TimesOnline.co.uk, June 2, 2009, by Frank Pope  —  The azure waters teem with exotic fish, sea fans sway from jagged rocks. It could be yet another of the stories of the deep that captivate lovers of nature films – but something is wrong.

The violins are sawing too insistently. The threat is not the shadowy shark; the story is about to turn from natural history into unnatural horror.

Cinemagoers across the nation will shrink into their seats from Monday, on World Oceans Day, as the systematic devastation of the deep unfolds.

Bigger, more powerful, and more plentiful trawlers scrape clean every accessible patch of seabed. Companies out to please their shareholders fish only for immediate profit, exploiting every loophole to continue. Politicians, paralyzed by the fear of angering the fishermen, are made complicit.

Lauded at the Sundance film festival as the Inconvenient Truth of the oceans, this documentary lifts the lid on what overfishing is doing to our seas. Just as it took Al Gore’s matter-of-fact delivery to bring home the threat of climate change, the impact of End of the Line seems destined to mark a seminal change in how we think of fishing and the oceans.

Appearances can be deceptive. The fish in the supermarket are not of the same species and stocks that would have filled the shelves 15 years ago. The film describes how we are working our way down the oceanic food chain, moving on when a species or area is finished. Scientific advice is ignored, with the result that, at current rates, all fish stocks will be commercially extinct by 2050. Ninety per cent of ocean predators are already gone, replaced by jellyfish and squid.

“Individuals need to choose sustainable seafood,” Charles Clover, author of the book on which the film is based, said. Some fishermen are getting it right, but without reward they will lose out in the fight for a common resource. “Consumers have eventually come around to the benefits of organic food, for their health. For the health of their children – if they want them to eat fish – they should be similarly selective over how they choose fish.”

Clover compares the change in attitude required to that which occurred in farming 15 years ago. “There was a time when you couldn’t get a story about organic farming in Farmers Weekly. Now you can’t stop them writing about it.”

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification scheme provides a way of identifying well-sourced fish, may offer the answer. Fisheries pay to be regularly inspected and in return win the right to bear the MSC-approved label. Every year the number of fisheries on the scheme increases by 50 per cent, and the amount of certified fish on the market now accounts for about 20 per cent of the total wild catch.

Supermarkets, often painted as the villain by conservation organizations, are taking the lead. Waitrose has been advocating sustainable seafood for 12 years. Despite this, according to their own research, 78 per cent of British adults are unaware of overfishing.

“If we went on the way we were going we wouldn’t be selling fish in the future – it’s as simple as that,” Mark Price, Waitrose’s managing director, said.

Wal-Mart, parent company of Asda, reaffirms in the film its pledge to sell only certified sustainably caught fresh and frozen fish by 2011. Peter Redmond, a former vice-president of Wal-Mart, says in the film: “We sell approximately 20 million lb of fresh fish a year. We had to do something that would protect us as we grow, and as we need more and more product into the future.”

All other big supermarket chains are pushing forward with similar programs, but scientists say that for the sea to recover its past productivity – thought to be up to 20 times that of today – some areas must be shielded from all fishing.

We may never be able to return to the blissful ignorance of thinking fish an inexhaustible resource, but at least we can think of blue seas and sparkling fish without the sound of stalking violins.

Scientists Engineer Cellular Circuits That Count Events

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Researchers have designed cells that can count and “remember” cellular events, using simple circuits that mimic those found on computer chips (such as the one shown above). (Credit: iStockphoto) 

MIT Technology Review, June 1, 2009   –   MIT and Boston University engineers have designed cells that can count and “remember” cellular events, using simple circuits in which a series of genes are activated in a specific order. 

Such circuits, which mimic those found on computer chips, could be used to count the number of times a cell divides, or to study a sequence of developmental stages. They could also serve as biosensors that count exposures to different toxins.

The team developed two types of cellular counters, both described in the May 29 issue of Science. Though the cellular circuits resemble computer circuits, the researchers are not trying to create tiny living computers.

“I don’t think computational circuits in biology will ever match what we can do with a computer,” said Timothy Lu, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) and one of two lead authors of the paper.

Performing very elaborate computing inside cells would be extremely difficult because living cells are much harder to control than silicon chips. Instead, the researchers are focusing on designing small circuit components to accomplish specific tasks.

“Our goal is to build simple design tools that perform some aspect of cellular function,” said Lu.

Ari Friedland, a graduate student at Boston University, is also a lead author of the Science paper. Other authors are Xiao Wang, postdoctoral associate at BU; David Shi, BU undergraduate; George Church, faculty member at Harvard Medical School and HST; and James Collins, professor of biomedical engineering at BU.

Learning to count

To demonstrate their concept, the team built circuits that count up to three cellular events, but in theory, the counters could go much higher.

The first counter, dubbed the RTC (Riboregulated Transcriptional Cascade) Counter, consists of a series of genes, each of which produces a protein that activates the next gene in the sequence.

With the first stimulus – for example, an influx of sugar into the cell – the cell produces the first protein in the sequence, an RNA polymerase (an enzyme that controls transcription of another gene). During the second influx, the first RNA polymerase initiates production of the second protein, a different RNA polymerase.

The number of steps in the sequence is, in theory, limited only by the number of distinct bacterial RNA polymerases. “Our goal is to use a library of these genes to create larger and larger cascades,” said Lu.

The counter’s timescale is minutes or hours, making it suitable for keeping track of cell divisions. Such a counter would be potentially useful in studies of aging.

The RTC Counter can be “reset” to start counting the same series over again, but it has no way to “remember” what it has counted. The team’s second counter, called the DIC (DNA Invertase Cascade) Counter, can encode digital memory, storing a series of “bits” of information.

The process relies on an enzyme known as invertase, which chops out a specific section of double-stranded DNA, flips it over and re-inserts it, altering the sequence in a predictable way.

The DIC Counter consists of a series of DNA sequences. Each sequence includes a gene for a different invertase enzyme. When the first activation occurs, the first invertase gene is transcribed and assembled. It then binds the DNA and flips it over, ending its own transcription and setting up the gene for the second invertase to be transcribed next.

When the second stimulus is received, the cycle repeats: The second invertase is produced, then flips the DNA, setting up the third invertase gene for transcription. The output of the system can be determined when an output gene, such as the gene for green fluorescent protein, is inserted into the cascade and is produced after a certain number of inputs or by sequencing the cell’s DNA.

This circuit could in theory go up to 100 steps (the number of different invertases that have been identified). Because it tracks a specific sequence of stimuli, such a counter could be useful for studying the unfolding of events that occur during embryonic development, said Lu.

Other potential applications include programming cells to act as environmental sensors for pollutants such as arsenic. Engineers would also be able to specify the length of time an input needs to be present to be counted, and the length of time that can fall between two inputs so they are counted as two events instead of one.

They could also design the cells to die after a certain number of cell divisions or night-day cycles.

“There’s a lot of concern about engineered organisms – if you put them in the environment, what will happen?” said Collins, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. These counters “could serve as a programmed expiration date for engineered organisms.” 

The research was funded by the National Institute of Health Director‘s Pioneer Award Program, the National Science Foundation FIBR program, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


Journal reference:

Ari E. Friedland, Timothy K. Lu, Xiao Wang, David Shi, George Church, and James J. Collins. Synthetic Gene Networks That Count. Science, 2009; 324 (5931): 1199 DOI: 10.1126/science.1172005

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Researchers have identified the locking mechanism that allows some neurons to form synapses to pass along essential information. Mutations of genes that produce a critical cell-adhesion molecule involved in the work were previously linked to autism. 

The discovery — captured with fluorescent imaging of excitatory neurons harvested from rat pups shortly after birth and studied in culture as they continued to develop — is described in a paper placed online May 18 ahead of formal publication in the open-access journal Neural Development

“We’ve caught two neuronal cells in the act of forming a synapse,” said principle investigator Philip Washbourne, professor of biology at the University of Oregon. He describes the cell-adhesion neuroligin proteins on the membranes of receptor neurons as “molecular Velcro.”

The research team of six UO and University of California, Davis, scientists found one of many finger-like filopodia, or spines, that reach out from one neuron is nabbed by neuroligin molecules on the membrane of another neuron. In turn, neuroligins recruit at least two other key proteins (PSD-95 and NMDA receptors) to begin building a scaffold to hold the synapse components in place. The moment of locking is captured in a video (link below) that will appear with the paper’s final version at the journal’s Web site.

Two neuroligin family members (3 and 4) have been linked to autism in the last decade.

“Chemical synapses are the primary means for transmitting information from one neuron to the next,” said Washbourne, who is a member of the UO’s Institute of Neuroscience. “Synapses are initially formed during development of the nervous system, and formation of appropriate synapses is crucial for establishing neuronal circuits that underlie behavior and cognition. Minor irregularities can lead to developmental disorders such as autism and mental retardation, and they may contribute to psychological disorders.”

The findings, he added, reflect a clearer understanding of how synapses form, providing a roadmap for research that someday may lead to new therapies or a cure for autism, a brain development disorder that affects a person’s social and communication abilities. The disorder affects 1 in every 150 American children, according to the Autism Society of America.

The new window opened by Washbourne’s team captures the essence of synapse development, which occurs over and over among the estimated 100 billion neurons that make some 100 trillion synapses in a single human being. That leaves a lot of room for errors in the DNA-driven instructions for synthesizing molecules responsible for synapse formation, Washbourne said.

“Basically,” Washbourne said, “we have found mechanisms by which two very important molecules, NMDA and PSD-95, are brought to a newly forming synapse.”

Source : University of Oregon

Primary Neurons Info

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Image 1: Images show primary culture from micro-dissected hippocampus. A) Neurons are round and healthy 1 hr after plating on poly-D-lysine substrate. B) Shown 5 days in culture.

Image 2:Triple labeled image for Neurofilament H (red), GFAP(green) and DAPI (blue). In hippocampal and cortical cultured cells, greater than 95% of the cells are neurons when evaluated  using immunocytochemistry.

New FluoGreen Tracer can be used to visualize primary neuron nuclei and cystoplasm!

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Shown in green are genetically-corrected fibroblasts from Fanconi anemia patients

are reprogrammed to generate induced pluripotent stem cells, which, in turn, can be differentiated into disease-free hematopoietic progenitors, capable of producing blood

 cells in vitro. (Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Juan-Carlos Belmonte, Salk Institute for

 Biological Studies) 

Salk Institute (2009, June 1). Combined Stem Cell-Gene Therapy Approach Cures Human Genetic Disease In Vitro. ScienceDaily.com   –   A study led by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, has catapulted the field of regenerative medicine significantly forward, proving in principle that a human genetic disease can be cured using a combination of gene therapy and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology. The study is a major milestone on the path from the laboratory to the clinic. 

“It’s been ten years since human stem cells were first cultured in a Petri dish,” says the study’s leader Juan-Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, Ph.D., a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory and director of the Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona (CMRB), Spain. “The hope in the field has always been that we’ll be able to correct a disease genetically and then make iPS cells that differentiate into the type of tissue where the disease is manifested and bring it to clinic.” 

Although several studies have demonstrated the efficacy of the approach in mice, its feasibility in humans had not been established. The Salk study offers the first proof that this technology can work in human cells. 

Belmonte’s team, working with Salk colleague Inder Verma, Ph.D., a professor in the Laboratory of Genetics, and colleagues at the CMRB, and the CIEMAT in Madrid, Spain, decided to focus on Fanconi anemia (FA), a genetic disorder responsible for a series of hematological abnormalities that impair the body’s ability to fight infection, deliver oxygen, and clot blood. Caused by mutations in one of 13 Fanconi anemia (FA) genes, the disease often leads to bone marrow failure, leukemia, and other cancers. Even after receiving bone marrow transplants to correct the hematological problems, patients remain at high risk of developing cancer and other serious health conditions. 

After taking hair or skin cells from patients with Fanconi anemia, the investigators corrected the defective gene in the patients’ cells using gene therapy techniques pioneered in Verma’s laboratory. They then successfully reprogrammed the repaired cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells using a combination of transcription factors, OCT4, SOX2, KLF4 and cMYC. The resulting FA-iPS cells were indistinguishable from human embryonic stem cells and iPS cells generated from healthy donors. 

Since bone marrow failure as a result of the progressive decline in the numbers of functional hematopoietic stem cells is the most prominent feature of Fanconi anemia, the researchers then tested whether patient-specific iPS cells could be used as a source for transplantable hematopoietic stem cells. They found that FA-iPS cells readily differentiated into hematopoietic progenitor cells primed to differentiate into healthy blood cells. 

“We haven’t cured a human being, but we have cured a cell,” Belmonte explains. “In theory we could transplant it into a human and cure the disease.”

Although hurdles still loom before that theory can become practice-in particular, preventing the reprogrammed cells from inducing tumors-in coming months Belmonte and Verma will be exploring ways to overcome that and other obstacles. In April 2009, they received a $6.6 million from the California Institute Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to pursue research aimed at translating basic science into clinical cures.

“If we can demonstrate that a combined iPS-gene therapy approach works in humans, then there is no limit to what we can do,” says Verma. 

Researchers who also contributed to the work include first author Ángel Raya, as well as Ignasi Rodríguez-Pizà, Rita Vassena, María José Barrero, Antonella Consiglio, Eduard Sleep, Federico González, Gustavo Tiscornia, Elena Garreta, Trond Aasen, and Anna Veiga of the Center for Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona, Spain; Guillermo Guenechea, Susana Navarro, Paula Río, and Juan Bueren of the Hematopoiesis and Gene Therapy Division, Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas in Madrid, Spain; and Maria Castellà and Jordi Surrallés of the Department of Genetics and Microbiology, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona.


Journal reference:

  • 1. Ángel Raya, Ignasi Rodríguez-Pizà, Guillermo Guenechea, Rita Vassena, Susana Navarro, María José Barrero, Antonella Consiglio, Maria Castellà, Paula Río, Eduard Sleep, Federico González, Gustavo Tiscornia, Elena Garreta, Trond Aasen, Anna Veiga, Inder M. Verma, Jordi Surrallés, Juan Bueren & Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte. Disease-corrected haematopoietic progenitors from Fanconi anaemia induced pluripotent stem cells. Nature, May 31, 2009 DOI: 10.1038/nature08129

Adapted from materials provided by Salk Institute

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Secretary Sebelius Announces Appointment of Cindy Mann as Director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations

U. S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced the appointment of Cindy Mann to serve as Director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations (CMSO), part of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Mann most recently served as a research professor and executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.

“Cindy Mann has decades of experience in health care financing at the federal and state level, and vast knowledge of health care policy,” said Secretary Sebelius. “She has devoted her career to working on behalf of children and families, the elderly and people with disabilities. She will be an outstanding leader at CMSO, particularly as the nation moves forward with health care reform.”  

Mann previously served as director of the Family and Children’s Health Programs at CMSO from 1999-2001; in that capacity she played a key role in implementing Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

“Cindy has been instrumental in recent efforts to expand health care coverage in our country,” said Sebelius. “Her knowledge of health care issues and management experience will be a great asset to CMSO and to the millions of Americans who rely on Medicaid.”  

A brief biography is included below:

Cindy Mann, J.D., is a research professor at Georgetown University, Health Policy Institute and the executive director of the Center for Children and Families at the Institute. Her work focuses on health coverage, financing, and access issues affecting low-income populations. She has written extensively on these issues — and on how they relate to the Medicaid and CHIP, in particular — and has worked closely with state and federal policymakers and program administrators on the design and implementation of Medicaid and CHIP. From 1999-2001, Ms. Mann was the director of the Family and Children’s Health Program Group at the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), now the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In that capacity, she directed, at the federal level, the implementation and oversight of the Medicaid program with respect to families, children, and pregnant women, and oversaw the implementation of CHIP. Prior to her work at HCFA, Ms. Mann led the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ federal and state health policy work. She also has extensive state-level experience, having worked on health care, welfare, and public finance issues in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York. She holds a law degree from New York University School of Law.

BiologyNews.net, June 1, 2009  —  New light has been thrown on how humans choose their partners, a scientist will tell the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics today (Monday May 25). Professor Maria da Graça Bicalho, head of the Immunogenetics and Histocompatibility Laboratory at the University of Parana, Brazil, says that her research had shown that people with diverse major histocompatibility complexes (MHCs) were more likely to choose each other as mates than those whose MHCs were similar, and that this was likely to be an evolutionary strategy to ensure healthy reproduction.

 

Females’ preference for MHC dissimilar mates has been shown in many vertebrate species, including humans, and it is also known that MHC influences mating selection by preferences for particular body odors. The Brazilian team has been working in this field since 1998, and decided to investigate mate selection in the Brazilian population, while trying to uncover the biological significance of MHC diversity.

 

The scientists studied MHC data from 90 married couples, and compared them with 152 randomly-generated control couples. They counted the number of MHC dissimilarities among those who were real couples, and compared them with those in the randomly-generated ‘virtual couples’. “If MHC genes did not influence mate selection”, says Professor Bicalho, “we would have expected to see similar results from both sets of couples. But we found that the real partners had significantly more MHC dissimilarities than we could have expected to find simply by chance.”

Within MHC-dissimilar couples the partners will be genetically different, and such a pattern of mate choice decreases the danger of endogamy (mating among relatives) and increases the genetic variability of offspring. Genetic variability is known to be an advantage for offspring, and the MHC effect could be an evolutionary strategy underlying incest avoidance in humans and also improving the efficiency of the immune system, the scientists say.

The MHC is a large genetic region situated on chromosome 6, and found in most vertebrates. It plays an important role in the immune system and also in reproductive success. Apart from being a large region, it is also an extraordinarily diverse one.

“Although it may be tempting to think that humans choose their partners because of their similarities”, says Professor Bicalho, “our research has shown clearly that it is differences that make for successful reproduction, and that the subconscious drive to have healthy children is important when choosing a mate.”

The scientists believe that their findings will help understanding of conception, fertility, and gestational failures. Research has already shown that couples with similar MHC genes had longer intervals between births, which could imply early, unperceived miscarriages. “We intend to follow up this work by looking at social and cultural influences as well as biological ones in mate choice, and relating these to the genetic diversity of the extended MHC region”, says Professor Bicalho.

“We expect to find that cultural aspects play an important role in mate choice, and certainly do not subscribe to the theory that if a person bears a particular genetic variant it will determine his or her behaviour. But we also think that the unconscious evolutionary aspect of partner choice should not be overlooked. We believe our research shows that this has an important role to play in ensuring healthy reproduction, by helping to ensure that children are born with a strong immune system better able to cope with infection.”

Source : European Society of Human Genetics

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Scientists report that new “microcapsules” could help the stomach absorb certain medicines. (Credit: The American Chemical Society) 

American Chemical Society (2009, June 1). New ‘Microcapsules’ Put More Medication Into The Bloodstream To Treat Disease. ScienceDaily.com  –  Scientists are reporting a potential solution to a problem that limits the human body’s ability to absorb and use medications for heart disease, Type-2 diabetes, cancer and other conditions. It is a “nano-hybrid microcapsule” that enables the stomach to absorb more of these so-called “poorly-soluble” medicines. 

Finding ways to improve the stomach’s uptake of poorly soluble medicines has been one of the major challenges facing pharmaceutical companies. Estimates suggest, for instance, that 40 percent of potential new drugs fall into this category. In the new study, Clive Prestidge and colleagues note that one solution has been to include detergent-like substances in pills and capsules. However, that approach involves safety concerns, since the detergent can irritate the stomach lining, making it unsuitable for drugs that must be taken month after month.

The scientists describe development of a first-of-its-kind microcapsule made from lipid oils and nanoparticles 1/50,000th the width of a human hair. Although acting like conventional detergents, they seem unlikely to irritate the stomach. In test tube experiments, microcapsule versions of the arthritis drug, indomethacin, dissolved up to five times faster than a regular version of the drug. Lab rats given the new microcapsule version absorbed almost twice as much of the drug.


Journal reference:

  • 1. Simovic et al. Dry Hybrid Lipid-Silica Microcapsules Engineered from Submicron Lipid Droplets and Nanoparticles as a Novel Delivery System for Poorly Soluble Drugs. Molecular Pharmaceutics, 2009; 6 (3): 861 DOI: 10.1021/mp900063t

Adapted from materials provided by American Chemical Society.

Docs Use Tunes as Treatment

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Researchers explore how melodies can help regulate heart, boost hormones

GoogleNews.com, MSNBC.com, June 1, 2009, by Bill Briggs  —  As Victor Fabry napped in his hospital bed, a quiet symphony filled his room. The steady pulse of a cardiac monitor marked the progress of his mending heart. Over that beat, the swaying strains of a Brazilian guitarist pumped nearly nonstop from a CD player on the shelf.

For nine days after his surgery at the Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute in Morristown, N.J., Fabry soaked up that tranquil, wordless strumming. And while he praised his surgeon, he raved about the musical score that accompanied his recovery.

His heart literally fell in rhythm with guitarist Tomaz Lima. The music became his medicine.

“Very restful, very soothing,” said Fabry, 68, now almost two years removed from the surgery. Immediately after his operation, a live harpist also played at his bedside. “The mind influences your recovery. Anything that quiets your anxiety is powerful.”

Listen carefully and you’ll hear the same refrain at a rising number of hospitals. From Massachusetts General to the Mayo Clinic, patients are hearing the first strains of a harmonious movement – the infusion and inclusion of music in the treatment of ailments, from brain disorders to cancer. This goes beyond the psychological smile favorite songs can induce.

Doctors are increasingly studying – and employing – the physiological dance music does with the body’s neurons and blood-carrying cells.

“We’re in the infancy,” said Dr. Ali Rezai, director of the Center for Neurological Restoration at Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic. During a surgery called deep brain stimulation – performed while patients with Parkinson’s disease are awake – Rezai and his team play classical compositions and measure the brain’s response to those notes. “We know music can calm, influence creativity, can energize. That’s great. But music’s role in recovering from disease is being ever more appreciated.”

Using music to help the ill has been used for thousands of years, even though modern medicine is just starting to understand how it works, said Dr. Claudius Conrad, a senior surgical resident at Harvard Medical School and, himself, a gifted pianist. He is set to launch the first study of music’s impact on the sleep cycles of acute-care patients.

“Research has already shown that if you play a piece – like Mozart – at a certain slow beat, the listener will adapt their heart beat to the beat of the music.”

From musical notes to hormone stimulation
The anatomical route musical notes take through the body is indeed a busy highway celebrated in many songs, from head to heart. Based on interviews with neurologists and cardiologists, the journey from an instrument string to your heart strings goes something like this:

Sound waves travel through the air into the ears and buzz the eardrums and bones in the middle ears. To decode the vibration, your brain transforms that mechanical energy into electrical energy, sending the signal to its cerebral cortex – a hub for thought, perception and memory. Within that control tower, the auditory cortex forwards the message on to brain centers that direct emotion, arousal, anxiety, pleasure and creativity. And there’s another stop upstairs: that electrical cue hits the hypothalamus which controls heart rate and respiration, plus your stomach and skin nerves, explaining why a melody may give you butterflies or goose bumps. Of course, all this communication happens far faster than a single drum beat.

Before jetting through the blood stream, the signals are converted again – to hormones. At the University of Munich, Conrad was able to show that critically ill patients required fewer sedative drugs when they listened to one hour of Mozart piano sonatas. As expected, the patients’ blood pressures and heart rates eased with the music.

But what surprised Conrad is that the patients also showed a 50 percent spike in pituitary growth hormone, which is known to stimulate healing. Today, at Massachusetts General Hospital, Conrad asks his patients (or their families) in the surgical intensive care unit what music they’d like to hear; if neither is can provide an answer, he often plays Mozart.

Healing dose of Lady Gaga?
Classical is a common pick among doctors and therapists who use melody as a healing tool. The vibrations of stringed instruments in particular are said to mesh with the energy of the heart, small intestine, pericardium, thyroid and adrenal glands, according to a soon-to-be-published study by researchers at Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute in New Jersey. But what about rock or hip hop? Country or house? Does the body react as positively to Lady GaGa as it does Bach? Do you heal faster with Beethoven or a dose of Miley Cyrus?

“I recommend listening to joyful music as part of an overall prescription for maintaining good heart health,” said Dr. Michael Miller, director of the center for preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Joyful? “Music that brings out a natural high in order to maximize endorphin release,” explained Miller, whose research (presented last November to the American Heart Association) showed that hearing your favorite song can cause tissue in your blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow.

Miller examined 10 healthy, non-smoking volunteers before and after they grooved to tunes of their choice and measured a 26 percent jump in the diameter of their upper arm blood vessels. (Conversely, after wincing through music they hated, the volunteers’ blood vessels narrowed by six percent.)

Prescription for helping brain injuries heal?
At Cleveland Clinic, Rezai and other neurosurgeons collaborate with The Cleveland Orchestra to compose classical pieces to play for patients during brain operations. Rezai then gauges how individual neurons fire when the head hears those foreign chords and cadences, and he compares that reaction to how the neurons behave when familiar songs fill the operating room. Hair-sized sensors placed in the brain translate those signals to an amplifier. Study results are expected in three to six months.

The firing of a neuron “may sound like static to some, but it’s music to my ears,” said Rezai. Patients tell him when the music soothes them, and Rezai can hear the corresponding changes in a single neuron. The research, he said, can serve as a keystone for other studies of music’s potential in treating people with traumatic brain injuries, stroke, multiple sclerosis and severe depression.

But some of the oldest healing music may still be the most potent. Frescos painted around 4,000 B.C. depict harp-playing priests. Today, live harpists can be heard at Gagnon, at the University of Rochester Medical Center and at least five other hospitals.

 “This gentle but powerful instrument goes to the deepest places of the body that need to be healed,” said Tami Briggs, a pioneer in “harp therapy” who has played at the bedsides of hundreds of patients, including many at the Mayo Clinic. “I’m not a nurse, but I know enough about the monitors, and what I see is blood pressure usually goes down (when I play), oxygenation rates go up. That’s connected to that more peaceful place, where they are taking deeper breaths.”

The harp is the only instrument that has 20 to 50 strings and is open, unlike, say, a violin. When a harpist strikes a chord, she also opens vibrations in strings just above and below the few she plucks. Those vibes, Briggs said, are absorbed by the body.

“When I play, it’s as subtle as watching somebody relax in the littlest ways,” Briggs said. “They fall deeper into their bed.”   Source: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/30990170/

From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

How about a vacation in malaria country? The mosquito-borne disease is found in some interesting places to see. Maybe, for instance, you’ll go on safari in sub-Saharan Africa, or scuba dive in Papua New Guinea.

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they say that travelers bring about 1,500 cases of malaria a year into the United States. To avoid being one, here are some things you can do:

Use insect repellents; sleep under an insecticide-treated bed net; and take an appropriate medication before, during and after travel.

See your doctor or a travel medicine specialist several weeks before you go, because you’ll need a prescription for the medication.

Malaria and Travelers

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About 800 U.S. travelers are diagnosed with malaria each year.

This information is intended for travelers who reside in the United States. Travelers from other countries may find this information helpful; however, because malaria prevention recommendations and the availability of antimalarial drugs vary, travelers from other countries should consult health care providers in their respective countries.

Countries with Malaria Risk

Travelers to sub-Saharan Africa have the greatest risk of both getting malaria and dying from their infection. However, all travelers to countries with malaria risk may get this potentially deadly disease.

Malaria is transmitted in

  • large areas of Central and South America
  • the island of Hispaniola (includes Haiti and the Dominican Republic)
  • Africa
  • Asia (including the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and the Middle East)
  • Eastern Europe
  • and the South Pacific

If you are traveling outside of the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, you may be at risk for malaria.

See CDC’s Travelers’ Health Travel Destinations for links to destination pages with malaria prevention information and other health recommendations.

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What Determines Your Individual Risk

All visitors to malaria risk areas are at risk of getting malaria; however, many factors determine the risk to an individual traveler. Even in the same locale, these factors can vary widely over time. From year to year, conditions such as amount of rainfall, the number of mosquitoes, and the number of infected persons in the area will change and may produce a different level of risk than previously seen.

Factors that determine a traveler’s risk include:

  • Unaware of malaria risk areas
    Many U.S. travelers, their healthcare providers, and tour companies may be unaware that their travel itinerary includes malaria risk areas.
  • Amount of malaria in the area to be visited
    Most malaria transmission occurs in rural areas, although malaria occurs in urban areas in many countries. Low altitudes with warm temperatures allow for larger populations of infective mosquitoes. Transmission is generally higher in Africa south of the Sahara than in most other areas of the world; in 2002, 73% of imported malaria cases among U.S. and foreign civilians occurred in persons who traveled to Africa.
  • Time of the year
    Seasons with more rainfall and higher temperatures will have more malaria transmission than colder, drier seasons. However, in most tropical and semi-tropical countries, transmission may occur even during cooler months or periods of less rainfall.
  • Type (species) of malaria parasite present in the area
    While all species of malaria parasites can make a person feel very ill, Plasmodium falciparum causes severe, potentially fatal malaria. Persons who travel to areas where P. falciparum malaria is present should be extra careful to take their antimalarial drug and to prevent mosquito bites.
  • Nighttime exposure to mosquito bites
    Because the mosquito that transmits malaria bites at night, travelers who are frequently out of doors between dusk and dawn will be at greater risk for malaria.
  • Preventive measures taken by travelers
    Individual measures, such as taking an effective antimalarial drug and preventing mosquito bites, are the most important factors in minimizing risk. While other risk factors may be difficult to change or avoid, travelers can greatly reduce their risk of malaria by following recommended travel precautions.
  • Immunity or lack of immunity to malaria
    Because malaria was eliminated from the United States in the late 1940s, most residents have never developed resistance (immunity) to the disease. Malaria infection in a non-immune person can quickly result in a severe and life-threatening illness.

In addition, many healthcare providers and laboratories in the United States rarely see cases of malaria and may be unfamiliar with the diagnosis and treatment of the disease, and this can delay effective treatment.

How to Protect Yourself

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Know the Facts
Every year, millions of United States residents travel to countries where malaria is present; about 800 cases of malaria are diagnosed in these returning travelers each year. From 1985-2002, 78 U.S. travelers died from malaria.

Persons who are traveling to malaria risk areas can almost always prevent this potentially deadly disease if they correctly take an effective antimalarial drug and follow measures to prevent mosquito bites.

Know the Symptoms
Despite these protective measures, travelers may become infected with malaria. Malaria symptoms can include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • flu-like symptoms
  • muscle aches
  • fatigue
  • low blood cell counts (anemia)
  • yellowing of the skin and whites of the eye (jaundice)

If not promptly treated, infection with Plasmodium falciparum, the most harmful malaria parasite, may cause coma, kidney failure, and death.

When Symptoms Appear, Seek Immediate Medical Attention
Malaria is always a serious disease and may be a deadly illness. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness either while traveling in a malaria-risk area or after returning home (for up to 1 year) should seek immediate medical attention and should tell the physician their travel history.

Additional Information Resources:

  • CDC’s Travelers’ Health Web site provides information on protecting the health of international travelers, including detailed country-specific malaria prevention information plus recommendations for vaccinations (there is no malaria vaccine), food and water precautions, and safety information.
  • Preventing Malaria in Travelers (brochure) (280 KB/8 pages)

Counterfeit (“fake”) Drugs

In some countries (including those with malaria risk), drugs may be sold that are counterfeit (“fake”) or substandard (not made according to United States standards). Such drugs may not be effective. Purchase your antimalarial drugs before traveling overseas!

For details and specific warnings, see Counterfeit and Substandard Antimalarial Drugs

Cautionary Tales About Travelers’ Ordeals with Severe Malaria

The Risks of Unproven “Antimalarials”
Tom Miller took a homeopathic product to protect himself against malaria while traveling in Nigeria.more

Humanitarian Mission
Stuart Ver Wys’ fever started four days after his ship left Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and two days before it was to arrive back in Lake Charles, Louisiana. In addition to his fever, Mr. Ver Wys, an otherwise healthy 60-year-old man, had no appetite for either food or water. What had begun as a good and meaningful trip seemed to be ending badly… more

A Visit Home
Mariama Jones was 19 weeks pregnant when a family crisis required that she travel to her native Sierra Leone. After she returned to Atlanta, Georgia, Ms. Jones went back to work, but after a couple of days, she felt tired and weak and noticed a changed taste in her mouth. Within a week of her return from Africa, she developed a fever and chills and could not go to work… more

A Family’s Ordeal
On January 23, 2006, the Adisa family returned to the United States from a visit to their roots in Nigeria. Two weeks later four of the children began having fever, headaches, and flu-like symptoms and were cranky. A couple of days later, the school called Mrs. Adisa to say that Mariam, her 11-year-old daughter, had severe headaches. … more

Additional Information for Travelers Who Plan to Visit Friends and Relatives in Malaria Risk Areas
Are you a resident of the United States who was born in a malaria risk country? And, are you planning to visit your country of origin? If yes, please read…

In french: Conseils pour les Voyageurs se Préparant à Rendre Visite à des Amis ou à de la Famille en Afrique

Wave, a forthcoming Google product, promises to do it all.

MIT Technology Review, June 1, 2009, by Kate Greene  —  At the Google I/O developer conference, last week, Google demonstrated a new product called Wave that essentially combines e-mail, instant messaging, wikis, discussion boards, and collaborative documents into one Web service. Created by the developers of Google Maps, Wave works within a Web page, using HTML 5 capabilities supported by browsers like Chrome and Firefox. Lars and Jens Rasmussen and product manager Stephanie Hannon showed off the sprawling capabilities of the product to enthusiastic developers during the keynote presentation.

Still very much a work in progress, Wave will launch publicly later this year. But the features showed off during the demo were impressive.

Wave can be used as an e-mail service, and it even looks something like Gmail, which organizes e-mails based on the conversation thread, but it can also turn into an instant-messaging service on the fly, depending on who in the thread is online. Dragging and dropping photos into a message shares them almost instantly. Wave can also be integrated into blogs and connect to services like Twitter; comments posted by you and others can show up on your Wave homepage, giving the product the potential to collate all of your disparate conversations around the Web.

Additionally, Wave can be used to create, share, and edit documents within a message, just as one would write an e-mail. These updates can be viewed by collaborators in real time, and a feature called playback allows people to view each change one at a time, although the default mode is set to see the document after the most recent edit.

Importantly, Google released an application programming interface for developers today so that they can build gadgets that plug into Wave, similar to the way that add-ons work in Web browsers. The examples of gadgets included collaborative sudoku and chess games, but it’s easy to imagine all the types of applications found on Facebook translating to the Wave environment. Another demonstrated gadget was a semantic spell checker that analyzed the phrase “open a can of been soup” and suggested “bean” instead of “been.” And Lars Rasmussen showed off a real-time translator that converted his English instant messages into French, and his friend’s French messages into English.

It remains to be seen, however, how most Internet users will perceive the product. If they see it as yet another way to have a real-time interactive conversation, à la Twitter, they might reject it. A balance will need to be struck between speed and constant interruptions, admits Rasmussen.

Another potential challenge that Wave will need to overcome is the fact that it is truly a sprawling collection of features, capable of doing so much. This will make it difficult to package as a product. In the case of Wave, it seems as though Google is betting on its developers to build simple applications that can help consumers get the idea.