Wanted: 10,000 dogs for the largest-ever study on canine aging

November 18, 2019

Every dog has his day—but they simply don’t get enough of them as far as we’re concerned. Most of our beloved pooches only live for about 11 years, according to the American Kennel Club.

But now, a group of researchers is hoping to lengthen the life expectancy of canines, as well as their overall quality of life, CNN reports.

Teams from the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), are being funded by the National Institute of Aging, a division the National Institutes of Health.

The study promises to be the largest-ever study on aging in dogs, according to the cable news outlet—and it may have implications for humans, too. .

“Dogs truly are science’s best friends,” the research team told CNN in a joint statement. “Though they age more rapidly than humans, they get the same diseases of aging, have a rich genetic makeup, and share our environment.”

“By studying aging in dogs,” they said, “we can more quickly expand our knowledge of aging not just in dogs but also in humans.” They added that the team is optimistic that its findings could lead to better

Dogs from all 50 states—and of all ages, sizes, and breeds—may apply with the help of their owners. The researchers will even consider dogs with chronic illnesses, because they are hoping to include as much genetic diversity as possible.

Applications to the project are officially open. Owners can visit the Dog Aging Project’s website to nominate their pooches. The submission process takes less than ten minutes, and generally consists of questions about your pet that will help the researchers to determine whether he or she is the right fit.

Have more questions? Here’s a helpful FAQs.

Research contact: @CNN

2020 hindsight: LASIK eye surgery should be taken off market, former FDA adviser says

November 15, 2019

Don’t turn a blind eye to the risks involved in LASIK eye surgery, an expert is warning, according to CBS News.

Laser vision correction has been popular for more than 20 years, with an estimated 20 million Americans undergoing the procedure to correct nearsightedness and improve distance vision.

According to an FDA patient survey, more than 95% of patients have been satisfied with their vision after surgery. But some patients say the surgery has ruined their eyesight. Among the complaints: “relentless eye pain,” dizziness, and detached retinas.

“Essentially we ignored the data on vision distortions that persisted for years,” said Morris Waxler— a retired FDA adviser who is now president of Waxler Regulatory Consulting. He voted to approve LASIK devices, but he now says voted to approve LASIK, but he now says that vote was a mistake.

“I re-examined the documentation … and I said, ‘Wow this is not good,'” Waxler told CBS News.

Waxler said his own analysis of industry data shows complication rates between 10%  and 30%. In 2011, he petitioned the FDA to issue a voluntary recall of LASIK. Three years later, the agency denied that request and now tells CBS News it “has not found any new safety concerns associated with LASIK devices.” 

Waxler said he thinks LASIK should “absolutely” be taken off the market. “There’s nothing wrong with a person’s eyes who goes to get Lasik,” he said. “They have healthy eyes. They could go and get a pair of glasses.”

Patient Abraham Rutner agrees, alleging that  LASIK surgery damaged his vision and nearly ruined his life. “It’s a devastation that I can’t even explain,” Rutner told CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula.

“Things would appear double. Around the lights were like having starbursts,” he added.

After months of not being able to drive or do his job, the Brooklyn electrician finally found help in Miami where optometrist Edward Boshnick fitted him with special contact lenses.

“His cornea is very distorted as a result of his LASIK surgery,” Boshnick told CBS.

Boshnick estimates he’s treated thousands of patients with LASIK complications.

Paula Cofer had surgery 19 years ago, “and from day one my vision was an absolute train wreck and it still is today,” she said.

She started a LASIK complications support group on Facebook and quickly found she was not alone. “You really have to understand you’re risking your only pair of eyes,” Cofer said.

Doctors who perform LASIK surgery said risks can be minimized with pre-surgical screening.

“The most important thing is knowing who to operate on and who not to operate on and there are people who really should not have this procedure,” Dr. Jules Winokur said.

Rutner now believes he was never a good candidate.

Here are FDA’s advisory on risks and how to find the right doctor for the procedure.

Research contact: @CBSNews

Hiccupping actually helps babies to develop

November 14, 2019

Most of us don’t know why we get the hiccups. They arrive as unexpected and annoying interludes in our otherwise orderly days—and we use a variety of questionable (and even silly) methods to get rid of them.

However, now scientists at University College London have discovered that hiccups might play a crucial role in our early development—by helping babies to regulate their breathing, MSN reports.

In a study led by Lorenzo Fabrizi, a specialist in Neuroscience, Physiology, and Pharmacology at the university, researchers who monitored 13 newborn babies found that hiccupping triggered a large wave of brain signals that could aid in their development.

Indeed, Fabrizi said in a statement, this brain activity might help babies “to learn how to monitor the breathing muscles,” eventually leading to an ability to control breathing voluntarily.

He added: “When we are born, the circuits which process body sensations are not fully developed, so the establishment of such networks is a crucial developmental milestone for newborns.”

Since the babies involved in the study were pre-term and full-term, ranging from 30 to 42 weeks gestational age, the scientists believe this development could be typical of the final trimester of pregnancy.

According to the researchers, fetuses and newborn infants often hiccup, MSN reported.

The phenomenon is seen as early as nine weeks into pregnancy, and pre-term infants—those born at least three weeks premature—spend approximately 15 minutes hiccupping every day.

The pre-term and full-term newborns involved in the study had electrodes placed on their scalps and sensors on their torsos to monitor for hiccups.

The researchers found that contractions in the babies’ diaphragms produced three brainwaves, and believe that through the third brainwave babies may be able to link the ‘hic’ sound of the hiccup to the physical contraction they feel.

Kimberley Whitehead, the study’s lead author, told CNN: “The muscle contraction of a hiccup is quite big

Most of us don’t know why we get the hiccups. They arrive as unexpected and annoying interludes in our otherwise orderly days—and we use a variety of questionable (and even silly) methods to get rid of them.

However, now scientists at University College London have discovered that hiccups might play a crucial role in our early development—by helping babies to regulate their breathing, MSN reports.

In a study led by Lorenzo Fabrizi, a specialist in Neuroscience, Physiology, and Pharmacology at the university, researchers who monitored 13 newborn babies found that hiccupping triggered a large wave of brain signals that could aid in their development.

Indeed, Fabrizi said in a statement, this brain activity might help babies “to learn how to monitor the breathing muscles,” eventually leading to an ability to control breathing voluntarily.

He added: “When we are born, the circuits which process body sensations are not fully developed, so the establishment of such networks is a crucial developmental milestone for newborns.”

Since the babies involved in the study were pre-term and full-term, ranging from 30 to 42 weeks gestational age, the scientists believe this development could be typical of the final trimester of pregnancy.

According to the researchers, fetuses and newborn infants often hiccup, MSN reported.

The phenomenon is seen as early as nine weeks into pregnancy, and pre-term infants—those born at least three weeks premature—spend approximately 15 minutes hiccupping every day.

The pre-term and full-term newborns involved in the study had electrodes placed on their scalps and sensors on their torsos to monitor for hiccups.

The researchers found that contractions in the babies’ diaphragms produced three brainwaves, and believe that through the third brainwave babies may be able to link the ‘hic’ sound of the hiccup to the physical contraction they feel.

Kimberley Whitehead, the study’s lead author, told CNN: “The muscle contraction of a hiccup is quite bigit’s good for the developing brain because it suddenly gives a big boost of input, which helps the brain cells to all link together for representing that particular body part.”

She added that hiccups have no known advantage for adults, and suggested they could be an example of “a hangover from early periods of our life that persists into later life.”

The same researchers have previously theorized that a baby’s kicks in the womb may help it to create a mental map of its own body.

Their new findings may show the same process occurring internally.

Research contact: @MSNi

An AI model can predict when each of us will die—but its developers don’t know how

November 13, 2019

The “die” has been cast—and an AI model knows it. It seems like something out of a thriller or a science fiction movie: Researchers from Pennsylvania healthcare provider Geisinger have trained an artificial intelligence model to predict which patients are at a high risk of dying within the next yearNew Scientist reports.

The researchers tasked an AI model with examining the results of 1.77 million electrocardiogram tests conducted on nearly 400,000 participants in order to predict who was at a high risk of dying within the next year. The goal: To detect patterns that could indicate future cardiac problems, including heart attacks and atrial fibrillation.

As a control, the research team ran two versions of the AI: In one, the algorithm was given only raw ECG data, which measures voltage over time. In the other, it was fed ECG data in combination with patient age and sex.

The results were impressive (and a little scary). The AI model performed better than existing methods, according to the researchers, at distinguishing between patients who would die within a year and those who would survive.

No matter what, the voltage-based model was always better than any model you could build out of things that we already measure from an ECG,” Brandon Fornwalt, lead researcher of the study at Geisinger, told New Scientist.

The model even detected heart problems in patients who were previously cleared by cardiologists.

That finding suggests that the model is seeing things that humans probably can’t see, or at least that we just ignore and think are normal,” Fornwalt added. “AI can potentially teach us things that we’ve been maybe misinterpreting for decades.”

But there’s one major catch with Geisinger’s AI: The researchers still are struggling to explain exactly how it works.

Research contact: @GeisingerHealth

First adult molars are ‘living fossils’ that hold a health record dating back to the womb

November 12, 2019

Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada announced some simply jaw-dropping findings on November 11: They have discovered that a person’s first permanent molars carry a life-long record of health information dating back to the womb—storing vital information that can connect maternal health to a child’s health, even hundreds of years later.

Dentin, the material under the enamel that makes up the bulk of a tooth, forms in microscopic layers that compare to the rings of a tree. Adequate formation of those layers is dependent on Vitamin D. Dark streaks develop in periods when the body is deprived of the critical nutrient, usually because of a lack of sunlight.

The researchers, led by anthropologist Megan Brickley, had previously established that such microscopic defects remain in place and can be read later, in the same way a tree trunk can show years of good and poor growth. Because teeth do not decay as rapidly as flesh and bone, they can retain such information for hundreds of years post-mortem.

Combined with other data, Brickley says in a university press release, patterns in dentin can create rich banks of knowledge about past conditions, including the health impacts of living in low-light environments.

“It’s a living fossil of your life, starting in utero,” Brickley says. “Conceivably, it would be possible to remove the molar of anyone and compare their health to the evidence in the tooth.”

Early colonial settlers in Canada, for example, who were often wrapped head to toe, even in summer, commonly developed conditions such as rickets, or died prematurely from other conditions related to poor access to vitamin D.

Now the same team of researchers has established the value of such records, which begin during the original formation of teeth in the fetal stage, for reflecting the health of the mother during pregnancy. All of the body’s primary or “baby” teeth, which start forming in utero, are lost in childhood.

The first permanent molars—which emerge around age six—also start forming in utero and stay in the mouth throughout one’s adult life, where they retain a record of Vitamin D intake dating back to the mother’s pregnancy.

That record provides a critical intergenerational link that can offer valuable clues connecting maternal health to the eventual fate of a child.

“We’ve been able to set out really clear evidence that there is part of the first permanent molar that records what happened in the life of the mother,” Brickley says. “This is a tool that people can use. It can be used in current health research, and in bio-archaeological research.”

The researchers examined modern and archaeological tooth samples, including teeth taken from two skeletons from 19th century Quebec—one from a three-year-old girl who had survived rickets as a toddler, and one from a young man. The toddler’s undescended molar showed that her mother had suffered a Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy—a possible clue to the child’s early death. The young man’s molar also showed his mother had suffered Vitamin D deficiency, raising the possibility of a connection between his mother’s health and his early death.

In that time, Brickley explained, social practices and weather conditions meant that pregnant women in particular would have had very little exposure to the sun, before it became clear how necessary sunlight or substitute sources of Vitamin D are to good health.

Research contact: brickley@mcmaster.ca

Dying for a better life: South Koreans fake their funerals for life lessons

November 11, 2019

A South Korean healing center is offering free funerals—complete with coffins—but only to the living. The practice is believed to increase participants’ desire to live—and to provide a more optimistic perspective on daily existence. And right at the start, there is good news: The mock-funeral experience is free.

According to a report by Reuters, more than 25,000 people have participated in mass “living funeral” services at the Hyowon Healing Center in Yeongdungpo-gu, Seoul for the past seven years. At the center, the process is described as “heal-dying.”

Dozens take part in each funeral—from teenagers to retirees—donning shrouds, shooting funeral portraits, penning their last testaments, and lying in a closed coffin for around ten minutes.

Hyowon began offering the living funerals to help people appreciate their lives, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with family and friends, said Jeong Yong-mun, who heads the healing center.

Jeong told Reuters that he is heartened when people reconcile at a relative’s funeral, but is saddened they wait that long. “We don’t have forever,” he said. “That’s why I think this experience is so important – we can apologize and reconcile sooner and live the rest of our lives happily.”

“Once you become conscious of death, and experience it, you undertake a new approach to life,” 75-year-old Cho Jae-hee, who participated in a recent living funeral as part of a “dying well” program offered by her own senior welfare center, told the news outlet.

University student Choi Jin-kyu told Reuters that, during his time in the coffin, he realized that too often, he viewed others as competitors. “When I was in the coffin, I wondered what use that is,” said the 28-year-old, adding that he plans to start his own business after graduation rather than attempting to enter a highly competitive job market.

South Korea ranks 33 out of 40 countries surveyed in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Better Life Index. Many younger South Koreans have high hopes for education and employment, which have been dashed by a cooling economy and rising joblessness.

“It is important to learn and prepare for death even at a young age,” Professor Yu Eun-sil, a colorectal cancer specialist at Asan Medical Center’s Pathology Department, who has written a book about death, the news outlet said..

In 2016, South Korea’s suicide rate was 20.2 per 100,000 residents, almost double the global average of 10.53, according to the World Health Organization.

Occasionally, Jeong Yong-mun says,he has dissuaded those contemplating suicide.

 “I picked out those people who have asked themselves whether … they can actually commit suicide, and I reversed their decision,” Jeong told Reuters.

The message of personal value resounded with Choi.“I want to let people know that they matter, and that someone else would be so sad if they were gone,” he said, wiping away tears. “Happiness is in the present.”

Research contact: @Reuters

Animal house: Dog lover prepares to break ground on sanctuary for pit bulls

November 7, 2019

An animal advocate who lives in Paulding County, Georgia, is demonstrating his dedication to a dog breed that is often misunderstood. Jason Flatt told ABC News Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV that he plans to create a one-of-a kind sanctuary for pit bulls and pit bull mixes

Flatt already pulls pit bulls out of local shelters—where 80% to 85% are ignored or shunned by potential adoptive families, he says—and cares for them with a small team at his home, which is filled with kennels for the pups.

Most of the dogs, Flatt told the news outlet, have experienced “some sort of trauma,” and need tender, loving care to restore their spirits and health.

Flatt said he is working to change the narrative of the breed, which is known as being aggressive or used as fighting dogs.

“Everybody assumes these dogs are like these baby-killing monsters,” Flatt told WSB-TV. “Pit bulls have a problem —a big problem. In every major city, every

At his new facility, Flatt aims for every dog to have a 40-foot run made of concrete and grass. The sanctuary also will feature areas for rehabilitation and indoor play, as well as a full-time veterinarian, he said.

His goal is to raise enough money to break ground in the next few years, he said.

“We don’t give up on dogs,” he said. “We never have.”

Flatt and his team will work to find every dog the right home. Those that don’t find their forever home will continue to live with him on the property.

“Every one of them has a story,” he said. “The stories don’t matter. It’s the ending—the endings that we look to change.”

Research contact: @ABC

Study calculates links between prescription medications and risk for suicide

November 6, 2019

There’s a saying that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger—but that shouldn’t be true of the FDA-approved drugs prescribed to us by our doctors.

Nevertheless, a review by the Center for Health Statistics at the University of Chicago of 922 medications that had been prescribed to nearly 150 million Americans over an 11-year period recently found that just 10 of these drugs were associated with an increased rate of suicide attempts, the university reported on November 5 in a press release.

Conversely, 44 drugs were linked to a decrease in suicide attempts, including many that carry a “black box” label from the FDA warning of their association with suicidal behavior.

The study findings, published in the Harvard Data Science Review, identifiy several drugs with the potential to prevent suicide attempts that are not currently used for that purpose, including folic acid, a simple vitamin often prescribed to pregnant women.

“There’s an antihistamine that’s associated with decreases in suicide. There’s a Parkinson’s drug associated with decreases,” said Robert Gibbons, PhD, the director of the center and lead author of the study. “If those test out in clinical trials to be real effects, we could be using more of these drugs to treat suicidal people.”

Suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Most suicides occur in patients with a psychiatric disorder, such as depression. However, common antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine (Prozac) carry the FDA’s black box warnin— which has led to decreased use of these medications, despite the benefits they might provide.

For the new study, Gibbons and his team developed a statistical tool to measure the links between drugs and suicide attempts. They analyzed data on 922 drugs with more than 3,000 prescriptions in a database of medical claims from 2003 to 2014. The data contained records of 146 million unique patients from more than 100 health insurers in the United States. For each person taking each drug, they counted suicide attempts in the three months prior to filling the prescription and the three months after taking the drug. This approach allowed them to evaluate each drug individually within a single person and see its effect on suicide attempts.

“It’s actually a very simple model that answers the question, ‘Does a suicide attempt occur more frequently after taking the drug than before?'” Gibbons said.=

That analysis found 10 drugs that showed a statistically significant increase in suicide attempts-among them, the opioid painkiller hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen (Vicodin); anti-anxiety drugs alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium); and prednisone, a corticosteroid.

 A total of 44 drugs showed a decrease in suicide risk, including a large group of antidepressants with black box warnings like fluoxetine and escitalopram (Lexapro), gabapentin (Neurontin), an anti-convulsant used to treat seizures, and, interestingly, the vitamin folic acid.

Gibbons said the statistical model can be used to calculate the risk of any adverse events that happen before and after taking a medication. The Veterans Administration already has expressed interest in using the tool, and Gibbons hopes other large hospital systems and local health agencies will adopt it to help decide which drugs to prescribe, especially for patients at risk of suicide.

“What we’ve done is come up with an alternative approach to drug safety surveillance that could be used by any agency, country or formulary,” he said. ”

Research contact: @UChicago

‘Meat and greet’: White sharks meet up with ‘pals’ regularly for dinner parties

November 5, 2019

Ever since the release of the movie, Jaws, in 1975, great white sharks have become a cultural icon—representing vicious, scary manhunters. But at the end of the day, they just want to get together with some friends and socialize like the rest of us, according to results of research recently conducted in Australia.

In fact, Study Finds reports, although they hunt and travel alone, white sharks get together a few times each year with the same group of friends for a hearty meal of baby seals.

Scientists have known for some time that large groups of white sharks feast together on prey sporadically, but up until now they had assumed these dinner parties were a completely random result of individual sharks traveling to areas filled with food.

Now, a research team led by behavioral ecologist Stephan Leu of Macquarie University in Sydney has discovered that many of these sharks actually know each other and have been getting together for years.

Working in collaboration with researchers from Flinders University in Adelaide, the Fox Shark Research Foundation in Port Lincoln, and the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris, France; Leu and his team took photographs of nearly 300 white sharks for four and a half years, according to Study Finds.. The sharks were photographed meeting close to a seal nursery off the coast of the Neptune Islands in the Great Australian Bight.

Through the use of photo identification and network analysis technology, researchers were able to identify and keep track of each individual shark that visited the area. To their surprise, they noted that many of the same sharks were observed in close proximity to each other time and time again over the course of the observation period. So much so, that researchers say there is no way it was simply a coincidence.

“Rather than just being around randomly, the sharks formed four distinct communities, which showed that some sharks were more likely to use the site simultaneously than expected by chance,” Dr Leu comments in a release.

“The numbers varied across time, and we suggest that sex-dependent patterns of visitation at the Neptune Islands drive the observed community structure. Our findings show that white sharks don’t gather just by chance, but more research is needed to find out why.”

On a related note, it seems sharks aren’t the only aquatic animals with a penchant for get-togethers; another recent study conducted at Macquarie University found that manta rays regularly form close-knit and structured relationships that could also be described as communities.

The study findings have been published in the journal, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Talent or brain fart? Most creativity can be attributed to mental errors, researchers say

November 4, 2019

Is what we choose to label as “creativity” merely a random mistake in decision-making or reasoning? Similarly, when we choose to veer away from what we have done in the past—rejecting well-known, “safe” options—is it because we are risk-takers or visionaries, or can it be assessed as a failure in cognition?

A study published in the October edition of the journal, Nature Neuroscience,  found that, if our brains excelled at evaluating all options, we would stick to those that have succeeded for us in the past.

Indeed, according to a report by Fast Company, researchers at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, designed a study in which they took brain MRIs of 100 people playing a slot-machine game that presented two options—one of which had won them money in previous tests.

They found that the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region that regulates decision-making, lit up when participants made errors in reasoning and that many of the subjects’ “curious” choices were a result of the brain’s failure to reason.

This is kind of a big deal. Curiosity has been long hypothesized by psychologists to be an exploration of choices with uncertain outcomes, a sort of rational process of weighing out the options.

Interestingly enough, principal investigator Valentin Wyart told Fast Company, “Uh-uh.”

This finding is important, because it implies that many choices in favor of the unknown are made unbeknownst to us, without our being aware of it: Our participants have the impression of choosing the best symbol and not the most uncertain, but they do it on the basis of wrong information resulting from errors of reasoning,” Wyart said.

Wyart points out that errors are not inherently bad: they fuel many of humanity’s great discoveries, such as Christopher Columbus’ accidental navigation to America, and evolution, which often derives from random genetic variation.

Research contact: @FastCompany