Thursday, July 31, 2008
ABC News (July 31, 2008)
Jury finds man guilty of spreading HIV
A Melbourne, Australia man has been found guilty of rape and of trying to spread HIV.
The County Court jury found 49-year-old Michael Neal of the Melbourne suburb of Coburg guilty of 15 charges, including eight counts of attempting to infect another person with HIV, and two counts of rape.
He was acquitted of another 11 charges that alleged he had intentionally infected two men with the virus.
During a trial lasting more than five weeks, the jury heard Neal organized "conversion" sex parties to try to spread the virus, and wore a genital piercing to make it easier to transmit the disease.
Neal had bragged about infecting 75 people and told one of his partners he "gets off'' on infecting people. The court heard Neal met his victims at public toilets, at an Abottsford hotel, and through a gay website.
Barrister George Georgiou, for Neal, had argued his client did not believe he was infectious because his "viral loads" were low and was careful not to endanger others.
HIV-positive men are at significantly greater risk of developing anal cancer than men who do not have HIV, say US researchers writing in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. As HIV therapy means HIV-positive people are living longer, they add, this cancer is posing an increasing problem.
The incidence of anal cancer has increased in the past decade – particularly among some subgroups of the population. It is already known that HIV-positive men - and men who have sex with men - are at increased risk of anal cancer compared to the general population. Now researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore have compared the incidence and risk factors for anal cancer in HIV-positive and HIV-negative men who have sex with men.
In the follow-up period between 1984 and 2006 there were 28 cases of anal cancer in the 6972 men studied. But the incidence was almost five times greater in HIV-positive men - with a rate of 69 cases per 100,000 patient years compared to just 14 cases per 100,000 in the HIV-negative group.
The researchers also compared incidence rates in the years since effective antiretroviral treatment became available to the pre-treatment era. They found that - among HIV-positive men - the incidence of anal cancer was higher since effective HIV treatment became available – 137 cases per 100,000 person years compared to 30.
It is thought this might be because improved survival is allowing enough time for pre-cancerous lesions to develop into full-blown cases of anal cancer. A further analysis of the data confirmed a previously noted result that the risk of anal cancer rose with increasing number of unprotected receptive anal sex partners among the HIV-positive men.
Anal cancer – like cervical cancer – is associated with infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). HIV treatment has reduced the risk of many HIV-associated illnesses, but studies like this suggest it does not reduce the risk of HPV-associated anal, genital and oropharyngeal cancers. Although cervical cancer is currently considered to be an AIDS-defining illness, anal cancer is not.
The researchers conclude by saying that anal cancer may be preventable but the benefits of screening for it and treating it have not yet been fully evaluated. They call for further research to calculate the benefits and costs of risk reduction interventions, screening and treating pre-cancerous anal lesions in high-risk individuals such as those living with HIV.
Incidence and epidemiology of anal cancer in the multicenter AIDS cohort study.
Gypsyamber D'Souza, PhD; et al.
Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 48(4):491-499, August 1, 2008..
Link to JAIDS abstract
Drug-resistant HIV at levels too low to be detected by standard tests is not unusual and may contribute to treatment failure, according to research published in PLoS Medicine.
Mutations in the AIDS virus commonly occur during treatment, especially if HIV drugs are not taken consistently, and may cause treatments to fail. HIV treatment in developed countries normally includes testing for these mutations, both to select first-line drugs for a given patient and to choose second-line drugs if the virus rebounds from initial treatment. However, tests used by clinical laboratories cannot reliably detect mutant viruses that make up less than about 20% of the virus in a patient's blood.
To investigate the role of resistant virus present at lower levels, Jeffrey Johnson of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention Laboratory in the National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and colleagues studied HIV from more than 500 recently infected patients in Canada and the US. Although these individuals had not received anti-HIV drugs, a highly sensitive test developed by the researchers showed that more than 10% carried HIV with common drug-resistance mutations that were not detected using usual tests.
The researchers then studied 316 samples from a separate study of about 1400 patients who were started on their first HIV treatment, which included the drug efavirenz. Before starting treatment, none of these patients had resistance to efavirenz according to standard tests. However, highly sensitive testing showed that 7 of the 95 patients who experienced treatment failure had low levels of HIV with resistance mutations to efavirenz prior to treatment. Of 211 patients whose treatment did not fail, only 2 showed low level resistance prior to treatment.
These data suggest that sensitive testing for resistance could avert failures in HIV treatment. However, given the small number of cases in this initial study, larger studies are needed to confirm the results.
Minority HIV-1 Drug Resistance Mutations Are Present in Antiretroviral Treatment–Naïve Populations and Associate with Reduced Treatment Efficacy.
Jeffrey A. Johnson et al.
PLoS Medicine, 2008; 5 (7): e158 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050158
Peace Corps To End HIV Discrimination
The Peace Corps has agreed to no longer terminate volunteers who are HIV-Positive.
The policy switch followed from pressure applied by the American Civil Liberties Union after a volunteer was sent home from his post in the Ukraine after he tested positive for the virus, and later fired.
The ACLU said that, having been returned to Washington DC for an end-of-service medical exam, Jeremiah Johnson again asked Peace Corps officials to explain why he was being terminated and asked if he could continue his service elsewhere, but these requests were denied. Instead, he was given an automatic medical termination which stated that HIV was the reason.
In April ,the ACLU sent a letter to the Peace Corps reminding it that it is illegal under the Rehabilitation Act for the Peace Corps to discriminate against Johnson because he has HIV.
The letter cited a federal appeals court decision finding that it is illegal for the Foreign Service to bar people with HIV from serving. In court, the Foreign Service, which also sends workers around the globe, argued that it was justified in barring people with HIV from service in order to protect the health of people with HIV who would be stationed in areas with limited access to medical treatment. The court rejected that rationale.
Thursday, the ACLU said that while it is pleased the Corps now includes people who are HIV-positive in its nondiscrimination policy, it will continue to monitor the situation.
“We are very pleased that the Peace Corps has acknowledged that it cannot legally terminate volunteers automatically merely because they test positive for HIV,” said Rebecca Shore, a staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project.
“But actions speak louder than words, so we’re going to be keeping a close eye on the agency to make sure it lives up to its promises.”
The new policy guarantees that the Peace Corps will not automatically terminate volunteers who test positive for HIV. Rather, the agency will conduct an individual assessment of each volunteer who tests positive to determine what steps to take to protect the health of the volunteer, while also allowing the volunteer to continue his or her service as required by the Rehabilitation Act when feasible. The Peace Corps has also given the ACLU assurances that it will communicate its new policy barring HIV discrimination in a prudent and appropriate manner.
Millions of people world-wide who have contracted a highly resistant strain of HIV could benefit from a new drug to treat the infection, according to University of New South Wales, Australia research.
Co-authored by UNSW's National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research (NCHECR), the research shows that the majority of patients who have not responded to traditional treatments have had good results from a new combination therapy involving raltegravir.
Raltegravir is already available in Australia and was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme on July 1st, with clinical trials showing that it is safe, effective and with minimal side-effects when used with other anti-HIV medicines.
The study, which has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows raltegravir lowers the amount of virus in the blood to undetectable levels in 62 percent of people taking it in combination with other anti-HIV medicines.
“This is the first drug in a new class of antiretroviral drugs called integrase inhibitors,” says UNSW Professor David Cooper AO, the Director of NCHECR. “The drug has a different mechanism of action, is very potent, seems very safe and has helped patients who have a virus that is resistant to older drugs and classes.
Professor Cooper is the first author of the second of two papers published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The first is led by Professor Roy Steigbigel from Stony Brook University Medical Center.
Raltegravir with Optimized Background Therapy for Resistant HIV-1 Infection
Roy T. Steigbigel, M.D.,
New England Journal of Medicine Volume 359 (4):339-354 July 24, 2008
Link to NEJM abstract
Subgroup and Resistance Analyses of Raltegravir for Resistant HIV-1 Infection
David A. Cooper, M.D., D.Sc. et al
New England Journal of Medicine Volume 359 (4):355-365 July 24, 2008
Link to NEJM abstract
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
BBC News on Line (July 30. 2008)
Queen's bloomers sell for £4,500
A pair of bloomers that once belonged to Queen Victoria have been sold for £4,500 at an auction in Derby.
The knickers have a 50in waist and date from the 1890s, which indicates the monarch had a large girth as she approached her old age. The knickers are made from a fine cotton and are hand-made.
The knickers had been owned by a lady-in-waiting to the Queen and remained in the woman's Lincolnshire family until now. It was thought the bloomers would fetch £500 but a Canadian buyer spent £4,500 on the pants which are monogrammed with VR for Victoria Regina
A chemise with a 66-inch bust, which also belonged to the UK's longest-reigning monarch, sold for £4,000 while her nightdress went for £5,500 at the auction.
Genes for schizophrenia uncovered
Three separate research projects have pinpointed genetic flaws linked to schizophrenia.
Although one, reported in the journal Nature, could mean a fifteen-fold increase in risk, the researchers warned that schizophrenia is so complex genes alone will only ever partially explain the illness at best.
Scientists have suggested that an individual's risk of schizophrenia is roughly half dictated by their genetic make-up, and half by other factors during their lives.
Two separate international groups, both testing thousands of people with schizophrenia and healthy volunteers, identified the same two rare genetic variants which appeared to contribute strongly to the chances of developing the disease.
One of them increased the risk 12 times, and the other 15 times but they are carried by relatively few people, and so cannot play a part in a large proportion of schizophrenia cases.
The third group, led by Professor Michael O'Donovan, from the University of Cardiff Medical School, and published in the journal Nature Genetics, revealed more common genetic variations, held by many larger numbers of people, but which offer a much smaller contribution to their risk of schizophrenia.
Professor O'Donovan said that while the research was an important step - and could eventually lead to greater understanding, or even better treatment, for schizophrenia, scientists were still far from having a complete picture of how various genetic flaws might work together or separately to produce schizophrenia symptoms.
Rare chromosomal deletions and duplications increase risk of schizophrenia
The International Schizophrenia Consortium ,
Nature , | doi:10.1038/nature07239; Received 14 May 2008; Accepted 8 July 2008; Published online 30 July 2008
Link to Nature: Consortium Letter
Large recurrent microdeletions associated with schizophrenia
Hreinn Stefansson. et al.
Nature , | doi:10.1038/nature07229; Received 17 April 2008; Accepted 8 July 2008; Published online 30 July 2008
Link to Nature: Stefansson article
Identification of loci associated with schizophrenia by genome-wide association and follow-up
Michael C O'Donovan. et al.
Nature Genetics Published online: 30 July 2008 | doi:10.1038/ng.201
Link to NATURE news report [with podcast]
U.S. Blacks, if a Nation, Would Rank High on AIDS
If black America were a country, it would rank 16th in the world in the number of people living with the AIDS virus, according to the advocacy group -- Black AIDS Institute
Nearly 600,000 African-Americans are living with H.I.V., and up to 30,000 are becoming infected each year. When adjusted for age, their death rate is two and a half times that of infected whites, the report said. Partly as a result, the hypothetical nation of black America would rank below 104 other countries in life expectancy.
The report, financed in part by the Ford Foundation and the Elton John AIDS Foundation, provides a startling new perspective on the AIDS pandemic.
Despite its more optimistic outlook, this week’s UN Report also found that progress remains The report was issued in advance of the 17th International AIDS Conference, which begins this weekend in Mexico City.
The gains are partly from the Bush administration’s program to deliver drugs and preventive measures to people in countries highly affected by H.I.V.
The Black AIDS Institute acknowledges the Bush Administration's overseas aid but criticizes the administration’s efforts at home. The group said that more black Americans were living with the AIDS virus than the infected populations in Botswana, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Namibia, Rwanda or Vietnam — 7 of the 15 countries that receive support from the administration’s anti-AIDS program.
The international effort is guided by a strategic plan, clear benchmarks like the prevention of seven million H.I.V. infections by 2010 and annual progress reports to Congress, the group said. By contrast, it went on, “America itself has no strategic plan to combat its own epidemic.”
Phill Wilson, the group’s chief executive and an author of the report, said his group supported the government’s international anti-AIDS program but notes. “American policy makers behave as if AIDS exists ‘elsewhere’ — as if the AIDS problem has been effectively solved” in this country.
They also note the administration did not report H.I.V. statistics to the United Nations for inclusion in its biannual report. The C.D.C. had ensured that its data were forwarded to officials in the Department of Health and Human Services and is investigating why the data was not in the United Nations report.
The United Nations has set 2015 as the year by which it hopes to reverse the epidemic. But even if the world achieved that goal, the report said, “the epidemic would remain an overriding global challenge for decades.”
To underscore the point, the United Nations said that for every two people who received treatment, five people became newly infected.
HIV treatment as good at preventing AIDS-related cancers as at preventing opportunistic infections
Antiretroviral therapy is as effective in protecting against AIDS-defining cancers as it is at preventing other AIDS-defining illnesses, say US researchers, in an article published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.
Although research on the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy has tended to concentrate on its impact on survival, it has been shown to reduce the incidence of specific AIDS-defining events. These are made up of AIDS-defining cancers (like Kaposi’s sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), opportunistic infections (like pneumonia) and other events (like HIV-related dementia).
But what has not been clear is whether antiretroviral therapy is as good at preventing AIDS-defining cancers as it is other AIDS-defining illnesses. Therefore researchers looked at information on use of anti-HIV drugs and AIDS-defining illnesses in 2121 HIV-positive men over the period from 1990 to 2006.
They conclude that their research provides reassurance that antiretroviral therapies targeted at enhancing the immune system and preventing AIDS diagnoses in general are equally protective against various types of AIDS-defining events among HIV-positive men.
Effect of HAART in incident cancer and noncancer AIDS events among male HIV seroconverters
Meredith S. Shiels et al
Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 48 (4): 485-490, August 1, 2008.
Link to JAIDS abstract
The HIV/Aids epidemic appears to be slowing, as evidence emerges of more cautious sexual behavior and improved treatment in some of the worst-hit countries of the world, according to a UNAids' two-yearly report on the state of the epidemic.
Prevention programs have seen changes in sexual behavior, and a drop in infection rates in countries such as Rwanda and Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, a drop in infection among pregnant women, from 26% in 2002 to 18% in 2006, is being linked to reports of fewer people having casual sexual partners and fewer men paying for sex.
Condom use also appears to be increasing and in seven badly affected countries - Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia - young people appear to be waiting longer before starting to have sex. In Cameroon, the percentage of under-15 year-olds having sex fell from 35% to 14%.
The UN warns against complacency, however. Fewer people are dying - the numbers are down from 2.2 million to 2 million HIV-related deaths in 2007 - because drugs to suppress the virus and prevent full-blown Aids have been rolled out in Africa and Asia and 3 million people are now surviving who would have died.
But though new infections dropped from 3m to 2.7m last year, the rate of decline is not fast enough. As more and more people are infected, the task of keeping patients alive will become much harder and more expensive. "The global HIV epidemic cannot be reversed, and gains in expanding treatment access cannot be sustained, without greater progress in reducing the rate of new HIV infections," the report says, adding that prevention efforts have lagged.
The report is also covered by the BBC
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Science Daily (July 29, 2008)
South African Epidemic Of Schoolboy Sexual Abuse
By the age of 18 years, two in every five South African schoolboys report being forced to have sex, mostly by female perpetrators. A new study, reported in BioMed Central's open access journal International Journal for Equity in Health, reveals the shocking truth about endemic sexual abuse of male children that has been suspected but until now only poorly documented.
Neil Andersson and Ari Ho-Foster, of the CIET trust in Johannesburg, carried out the research in 1,200 schools across the country at the end of 2002. According to Andersson "This study sought to document the prevalence of sexual violence among school-going males. We found a marked difference between the provinces of South Africa, with the least economically developed province, Limpopo, suffering the highest rates and the most developed area, Western Cape, the lowest". There were also systematic differences between rural and urban areas in frequency and type of perpetrator.
Some 28% of victims said a non-family member or teacher was the perpetrator. Another 28% had been forced by a fellow student, while 20% had been abused by a teacher and 18% by an adult family member.
The authors warn that "the likely consequence of all this for South African society is the multiplication of sexual abuse, since it is well established that people who have been sexually abused are more likely to become abusers themselves. One in ten schoolboys who took part in the study admitted they had forced sex on someone else".
The authors pointed out that until to 2007, forced sex with male children in South Africa did not count as rape, but as 'indecent assault', a much less serious offence. They welcomed the change in legislation as a very necessary first step, but they said that "this is far more than a legal issue", and suggested bringing it to the open and raising awareness among South Africans. "Most of all," says Andersson, "the rape of children calls for decisive investment in prevention. Reducing overall sexual violence will likely also pay dividends in reduction of HIV/AIDS."
The authors also observed that, "as it becomes more acceptable for male children to report sexual abuse, we have to expect a massive increase in workload for help services like Childline. They will need support to meet this demand".
13,915 reasons for equity in sexual offences legislation: a national school-based survey in South Africa.
Neil Andersson and Ari Ho Foster
International Journal for Equity in Health, 7:20 (29 July 2008) doi:10.1186/1475-9276-7-20
BBC News on Line (July 28, 2008)
Stroke risk from smoking partner
Sharing life with a smoker will significantly raise your risk of stroke, even if you don't smoke yourself, says a Harvard University team led by Dr Maria Glymour, who looked at records of more than 16,000 people and found the risk rose by up to 72% for some non-smokers.
The stroke dangers to smokers are well known, but there are fewer studies which have explored the risk from passive smoking.
Following smoking bans in public places, the home is now the most likely place for non-smokers to breathe second-hand smoke.
The Harvard study looked at people aged over 50, and their spouses, over a period of, on average, just over nine years. After the results were adjusted for other factors which could influence stroke risk, non-smokers living in the same house as a smoker were found to be at far greater risk of stroke.
If the person had never-smoked, living with a smoker raised stroke risk by 42%. If he or she had smoked at some point in their lives, but given up, the increase in risk was even higher, at 72%.
Being married to a former smoker did not increase risk, suggesting that this extra risk would fall away if the partner stopped smoking.
The study is to be published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
Spousal smoking and incidence of first stroke in the Health and Retirement Study. Glymour M M et al
American Journal of Preventative Medicine (Forthcoming, 2008).
Statins 'may cut dementia risk'
A study, published in Neurology, found that commonly used cholesterol- lowering statins - normally taken to reduce heart disease risk - may cut the risk of dementia by half.
The five-year project examined 1,674 Mexican Americans aged 60 and over at heightened risk of dementia. A quarter of the patients took a statin, and in total 130 went on to develop dementia.
Once the researchers had taken account of other risk factors, including education, smoking, and diabetes, they calculated that those who took statins had an approximately 50% lower risk of developing dementia.
Lead researcher Professor Mary Haan, of the University of Michigan, said: "The bottom line is that if a person takes statins over a course of about five to seven years, it reduces the risk of dementia by half, and that's a really big change."
Statins help to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of cholesterol which clog up the blood vessels. It is thought that a poor supply of blood to the brain may be one factor which promotes the development of dementia. Therefore, if statins help keep the blood vessels healthy, and blood flowing freely to the brain, they may help protect against the disease.
However, it is still not clear exactly how statins work on the biochemical pathways involved in dementia.
Professor Haan said one possibility is that statins may help to reduce levels of the hormone insulin, which have also been implicated in the development of dementia.
Use of statins and incidence of dementia and cognitive impairment without dementia in a cohort study
C. Cramer, PhD et al
Neurology 2008; 71: 344-350
Link to Neurology abstract
Alzheimer's drug 'halts' decline
UK scientists at Aberdeen University have developed a drug which may halt the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Trials of the drug, known as rember, in 321 patients showed an 81% difference in rate of mental decline compared with those not taking the treatment.
The researchers said the drug targeted the build-up of a specific protein in the brain.
Presenting the results at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago, Professor Claude Wischik said the drug may be on the market by 2012.
Patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease were given either 30, 60 or 100mg of the drug or a placebo.
The 60mg dose produced the most pronounced effect - over 50 weeks there was a seven-point difference on a scale used to measure severity of dementia.
At 19 months there was no significant decline in mental function in patients taking the drug, the researchers said.
Imaging data also suggests the drug may be having its biggest effect in the parts of the brain responsible for memory.
The link between clumps or "tangles" of protein inside nerve cells in the brain and Alzheimer's disease was first made over 100 years ago.
Later shown to be made up of a protein called Tau, the tangles build up inside cells involved in memory, destroying them in the process.
Rember, or methylthioninium chloride, is the first treatment specifically designed to target the Tau tangles.
Other treatments for Alzheimer's tend to focus on combating a waste protein in the brain, beta-amyloid, which is known to form hard plaques. The latest work suggests targeting Tau may produce better results.
Methylthioninium chloride is more commonly used as a blue dye in laboratory experiments.
Professor Wischik discovered it by accident 20 years ago, when a drop in a test tube led to the disappearance of the Tau protein he had been working on.
A drug used to lower blood pressure could prevent or delay thousands of Alzheimer's cases, according to Boston University School of Medicine research, presented at 2008 International Conference on Alzheimer's disease in Chicago.
People taking angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) — a particular class of anti-hypertensive medicines — were up to 40% less likely to develop dementia than those taking other blood pressure drugs. And patients already suffering from dementia were less likely to get worse.
High blood pressure over long periods can lead to damaged blood vessels, and is known to increase the risk of not only strokes and heart disease, but dementia as well. Some types of dementia are directly related to the condition of the arteries supplying the brain, but blood pressure is also thought to play a role in Alzheimer's disease, which is linked to the appearance of protein deposits in brain tissue.
The research looked at records of approximately six million people treated for high blood pressure between 2001 and 2006.
Those who took angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) were less likely, over that period, to be diagnosed with dementia compared with those on other blood pressure medication such as ACE inhibitors.
If they already had dementia in 2001, they were 45% less likely to go on to develop delirium, be admitted to a nursing home, or die prematurely.
This evidence suggests that the drugs, which help prevent the constriction of blood vessels, could not only prevent, or at least delay, the arrival of dementia symptoms, but also slow down the progress of the disease.
ARBs are normally prescribed only to patients who cannot tolerate ACE inhibitors.
The report is also covered by Science Daily
Monday, July 28, 2008
Mindfulness Meditation Slows Progression Of HIV, Study Suggests
CD4+ T lymphocytes, or simply CD4 T cells, are the "brains" of the immune system, coordinating its activity when the body comes under attack. They are also the cells that are attacked by HIV, the devastating virus that causes AIDS and has infected roughly 40 million people worldwide. The virus slowly eats away at CD4 T cells, weakening the immune system.
But the immune systems of HIV/AIDS patients face another enemy – stress -- which can accelerate CD4 T cell declines. Now, researchers at UCLA report that the practice of mindfulness meditation stopped the decline of CD4 T cells in HIV-positive patients suffering from stress, slowing the progression of the disease. The study is released in the online edition of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of bringing an open and receptive awareness of the present moment to experiences, avoiding thinking of the past or worrying about the future. It is thought to reduce stress and improve health outcomes in a variety of patient populations.
"This study provides the first indication that mindfulness meditation stress-management training can have a direct impact on slowing HIV disease progression," said lead study author David Creswell, a research scientist at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA. "The mindfulness program is a group-based and low-cost treatment, and if this initial finding is replicated in larger samples, it's possible that such training can be used as a powerful complementary treatment for HIV disease, alongside medications."
There is emerging evidence from other studies that shows that behavioral stress-management programs can buffer HIV declines in HIV-positive people, Creswell noted. And while there has been an exponential increase of interest in and practice of mindfulness meditation in the West over the past 10 years, this study, he said, is the first to show an HIV disease protective effect with mindfulness meditation training.
In order to understand the health benefits of mindfulness meditation, Creswell and his colleagues at UCLA are now examining the underlying pathways through which mindfulness meditation reduces stress, using brain imaging, genetics and immune system measurements.
"Given the stress-reduction benefits of mindfulness meditation training, these findings indicate there can be health protective effects not just in people with HIV but in folks who suffer from daily stress," Creswell said.
Mindfulness meditation training effects on CD4+ T lymphocytes in HIV-1 infected adults: A small randomized controlled trial
J. David Creswell et al
Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, In Press, Accepted Manuscript, Available online 19 July 2008
Time Lord opens the Tardis to a new generation of Prom-goers
The concert featured music from the series, as well as classical favorites from composers including Holst and Wagner on the theme of space and time. Actress Freema Agyeman -- Martha - the last-but-one assistant to Tennant's Doctor -- hosted Sunday's event.
Series producer Russell T Davies wrote a specially-filmed scene for the concert
"If you were in the Royal Albert Hall, you would have had a unique Doctor Who experience," he said of the special scene's airing.
"It's fantastic because people queued in the heat and came a long way - I met someone who came here from Belgium."
Caitlin Moran (for The Times) summed up
As a child’s introduction to orchestral recitals, it is peerless. No Arts Council-funded project can play, say, Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man - then reinforce kids’ attention by marching a phalanx of Judoon down the aisles, stamping the audience’s hands with marker pens. They can’t razz up Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet (or “The music from The Apprentice!” - a whispered realization that goes round the room like a Mexican wave) - with a hit-squad of Cybermen suffering some manner of cyber-malfunction, and dying in agony.
And no one else on Earth could introduce the concept of the Proms with Davros rising from a trapdoor in the middle of the audience, and a Dalek escorting a “hypnotized” conductor, Ben Foster, on to the stage, with the announcement: “The Daleks have travelled back in time, and kidnapped Henry Wood. From now on, the Proms will only play - DALEK MUSIC!”
“Music isn’t all Proms and rock guitars and orchestras,” the Doctor said, leaning into the camera. “You’ve got music in your head, too. Next time you get a moment, sit still and listen to it. Everyone can write a song.”
And what could have been a wonderful, yet surreal and overwhelming introduction to orchestral music - with its standing ovations, intervals and architecture - was brought back down to a rather lovely question. Did you like this orchestra, kids? What would you do with one?
BBC’s report includes video news comments by Russell T. Davies
Sunday, July 27, 2008
British Museum Highlights Gay Roman Emperor
He led a global superpower, bought popularity with tax cuts and faced a divisive war in Iraq.
In many ways, the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his 2,000-year-old world sound familiar.
A new exhibition at the British Museum aims to show that Hadrian, best remembered for building a 117-kilometer wall to separate England and Scotland, is a leader whose achievements and contradictions helped forge our times.
“Hadrian is one of the great Roman emperors,” exhibition curator Thorsten Opper said. “He takes over the empire at a time of acute military crisis, he stabilizes that empire and he assures its survival.
“In a sense, he made the world we still live in today.”
That’s a bold claim for a man who died in AD 138, but “Hadrian: Empire and Conflict,” which opens to the public Thursday (July 24), makes a strong case.
Under Hadrian’s predecessor Trajan, the Roman Empire stretched from Britannia (modern-day Britain) to Mesopotamia -- today’s Iraq. But its armies were overstretched and rebels harried its fringes. Hadrian’s first act on taking power in AD 117 was to pull troops out of Mesopotamia, where insurgency raged. He went on to trim back the limits of his empire and consolidate Roman power.
A surprising amount remains today. The wall still snakes across moor and dale in northern England. In Italy, there is Hadrian’s vast villa at Tivoli - the holiday home to end all holiday homes -and Rome’s Pantheon, one of the best-preserved and most beautiful of all classical buildings. Its giant dome has inspired buildings from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to Turkish mosques to the British Museum itself.
The exhibition is being held in the museum’s round Reading Room, whose domed roof, Opper said, is “a Victorian version of the Pantheon.”
Opper said every generation reinvents historical figures in its own image, and Hadrian is no exception.
“The empire-builders, the Victorians, saw him almost as a weak figure because he withdrew,” Opper said. “After the horrors of World War I and World War II, he was seen as the sort of prince of peace that the world needed. Our picture of Hadrian changes constantly based on our own experience.”
The show paints a highly attractive picture of Hadrian. An introductory film bills him: “Warrior. Dreamer. Visionary.” He is virile and energetic, a military commander, perceptive ruler and part-time poet. He’s even a bit of a gay icon who deified his dead male lover, Antinous _ the cult caught on, rivaling Christianity among the masses - and founded a city in his honor.
“Hadrian: Empire and Conflict” runs until Oct. 26 and will not travel.
The British Museum site (where you can also purchase the Exhibition Catalogue and a pair of gladiator cuff links!
Link to the British Museum
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Lisa Belkin in Life’s Work for The New York Time (July 24, 2008)
Dear Valued Worker, You’re Fired
The woman was all but led out the door in handcuffs. A security guard by her side, she was told to leave the building immediately. She’d been crying, and her mascara was running, but she wasn’t permitted into the restroom to splash water onto her face, so she walked past her (former) colleagues with raccoon eyes.
This is Lisa Belkin’s introduction to the issue of being fired (or ‘let go’) which has become increasingly more frequent of late. She ask the most significant question “ But is there really a right way to do it?”
For a long time, we have been struck by the irony of renaming ‘personnel’ departments as ‘human resources’. All too often employees are not treated as human nor are they valued as resources. Too often petulant managerial choices are made which are neither professionally sound nor ethically justifiable.
At least, as the article points out, some people do try.
You can rip off the bandage quickly or slowly. But the bottom line is that whether delivered by e-mail message or scented note, by brash bureaucrat or sensitive superior, and whether it is called a layoff or a dismissal or a parting of the ways, you are still being fired.
Killing mosquitoes increases dengue fever deaths
50 million cases in the tropics each year, makes dengue fever the most common insect-borne viral infection. Killing the mosquitoes that carry it is the only way to fight it, but study in Thailand has revealed that this can make the deadliest form of dengue more prevalent.
As Debora MacKenzie explains "breakbone fever", as dengue is known, is painful but normally not fatal the first time around - the real threat is the second infection. There are four varieties, or serotypes. Say you get bitten by a mosquito carrying serotype A, and then a year later by one carrying serotype B. The antibodies you made in response to A bind to the B virus but do not destroy it. Instead these pairs overstimulate the immune system, causing a potentially fatal disease called dengue haemorrhagic fever. DHF kills 12,000 people a year, mainly children. But for a few weeks there is a kind of immunity that does destroy other serotypes.
Yoshiro Nagao and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine investigated the preposition that when there are lots of mosquitoes about, people are more likely to catch a different form during the immunity period, leading to less DHF, but if the number of mosquitoes is reduced, people are infected less frequently and so are less likely to catch another serotype during this crucial short immunity period. But catching it later on, can cause DHF--thus the paradox that fewer mosquitoes could result in more DHF.
Relationship between Transmission Intensity and Incidence of Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever in Thailand
Suwich Thammapalo et al
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 2(7): e263. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000263
Link to New Scientist article [subscription required]
Anglican Bishops from around the world listen to a service at Canterbury Cathedral to mark the opening of the Lambeth Conference
A stop sign is seen through raindrops on a car windscreen in Nashua, New Hampshire
Vivien Marx & Graham Lawton article for the New Scientist (19 – 25, July 2008)
Circumcision: To cut or not to cut?
Imagine a quick and simple surgical procedure that trials have shown could give your newborn child lifelong protection against HIV and may ward off sexually transmitted diseases and cancer too. It involves a little pain and bleeding, and occasionally goes wrong, but the risk of serious adverse effects is tiny. Would you have it done? Chances are you would. But what if you found out that other trials have called the procedure's benefits into question, and that it involves cutting off part of your child's penis. Now how do you feel about it?
This, in a nutshell, is the dilemma facing the parents of newborn baby boys. According to the increasingly vocal advocates of male circumcision, slicing off the foreskin is one of the most effective public-health measures ever invented and should be done routinely, like vaccination. Not so fast, say opponents. They insist that circumcision has no medical benefits
This is the crux of the wide ranging and detailed review of Vivien Marx & Graham Lawton’s coverage of the issue – with many links to the studies and research involved. Unfortunately, the New Scientist post is not an open access article [a subscription is required].
None the less, it is a valuable article no least because it deals with some basics:
So how does circumcision protect against HIV? As Brian Morris, a molecular biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia and a leading supporter of circumcision, explains, it is the inner lining of the foreskin that is the weak point. While the virus does not easily pass through the keratinised skin of the foreskin's outer surface and the penis shaft, the inner surface of the foreskin lacks keratin and is packed with immune cells such as Langerhans cells that HIV uses as an entry point. This makes it "very, very vulnerable", says Morris. "HIV goes straight in."
“The inner lining of the foreskin is very, very vulnerable to infection, especially HIV. It goes straight in”
It is also objectively critical noting that the supportive studies have had criticisms leveled at their design and execution and doubts have been raised on whether circumcision will be anywhere near as effective in the real world as the study results suggest It is y recognized that clinical trials which are stopped early because the results are good generally exaggerate the beneficial effect Many researchers argue that if the trials had continued for the full three years and beyond, many more circumcised men would have caught the virus.
But HIV is not the only reason advocates still claim that boys should be routinely circumcised. They point to a large and growing body of evidence - though much of it is disputed and none of it is yet from randomized controlled trials - that circumcision can prevent numerous other health problems, from mild urinary tract infections to cancer.
Despite this, the article notes, medical authorities are loath to promote circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics is looking into the issue in the light of the HIV data but its current position is that the potential medical benefits are not sufficient to recommend routine circumcision. The British Medical Association, meanwhile, describes the medical evidence as "equivocal". These positions are echoed by authorities across the developed world.
As the pro-circumcision message has gained momentum, anti-circumcision groups have proliferated, arguing that the supposed benefits are overblown and are outweighed by the risks. Some argue that circumcising a child without consent is a violation of his human rights. "Circumcision is the harmful removal of a very important part of a man's body," says George Denniston of Doctors Opposing Circumcision in Seattle, Washington.
Link to New Scientist article [subscription required]