Saturday, May 31, 2008

Words to live by

Among the dross, chaff, and negativity, it is good to know that there are still some positive life views out there. So we were grateful that a friend sent us this article by Judit Kawaguchi from the Japan Times (May 27, 2008)

Words To Live By - Osamu Miyawaki

Osamu Miyawaki 80, is the founder of Kaiyodo, a world-famous maker of collectable figures and tiny statues that are the epitome of Japanese monozukuri ("making things," signifying superb manufacturing). Kaiyodo's super-deformed characters, many from manga and anime, are easily recognizable for their exaggerated features, vivid colors and incredibly accurate details. Miyawaki raised the level of omake, the tiny giveaway toys that come with sweets and soft drinks, from things that few kids ever wanted to high-quality works of art that adults collect. He was also the first to credit his artists, making them stars in their own genre: Shinobu Matsumura is famous for animals, Kazunari Araki for dinosaurs, Katsuhisa Yamaguchi for his Revoltech series of robots and Bome for his sexy figurines, including the one that he did for the artist Takashi Murakami, "Miss Ko²."

Link to Japan Times article

Pst! Wanna see some dirty pictures? --- No – this is even more scary!

BBC News on line (May 30, 2008)

Anger at 'slutty' Starbucks logo

US coffee chain Starbucks has come under fire for a new logo that critics say is offensive and overly graphic. The Resistance, a US-based Christian group, has called for a national boycott of the coffee-selling giant.

It says the chain's new logo has a naked woman on it with her legs "spread like a prostitute... The company might as well call themselves Slutbucks".

Starbucks says the image - based on a 16th century Norse design of a mermaid with two-tails - is not inappropriate.
Rather, the image is a more conservative version of the original Starbucks design, which hung above the chain's first store when it opened in Seattle's Pike Place Market in 1971.
It says the raunchy image - the longstanding logo for Pike Place bags of coffee - is appearing on some of its cups as part of a promotion, and will remain "for several weeks".
Howard Schultz, who bought Starbucks in 1982, described the emblem in his memoirs as "bare-breasted and Rubenesque; [it] was supposed to be as seductive as coffee itself".

Based in San Diego, the Resistance claims to have more than 3,000 members across the US and has gained a reputation for espousing diverse conspiracy theories.

[And we think it’s real scary!]

The Resistance

Link to BBC News story

World No Tobacco Day

BBC News on line (May 31, 2008) reports the

Call to ban all tobacco adverts

Marking World No Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called on governments to ban all tobacco advertising to help prevent young people taking up the habit. It accused manufacturers of using increasingly sophisticated marketing techniques to ensnare young people, particularly girls in poorer countries.

The UN agency says the more they are exposed to tobacco advertising, the more likely people will start smoking. Only 5% of the world's population is covered by comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

It says current restrictions are not enough to protect the world's 1.8bn young people, who are targeted through the internet, magazines, films, concerts and sporting events.

In Russia, which has few anti-smoking laws, the number of female and adolescent smokers has tripled in the last decade.
However, in Canada, where smoking and cigarette advertising has been severely restricted, numbers of smokers are at their lowest in 40 years.

Most smokers take up the habit before the age of 18, with almost a quarter of those before the age of 10.
In a WHO worldwide survey of 13 to 15 year olds, 55% reported seeing billboard advertisements for tobacco, while 20% owned an item with a cigarette brand logo.

Douglas Bettcher, director of the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, said a full ban was necessary to ensure young people were shielded from dangerous messages.
"Half measures are not enough," he said.
"When one form of advertising is banned, the tobacco industry simply shifts its vast resources to another channel. We urge governments to impose a complete ban to break the tobacco marketing net."

Link to WHO Tobacco Free Day

Link to WHO Tobacco Free Youth site

Link to BBC News story

Friday, May 30, 2008

Sunglasses at Night - Corey Hart


The New York Times (May 30, 2008) and on line (May 29, 2008) are part of the media coverage of the announcement

Stonehenge 'a long-term cemetery'

The latest findings are the result of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, a collaboration between five UK universities. Details of the research are to be featured in National Geographic magazine.

The best coverage appears on the National Geographic’s own web site

Link to National Geographic

The site links to photos, maps and video. It also has a separate link to National Geographic Channel’s site which not only previews Stonehenge Decoded (premieres Sunday, June 1, at 9 pm) but also offers much more information and interactive pieces including the Stonehenge Game. There are even screensavers and wallpaper.

Link to NY Times article

Link to BBC News report

Eddie Izzard - Stonehenge

HIV long term treatment ‘feasible’

Michael Carter, for Aidsmap (May 29, 2008)

Low rate of toxicity-related treatment change suggests HIV treatment tolerable in the long-term

HIV-positive patients with an undetectable viral load infrequently change their anti-HIV treatment because of side-effects nowadays, according to the results of a British study published in the May 31st edition of AIDS.

The study found that some anti-HIV treatment combinations, for example those including tenofovir (Viread), efavirenz (Sustiva) or atazanavir (Reyataz) were less likely to be changed because of toxicities than others. The researchers think that in many cases, patients doing well on anti-HIV treatment will be able to stay on their combination of drugs for a long period of time.

Anti-HIV treatment significantly reduces the risk of illness and death in people with HIV. But anti-HIV drugs cannot cure HIV and it is likely that many HIV-positive individuals will need to take antiretroviral therapy for decades.

Side-effects are a major drawback of anti-HIV drugs. Studies have suggested that as many as 50% of patients starting anti-HIV treatment need to change at least one of their drugs within a year because of toxicities. Many of these side-effects occur soon after treatment has been started, and there is little information on the need to change treatment because of side-effects in patients who have achieved and maintained an undetectable viral load in the longer term.

Researchers at the Royal Free Hospital in London therefore performed a study to see the rate of treatment changes in patients starting anti-HIV treatment for the first time. All the patients in the study achieved an undetectable viral load (below 50 copies/ml) within six months of starting anti-HIV treatment and who never had an increase in their viral load to detectable levels. All the patients were taking either 3TC (lamivudine, Epivir) or FTC (emtricitabine, Emtriva) In particular, the researchers wanted to see what proportion of changes were due to side-effects.

A total of 508 patients were included in the study who contributed a total of 912 years of follow-up between 2000 and 2005. Overall, there were 357 treatment changes. The reason for changing treatment was recorded in 279 instances, and half of these changes were due to side-effects. The next most common reason for changing treatment was patient choice (18%), followed by poor adherence (4%).

The side-effects most frequently associated with a change in treatment were those of the central nervous system (33 instances, 23%), followed by lipodystrophy (28 instances, 19%). Other toxicities associated with a significant number of treatment changes included diarrhea, anemia, increased blood fats, and nausea and vomiting.

Statistical analysis showed that the overall rate of treatment change was 39 per 100 person years. The rate of treatment change due to side-effects was 15.4 per 100 person years.

Factors associated with an increased risk of treatment change due to side-effects were being on d4T rather than AZT taking Kaletra rather than efavirenz, being a heterosexual woman or gay man rather than a heterosexual man, and being older.

The investigators found that patients were significantly less likely to change treatment if they were taking tenofovir as their second NRTI drug, and atazanavir as their third drug.

However, the investigators think that the true rate of treatment changes due to side-effects is likely to be higher than that reported in their study. They comment, “treatment changes recorded as being due to reasons other than specific toxicities, such as patient or physician choice, may in fact be driven by toxicities.”

They conclude, “in patients who have never experienced virological failure, the rate of treatment change due to toxicities is low with certain regimens” [i.e. those containing efavirenz, tenofovir, and atazanavir] “associated with an even lower rate of change.” They add, “this suggests that so long as virological failure is avoided, some regimens are so far proving to be sufficiently stable to suggest that very long-term use is potentially feasible.”


Stability of antiretroviral regimens in patients with viral suppression.
Rebecca K Lodwick et al.
AIDS May 31, 2008, Volume 22, Issue 9: 1039 – 1046

Link to AIDS on line - abstract

Link to Aidsmap article

Peter Brookes - The Times

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Lego Gasman Cometh

Let’s not do lunch!

New Scientist (May 24 – 30, 2008)

Eating less beats exercise for a long life

To live longer, skip lunch rather than skipping off to the treadmill. In rodents, eating less prolongs life and now we know one of the key molecules involved.

It's probably down to depressed insulin levels, which regulate blood glucose. While at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, Derek Huffman kept mice on a variety of diets and exercise regimes. He found that insulin was lowest in animals eating the least, even if they didn't exercise.

We don't yet know if the effect translates to humans, so keep exercising, says Huffman. "The benefits of exercise in humans are overwhelming."


Effect of exercise and calorie restriction on biomarkers of aging in mice
Derek M. Huffman et al
American Journal of Physiology - Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 294: R1618-R1627, 2008.
DOI: 10.1152/ajpregu.00890.2007).

Link to AJPRICP abstract

Link to New Scientist article

Visit the dentist - if you can afford it!

BBC News on line (May 26, 2008)

Gum disease link to cancer risk

Gum disease, both in smokers and non-smokers, may be a warning sign of an increased risk of cancer according to Imperial College London researches found gum disease was linked to a higher chance of lung, kidney, pancreatic and blood cancers.

Writing in Lancet Oncology, the team, who studied the health records of 50,000 men, said an immune system weakness may cause both illnesses.

The Imperial College team analyzed questionnaires and health information provided by US men from 1986 onwards.

They found that those with a history of gum disease had a 14% higher chance of cancer compared with those with no history of gum disease.
There was a third increase in the risk of lung cancer, almost a 50% rise in the chance of kidney cancer, and a similar rise in pancreatic cancer.
Blood cell cancers such as leukemia rose by 30% among men with gum disease.
While there was no rise in lung cancer chances among those with gum disease who had never smoked, there was a slightly higher increase in the overall risk of any cancer, and a similar rise in the rate of blood cancers.

There are a number of theories as to why the presence of gum disease might be linked to other illnesses.
People with gum infections have been found to have chemical signs that the inflammation there may be mirrored in other parts of the body - there have also been suggestions that bacteria linked to gum disease could cause problems elsewhere.

The researchers, led by Dr Dominique Michaud, said that the increase in blood cancers pointed to an immune system link. They suggested that the persistent presence of gum disease might be a sign of weakness in the immune system which could also allow cancer to develop.
"These findings might represent a commonality in the immune function and response to inflammation, which results in susceptibility to both periodontal disease and hematological cancers."

However, they said it was also possible that long-lasting gum disease could trigger changes in the immune response which helped cancer thrive, or that the bacteria from the gum could be directly causing the cancer in the tissues of mouth or throat when swallowed.

They stopped short of saying that people with the problem should seek medical, rather than dental, help.

"At this point, we feel that any recommendations for prevention of cancer based on these findings are premature; patients with periodontal diseases should seek care from their dentists irrespective of the effect on cancer."


Periodontal disease, tooth loss, and cancer risk in male health professionals: a prospective cohort study
Dr Dominique S Michaud
Lancet Oncology

link to Lancet Oncology article summary

Link to BBC News report

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Die, doctor, die

New Scientist (May 24 – 30, 2008)

Rehab and pain strengthen 'Kill-MD' urge

Been patronized or fobbed off by a doctor? It may have made you angry, but hopefully not angry enough to want to kill your physician.

Yet it turns out that the urge is not uncommon, especially among patients who are in pain, undergoing physical rehabilitation or seeking legal compensation for disability. So say David Fishbain and colleagues at the University of Miami in Florida, who surveyed some 2000 Americans on their interactions with doctors.

Few doctors are actually killed by their patients, but thousands are attacked and injured. Understanding who is likely to have the urge to kill, and why, could help reduce attacks. Fishbain says his work illustrates how stressful being assessed for compensation can be, and suggests reforming how such decisions are made.

He presented the work at the American Pain Society meeting this month in Tampa, Florida.

What Patient Variables Are Associated With An Expressed Wish to Kill A Doctor.
David A. Fishbain, MD, FAPA et al
Paper 8076 May 9, 2008
American Pain Society's 27th Annual Scientific Meeting (May 8 – 10, 2008):

Link to APS Conference Paper8076

Link to New Scientist article

Madonna adoption OK

BBC News on line (May 28,2008) reports

Malawi approves Madonna adoption

After 18 months, the court in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe has given final approval for pop star Madonna to adopt a young boy David Banda, who is now two..

Justice Andrew Nyirenda said he was satisfied Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie were "perfect parents".

The full adoption was recommended by a social worker who visited Madonna and her family at their London home.

He found that David had been provided with "love, [a] safe home environment, care, protection [and] material, as well as emotional support".

Madonna recently spoke about the criticism she had received from the media in the course of the adoption.

"It was painful and it was a big struggle and I didn't understand it," she told reporters at the Cannes Film Festival. "But in the end, I rationalized that, when a woman has a child and goes through natural childbirth, she suffers an enormous amount.

"So I sort of went through my own kind of birthing pains with dealing with the press on my front doorstep, accusing me of kidnapping, or whatever you want to call it.

"I had to go through some kind of process and in the end it made me stronger, so I can't complain."

Alas, the country badly hit by the Aids Pandemic is still left with more than a million orphans.

Link to BBC News report

An artist

Beryl Cook, the populist and bawdy painter of a thousand iconic fat women, died at the age of 81 early this morning (May 28, 2008). The Times reported :

Her paintings were always popular with the public, but never welcomed by the cultural elite who dismissed her work as seaside postcard slapstick. None of her works were ever added to the Tate gallery collections.

"I don't mind in the least," she said in 2006. "All I ever wanted was for people like me to enjoy my pictures. So I don't worry about the Tate one iota."

Or as The Guardian’s Obituary concludes:

If you looked long enough at the leopardskin, the sequins and the most fetishistic snakeskin shoes outside an Almodovar movie (from charity shops at £2.50 a pair), you saw that her jollity was both acceptance and defiance. Cook's handsome women have everything but subcutaneous fat in common with the happy skeletons who celebrate the inevitability of the grave in Mexican folk art.

"Fancy another drink, me luvver? You'm a long time dead."

·Beryl Cook, artist, born September 10 1926; died May 28 2008

The Lady of Marseilles

Link to The Guardian

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Edwin J. Bernard for Aidsmap (May 27, 2008)

Gay men want sexually explicit internet-based health promotion information, US study finds

The largest-ever survey to assess the health promotion information that gay men who use the internet to meet sexual partners in the United States would like to see has found that sexually explicit materials are not only acceptable across a diverse range of demographics but are preferred to non-visual, non-explicit and technical communication when describing HIV risk between men.

The survey, recently published online in the journal, AIDS and Behavior, targeted more than 2,700 users of the US gay social networking site,, and also found that gay men also wanted information covering much broader topics than HIV prevention, encompassing diverse sexual and mental health concerns.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Minnesota conducted an online needs assessment over three months in 2005 to help answer four questions:

  • To what degree should internet-based HIV prevention interventions include sexually explicit materials?
  • What content areas are of most interest?
  • Do different groups of men who use the internet to look for sex with men differ significantly on issues of acceptability of sexual explicitness and content priorities?
  • What sources of information are most credible and desired?

They found that highly sexually explicit language, visuals, depictions and media were very acceptable across all ages and ethnicities. At least 90% agreed (and fewer than 3% disagreed) that sex stories and visual images of men engaged in masturbation, oral and anal sex; pictures of penises, explicit demonstrations, and use of street language (rather than clinical or medical terms) were totally or somewhat acceptable.

Men who had recently engaged in unprotected sex were found to be significantly more likely to report as acceptable images of men engaged in group sex but significantly less likely to find acceptable images of male–female sex).

They identified no consistent differences in finding sexually explicit materials acceptable to men of different ethnicities, although they found that white participants always appeared to be most or least accepting.

At least four out of five men in the study expressed an interest in the following topics:

  • how to be a better lover (86%);
  • men’s physical sexual health (86%);
  • aspects of relationships (83– 85%);
  • and understanding their sexual history and its effects (83%).

In contrast, the three topics of interest to the fewest men were:

  • help with coming out (48% interested, 24% neutral, and 28% not interested);
  • evaluating alcohol/drug use (41% interested, 25% neutral, and 33% not interested);
  • and coping with sexual abuse (32% interested, 30% neutral, and 38% not interested).

White men consistently expressed less interest in sexual health topics than men of other ethnicities.

Older men were more interested than younger men in topics addressing aging as a gay man and, surprisingly, correct condom usage (47% of 30–39/40– 49 years olds versus 60% of the 50+ group).

Conversely, younger men were more interested than older men in topics addressing coming out; having anal sex without pain; and alcohol and drug use. Interestingly, another current paper by two of this study’s co-authors, Horvath and Rosser, examining the online and offline risk behaviors of young gay men aged between 18 and 24, found that regardless of where young men met their partners, being drunk and high were significant risks for unprotected anal intercourse.

Men who had recently engaged in UAI were, compared with those who had not, were significantly more likely to report interest in the topic of evaluating drug and alcohol use but significantly less likely to report interest in the topics of condom demonstrations, ways to feel better about oneself and help with coming out.

In addition, the investigators found several statistically significant differences between HIV-positive and –negative men that were larger in magnitude than differences seen for ethnicity, age, or education.

HIV-positive men, compared with HIV-negative men, were significantly less interested in:

  • negotiating safer sex online;
  • having anal sex without pain;
  • condom demonstrations;
  • coming out;
  • and a long-term plan to prevent acquiring/transmitting HIV.

Sources of information

The most common online sources that gay men used for information on safer sex, sexually transmitted infections and other aspects of sexual health were gay websites, like (67%);
and internet health sites, such as WebMD, Yahoo! Health, and the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s 'Ask Dr K' (56%).
Only 30% relied on blogs or online bulletin boards; 29% used US government sites, such as the CDC (which the investigators characterize as “the nation’s leading health site”); 21% used the mainstream media’s websites; 13% used their health insurance website; and 9% emailed their health provider.


The authors conclude by suggesting that, “leading health and media sites conduct studies using members of high-risk populations to assess whether information is accessible, credible, and helpful”.

Since different topics were of interest to men of different ages, ethnicities, UAI risk and HIV status, the investigators suggest that in order “to retain participants, internet-based interventions should be built with sufficient learner navigability to allow topics that disinterest participants to be skipped; alternatively, where the topic is central (e.g., condom use) but interest is low (e.g., in condom demonstrations), new approaches to motivate condom use should be tried.”

In addition, since HIV-positive men and men engaging in UAI “are presumably among persons at high risk of transmitting or contracting HIV, further research is needed to identify if and how prevention efforts can most engage these groups.”

They conclude by recommending that health promotion specialists who plan to create internet-based approaches to HIV prevention should focus on re-engaging HIV-positive men and men who engage in UAI with multiple partners; consider using “highly sexually explicit media”; integrate “HIV prevention content into broader sexual and mental health curricula”; pay “attention to user determined navigability”; and incorporate “features such as communicating with peers, and e-access to experts on sexual behavior and homosexuality” into their websites.


An online needs assessment of a virtual community: what men who use the internet to seek sex with men want in internet-based HIV prevention.
Simon Hooper et al.

AIDS and Behavior published online, April 2008.

Link to AIDS Behavior abstract

Sexual risk taking among young internet-using men who have sex with men.
Keith J. Horvath et al.
American Journal of Public Health June 2008, Vol 98, No. 6 1059-1067
First Look, published online ahead of print Apr 29, 2008
DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.111070

Link to AJPH abstract

Link to Aidsmap article

Pollution & DVT

Nicholas Bakalar for the New York Times Health Section’s Vital Signs (May 27, 2008)

Risks: Study Ties Dirty Air to Blood Clots in Legs

Exposure to air pollution increases the risk for deep vein thrombosis, the blood clots that commonly occur in the leg veins. And the worse the air pollution, the higher the risk.

Researchers studied 871 DVT patients in the Lombardy region of Italy, comparing them with 1,210 healthy people.

They tested levels of particulate air pollution — dust, soot and other tiny bits of matter suspended in the air — in areas where the patients lived, using monitors at 53 sites over a one-year period. The study was published May 12 in The Archives of Internal Medicine.

After adjusting for various health factors, the researchers found that for each increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter in particulate matter, the risk for DVT increased by 70 percent. The effect of air pollution was smaller in women and not apparent at all in those using oral contraceptives or taking hormone therapy. Oral contraceptives themselves increase the risk for blood clots, but air pollution had no added effect.

“It’s a risk to live where pollution is high,” said Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, the lead author and an assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Milan. “But air pollution is not the only risk for DVT. Rather, this emphasizes the need for having a healthy lifestyle. That’s important wherever you live, but even more important if you live where pollution is high.”


Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution and Risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis
Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD et al
The Archives of Internal Medicine
Link to AIM abstract

Link to NY Times article

Preacher Teachers

New Scientist (May 24 – 30, 2008)

Teachers still preaching creationism in US classrooms

US Courts have repeatedly decreed that creationism and intelligent design are religion, not science, and have no place in school science classes. Try telling that to American high-school teachers - 1 in 8 teach the ideas as valid science, according to the first national survey on the subject.

Michael Berkman, a political scientist at Pennsylvania State University, and his colleagues found that 2 per cent of 939 science teachers who responded said they did not teach evolution. A quarter reported teaching about creationism or intelligent design, and of these, nearly half - about 1 in 8 of the total survey - said they taught it as a "valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species"

Sixteen per cent of the total said they believed human beings had been created by God within the past 10,000 years. The teachers who subscribed to these creationist views, perhaps not surprisingly, spent 35 per cent fewer hours teaching evolution than educators with more scientific views, the researchers found.

The survey also showed that teachers who had taken more science courses themselves devoted more class time to evolution than teachers with weaker science backgrounds. This may be because better-informed teachers are more confident in dealing with students' questions about a sensitive subject, says Berkman, who notes that requiring all science teachers to take a course in evolutionary biology could have a big impact on the teaching of evolution in schools.

Many science educators are not surprised by the large number of their colleagues advocating creationism. "It seems a bit high, but I'm not shocked by it," says Linda Froschauer, past president of the National Science Teachers Association in Arlington, Virginia.

Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait
Michael B. Berkman et al
PLoS Biology 6(5): e124 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060124

Link to PLoS Biology article.

Link to New Scientist article

Monday, May 26, 2008

Adrian Mitchell

Internet full

New Scientist (May 24 – 30, 2008)

Internet to run out of addresses 'within 3 years'

If you thought it was hard finding the email address that some other john.smith hasn't already bagged, that's nothing compared with the difficulty you'll have getting an internet connection for your computer after 2011.

As of this month 85 per cent of the 4.3 billion available Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, which identify devices connected to the net, are already in use. Within three years they will all be used up, according to a report by the OECD. "The situation is critical for the future of the internet economy," it says.

The report urges governments and businesses to upgrade from the current version, IPv4, to IPv6, which effectively has an unlimited number of IP addresses. IPv6 has been available for more than a decade but service providers have been slow to adopt it.

Link to New Scientist report

Link to the OECD report for the Ministerial Meeting on the Future of the Internet Economy,
Seoul, Korea 17-18 June 2008
Link to report pdf

Alcohol & cancer

BBC News on line (May 25, 2008)

Clues to alcohol cancer mystery

A genetic discovery could help explain why some people who drink too much develop cancers, while others do not. A European study, published in Nature Genetics, has found two gene variants which offer "significant" protection against mouth and throat cancers. It suggested that people who have them are much better at breaking down alcohol into less harmful chemicals.

More than seven out of ten people diagnosed with mouth cancers drink more than the recommended alcohol limit - and, alongside smoking, it is also a known risk factor for oesophageal cancer.

Previous research had identified a group of genes called ADH as clear candidates for a role in the development of these cancers. These genes make body chemicals which help break down alcohol, and, in theory, the more effective these are, the less opportunity alcohol has to damage the cells in the mouth and throat.

Led by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, the research team looked at 9,000 cases of people of similar ages and lifestyles who either developed mouth and throat cancers, or didn't.

They found two variants in the group of ADH genes were linked to a lower chance of getting cancer.

Looking only at study participants who admitted drinking heavily, the potentially beneficial effect of having one of the variants was even more pronounced, in line with the amount of alcohol consumed.

It is already known that people with one of the gene variants can break down alcohol more than 100 times faster than those who did not have it, and the study authors said this suggested that this process was key in protecting people from alcohol-linked throat and mouth cancer.


Multiple ADH genes are associated with upper aerodigestive cancers
Mia Hashibe et al
Nature Genetics
Published online: 25 May 2008 |
Link to Nature Genetics abstract

Link to BBC News report

Sunday, May 25, 2008

'Our Kath'

Anthem for doomed youth - Wilfred Owen

Ooh, Vicar!

The current edition of New Scientist (May 24-30, 208) in an article on Scientific Testing - "Let science rule: the rational way to run societies"- explores why society ( for society read politicians?) adopt policies which may seem good but, when tested, are found to be less effective. An example which stands out is Abstinence.

Unfortunately, the article itself is not open access on line. I do wish New Scientist could be a little more free in their information sharing.

At least this piece (from the same edition) is freely available:


Sounds like a winner, but will it deliver?

Randomised controlled trials form the basis of modern medicine for good reason: they are the only trustworthy way we have for evaluating interventions. Their usefulness is not limited to medicine, however. They can be designed to test the effectiveness of many kinds of policy, from education to crime.

Such trials often reveal that policies do not work, or worse. School-based driving lessons, for instance, have increased the number of car accidents. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

So why aren't rigorous trials of policies standard practice? One reason is that policy-makers and their supporters don't like it when their ideas are shown to fail. Take programs in the US to promote sexual abstinence among young people. There are two issues here - is it desirable for teenagers to be abstinent, and do the abstinence programs work? Many people who answer yes to the first question won't accept that the answer to the second is no.

Science can never tell us what a society's aims should be. But once we decide on those aims, science is the best way to find out which policies will help achieve them. There is outrage when patients die because drugs have not been properly tested. We should be equally indignant if people die because of untested policies dished out by politicians.

Link to New Scientist editorial

Link to New Scientist article

[subscription required]

Saturday, May 24, 2008

2008 Eurovision Song Contest Winner

wins the 58th Eurovision Song Contest. The Sunday Times reports Terry Wogan suggesting that tensions are rising over suspicions of “bloc voting”. He claimed that eastern European countries had banded together to prevent western ones from winning. He declared that an “iron curtain has descended across Eurovision”. Iron, but with a taffeta lining.
He told the British TV audience, when Ukraine came second after awarding Russia 12 points, its highest marks, “Ukraine just wants to make absolutely sure the old electric and oil keeps running.”
European unity - nul points.

Killer---- flu --- medication

As loyal fans are well aware, this week saw the season Finale of House.

Of course, our initial reaction was we did not want anyone to die --- but after all that kind of ‘realism’ is at the core of the program.

We were surprised to find that some people are still confused about the facts on which the story is based.
Let’s be clear Amber died from flu medication not trauma in the traffic accident.

For a better explanation, try this blog posting


Billy Connolly - Wales

Cancer Vaccine?

BBC News on line (May 23, 2008)

Cancer vaccine target pinpointed

Scientists may be one step closer to producing a specific targeted vaccine for killing cancer cells according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The team at Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute has pinpointed a protein on immune cells which they hope will help them harness the body's defenses to attack a tumor. A vaccine designed to "home in" on the protein would deliver a message to the immune system to attack the invading cancer, they said.
The protein is unique to a type of immune cell called a dendritic cell, which is responsible for triggering the body's defense system.
Its job is to present pathogens or foreign molecules to other cells of the immune system, which in turn eliminate them.

The researchers said scientists have been searching for proteins or "tags" on dendritic cells for over 30 years.

In theory a vaccine carrying a foreign molecule from a cancer cell could be targeted to the dendritic cells, which would then prompt the immune system to attack the "invading" cancer. The same approach could be used for treating HIV or malaria, the researchers said.

Study leader Dr Caetano Reis e Sousa said the team had found a unique protein called DNGR-1, which could be used to deliver such a vaccine to the door of the dendritic cell.
"Vaccines work by triggering an army of immune cells, called T cells, to attack potentially dangerous foreign molecules, like those found on pathogens.
"Dendritic cells are the messengers, telling the T cells who to attack.
"Vaccines will carry a sample of the offending molecule and deliver it to DNGR-1 on the dendritic cells, which in turn will present the molecule to the armies of T cells and instruct them to attack."


Tumor therapy in mice via antigen targeting to a novel, DC-restricted C-type lectin
David Sancho et al
Journal of Clinical investigation doi:10.1172/JCI34584

Link to JCI abstract

Link to BBC News report

No sleep – No brainer!

BBC News on line (May 20, 2008)

No sleep 'renders brain erratic'

Scientists have shown relying on the sleep-deprived brain to perform well is potentially fraught with danger. Even after sleep deprivation, people have periods of near normal brain function in which they can finish tasks quickly. However, this is mixed with periods of slow response and severe drops in visual processing and attention.

The study, by Duke University and the National University of Singapore published in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggest the findings have implications for people who struggle through night work, from long distance lorry drivers to on-call doctors.

Lead researcher Professor Michael Chee said: "The periods of apparently normal functioning could give a false sense of competency and security when, in fact, the brain's inconsistency could have dire consequences."

The researchers found that a sleep-deprived brain can normally process simple visuals, like flashing checkerboards. However, the "higher visual areas" - those responsible for making sense of what we see - didn't function well.

Study subjects, who were either kept awake all night or allowed a good night's sleep, were asked to identify letters flashing briefly in front of them.

During slow responses, sleep-deprived volunteers had dramatic decreases in their higher visual cortex activity.
At the same time their frontal and parietal 'control regions' were less able to make their usual corrections - in effect they failed to kick in for these lapses in attention.

Scientists also could see brief failures in the control regions during the rare lapses that volunteers had after a normal night's sleep. However, the failures in visual processing were specific only to lapses that occurred during sleep deprivation.


Lapsing during Sleep Deprivation Is Associated with Distributed Changes in Brain Activation
Michael W. L. Chee et al
Journal of Neuroscience
. May 2008; 28: 5519 - 5528 ; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0733-08.2008

Link to Journal of Neuroscience abstract

Link to BBC News report

Friday, May 23, 2008

'I Am Because We Are'


In an Editorial (May 23, 2008) the New York Times confronts

Children in Adult Jails

Children who are confined to adult jails are at greater risk of being raped, battered or pushed to suicide. They also are more likely to become violent criminals than children handled through the juvenile justice system. When Congress reauthorizes the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, it should press the states to end this barbaric practice.

The juvenile justice law provides federal aid to states that agree to humanize their often Dickensian systems — and to refrain from placing children in adult jails. The bargain worked well enough until the 1990s, when there was an outbreak of hysteria about so-called super predators and an adolescent crime wave that never materialized.

States classified ever larger numbers of young offenders as adults. Today, laws in more than 40 states permit adult courts to try children as young as 14. Perhaps as many as half the young people who are transferred into the adult system are never convicted as adults — and some are never convicted at all. But by the time the system is finished with them, many will have spent more than six months in adult jails, according to a report by the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group based in Washington.

Not surprisingly, these young people are much more likely to harm themselves in adult jails than in juvenile facilities. Those who survive often return to their communities as damaged people who are much more likely to commit crimes and return to prison.

The current system is counterproductive and inhumane. Congress could remedy this with one simple fix. It should require all states that receive federal juvenile justice aid to refrain from housing people under the age of 18 in adult jails, except for those accused of the most serious crimes like rape and murder.

Link to Campaign for Youth Justice

Link to NY Times editorial

Thursday, May 22, 2008

linguistic renaissance

New Scientist (May 17- 23, 2008)

Instant messaging 'a linguistic renaissance' for teens

LOL, OMG and TTYL: parents and teachers worry that teenagers' use of these and other forms of online shorthand is harming their language skills. Perhaps they will take comfort from a study suggesting that instant messaging (IM) actually represents "an expansive new linguistic renaissance".

Sali Tagliamonte and Derek Denis at the University of Toronto, Canada, say teenagers risk the disapproval of their elders if they use slang, and the scorn of their friends if they sound too buttoned-up. But instant messaging allows them to deploy a "robust mix" of colloquial and formal language. In a paper to be published in the spring 2008 issue of American Speech, the researchers argue that far from ruining teenagers' ability to communicate, IM lets teenagers show off what they can do with language.

"IM is interactive discourse among friends that is conducive to informal language," says Denis, "but at the same time, it is a written interface which tends to be more formal than speech."

He and Tagliamonte analyzed more than a million words of IM communications and a quarter of a million spoken words produced by 72 people aged between 15 and 20. They found that although IM shared some of the patterns used in speech, its vocabulary and grammar tended to be relatively conservative. For example, teenagers are more likely to use the phrase "He was like, 'What's up?'" than "He said, 'What's up?'" when speaking - but the opposite is true when they are instant-messaging. This supports the idea that IM represents a hybrid form of communication.

Nor do teens use abbreviations as much as the stereotype suggests: LOL (laugh out loud), OMG (oh my god), and TTYL (talk to you later) made up just 2.4 per cent of the vocabulary of IM conversations - an "infinitesimally small" proportion, say the researchers. And rumors of the demise of you would appear to have been greatly exaggerated: it was preferred to u a whopping 9 times out of 10. Tagliamonte and Denis suggest that the use of such short forms is confined mostly to the youngest users of IM.

Link to New Scientist article

HIV & cancer risks

Edwin J. Bernard writing for Aidsmap (May 22, 2008)

HIV increases risk of nine non-AIDS-defining cancers, largest-ever observational study finds

Nine non-AIDS-defining cancers are more likely to be seen in HIV-positive individuals compared with the general population, according to the largest analysis ever undertaken of cancer incidence trends among HIV-positive individuals in the United States.

The study, published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports that anal cancer is almost 60 times more common in HIV-positive individuals compared with the general population, and, say the investigators “incidence rates are expected to increase as HIV-infected persons live longer.”

Although recent studies have found that the incidence of the three AIDS-defining cancers – Kaposi's sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and cervical cancer – is declining and the incidence of non-AIDS-defining cancers is increasing in HIV-positive individuals following the advent of potent antiretroviral therapy, there is litte data comparing the incidence of these cancers in HIV-positive individuals with the general population.

Investigators from two large prospective cohort studies in the United States – the Adult and Adolescent Spectrum of HIV Disease (ASD) Project and the HIV Outpatient Study (HOPS) – analyzed the incidence of cancer in HIV-positive individuals between 1992 and 2003 and compared cancer incidence rates for the same period in the general population, with data derived from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program of the National Cancer Institute.

The investigators previously published an initial analysis of their data as a poster at the Fourth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Sydney in 2007.

Their initial analysis found that that seven non-AIDS-defining cancers were significantly more likely to be diagnosed in HIV-positive individuals than in the general population --- anal cancer , Hodgkin’s lymphoma, liver cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, oropharyngeal [mouth and throat] cancer and colorectal cancer.
The latest paper adds two more cancers to the list: leukemia and renal [kidney] cancer.

They also found that the incidence of prostate cancer was significantly lower in HIV-positive individuals compared with the general population. There were no significant differences seen between HIV-positive individuals and the general population in the rates of other types of cancer examined.

In this latest paper, the investigators also examined the relative incidence rates of the three AIDS-defining and nine non-AIDS-defining cancers in HIV-positive individuals compared with the general population.

Although this is the largest analysis ever undertaken of cancer incidence trends among HIV-positive individuals in the United States, the investigators note that there are some limitations to their study. Notably, they did not have information on tobacco use or cancer screening practices.

They conclude by noting that despite the advent of HAART, “incidence rates increased significantly for melanoma; Hodgkin lymphoma; and colorectal, anal, and prostate cancer,” and that “immune dysfunction; concomitant infection with oncogenic [cancer-causing] viruses; and lifestyle factors, such as smoking, may account for the higher cancer incidence among HIV-infected persons.

“In addition to encouraging tobacco cessation,” they write, “HIV care providers should be aware of these elevated risks and screen for preventable diseases, such as cervical and colorectal cancer. Screening programs for early detection and treatment of precancerous anal lesions should be evaluated and will probably become more important as the HIV-infected population ages and lives longer.”

“Furthermore,” they conclude, “primary prevention strategies to reduce HPV infection and HPV-associated diseases, such as vaccination and circumcision, warrant further evaluation.”

Incidence of types of cancer among HIV-infected persons compared with the general population in the United States, 1992–2003.
Pragna Patel, MD MPH et al
Annals of Internal Medicine 20 May 2008 : Volume 148 Issue 10 : Pages 728-736.
Link to AIM article

Link to Aidsmap article

Includes link to Fourth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention report