentration increased to 1.6 parts per billion with a concentration range from 5 to 263 parts per billion, Dr. Lu explains.

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A similar trend was observed for chlorpyrifos. as the average chlorpyrifos metabolite concentration increased from one part per billion during the organic diet days to six parts per billion when children consumed conventional food. The study was funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Wormwood ( Artemesia ) may hold key to non-toxic Cancer and Leukemia treatment

Reposted at Request from 26-Nov-2001

Contact: Rob Harrill rharrill@u.washington.edu 206-543-2580 University of Washington

Two bioengineering researchers at the University of Washington have discovered a promising potential treatment for cancer among the ancient arts of Chinese folk medicine.

Research Professor Henry Lai and assistant research Professor Narendra Singh have exploited the chemical properties of a wormwood derivative to target breast cancer cells, with surprisingly effective results.  A study in the latest issue of the journal Life Sciences describes how the derivative killed virtually all human breast cancer cells exposed to it within 16 hours.

“Not only does it appear to be effective, but it’s very selective,” Lai said.  “It’s highly toxic to the cancer cells, but has a marginal impact on normal breast cells.”

The compound, artemisinin, isn’t new.  It apparently was extracted from the plant Artemesia  annua L., commonly known as wormwood, thousands of years ago by the Chinese, who used it to combat malaria.  However, the treatment was lost over time.  Artemisinin was rediscovered during an archaeological dig in the 1970s that unearthed recipes for ancient medical remedies, and has become widely used in modern Asia and Africa to fight the mosquito-borne disease.

The compound helps control malaria because it reacts with the high iron concentrations found in the malaria parasite.  When artemisinin comes into contact with iron, a chemical reaction ensues, spawning charged atoms that chemists call “free radicals.”  The free radicals attack cell membranes, breaking them apart and killing the single-cell parasite.

About seven years ago, Lai began to hypothesize that the process might work with cancer, too.

“Cancer cells need a lot of iron to replicate DNA when they divide,” Lai explained.  “As a result, cancer cells have much higher iron concentrations than normal cells.  When we began to understand how artemisinin worked, I started wondering if we could use that knowledge to target cancer cells.”

Lai devised a potential method and began to look for funding, obtaining a grant from the Breast Cancer Fund in San Francisco.  Meanwhile, the UW patented his idea.

The thrust of the idea, according to Lai and Singh, was to pump up the cancer cells with maximum iron concentrations, then introduce artemisinin to selectively kill the cancer.  To accommodate a rate of iron intake greater than normal cells, cancer cell surfaces feature greater concentrations of transferrin receptors – cellular pathways that allow iron into a cell.  Breast cancer cells are no exception.  They have five to 15 times more transferrin receptors on their surface than normal breast cells.

In the current study, the researchers subjected sets of breast cancer cells and normal breast cells to doses of holotransferrin (which binds with transferrin receptors to transport iron into cells), dihydroartemisinin (a more water-soluble form of artemisinin) and a combination of both compounds.  Cells exposed to just one of the compounds showed no appreciable effect.  Normal breast cells, exposed to both compounds, exhibited a minimal effect.  But the response by cancer cells when hit with first holotransferrin, then dihydroartemisinin, was dramatic.

After eight hours, just 25 percent of the cancer cells remained.  By the time 16 hours had passed, nearly all the cells were dead.

An earlier study involving leukemia cells yielded even more impressive results.  Those cells were eliminated within eight hours.  A possible explanation might be the level of iron in the leukemia cells.

“They have one of the highest iron concentrations among cancer cells,” Lai explained.  “Leukemia cells can have more than 1,000 times the concentration of iron that normal cells have.”

The next step, according to Lai, is animal testing.  Limited tests have been done in that area.  In an earlier study, a dog with bone cancer so severe it couldn’t walk made a complete recovery in five days after receiving the treatment.  But more rigorous testing is needed.

If the process lives up to its early promise, it could revolutionize the way some cancers are approached, Lai said.  The goal would be a treatment that could be taken orally, on an outpatient basis.

“That would be very easy, and this could make that possible,” Lai said.  “The cost is another plus – at $2 a dose, it’s very cheap.  And, with the millions of people who have already taken artemisinin for malaria, we have a track record showing that it’s safe.”

Whatever happens, Lai said, a portion of the credit will have to go to unknown medical practitioners, long gone now.

“The fascinating thing is that this was something the Chinese used thousands of years ago,” he said.  “We simply found a different application.”

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For more information, contact Lai at (206) 543-1071 or hlai@u.washington.edu.  For more information on the journal Life Sciences, check the Web at:http://www.elsevier.com/locate/lifescie

Does treating worms in people with HIV slow progression to AIDS?

Of the 25 million people infected with HIV-1 in Africa, as many as half are thought to be co-infected with worms (helminths), and there is evidence that these worms may result in a more rapid progression of HIV infection to AIDS. Does treating these worms (“de-worming”) slow down this progression.

In a new study published in the open access journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, Judd Walson and Grace John-Stewart at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA set out to answer this question. Their study found that there were simply not enough data to make any firm conclusions, and they call for larger, well-designed studies to help come to a definitive answer.

There were five studies in the final analysis. All five were limited by short follow up times. Only one of these was a randomized controlled trial (RCT)—it compared the effects of treating worms in people with HIV against no treatment. The trial did find some benefit from the de-worming treatment. In patients with HIV who did not receive the de-worming treatment, their viral load (a measure of the amount of HIV in their bloodstream) went up. In contrast, the viral load of patients who were de-wormed remained stable. However, de-worming was not associated with improvements in the patients’ immune status (as measured by the CD4 count) or in their clinical condition.

*Reposted at Request

God as a drug: The rise of American megachurches

DENVER — American megachurches use stagecraft, sensory pageantry, charismatic leadership and an upbeat, unchallenging vision of Christianity to provide their congregants with a powerful emotional religious experience, according to research from the University of Washington.

“Membership in megachurches is one of the leading ways American Christians worship these days, so, therefore, these churches should be understood,” said James Wellman, associate professor of American religion at the University of Washington. “Our study shows that — contrary to public opinion that tends to pass off the megachurch movement as consumerist religion — megachurches are doing a pretty effective job for their members. In fact, megachurch members speak eloquently of their spiritual growth.”

Wellman and co-authors Katie E. Corcoran and Kate Stockly-Meyerdirk, University of Washington graduate students in sociology and comparative religion respectively, studied 2008 data provided by the Leadership Network on 12 nationally representative American megachurches.

Corcoran will present their paper, titled “‘God is Like a Drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches,” at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Megachurches, or churches with 2,000 or more congregants, have grown in number, size, and popularity in recent years, coming to virtually dominate the American religious landscape. More than half of all American churchgoers now attend the largest 10 percent of churches.

Megachurch services feature a come-as-you-are atmosphere, rock music, and what Wellman calls a “multisensory mélange” of visuals and other elements to stimulate the senses, as well as small-group participation and a shared focus on the message from a charismatic pastor.

The researchers hypothesized that such rituals are successful in imparting emotional energy in the megachurch setting — “creating membership feelings and symbols charged with emotional significance, and a heightened sense of spirituality,” they wrote.

As part of their study, Wellman, Corcoran, and Stockly-Meyerdirk analyzed 470 interviews and about 16,000 surveys on megachurch members’ emotional experiences with their churches. Four themes emerged: salvation/spirituality, acceptance/belonging, admiration for and guidance from the leader, and morality and purpose through service.

The researchers found that feelings of joy felt in the services far exceed the powerful but fleeting “conversion experiences” for which megachurches are often stereotyped.

Many participants used the word “contagious” to describe the feeling of a megachurch service where members arrive hungry for emotional experiences and leave energized. One church member said, “(T)he Holy Spirit goes through the crowd like a football team doing the wave. …Never seen it in any other church.”

Wellman said, “That’s what you see when you go into megachurches — you see smiling people; people who are dancing in the aisles, and, in one San Diego megachurch, an interracial mix I’ve never seen anywhere in my time doing research on American churches. We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug.”

Wellman calls it a “good drug” because the message provides a conventional moral standard, such as being a decent person, taking care of family, and forgiving enemies and yourself. Megachurches also encourage their members, such as by saying, “Things can get better, you can be happy,” he added.

This comforting message also is a key to megachurches’ success, Wellman said. “How are you going to dominate the market? You give them a generic form of Christianity that’s upbeat, exciting, and uplifting.”

The researchers also found that the large size of megachurch congregations is a benefit rather than a drawback, as it results in resources for state-of-the-art technology — amplifying the emotional intensity of services — and the ability to hire more qualified church leadership.

Wellman said, “This isn’t just same-old, same-old. This is not like evangelical revivalism. It’s a new, hybrid form of Christianity that’s mutating and separate from all the traditional institutions with which we usually affiliate Christianity.”

Megachurches, which rarely refer to heaven or hell, are worlds away from the sober, judgmental puritan meetinghouses of long ago, Wellman said.

Wellman will continue studying the topic of the new American Christianity with a book-length profile of Michigan-based pastor and author Rob Bell due out in late fall, and a book in 2013 titled “High on God: How the Megachurch Conquered America.”

A grant from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion funded the project.

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About the American Sociological Association

The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.

The paper, “‘God is Like a Drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches,” will be presented on Sunday, Aug. 19, at 10:30 a.m. MDT in Denver, Colorado, at the American Sociological Association’s 107th Annual Meeting.

To obtain a copy of the paper; for more information on other ASA presentations; or for assistance reaching the study’s author(s), members of the media can contact Daniel Fowler, ASA’s Media Relations and Public Affairs Officer, at (202) 527-7885 or pubinfo@asanet.org. During the Annual Meeting (Aug. 17-20), ASA’s Public Information Office staff can be reached in the press room, located in Mezzanine A of the Colorado Convention Center, at (303) 228-8350 or (914) 450-4557 (cell).

For more information about the study, members of the media can also contact Peter Kelley, University of Washington News and Information, at (206) 543-2580 or kellep@u.washington.edu.

Papers presented at the ASA Annual Meeting are typically working papers that have not yet been published in peer reviewed journals.

ASA NEWS

Contact: Daniel Fowler, (202) 527-7885, (914) 450-4557 (cell), pubinfo@asanet.org   On-site Press Room (Aug. 17-20): Colorado Convention Center, Mezzanine A, (303) 228-8350

Forget playing fair, cheaters get a natural ‘high’ breaking the rules

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Forget playing fair, cheaters get a natural ‘high’ breaking the rules

By Suzannah Hills

PUBLISHED:20:11 EST, 7 August 2012| UPDATED:07:46 EST, 8 August 2012

Cheaters get a natural ‘high’ from breaking  the rules, a new study has found.

Far from feeling guilty about not playing  fair, dishonest people benefit from a ‘cheaters high’, researchers  claim.

The University of Washington, London Business  School, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania have carried out a  series of studies into how cheaters perceive their actions.

Cheaters actually get a high from pulling off successful deceptions - maybe explaining why people get involved in financial scams even if they are already wealthyCheaters actually get a high from pulling off successful  deceptions – maybe explaining why people get involved in financial scams even if  they are already wealthy

The findings showed that the majority of  cheaters viewed their behaviour in a positive light.

Researchers led by Nicole Ruedy at the  University of Washington’s Foster School of Business asked subjects to predict  how they’d feel about cheating and then asked them how they felt after  completing tasks where they actually did cheat.

The studies showed that most people predicted  they’ll feel bad about cheating, but most felt good after doing it.

Taking advantage: Cheaters also admitted to feeling superior to their non-cheating associates (posed by models) Taking advantage: Cheaters also admitted to feeling  superior to their non-cheating associates (posed by models)

It suggests that the thrill of pulling off a  deception outweighs the negative feelings associated with immoral  behaviour.

The study could go some way to explain why  people get involved in financial scams when they are already very  wealthy.

The report states: ‘Our documented pattern of  results helps to explain otherwise puzzling unethical behavior, such as the  finding that people often cheat even for trivial sums of money.’

It added that cheaters, even when under  suspicion of breaking the rules, felt better off and smarter than their  non-cheating colleagues.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2185214/Forget-playing-fair-cheaters-natural-high-breaking-rules.html#ixzz22y6CCWGv