Cellphones

Can An Individual Still Resist The Spread of Technology? (chicagotribune.com) 382

schwit1 shares a column from the Chicago Tribune: When cellphones first appeared, they gave people one more means of communication, which they could accept or reject. But before long, most of us began to feel naked and panicky anytime we left home without one. To do without a cellphone -- and soon, if not already, a smartphone -- means estranging oneself from normal society. We went from "you can have a portable communication device" to "you must have a portable communication device" practically overnight... Today most people are expected to be instantly reachable at all times. These devices have gone from servants to masters...

Few of us would be willing to give up modern shelter, food, clothing, medicine, entertainment or transportation. Most of us would say the trade-offs are more than worth it. But they happen whether they are worth it or not, and the individual has little power to resist. Technological innovation is a one-way street. Once you enter it, you are obligated to proceed, even if it leads someplace you would not have chosen to go.

The column argues "the iPhone X proves the Unabomber was right," citing this passage from the 1996 manifesto of the anti-technology terrorist. "Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, so that they can never again do without it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation. Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on it."
Education

2017 'Ig Nobel' Prizes Recognize Funny Research On Cats, Crocodiles, and Cheese (improbable.com) 20

An anonymous reader writes: "The 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony" happened Thursday at Harvard's Sanders theatre, recognizing real (but unusual) research papers from all over the world "that make people laugh, then think." This year's prize in the physics category went to Marc-Antoine Fardin, who used fluid dynamics to probe the question "Can a cat be both a solid and a liquid?"

Six prize-winning Swiss researchers also demonstrated that regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring, while two Australians tested how contact with a live crocodile affects a person's willingness to gamble. And five French researchers won the medicine prize for their use of advanced brain-scanning technology to investigate "the neural basis of disugst for cheese."

You can watch the ceremony online -- and Reuters got an interesting quote from the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, who founded the awards ceremony 27 years ago. "We hope that this will get people back into the habits they probably had when they were kids of paying attention to odd things and holding out for a moment and deciding whether they are good or bad only after they have a chance to think."
Medicine

Moving Every Half Hour Could Help Limit Effects of Sedentary Lifestyle, Says Study (theguardian.com) 98

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Moving your body at least every half an hour could help to limit the harmful effects of desk jobs and other sedentary lifestyles, research has revealed. The study found that both greater overall time spent inactive in a day, and longer periods of inactivity were linked to an increased risk of death. Writing in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine, Diaz and colleagues from seven U.S. institutions describe how they kitted out nearly 8,000 individuals aged 45 or over from across the U.S. with activity trackers between 2009 and 2013. Each participant wore the fitness tracker for at least four days during a period of one week, with deaths of participants tracked until September 2015. The results reveal that, on average, participants were inactive for 12.3 hours of a 16 hour waking day, with each period of inactivity lasting an average of 11.4 minutes. After taking into account a host of factors including age, sex, education, smoking and high blood pressure, the team found that both the overall length of daily inactivity and the length of each bout of sedentary behavior were linked to changes in the risk of death from any cause. The associations held even among participants undertaking moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Those who were inactive for 13.2 hours a day had a risk of death 2.6 times that of those spending less than 11.5 hours a day inactive, while those whose bouts of inactivity lasted on average 12.4 minutes or more had a risk of death almost twice that of those who were inactive for an average of less than 7.7 minutes at a time. The team then looked at the interaction between the two measures of inactivity, finding the risk of death was greater for those who had both high overall levels of inactivity (12.5 hours a day or more) and long average bouts of sedentary behavior (10 minutes or more), than for those who had high levels of just one of the measures.

United States

Stanford Study Finds New Dads In US Are Older Than Ever (mercurynews.com) 191

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Mercury News: American fathers keep getting older, raising the prospect of increased birth defects but also greater economic and emotional security for U.S. families, according to new research from Stanford University's School of Medicine. The average age of the fathers of newborns in the United States has climbed by 3.5 years over the past four decades, growing from 27.4 years in 1972 to 30.9 years in 2015, said the study -- the nation's most detailed analysis ever of paternal age. The number of newborns whose fathers were over age 40 has more than doubled over the past four decades. Those births now make up nearly 9 percent of births in the U.S., Dr. Michael Eisenberg and Yash Khandwala reported in the journal Human Reproduction. The share of fathers who were over age 50 rose from 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent. Asian-American fathers -- men of Japanese and Vietnamese descent, in particular -- are the oldest, becoming fathers at the average age of 36 years, the study said. Black and Hispanic men are the youngest fathers -- age 30.4 and 30, respectively. White men, on average, have children at age 31. Paternal age rose with educational attainment. The typical newborn's father with a college degree is 33.3 years old -- compared with 29.8 years for high school graduates.
Medicine

FDA Approves First Cell-Based Therapy For Cancer (npr.org) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday announced what the agency calls a "historic action" -- the first approval of a cell-based gene therapy in the United States. The FDA approved Kymriah, which scientists refer to as a "living drug" because it involves using genetically modified immune cells from patients to attack their cancer. The drug was approved to treat children and young adults suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of blood and bone marrow that is the most common childhood cancer in the United States. About 3,100 patients who are 20 and younger are diagnosed with ALL each year. The treatment involves removing immune system cells known as T cells from each patient and genetically modifying the cells in the laboratory to attack and kill leukemia cells. The genetically modified cells are then infused back into patients. It's also known as CAR-T cell therapy.

The treatment, which is also called CTL109, produced remission within three months in 83 percent of 63 pediatric and young adult patients. The patients had failed to respond to standard treatments or had suffered relapses. Based on those results, an FDA advisory panel recommended the approval in July. The treatment does carry risks, however, including a dangerous overreaction by the immune system known as cytokine-release syndrome. As a result, the FDA is requiring strong warnings.

Science

Tiny Robots Crawl Through Mouse's Stomach To Release Antibiotics (newscientist.com) 15

Tiny robotic drug deliveries could soon be treating diseases inside your body. For the first time, micromotors -- autonomous vehicles the width of a human hair -- have cured bacterial infections in the stomachs of mice, using bubbles to power the transport of antibiotics. From a report: "The movement itself improves the retention of antibiotics on the stomach lining where the bacteria are concentrated," says Joseph Wang at the University of California San Diego, who led the research with Liangfang Zhang. In mice with bacterial stomach infections, the team used the micromotors to administer a dose of antibiotics daily for five days. At the end of the treatment, they found their approach was more effective than regular doses of medicine. The tiny vehicles consist of a spherical magnesium core coated with several different layers that offer protection, treatment, and the ability to stick to stomach walls. After they are swallowed, the magnesium cores react with gastric acid to produce a stream of hydrogen bubbles that propel the motors around. This process briefly reduces acidity in the stomach. The antibiotic layer of the micromotor is sensitive to the surrounding acidity, and when this is lowered, the antibiotics are released.
Medicine

Vitamin B3 Supplement Can Prevent Miscarriages and Birth Defects, Says Study (news.com.au) 39

brindafella writes: The landmark finding about vitamin B3, made by the Victor Chang Institute in Sydney, Australia, has been described as "the most important discovery for pregnant women since folate." The study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. From News.com.au: "The historic discovery, believed to be among Australia's greatest ever medical achievements, is expected to forever change the way pregnant women are cared for around the globe. Every year 7.9 million babies are born with a birth defect worldwide and one in four pregnant women suffer a miscarriage in Australia. In the vast majority of cases the cause of these problems has remained a mystery. Until now. Professor Sally Dunwoodie from the Victor Chang Institute has identified a major cause of miscarriages as well as heart, spinal, kidney and cleft palate problems in newborn babies. The landmark study found that a deficiency in a vital molecule, known as NAD, prevents a baby's organs from developing correctly in the womb. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) is one of the most important molecules in all living cells. NAD synthesis is essential for energy production, DNA repair and cell communication. Disrupting its production causes a NAD deficiency. The Victor Chang researchers have found this deficiency is particularly harmful during a pregnancy as it cripples an embryo when it is forming. At the heart of the paramount discovery is the dietary supplement vitamin B3, also known as niacin. Scientists at the Victor Chang Institute have discovered how to prevent miscarriages and birth defects by simply boosting levels of the nutrient during pregnancy."
Education

Vermont Medical School Says Goodbye To Lectures (npr.org) 116

The University of Vermont's Larner College of Medicine has begun phasing out lectures in favor of what's known as "active learning" and plans to be done with lectures altogether by 2019. NPR spoke with William Jeffries, a dean at the school who's leading the effort, about the thinking behind this move. From the report: Why are lectures bad? Well, I wouldn't say that they're bad. The issue is that there is a lot of evidence that lectures are not the best way to accumulate the skills needed to become a scientist or a physician. We've seen much evidence in the literature, accumulated in the last decade, that shows that when you do a comparison between lectures and other methods of learning -- typically called "active learning" methods -- that lectures are not as efficient or not as successful in allowing students to accumulate knowledge in the same amount of time.

Give us an example of a topic taught in a traditional lecture versus an "active learning" setting. A good example would be the teaching of what we would call pharmacokinetics -- the science of drug delivery. So, how does a drug get to the target organ or targeted receptor? A lot of the science of pharmacokinetics is simply mathematical equations. If you have a lecture, it's simply presenting those equations and maybe giving examples of how they work. In an active learning setting, you expect the students to learn about the equations before they get there. And when you get into the classroom setting, the students work in groups solving pharmacokinetic problems. Cases are presented where the patient gets a drug in a certain dose at a certain time, and you're looking at the action of that over time and the concentration of the drug in the blood. So, those are the types of things where you're expecting the student to know the knowledge in order to use the knowledge. And then they don't forget it.

Science

Why We Can't Have the Male Pill (bloomberg.com) 347

Reader joshtops shares a report: For years, headlines have promised an imminent breakthrough in male contraception. Time and again, these efforts have fallen short. Last October, for instance, researchers reported that a hormone cocktail they'd been testing curbed sperm production and prevented pregnancies. But they'd had to halt the study early because men were reporting troubling side effects, including mood changes and depression. "The joke in the field is that the male contraceptive has been five years away for the last 40 years," says John Amory, a research physician at the University of Washington School of Medicine who has been working on the challenge for two decades. A new form of male birth control would be a public-health triumph and could snag a significant piece of the contraceptive market -- which is expected to surpass $33 billion by 2023, according to research firm Global Market Insights Inc -- or possibly expand it further. In a 2002 German survey of 9,000 men in nine countries, including Brazil, France, Germany, Mexico, and the U.S., more than 55 percent of the respondents said they'd be willing to use a new form of male birth control. A later study by Johns Hopkins University estimated that the demand could yield 44 million customers in those nine countries alone. And yet major pharmaceutical companies have mostly abandoned the chase.
Science

In Breakthrough, Scientists Edit a Dangerous Mutation From Genes in Human Embryos (npr.org) 155

Scientists for the first time have successfully edited genes in human embryos to repair a common and serious disease-causing mutation, producing apparently healthy embryos, according to a study published on Wednesday. From a report: Now, an international team of scientists reports they have, for the first time, figured out a way to successfully edit the DNA in human embryos -- without introducing the harmful mutations that were a problem in previous attempts elsewhere. "It's a pretty exciting piece of science," says George Daley, dean of the Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the research. "It's a technical tour-de-force. It's really remarkable." The research is ultimately aimed at helping families plagued by genetic diseases. The new experiment used a powerful new gene-editing technique to correct a genetic defect behind a heart disorder that can cause seemingly healthy young people to suddenly die from heart failure. The experiment corrected the defect in nearly two-thirds of several dozen embryos, without causing potentially dangerous mutations elsewhere in the DNA. None of the embryos were used to try to create a baby. But if future experiments confirm the techniques are safe and effective, the scientists say the same approach could be used to prevent a long list of inheritable diseases.
Medicine

E-Cigarettes Linked To Helping People Quit Smoking, Says Study (theverge.com) 203

According to a new study, electronic cigarettes help people trying to quit smoking. The Verge reports: For the study, published today in the journal BMJ, researchers analyzed survey data from over 160,000 people spanning almost 15 years. They found that smokers who used e-cigs tried to quit smoking more often and succeeded (for at least three months) more often than smokers who didn't use e-cigs. Overall, more people quit in the latest year that data was available -- the 2014 -- 15 year -- than in the 2010 -- 11 year. Today's study didn't address whether e-cigs are luring people who would otherwise be nonsmokers. But it did find that e-cigs do have a role in helping people quit. The researchers looked at several population surveys that cover the years 2001 to 2015. These surveys provided smoking-cessation rates, and the most recent survey, from 2014 to 2015, had information about e-cigarette usage. The results show that 65 percent of e-cigarette users had tried to quit smoking, versus 40 percent of people who smoked but didn't use e-cigs. About 8 percent of e-cig users succeeded in quitting for at least three months, compared to about 5 percent of non-users. Overall, the number of people who quit smoking increased by 1.1 percentage points in 2015 from 2011. This might not seem that impressive, but it still represents about 350,000 people.
Medicine

Stem Cell Brain Implants Could 'Slow Aging and Extend Life,' Study Shows (theguardian.com) 116

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Scientists have slowed down the aging process by implanting stem cells into the brains of animals, raising hopes for new strategies to combat age-related diseases and extend the human lifespan. Implants of stem cells that make fresh neurons in the brain were found to put the brakes on aging in older mice, keeping them more physically and mentally fit for months, and extending their lives by 10-15% compared to untreated animals. The work, described as a tour de force and a breakthrough by one leading expert, suggests that aging across the body is controlled by stem cells that are found in the hypothalamus region of the brain in youth, but which steadily die off until they are almost completely absent in middle age. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York hope to launch clinical trials of the procedure soon, but must first produce supplies of human neural stem cells in the lab which can be implanted into volunteers. The study has been published in the journal Nature.
Medicine

US Is Slipping Toward Measles Being Endemic Once Again, Says Study (arstechnica.com) 335

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: With firm vaccination campaigns, the US eliminated measles in 2000. The highly infectious virus was no longer constantly present in the country -- no longer endemic. Since then, measles has only popped up when travelers carried it in, spurring mostly small outbreaks -- ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred cases each year -- that then fizzle out. But all that may be about to change. With the rise of non-medical vaccine exemptions and delays, the country is backsliding toward endemic measles, Stanford and Baylor College of Medicine researchers warn this week. With extensive disease modeling, the researchers make clear just how close we are to seeing explosive, perhaps unshakeable, outbreaks. According to results the researchers published in JAMA Pediatrics, a mere five-percent slip in measles-mumps-and-rubella (MMR) vaccination rates among kids aged two to 11 would triple measles cases in this age group and cost $2.1 million in public healthcare costs. And that's just a small slice of the disease transmission outlook. Kids two to 11 years old only make up about 30 percent of the measles cases in current outbreaks. The number of cases would be much larger if the researchers had sufficient data to model the social mixing and immunization status of adults, teens, and infants under two.
Medicine

Sperm Counts Among Western Men Have Halved In Last 40 Years, Says Study (theguardian.com) 427

New submitter flote shares a report from The Guardian: Sperm counts among men have more than halved in the last 40 years, research suggests, although the drivers behind the decline remain unclear. The latest findings reveal that between 1973 and 2011, the concentration of sperm in the ejaculate of men in western countries has fallen by an average of 1.4% a year, leading to an overall drop of just over 52%. The study, published in the journal Human Reproduction Update by an international team of researchers, drew on 185 studies conducted between 1973 and 2011, involving almost 43,000 men. The team split the data based on whether the men were from western countries -- including Australia and New Zealand as well as countries in North America and Europe -- or from elsewhere. After accounting for factors including age and how long men had gone without ejaculation, the team found that sperm concentration fell from 99 million per ml in 1973 to 47.1 million per ml in 2011 -- a decline of 52.4% -- among western men unaware of their fertility. For the same group, total sperm count -- the number of sperm in a semen sample -- fell by just under 60%.
Medicine

World's First Double Hand Transplant Involving a Child Declared a Success (ctvnews.ca) 52

randomErr shares a report from CTV News: The first child in the world to undergo a double hand transplant is now able to write, feed and dress himself, doctors said Tuesday, declaring the ground-breaking operation a success after 18 months. The report in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health provides the first official medical update on 10-year old Zion Harvey, who underwent surgery to replace both hands in July 2015. Harvey had his hands and feet amputated at the age of two, following a sepsis infection. He also had a kidney transplant. Harvey was already receiving drugs to suppress any immune reaction to his kidney, which was a key factor in his selection for the 10-plus hour hand transplant surgery.
The Internet

Comcast Says Should Be Able To Create Internet Fast Lanes For Self-Driving Cars (theverge.com) 121

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Comcast filed comments in support of the FCC's plan to kill the 2015 net neutrality rules today. And while pretty much everything in them is expected -- Comcast thinks the rules are burdensome and hurt investment, yet it says it generally supports the principles of net neutrality -- there's one telling new quirk that stands out in its phrasing: Comcast now says it's in support of a ban on "anticompetitive paid prioritization," which is really a way of saying paid prioritization should be allowed. "The commission also should bear in mind that a more flexible approach to prioritization may be warranted and may be beneficial to the public," Comcast says in its filing. The key qualification is "anticompetitive," which is a term that could be interpreted in a lot of different ways depending on who's defining it.

Comcast doesn't just see paid fast lanes being useful for medicine, however. It also thinks they might be fair to sell to automakers for use in autonomous vehicles. "Likewise, for autonomous vehicles that may require instantaneous data transmission, black letter prohibitions on paid prioritization may actually stifle innovation instead of encouraging it," the filing says. This makes Comcast's position pretty confusing. Comcast says it opposes prioritizing one website over another. It even suggests the commission adopt a "strong presumption against" agreements that benefit an ISP's own content over competitors' work, but it's not clear how benefiting one car company or telemedicine company over another is any different.

Medicine

'Living Drug' That Fights Cancer By Harnessing The Immune System Clears Key Hurdle (npr.org) 73

An anonymous reader shares an NPR report: A new kind of cancer treatment that uses genetically engineered cells from a patient's immune system to attack their cancer easily cleared a crucial hurdle Wednesday. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee unanimously recommended that the agency approve this "living drug" approach for children and young adults who are fighting a common form of leukemia. The agency doesn't have to follow the committee's recommendation but usually does. The treatment takes cells from a patient's body, modifies the genes, and then reinfuses those modified cells back into the person who has cancer. If the agency approves, it would mark the first time the FDA has approved anything considered to be a "gene therapy product." The treatment is part of one of the most important developments in cancer research in decades -- finding ways to harness the body's own immune system to fight cancer. And while it has generated much hope, there are some concerns about its safety over the long term -- and its cost.
Medicine

Coffee Cuts Risk of Dying From Stroke and Heart Disease, Study Suggests (theguardian.com) 165

Research suggests that people who drink coffee have a lower risk of dying from a host of causes, including heart disease, stroke and liver disease. "The connection, revealed in two large studies, was found to hold regardless of whether the coffee was caffeinated or not, with the higher among those who drank more cups of coffee a day," reports The Guardian. From the report: The first study looked at coffee consumption among more than 185,000 white and non-white participants, recruited in the early 1990s and followed up for an average of over 16 years. The results revealed that drinking one cup of coffee a day was linked to a 12% lower risk of death at any age, from any cause while those drinking two or three cups a day had an 18% lower risk, with the association not linked to ethnicity.

The second study -- the largest of its kind -- involved more than 450,000 participants, recruited between 1992 and 2000 across ten European countries, who were again followed for just over 16 years on average. After a range of factors including age, smoking status, physical activity and education were taken into account, those who drank three or more cups a day were found to have a 18% lower risk of death for men, and a 8% lower risk of death for women at any age, compared with those who didn't drink the brew. The benefits were found to hold regardless of the country, although coffee drinking was not linked to a lower risk of death for all types of cancer. The study also looked at a subset of 14,800 participants, finding that coffee-drinkers had better results on many biological markers including liver enzymes and glucose control. But experts warn that the two studies, both published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, do not show that drinking coffee was behind the overall lower risk, pointing out that it could be that coffee drinkers are healthier in various ways or that those who are unwell drink less coffee.

Medicine

Personalized Cancer Vaccines Safely Fight, Kill Tumors In Early Human Trials (arstechnica.com) 73

Emily Mullin reports via MIT Technology Review: Now two personalized cancer vaccine approaches appear to have safely prevented cancer relapse in a dozen patients with late-stage skin cancer. In recent years, scientists have realized that each patient's tumor harbors a unique set of genetic characteristics, or mutations. So for cancer vaccines to be effective, they'll probably also have to be unique. Two clinical trials, detailed today in separate papers in Nature, are among the first to show that this might be possible. In one trial, eight of 13 melanoma patients who got a personalized cancer vaccine were tumor-free nearly two years after being treated. In a smaller study, four of the six patients who received a vaccine had no detectable cancer for more than two years after treatment. All patients had their tumors surgically removed before getting the vaccine. The customized vaccines are an emerging class of therapies that take advantage of neoantigens, proteins that appear on tumors and seem to be specific to each cancer patient. To make the vaccines, researchers first sequenced DNA and RNA extracted from each patient's tumor. They then used computer algorithms to analyze the mutations on each tumor and predict the best targets that code for neoantigens. Based on that data, they created a personalized vaccine containing up to 20 of these neoantigens. Each patient received several injections of the vaccine over a few months.
Biotech

Tylenol May Kill Kindness (washingtonpost.com) 169

Long-time Slashdot reader randomErr writes: In research published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience scientists describe the results of two experiments conducted involving more than 200 college students.Their conclusion is that acetaminophen can reduce a person's capacity to empathize with another person's pain. "We don't know why acetaminophen is having these effects, but it is concerning," senior author Baldwin Way, an Ohio State University psychologist, said. One of the studies has half the group consume a liquid with acetaminophen while the other group received a placebo. The group that drink the acetaminophen thought that people they read about experiencing pain was not as severe as the placebo group thought.
The Washington Post notes that acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in the United States, adding that "about a quarter of all Americans take acetaminophen every week."

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