Weather patterns that bring rain becoming less frequent

February 4, 2016

National Science Foundation

The weather patterns that typically bring moisture to the Southwest are becoming more rare, an indication that the region is sliding into the drier climate state predicted by global models, according to a new study.



The southwestern US, much of which is arid, is becoming more dry as weather patterns shift.
Credit: USGCRP



The weather patterns that typically bring moisture to the Southwest are becoming more rare, an indication that the region is sliding into the drier climate state predicted by global models, according to a new study.

“A normal year in the Southwest is now drier than it once was,” said Andreas Prein, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, who led the study. “If you have a drought nowadays, it will be more severe because our base state is drier.”

Climate models generally agree that human-caused climate change will push the southwestern United States to become drier. And in recent years, the region has been stricken by drought. But linking model predictions to changes on the ground is challenging.

In the new study — published online today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union — researchers grapple with the cause of current drying in the Southwest to better understand how it might be connected to a warming climate.

Subtle shift yields dramatic effect

For the study, the researchers analyzed 35 years’ worth of data to identify common weather patterns — arrangements of high and low pressure systems that determine where it’s likely to be sunny and clear or cloudy and wet.

They identified a dozen patterns that are usual for the weather activity in the contiguous U.S., then looked to see whether those patterns were becoming more or less frequent.

“The weather types that are becoming more rare are the ones that bring a lot of rain to the southwestern United States,” Prein said. “Because only a few weather patterns bring precipitation to the Southwest, those changes have a dramatic impact.”

The Southwest is especially vulnerable to any additional drying. The region, already the most arid in the country, is home to a quickly growing population that is putting tremendous stress on its limited water resources.

“Prolonged drought has many adverse effects, so understanding regional precipitation trends is vital for the well-being of society,” says Anjuli Bamzai, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research. “These researchers demonstrate that subtle shifts in large-scale weather patterns over the past three decades or so have been the dominant factor in precipitation trends in the southwestern United States.”

The study also found an opposite, though smaller, effect in the Northeast, where some of the weather patterns that typically bring moisture to the region are increasing.

“Understanding how changing weather pattern frequencies may impact total precipitation across the U.S. is particularly relevant to water resource managers as they contend with issues such as droughts and floods, and plan future infrastructure to store and disperse water,” said NCAR scientist Mari Tye, a co-author of the study.

The climate connection

The three patterns that tend to bring the most wet weather to the Southwest all involve low pressure centered in the North Pacific just off the coast of Washington, typically during the winter.

Between 1979 and 2014, such low-pressure systems formed less and less often. The associated persistent high pressure in that area over recent years is a main driver of the devastating California drought.

This shift toward higher pressure in the North Pacific is consistent with climate model runs, which predict that a belt of higher average pressure that now sits closer to the equator will move north.

This high-pressure belt is created as air that rises over the equator moves poleward, then descends back toward the surface. The sinking air causes generally drier conditions over the region and inhibits the development of rain-producing systems.

Many of the world’s deserts, including the Sahara, are found in such regions of sinking air, which typically lie around 30 degrees latitude on either side of the equator.

Climate models project that these zones will move further poleward. The result is a generally drier Southwest.

While climate change is a plausible explanation for the change in frequency, the authors caution that the study does not prove a connection.

To examine this potential connection further, they are studying climate model data for evidence of similar changes in future weather pattern frequencies.

“As temperatures increase, the ground becomes drier and the transition into drought happens more rapidly,” said NCAR scientist Greg Holland, a co-author of the study. “In the Southwest the decreased frequency of rainfall events has further extended the period and intensity of these droughts.”

Other co-authors of the study include NCAR scientists Roy Rasmussen and Martyn Clark.

In addition to NSF, the study was funded by the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Andreas F. Prein, Gregory J. Holland, Roy M. Rasmussen, Martyn P. Clark, Mari R. Tye. Running dry: The U.S. Southwest’s drift into a drier climate state. Geophysical Research Letters, 2016; DOI:10.1002/2015GL066727


Source: National Science Foundation. “Southwest sliding into a new normal: Drier conditions: Weather patterns that bring rain becoming less frequent.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 February 2016. <>.

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Sediments show greenhouse gas taken from air

February 3, 2016

The Earth Institute at Columbia University

Twenty thousand years ago, low concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere allowed the earth to fall into the grip of an ice age. But despite decades of research, the reasons why levels of the greenhouse gas were so low then have been difficult to piece together. New research shows that a big part of the answer lies at the bottom of the world.



Researchers have found that bottom waters of the Southern Ocean had very low levels of oxygen during the last ice age, indicating high uptake of carbon. Here, dissolved Southern Ocean bottom-water oxygen in modern times. Brighter colors indicate more oxygen; dots show sites where researchers sampled sediments to measure past oxygen levels.
Credit: Jaccard et al., Nature 2016



Twenty thousand years ago, when humans were still nomadic hunters and gatherers, low concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere allowed the earth to fall into the grip of an ice age. But despite decades of research, the reasons why levels of the greenhouse gas were so low then have been difficult to piece together.

New research, published today in the leading journal Nature, shows that a big part of the answer lies at the bottom of the world. Sediment samples from the seafloor, more than 3 kilometers beneath the ocean surface near Antarctica, support a long-standing hypothesis that more carbon dioxide was dissolved in the deep Southern Ocean at times when levels in the atmosphere were low.

Among other things, the study shows that during the ice age, the deep Southern Ocean carried much smaller amounts of oxygen than today. This indicates that photosynthetic algae, or phytoplankton, were taking up large amounts of carbon dioxide near the surface. As dead algae sank to the depths, they were consumed by other microbes, which used up the oxygen there in the process. The scientists found chemical fingerprints of the oxygen level by measuring trace metals in the sediments.

The evidence “is a long-sought smoking gun that there was increased deep ocean carbon storage when the atmospheric CO2 was lower,” said Sam Jaccard of the University of Bern, Switzerland, the study’s lead author.

Coauthor Robert Anderson, a geochemist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said the study “finally provides the long-sought direct evidence that extra carbon was trapped in the deep sea by the buildup of decaying organic matter from above.” He added, “It’s also clear that the buildup and release of CO2 stored in the deep ocean during the ice age was driven by what was happening in the ocean around Antarctica.”

The study also shows that variations in carbon-dioxide storage in the Southern Ocean were probably behind a series of natural “wobbles” in atmospheric levels of about 20 parts per million that took place over thousands of years. The study suggests that the wobbles were probably caused by changes in the amount of iron-rich dust, which fertilizes phytoplankton, being blown from land onto the ocean surface. Levels may also have been influenced by varying amounts of carbon being released from the deep ocean as ocean currents changed, said the authors.

The study may hold powerful lessons for today. While the natural 20-part-per million wobbles took thousands of years to happen, carbon dioxide levels have risen that much in just the last nine years, due to human emissions. Levels are now about 400 parts per million, versus about 280 in the early 1800s. “The current rate of emissions is just so fast compared to the natural variations that it’s hard to compare,” said study coauthor Eric Galbraith of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. “We are entering climate territory for which we don’t have a good geological analog.”

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by The Earth Institute at Columbia University. The original item was written by Kevin Krajick. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Samuel L. Jaccard, Eric D. Galbraith, Alfredo Martínez-García, Robert F. Anderson. Covariation of deep Southern Ocean oxygenation and atmospheric CO2 through the last ice age. Nature, 2016; DOI:10.1038/nature16514


Source: The Earth Institute at Columbia University. “In the Southern Ocean, a carbon-dioxide mystery comes clear: Sediments show greenhouse gas taken from air.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 February 2016. <>.

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Our early ancestors, Homo sapiens, managed to evolve and journey across the earth by exchanging and improving their technology

February 2, 2016

The University of Bergen

New findings from Blombos Cave show that Stone Age man in Africa exchanged technology to a large extent. The more contact between groups, the stronger technology developed. The exchange of tools can explain humans journey from Africa to Europe.Blombos Cave in South Africa gives vast knowledge of our early ancestors as early as 100,000 years ago.



This image shows Blombos Cave, South Africa.
Credit: University of Bergen.



Blombos Cave in South Africa has given us vast knowledge about our early ancestors. In 2015, four open access articles, with research finds from Blombos as a starting point, have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“We are looking mainly at the part of South Africa where Blombos Cave is situated. We sought to find out how groups moved across the landscape and how they interacted,” says Christopher S. Henshilwood, Professor at the University of Bergen (UiB) and University of the Witwatersrand and one of the authors of the articles.

The technology of our ancestors

Since its discovery in the early 1990s, Blombos Cave, about 300 kilometres east of Cape Town, South Africa, has yielded important new information on the behavioural evolution of the human species. The cave site was first excavated in 1991 and field work has been conducted there on a regular basis since 1997 — and is on-going. Blombos contains Middle Stone Age deposits currently dated at between 100,000 and 70,000 years, and a Later Stone Age sequence dated at between 2,000 and 300 years.

The researchers from UiB and Witswatersrand have now been looking closer at technology used by different groups in this and other regions in South Africa, such as spear points made of stone, as well as decorated ostrich eggshells, to determine whether there was an overlap and contact across groups of Middle Stone Age humans. How did they make contact with each other? How would contact across groups affect one group? How did the exchange of symbolic material culture affect the group or groups?

Adapting and evolving

“The pattern we are seeing is that when demographics change, people interact more. For example, we have found similar patterns engraved on ostrich eggshells in different sites. This shows that people were probably sharing symbolic material culture, at certain times but not at others” says Dr Karen van Niekerk, a UiB researcher and co-author.

This sharing of symbolic material culture and technology also tells us more about Homo sapiens‘ journey from Africa, to Arabia and Europe. Contact between cultures has been vital to the survival and development of our common ancestors Homo sapiens. The more contact the groups had, the stronger their technology and culture became.

“Contact across groups, and population dynamics, makes it possible to adopt and adapt new technologies and culture and is what describes Homo sapiens. What we are seeing is the same pattern that shaped the people in Europe who created cave art many years later,” Henshilwood says.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by The University of Bergen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Emmanuel Discamps, Christopher Stuart Henshilwood. Intra-Site Variability in the Still Bay Fauna at Blombos Cave: Implications for Explanatory Models of the Middle Stone Age Cultural and Technological Evolution. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (12): e0144866 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0144866


Source: The University of Bergen. “Humans evolved by sharing technology and culture: Our early ancestors, Homo sapiens, managed to evolve and journey across the earth by exchanging and improving their technology.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 February 2016. <>.

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Release of magma from beneath earth’s crust plays significant role in earth’s climate

January 29, 2016

University of Connecticut

Hydrothermal activity along the mid-ocean ridge system suggests that the release of molten rock, or magma, in response to changes in sea level plays a significant role in the earth’s climate.


A hydrothermal vent forms when seawater meets hot magma. A venting black smoker emits jets of particle-laden fluids. The particles are predominantly very fine-grained sulfide minerals formed when the hot hydrothermal fluids mix with near-freezing seawater.
Credit: NOAA



Hydrothermal activity along the mid-ocean ridge system suggests that the release of molten rock, or magma, in response to changes in sea level plays a significant role in the earth’s climate.

The last million years of Earth’s history was dominated by the cyclic advance and retreat of ice sheets over large swaths of North America. During cold glacial intervals, ice sheets reached as far south as Long Island and Indiana, while during warm interglacial periods the ice rapidly retreated to Greenland. It has long been known that ice ages occur every 40,000 years or so, but the cause of rapid transition between glacial and interglacial periods has remained a mystery.

While conventional wisdom says that this icy ebb and flow is an interaction between the world’s oceans, the ice itself, and the earth’s atmosphere, an article appearing in the Jan. 28, 2016 issue of the journal Science sheds new light on the role that the earth itself may play in this climatological ballet.

David Lund of the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Connecticut and his colleagues have studied hydrothermal activity along the mid-ocean ridge system — the longest mountain range in the world which extends some 37,000 miles along the ocean floor. Their research suggests that the release of hot molten rock, or magma, from beneath the earth’s crust in response to changes in sea level plays a significant role in the earth’s climate. This change is attributed to the release of heat and carbon dioxide (CO2) into the deep ocean.

Lund says, “Mid-ocean range magmatism — the release of molten rock through volcanic vents or fissures — is driven by seafloor spreading and decompression melting of the upper mantle” — the partially molten layer just beneath the earth’s crust.

“This activity is controlled by the rate of pressure release at any given location. There’s clear evidence that when ice sheets grow, sea level lowers and significant pressure is taken off the ocean ridges. This causes melting in the mantle, which should in turn promote the release of heat and carbon into the oceans — and that’s when glacial termination begins — meaning the ice starts to melt. Then, sea levels begin to rise, pressure on the ridges increases, and magmatic activity decreases.”

Well-documented sedimentary records from the East Pacific Rise (EPR) — a mid-ocean ridge extending roughly from Antarctica to the Gulf of California — show evidence of enhanced hydrothermal activity during the last two glacial terminations, the last of which took place about 15,000 years ago.

According to Lund, the southern East Pacific rise (SEPR) has the fastest spreading rate and the highest magmatic budget of any ridge in the global mid-ocean ridge system. Due to its elevated magmatism, the SEPR has over 50 known active vent sites.

He says, “The coincidence in timing between hydrothermal maxima and glacial terminations implies that there may be a direct causal relationship between hydrothermal activity and deglaciation … Our results support the hypothesis that enhanced ridge magmatism, hydrothermal output, and perhaps mantle CO2 flux acts as a negative feedback on ice-sheet size … ”

In this study, core samples from both sides of the ridge axis were analyzed and included radiocarbon and oxygen isotopic analyses of microscopic shells to provide age control for each core. Major and trace element concentrations were determined using x-ray florescence and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

The EPR results establish the timing of hydrothermal anomalies, an essential prerequisite for determining whether ridge magmatism can act as a negative feedback on ice-sheet size.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Connecticut. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. D. C. Lund, P. D. Asimow, K. A. Farley, T. O. Rooney, E. Seeley, E. W. Jackson, Z. M. Durham. Enhanced East Pacific Rise hydrothermal activity during the last two glacial terminations. Science, 2016; 351 (6272): 478 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad4296


Source: University of Connecticut. “Icy ebb and flow influenced by hydrothermal activity: Release of magma from beneath earth’s crust plays significant role in earth’s climate.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 January 2016. <>

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Presentation at the Annual DIA Meeting


Target Health is pleased to announce that Vadim Tantsyura, one of our top Data Managers, has been invited to participate as a speaker on the topic “Lessons Learned in Implementing Risk-Based Monitoring and eSource: The Data Manager’s Expanded Role,“ in the following program entitled:  Risk-Based Monitoring and Data Management, Chair Teresa Ancukiewicz (Boston Scientific Corporation).


See you in Philadelphia (June 29, 2016  4:00 – 5:15 PM).


Long Winded Explanations! – Phil Lavin, PhD inspects Tornado Damage in Naples Florida and Blizzards Hit the East Coast in 2016 and 2015


With climate change, tornados hit Florida two weeks ago. This photo was shot by Phil’s friend Joel Weiss when a tornado hit near his home in Naples FL. As always, Phil was contemplative.




Photo by Joel Weiss ©Target Health Inc. 2016



New Jersey Blizzard of 2016 ©Target Health Inc. 2016



This Was Phil’s House in 2015 ©Target Health Inc. 2015


ON TARGET is the newsletter of Target Health Inc., a NYC – based, full – service, contract research organization (eCRO), providing strategic planning, regulatory affairs, clinical research, data management, biostatistics, medical writing and software services to the pharmaceutical and device industries, including the paperless clinical trial.


For more information about Target Health contact Warren Pearlson (212 – 681 – 2100 ext. 104). For additional information about software tools for paperless clinical trials, please also feel free to contact Dr. Jules T. Mitchel or Ms. Joyce Hays. The Target Health software tools are designed to partner with both CROs and Sponsors. Please visit the Target Health Website.


Joyce Hays, Founder and Editor in Chief of On Target

Jules Mitchel, Editor


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Zika Virus, Reaching Pandemic Proportions


Aedes aegypti mosquito: Sources: UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences; The Guardian


A state of emergency has been declared, as Brazil faces the 1) ___ virus that shrinks babies’ heads. Now, it’s spreading quickly through neighboring countries. Between 2014 and 2015, Brazil has seen the number of babies born with microcephaly – a rare and devastating neurological disorder that causes newborns to develop abnormally small skulls and brains – increase dramatically, from 200 to nearly 3,000. Brazil’s worst affected regions have declared a state of emergency, and health officials are drawing a link between the sudden increase in microcephaly, which can lead to severe brain damage and often 2) ___, and a recent epidemic of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. The Brazilian government estimates that around 1.5 million locals have been infected with the virus since May 2015.


Spread by Aedes aegypti mosquito bites, this is the same mosquito that caries the yellow fever virus, Zika virus usually only causes a mild reaction in children and adults, including symptoms such as an itchy rash, fever, and conjunctivitis. Most people make it through infection with no symptoms at all, which has led experts to refer to it as a “benign disease“. Unfortunately for the many pregnant women living in Brazil – who are now in a complete panic over the potential risk to their unborn children – it could be a completely different story when it comes to newborns. Having identified Zika virus in the placentas of Brazilian children born with microcephaly, it is now suspected that the two are somehow linked, but it is not yet clear how one can cause the other. When the cases of 3) ___ started to soar in November 2015, doctors noticed they coincided with the appearance of the Zika virus in Brazil. They soon discovered that most of the affected mothers reported having Zika-like symptoms during early pregnancy – mild fever, rash, and headaches.“ According to The New York Times, Claudio Maierovitch, director of the department of surveillance of communicable diseases at Brazil’s Health Ministry, has been advising women in the worst affected states to put planned 4) ___ on hold if possible.


Named after the Ugandan forest in which it was first identified back in the 1940s, Zika virus has spread throughout Africa, parts of Asia, and more recently through Latin America, where it’s been reported in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, and recently, Puerto Rico. What’s so concerning about its appearance in Brazil is how incredibly fast it’s been spreading throughout the population. Brazil offers the ideal conditions for Zika to spread so quickly, according to Ana Maria Bispo de Filippis, leader researcher in the team that linked Zika to microcephaly. She added that the country has a susceptible population in which the majority of people never had contact with the disease. The link is not yet certain though, due to the fact that two previous Zika virus epidemics in Micronesia and French Polynesia did not lead to an increase in microcephaly. One explanation for the link may be that a new strain of the virus is spreading through Brazil, according to Alain Kohl, a virologist at the University of Glasgow who studies Zika. Still, even for the fastest evolving organism on the planet, acquiring completely new powers of devastation is rare. A more likely explanation is that the link has simply gone unnoticed so far. It may be that Zika-induced microcephaly occurs only in a small proportion of pregnant women, and none of the previous epidemics have affected a large enough population to raise an alarm. Brazilian federal and local governments are making an effort to eradicate stagnant ponds that could act as 5) ___ grounds for the mosquitos carrying the virus. “This is an unprecedented situation, unprecedented in world scientific research,“ Brazil’s Health Ministry announced.




Zika virus (ZIKV) is a member of the Flaviviridae virus family and the Flavivirus genus and has been known to occur within a narrow equatorial belt from Africa to Asia. In 2014, the virus spread eastward across the Pacific Ocean to French Polynesia, then to Easter Island and in 2015 to Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, where the Zika outbreak has reached 6) ___ levels. Zika virus is related to dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses, all of which are arthropod-borne flaviviruses. The illness it causes is similar to a mild form of dengue fever, is treated by rest, and cannot be prevented by drugs or vaccines. A link between Zika fever and microcephaly in newborn babies of infected mothers has now been confirmed. In January 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued travel guidance on affected countries, including the use of enhanced precautions and considering postponing travel, and guidelines for pregnant women. Other governments or health agencies soon issued similar 7) ___ warnings, while Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Jamaica advised women to postpone getting pregnant until more is known about the risks. Along with other viruses in this family, Zika virus is enveloped with a non-segmented, single-stranded, positive-sense RNA genome. The pathogenesis of the virus is hypothesized to start with an infection of dendritic cells near the site of the mosquito bite, followed by a spread to lymph nodes and the bloodstream. Flaviviruses generally replicate in the cytoplasm, but Zika virus antigens have been found in infected cell nuclei. There are two lineages of Zika virus, the African lineage and the Asian lineage. Phylogenetic studies indicate that the virus spreading in the Americas is most closely related to French Polynesian strains. Complete genome sequences of Zika viruses have been published. Recent preliminary findings from sequences in the public domain uncovered a possible change in nonstructural protein 1 codon usage that may increase the viral replication rate in humans. Zika virus, transmitted by daytime-active mosquitoes in the genus Aedes. Studies, show that the extrinsic incubation period in mosquitoes is about 10 days. The vertebrate hosts of the virus are primarily monkeys and humans. Before the current pandemic, which began in 2007, Zika virus “rarely caused recognized ?spillover’ infections in humans, even in highly enzootic areas“. The potential societal risk of Zika virus can be delimited by the distribution of the mosquito species that transmit it (its vectors). The global distribution of the most cited carrier of Zika virus, A. aegypti, is expanding due to global trade and travel. A. aegypti distribution is now the most extensive ever recorded – across all continents including North America and even the European periphery. In 2009, Brian Foy, a biologist from the Arthropod-borne and Infectious Diseases Laboratory at Colorado State University, sexually transmitted Zika virus to his wife. He visited Senegal to study mosquitoes and was bitten on a number of occasions. A few days after returning to the United States, he fell ill with Zika, but not before having had unprotected intercourse with his wife. She subsequently showed symptoms of Zika infection with extreme sensitivity to light. Foy is the first person known to have passed on an insect-borne virus to another human by sexual contact. In 2015, Zika virus RNA was detected in the amniotic fluid of two fetuses, indicating that it had crossed the placenta and could cause fetal infection. On January 20, 2016, scientists from the state of Parana, Brazil, detected genetic material of Zika virus in the placenta of a woman who had undergone an abortion due to the fetus’s microcephaly, which confirmed that the virus is able to pass the 8) ___. As of 2016, no vaccine or preventive drug is available. Symptoms can be treated with paracetamol (acetaminophen/Tylenol), while aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be used only when dengue has been ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding.


In a French Polynesian epidemic, 73 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can lead to paralysis, and other neurologic conditions occurred in a population of 270,000, which may be complications of Zika virus. After Zika arrived in Brazil, there was a sharp increase in severe neurological and autoimmune problems, including Guillain-Barre syndrome. Researchers in America and other countries have begun work on a vaccine. Unlike the one for Ebola, though, which had been in the pipeline for a decade when the epidemic in West Africa began, a Zika vaccine is at ground zero, which is where potential antiviral drugs are, too. The spread of Zika makes attacking disease-carrying mosquitoes all the more important. Mostly, Zika is transmitted by Aedes aegypti, but Aedes albopictus, found as far north as New York and Chicago, and in parts of southern Europe, can also do the job, though it is not clear how efficiently. A paper published last week in the Lancet shows where Zika could become endemic, but places where air-conditioning, screened windows and mosquito control are the norm are unlikely to see outbreaks flare up. In December, Brazil decreed a national public-health emergency. This enabled the deployment of the army to help 310,000 health workers in the mosquito-eradication drive.


Since November 2015, Brazil has seen nearly 4,000 cases of microcephaly in babies born to women who were infected with Zika during their pregnancies. To put that in perspective, there were only 146 cases in 2014. So far, 46 babies have died. In the United States one Hawaiian baby was born with microcephaly after his mother returned from Brazil. In Illinois, two pregnant women who traveled to Latin America have tested positive for the virus; health officials are monitoring their pregnancies. The CDC is also asking OB-GYNs to review fetal ultrasounds and do maternal testing for any pregnant woman who has traveled to one of the 23 countries where Zika is currently active. In addition, the CDC says there have been documented cases of virus transmission during labor, blood transfusion, laboratory exposure and sexual contact. While Zika has been found in breast milk, it’s not yet confirmed it can be passed to the baby through nursing. With no treatment or 9) ___ available, the only protection against Zika is to avoid travel to areas with an active infestation. Another prevention effort is OX513A, a genetically modified male Aedes aegypti, dubbed by critics as the “mutant mosquito“ or “Robo-Frankenstein mosquito.“ The creation of British company Oxitec, OX513A is designed to stop the spread of Zika by passing along a gene that makes his offspring die. Since females only mate once, in theory this slows the growth of the population. Each OX513A carries a fluorescent marker, so he can be tracked. Key West, Florida, residents gave the genetically modified male his monster nicknames while protesting a trial release of the mosquito in 2012 as a way to combat an outbreak of dengue fever in South Florida. That effort is under review by the FDA. Field trials in Brazil in 2011 were hugely successful, according to Oxitec, by eliminating up to 99% of the target population. A new release of males in the Pedra Branca area of Brazil in 2014 was 92% successful, according to the company. The 10) ___ has also been tested in the Cayman Islands, Malaysia and Panama. Last year, Oxitec announced plans to build an OX513A mosquito production facility in Piracicaba, Brazil, that it says will be able to protect 300,000 residents.


ANSWERS:  1) Zika; 2) death; 3) microcephaly; 4) pregnancies; 5) breeding; 6) pandemic; 7) travel; 8) placenta; 9) vaccine; 10) mosquito


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Look at the Tragedy of Microcephaly, Through the Life of Schlitze Surtees, Sideshow Performer (1901-1971)


Because Zika virus can cause microcephaly in new born babies, we thought readers might be interested in reading about a well-known person born with microcephaly and relegated to a circus side show, as a result of his deformity. This case may be as good as anyone could expect. Imagine those people born without any possibility of a career or a life. To this day, not that much is known about the origins of the Zika virus.




Schlitzie (alternatively spelled “Schlitze“ or “Shlitze“; was born on September 10, 1901, possibly in the Bronx. His legal name was Schlitze Surtees. He worked as an American sideshow performer and occasional actor, best known for his role in the 1932 movie Freaks. His lifelong career on the outdoor entertainment circuit as a major sideshow attraction with Barnum & Bailey, among others, made him a popular cultural icon.


Schlitzie’s true birthdate, name, and location are unknown; the information on his death certificate and gravesite indicate that he was born on September 10, 1901, in The Bronx, New York, though some sources have claimed that he was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Claims that he was born in Yucatan, Mexico, are mistaken reflections of Schlitzie’s occasional fanciful billing as “Maggie, last of the Aztec Children“. Information about Schlitzie’s identity at birth may never be known, the information having been lost as he was handed off to various carnivals in a long line of mostly informal guardianships throughout his career.


Schlitzie was born with microcephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder that left him with an unusually small brain and skull, a small stature (he stood about four feet tall (122 cm)), myopia, and moderate to severe mental retardation. It is possible that these features may have been caused by Seckel syndrome. It was said Schlitzie had the cognizance of a three-year-old: he was unable to fully care for himself and could speak only in monosyllabic words and form a few simple phrases. However, he was able to perform simple tasks and it is believed that he could understand most of what was said to him, as he had a very quick reaction time and the ability to mimic. Those who knew Schlitzie described him as an affectionate, exuberant, sociable person who loved dancing, singing and being the center of attention, performing for anyone he could stop and talk with.


On the sideshow circuit, microcephalics were usually promoted as “pinheads“ or “missing links“, and Schlitzie was billed under such titles as “The Last of the Aztecs“, “The Monkey Girl“, and “What Is It?“. In some sideshows, he was paired with another microcephalic. Schlitzie was often dressed in a muumuu and either presented as female or androgynous to add to the mystique of his unusual appearance. Those who knew him alternately used masculine and feminine pronouns. His urinary incontinence, which obligated him to wear diapers, made dresses practical for his care needs, although it is possible that the incontinence didn’t develop until later in life, and was simply a side-effect of age. The sideshow circuit was a tremendous success for Schlitzie; throughout the 1920s and 1930s he was employed by many upscale circuses, including Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Clyde Beatty Circus, Tom Mix Circus, Crafts 20 Big Shows and Foley & Burke Carnival. In 1928, Schlitzie made his film debut in The Sideshow, a drama set in a circus, and which featured a variety of actual sideshow performers. Schlitzie landed his most-known role as an actor in Tod Browning’s 1932 horror film Freaks. Like The Sideshow, Freaks takes place at a carnival, and features a number of genuine sideshow performers: conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, “The Living Torso“ Prince Randian, and dwarf siblings Harry and Daisy Earles among them. Schlitzie has a scene of (unintelligible) dialogue with actor Wallace Ford. Two other “pinheads“ also appear in the film. When referring to Schlitzie, other actors use feminine pronouns. When Freaks premiered in 1932, cinema audiences were scandalized by the appearance of sideshow performers. The United Kingdom banned the film for thirty years. The film was a financial failure, and Browning, although he went on to make several more films for MGM, retired in 1940. Schlitzie appeared in bit roles in various movies, and is credited with a role in the 1934 exploitation film: Tomorrow’s Children, as a mentally defective criminal who undergoes forced sterilization. He is often widely cited as appearing in 1932’s Island of Lost Souls, in a seconds-long role as “Furry Mammal“; however, there has been some debate about whether the performer in these films is Schlitzie or a look-alike. While Schlitzie was performing with the Tom Mix Circus in 1935, George Surtees, a chimpanzee trainer with a trained-chimpanzee act in the show, adopted him, becoming his legal guardian. In 1941, Schlitzie appeared in his final film role as “Princess Bibi“, a sideshow attraction, in Meet Boston Blackie.


Under Surtees’ care, Schlitzie continued performing the sideshow circuit; after George Surtees’ death in 1965, his daughter, who was not in show business, committed Schlitzie to a Los Angeles county hospital. Schlitzie remained hospitalized for some time until he was recognized by sword swallower Bill Unks, who happened to be working at the hospital during the off-season. According to Unks, Schlitzie seemed to miss the carnival dearly, and being away from the public eye had made him very depressed. Hospital authorities determined that the best care for Schlitzie would be to make him a ward of Unks’ employer, showman Sam Alexander, and return him to the sideshow where he remained until 1968. In his later years, Schlitzie lived in Los Angeles, occasionally performing on various sideshow circuits both locally and internationally (he frequently performed in Hawaii and London, and his last major appearance was at the 1968 Dobritch International Circus held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena). Schlitzie also became a notable attraction performing on the streets of Hollywood, his caretakers selling his stock carnival souvenir pictures. Schlitzie spent time in his final days living on Santa Monica Boulevard. He liked going to MacArthur Park at Alvarado Street and Wilshire Boulevard where he would visit the lake with his guardian, feeding the pigeons and ducks and performing for passersby.


On September 24, 1971, at seventy years old, Schlitzie died from bronchial pneumonia at Fountain View Convalescent Home. His death certificate listed his official name as “Shlitze Surtees“ and his birthdate as 1901. Schlitzie was initially interred in an unmarked grave at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Rowland Heights, CA. In 2009, a fan took up a collection to have a marker placed at his grave.


In the 1960s, Freaks was rediscovered and enjoyed a long run as one of the first midnight movies, becoming a cult classic, and in 1994, it was selected by the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant“. The film became the public’s major exposure to Schlitzie, who remains one of the more memorable characters in the film. Schlitzie’s iconic image has lent itself to many products, including masks, hats, shirts, models, clocks, snow globes and dolls. Additionally, Schlitzie has been cited as an inspiration for Bill Griffith’s comic strip Zippy the Pinhead.


Tracing the cause or origin of Schlitzie’s microencephaly is not possible since it’s not known who his mother was or what could have taken place during her pregnancy, to cause Schlitzie’s tragic condition. In 2016, the biographic account of Schlitzie will be featured in a new documentary, titled Schlitzie: One of Us, currently in pre-production.


Zika Virus:


In 1947 scientists researching yellow fever placed a rhesus macaque in a cage in the Zika Forest (zika meaning “overgrown“ in the Luganda language), near the East African Virus Research Institute in Entebbe, Uganda. The monkey developed a fever, and researchers isolated from its serum a transmissible agent that was first described as Zika virus in 1952. It was subsequently isolated from a human in Nigeria in 1954. From its discovery until 2007, confirmed cases of Zika virus infection from Africa and Southeast Asia were rare. In April 2007, the first outbreak outside of Africa and Asia occurred on the island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia, characterized by rash, conjunctivitis, and arthralgia, which was initially thought to be dengue, Chikungunya, or Ross River disease. However, serum samples from patients in the acute phase of illness contained RNA of Zika virus. There were 49 confirmed cases, 59 unconfirmed cases, no hospitalizations, and no deaths. More recently, epidemics have occurred in Polynesia, Easter Island, the Cook Islands, and New Caledonia. Since April 2015, a large, ongoing outbreak of Zika virus that began in Brazil has spread to much of South and Central America, and the Caribbean. In January 2016, the CDC issued a level 2 travel alert for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. The agency also suggested that women thinking about becoming pregnant should consult with their physicians before traveling. Governments or health agencies of the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, and the European Union soon issued similar travel warnings. In Colombia, Minister of Health and Social Protection Alejandro Gaviria Uribe recommended to avoid pregnancy for eight months, while the countries of Ecuador, El Salvador, and Jamaica have issued similar warnings. Plans were announced by the authorities in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to try to prevent the spread of the Zika virus during the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in that city.


According to the CDC, Brazilian health authorities reported more than 3,500 microcephaly cases between October 2015 and January 2016. Some of the affected infants have had a severe type of microcephaly and some have died. The full spectrum of outcomes that might be associated with infection during pregnancy and the factors that might increase risk to the fetus are not yet fully understood. More studies are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy. In the worst affected region of Brazil approximately 1% of newborns are suspected of microcephaly.


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Schizophrenia’s Strongest Known Genetic Risk Deconstructed


Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling. Symptoms of schizophrenia usually start between ages 16 and 30. In rare cases, children have schizophrenia too. The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive. “Positive“ symptoms are psychotic behaviors not generally seen in healthy people. People with positive symptoms may “lose touch“ with some aspects of reality. Symptoms include: hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking) and movement disorders (agitated body movements). “Negative“ symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors. Symptoms include: “flat affect“ (reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone), reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life, difficulty beginning and sustaining activities and Reduced speaking. For some patients, the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are subtle, but for others, they are more severe and patients may notice changes in their memory or other aspects of thinking. Symptoms include: poor “executive functioning“ (the ability to understand information and use it to make decisions), trouble focusing or paying attention and problems with “working memory“ (the ability to use information immediately after learning it).


According to a study published in Nature (27 January 2016), versions of a gene linked to schizophrenia  may trigger runaway pruning of the teenage brain’s still-maturing communications infrastructure. According to NIH, normally, pruning gets rid of excess connections we no longer need, streamlining our brain for optimal performance, but too much pruning can impair mental function. This could help explain schizophrenia’s delayed age-of-onset of symptoms in late adolescence/early adulthood and shrinkage of the brain’s working tissue. Interventions that put the brakes on this pruning process-gone-awry could prove transformative.


Affecting about 1% of the population, schizophrenia is known to be as much as 90% heritable, yet discovering how specific genes work to confer risk has proven elusive, until now. However, the gene, called C4 (complement component 4), sits in by far the tallest tower on schizophrenia’s genomic “skyline“ of more than 100 chromosomal sites harboring known genetic risk for the disorder. For the study, the authors leveraged the statistical power conferred by analyzing the genomes of 65,000 people, 700 postmortem brains, and the precision of mouse genetic engineering to discover the secrets of schizophrenia’s strongest known genetic risk. According to the results C4’s role represents the most compelling evidence, to date, linking specific gene versions to a biological process that could cause at least some cases of the illness.


To discover how the immune-related site confers risk for the mental disorder, the authors mounted a search for “cryptic genetic influences“ that might generate “unconventional signals.“ C4, a gene with known roles in immunity, emerged as a prime suspect because it is unusually variable across individuals. It is not unusual for people to have different numbers of copies of the gene and distinct DNA sequences that result in the gene working differently. The authors dug deeply into the complexities of how such structural variation relates to the gene’s level of expression and how that, in turn, might relate to schizophrenia. It was discovered that structurally there are distinct versions that affect expression of two main forms of the gene in the brain. The more a version resulted in expression of one of the forms, called C4A, the more it was associated with schizophrenia. The more a person had the suspect versions, the more C4 switched on and the higher their risk of developing schizophrenia. Moreover, in the human brain, the C4 protein turned out to be most prevalent in the cellular machinery that supports connections between neurons.


Adapting mouse molecular genetics techniques for studying synaptic pruning and C4’s role in immune function, the authors also discovered a previously unknown role for C4 in brain development. During critical periods of postnatal brain maturation, C4 tags a synapse for pruning by depositing a sister protein in it called C3. Again, the more C4 got switched on, the more synapses got eliminated. In humans, such streamlining/pruning occurs as the brain develops to full maturity in the late teens/early adulthood – conspicuously corresponding to the age-of-onset of schizophrenia symptoms.


According to the authors, future treatments designed to suppress excessive levels of pruning by counteracting runaway C4 in at risk individuals might nip in the bud a process that could otherwise develop into psychotic illness, and thanks to the head start gained in understanding the role of such complement proteins in immune function, such agents are already in development.


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More Than 1 in 20 U.S. Children Have Dizziness/Balance


Previous estimates of dizziness and balance problems in children have ranged from 5-18% and have been based on limited, foreign, population-based studies. According to a study published online in The Journal of Pediatrics (27 January 2016), to better understand the prevalence of these problems among U.S. children, data were analyzed data from the Child Balance Supplement to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The NHIS is an annual survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The survey uses personal household interviews to gather information about a range of health topics. The Child Balance Supplement was included in 2012 and was the first large-scale supplement added to the NHIS survey to assess dizziness and balance problems among children.


For the study, the authors analyzed data on nearly 11,000 children, ages 3 to 17, based on parents’ responses to the survey. Parents were asked if in the past year, their children had been bothered by symptoms of dizziness or balance problems such as vertigo, poor balance/unsteadiness when standing up, clumsiness/poor coordination, frequent falls, fainting or light-headedness, or other dizziness and balance symptoms. Results show that more than 1 in 20 (nearly 3.3 million) children between the ages of 3 and 17 have a dizziness or balance problem. Prevalence increases with age, with 7.5% of children ages 15-17 and 6.0% of children ages 12-14 having any dizziness or balance problem, compared with 3.6% of children ages 6-8 and 4.1% of children ages 3-5. The study also found that girls have a higher prevalence of dizziness and balance problems compared to boys, 5.7% and 5.0%, respectively. In addition, non-Hispanic white children have an increased prevalence of dizziness and balance problems (6.1%) compared with Hispanic (4.6%) and non-Hispanic black (4.3%) children.


The authors report that:


1. Among children with dizziness and balance problems, 46.0% of parents reported that the children had poor coordination; 35.1% reported light-headedness; 30.9% had poor balance; 29.0% had vertigo; 25.0% reported frequent falls; and 8.5% had other dizziness and balance problems.


2. Parents reported moderate or serious difficulties in 18.6% of children with dizziness and balance problems.


3. Overall, 36.0% of children with dizziness and balance problems were seen by a health professional and 29.9% received treatment. Of those whose parents reported moderate or serious difficulties with dizziness and balance problems, 71.6% were seen by a health professional, and 62.4% were treated.


The authors also found that only one-third, or 32.8%, of parents with a child with a dizziness or balance problem reported having received a diagnosis of an underlying condition. The percentage of children diagnosed rose to 59.6% among children whose parents reported they had moderate to serious difficulties with dizziness and balance problems. Reported causes included neurological problems; ear infections; head or neck injuries or concussions; developmental motor coordination disorder; genetic causes; metabolic problems such as hypoglycemia; prescription medication or drugs; severe headaches or migraines; malformation of the ear; and vision problems.


Children with any reported difficulty hearing were two times more likely to have dizziness or balance problems compared with children who had normal hearing. Other risk factors associated with dizziness and balance problems included impairments that limit a child’s ability to crawl, walk, run or play; frequent headaches or migraines; certain developmental delays; a history of seizures in the past 12 months; stuttering/stammering; and anemia during the last 12 months. The analysis also revealed gender-specific risk factors. For example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, attention deficit disorder, and stuttering were linked to dizziness and balance problems in boys, while anemia, hearing difficulties, and respiratory allergies were associated with the condition in girls. Girls with dizziness and balance problems also reported having more headaches and migraines compared to boys with dizziness and balance problems.


According to the authors, the findings are consistent with the limited prevalence data in other countries, and provide much-needed baseline estimates of dizziness and balance problems in U.S. children, and that dizziness and balance problems in children continue to be an understudied area, and we hope that this analysis leads to a better understanding of the scope and risk factors associated with these issues.


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FDA Approves First Drug to Show Survival Benefit in Liposarcoma


Soft tissue sarcoma (STS) is a disease in which cancer cells form in the soft tissues of the body, including the muscles, tendons, fat, blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves and tissues around joints. Liposarcoma is a specific type of STS that occurs in fat cells and can form almost anywhere in the body, but is most common in the head, neck, arms, legs, trunk and abdomen. In 2014, an estimated 12,000 cases of STS were diagnosed in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.


The FDA has approved Halaven (eribulin mesylate), a type of chemotherapy, for the treatment of liposarcoma that cannot be removed by surgery or is advanced (metastatic). This treatment is approved for patients who received prior chemotherapy that contained an anthracycline drug. The efficacy and safety of Halaven were evaluated in 143 clinical trial participants with advanced liposarcoma that was unresectable or had spread to nearby lymph nodes (locally advanced) or other parts of the body (metastatic), and who had been treated with chemotherapy. Participants were treated with either Halaven or another chemotherapy drug called dacarbazine until their disease spread or until they were no longer able to tolerate the side effects of treatment. The study was designed to measure the length of time from the start of treatment until a patient’s death (overall survival). Results showed that the median overall survival for patients with liposarcoma receiving Halaven was 15.6 months compared to 8.4 months for those who received dacarbazine.


The most common side effects among participants treated with Halaven were fatigue, nausea, hair loss (alopecia), constipation, certain nerve damage causing weakness or numbness in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy), abdominal pain and fever (pyrexia). Halaven may also cause low levels of infection-fighting white blood cells (neutropenia) or decreased levels of potassium or calcium. Serious side effects from treatment with Halaven may include a decrease in white blood cell count, which can increase the risk of serious infections that could lead to death; numbness, tingling or burning in the hands and feet (neuropathy); harm to a developing fetus; as well as changes in heartbeat (QTc prolongation), that may also lead to death.


The FDA granted the Halaven application priority review status, intended to facilitate and expedite the development and review of certain drugs in light of their potential to benefit patients with serious or life-threatening conditions. Halaven also received orphan drug designation, which provides incentives such as tax credits, user fee waivers, and eligibility for exclusivity to assist and encourage the development of drugs for rare diseases.


Halaven is marketed by Eisai based in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.


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