Tag Archives: health

China Seals Off 30,000 People After A Man Dies of Bubonic Plague

The Chinese government has sealed off about 30,000 residents in parts of Yumen, a city in northeast China.

The move comes a week after a 38-year-old man died from the bubonic plague (also known as the black death). The man is said to have contracted the disease after coming in contact with a marmot- a rodent similar to the groundhog.

Residents have been told they cannot leave the area, and police have set up roadblocks to enforce that decree. Yumen has a population of 100,000 people, but only certain portions of the city have been isolated.

One of the police blockades

Besides the 30,000 people sealed off, the government has also put 151 people who had direct contact with the man under quarantine.

There is no word yet on how long the situation will last, but city officials have said they have enough rice, flour and oil to supply the 30,000 residents for a month.

China has sent in hundreds of extra “standby” medical workers to help contain the plague

Although the bubonic plague is rare in China, it is not totally unheard of. Since 2009, there have been an estimated 12 cases in China, with four deaths.

The plague can work extremely fast, sometimes killing a person within 24 hours of the initial infection. However, modern antibiotics have proven effective in treating the disease if it is detected quickly. Beijing officials say the chances of the outbreak spreading are low.

Check out the original story from the Daily Mail here.

Why This Man Climbed A 130 Foot Tree With Only A Vine to Steal Honey from Angry Bees (Video)

To the Bayaka people, who inhabit the jungles of the Central African Republic, honey is an extremely valuable commodity. Besides being a rare and delicious delicacy, it provides essential energy and nutrition.

So, when a beehive is found in the jungle, some men are willing to take extreme measures to secure the precious honeycombs for their family.

Tete is an hour into a 40 meter (131ft) climb to a beehive way up in the canopy of a massive tree when we join him:

Not only does Tete climb without a harness (he uses only a vine wrapped around the tree), but once he gets to the crown of the tree, he still has to battle the angry bees as he carefully makes his way to the hive.

“When climbing trees, you have to empty your heart of fear… If you have fear you will fall.”

he says.

Once Tete arrives at the hive, he has to break into the interior. He passes the honeycomb down to his eager family via a basket pulley system. Even bee stings don’t stop his wife and kids from thoroughly enjoying the feast.

(h/t BBC’s Human Planet)

Saskatoon: A New Kind Of “Super Fruit” Berry Is Making Its Way Into The States

Saskatoon berries may look like blueberries, but the shrub is actually more closely related to an apple tree.

According to NPR’s The Salt, the berry,

“…is pretty common in Canada but hasn’t been grown by farmers in the U.S. until recently. Here [in the U.S.], the berry, also sometimes called the serviceberry, has been collected in the wild for generations.”

Until recently the berry had not been commercially grown in the U.S.. The commercial strain, which produces a larger berry with fewer seeds, has just found its way to farmers in Michigan, but hopes to have a nationwide presence eventually.

Saskatoon berries before being picked

So what do they taste like? Well, it’s kind of hard to say. Here’s Steve DuCheney, who grows the berries in northern Michigan:

“Every time I eat them I get a different flavor…The other day I had somebody tell me they tasted like peach, and that was the first time I heard that one.”

Some people describe the flavor as being nutty, like almonds, and still others say that the berry is sort of like a mix between blueberries and cherries. But everyone seems to agree that the berry is sweet and good for pies.

The saskatoon berry is also a “super fruit”, meaning that it has high levels of antioxidants which help fight heart disease. It also provides 5 essential vitamins and minerals and contains high levels of fiber.

Saskatoon pie, anyone?

Did You Know… Your Skin Can Smell. And the Scent of Candlewood Makes It Heal Itself

Olfactory receptors are the cells which give us our sense of smell. The average human has five to six million of these olfactory receptors in their nose.

Though there are other creatures with more powerful noses (dogs have up to 220 million olfactory receptors), the human sense of smell is actually one of the more acute in the animal kingdom.

But olfactory receptors aren’t just in the nose. In recent years, scientists have been finding them in all kinds of strange places: the spine, the kidney- even in sperm!

Recently, a group of researchers from the Hanns Hatt’s lab at Germany’s Ruhr University of Bochum discovered that these smell cells are also in our skin. And what’s more, these olfactory receptors seem to be involved in the healing process. Their results were published in the journal Nature.

Ruhr University of Bochum

One of the olfactory receptors they found in the skin is known as OR2AT4. Furthermore, the researchers found that Sandalore (a synthetic sandalwood oil that’s often used in aromatherapy) bonded to the OR2AT4 receptors in the skin.

But rather than sending a signal to the brain when it bonded (like the receptors in your nose do), the Sandalore triggered the skin cells to divide and migrate- the two processes that your skin uses to heal itself.

In their experiments, the researchers mixed skin cells with Sandalore in test tubes and cultures for five days. They found that in the presence of Sandalore, new skin cells were created (through cell division) 32% faster and migrated 50% more than skin cells that hadn’t been exposed to the oil.

Pieces of Sandalore wood (Courtesy of PBS)

The results were undoubtedly impressive, but the researchers also pointed out that just like everyone’s noses are different, so are the smell receptors in our skin. Some people have more, some have less.

Just how much of an impact sandalwood oil has on the healing process depends on the amount and the type of olfactory receptors in your skin.

Check out the original story from PBS here.

How A Hairless Man Grew A Full Head of Hair After Signing Up for An Arthritis Drug Trial

Scientists at Yale just discovered an amazing new use for an arthritis drug called tofacitinib citrate that was recently approved by the FDA.

One of the patients who signed up for the trials of the drug suffered from a rare condition known as alopecia universalis, which causes rapid hair loss all over the body, leaving sufferers almost completely hairless.

Although the hair sometimes grows back spontaneously, it’s impossible to predict if or when this will happen, and there are no proven cures or treatments for the condition.

But that might be about to change. During the trials, the patient began to re-grow his hair. Not only did he grow a full head of hair, he also grew also eyebrows, eyelashes, and facial hair, as well as hair in his armpits and on other parts of his body.

Courtesy of Yale University

The scientists at Yale had actually predicted this result. Here’s Brett King, assistant professor of dermatology at Yale’s medical school and lead author of a paper recently published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology about these new findings:

“The results are exactly what we hoped for… This is a huge step forward in the treatment of patients with this condition. While it’s one case, we anticipated the successful treatment of this man based on our current understanding of the disease and the drug. We believe the same results will be duplicated in other patients, and we plan to try.”

The drug has also been proven effective as a treatment for psoriasis. King is awaiting approval for a clinical trial to test the drug directly on people suffering from alopecia universalis.

Read the original story from CBS Boston here.

Brilliant New Treatment Uses Targeted Nano-Particles to Blow Up Cancer Cells and Deliver Drugs

Two years ago, researchers at Rice University began working on an innovative, unique way to treat particularly aggressive forms of cancer (like head, neck or brain cancer), which are often resistant to both drugs and chemotherapy.

To make the problem worse, cancerous tissue is often interlaced with healthy tissue, making it difficult to remove all of the cancer through surgery.

Rice professor and researcher Dmitri Lapotko

So a team of researchers, led by Biochemistry and Cell Biology professor Dmitri Lapotko, designed an ingenious 3-step treatment that will allow doctors and oncologists to treat these difficult cancers in a new way.

The process is known as quadrapeutics because of its use of four components: encapsulated drugs, colloidal gold nanoparticles, short laser pulses and X-rays. The success of the new procedure’s first preclinical trials was recently published in the journal Nature Medicine.

The quadrapeutics logo

In the first step, a proven cancer drug is encapsulated and then tagged with an antibody that specifically targets cancer cells. Because of this antibody, the drugs will cluster around the cancer cells.

The second step involves colloidal gold nano-particles. A colloidal is basically a liquid or gel which allows the microscopic gold particles to travel smoothly through the bloodstream.

These nano-particles are also tagged with cancer targeting antibodies, so when a cancerous cell is found, the antibody on the colloidal will latch onto the cell and inject the envelope of gold nano-particles into it, as is illustrated below.

In the third step, infrared laser pulses are delivered to the tumor. This laser pulse causes the colloidal gel that encases the gold nano-particles to rapidly evaporate and expand into a tiny bubble known as a plasmonic nanobubble. This bubble then bursts, creating a mini explosion inside the cancer cell.

The explosion blows an opening in the cell wall, allowing the drugs that accumulated around the cell in the first step to rush inside of it.

Cancer cell with a colloidal nanobubble in it
Cancer cell with a plasmonic nanobubble in it
The same cell, after the bubble burst
The same cell, after the nanobubble burst

The final step is to aim a very low dose of X-ray radiation at the tumor. The gold nano-particles, which are still in the cancer cells, amplify the effect of the radiation within the cells, allowing the treatment to deliver high doses of radiation to the cancerous cells while exposing healthy cells to only very low doses of radiation.

The combination of all of these methods and technologies led to,

“…a 100-fold amplification of the therapeutic strength of standard chemoradiation in experiments on cancer cell cultures,”

according to Lapotko. The method was so effective that the treatment only required between 2-6% of the typical clinical doses of drugs and X-rays.

The video below explains the process more and also has awesome footage of the treatment at work. The second video delves a bit deeper into the technology of nanobubbles and gold nano-particles which allows chemotherapy to be brought into the actual cancer cells.

(h/t IFL Science)

Check Out Some of the Anti-FIFA Graffiti Popping Up All Over Brazil’s Streets (Pictures)

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is just around the corner. All across the world, rabid soccer fans are eagerly awaiting the beginning of arguably the world’s biggest sporting spectacle.

However, many people in Brazil are not at all happy about the tournament. Between the stadiums and infrastructure, preparations for the Cup have cost Brazil an estimated $14.5 billion, and many Brazilians feel that this money should be being spent on improving schools and hospitals in Brazil’s infamously decrepit and crime-ridden favelas (Brazilian slums).

Brazilian street artists have been showing their disapproval with some powerful graffiti. Check out some of the street art below.

Doctors Are About to Start “Deep-Freezing” Humans For Suspended Animation Trials

You’ve probably seen it in sci-fi books or films before: some doctor or mad scientist will deep-freeze a patient only to bring them back to life later on. Well, suspended animation, as the process is called, is no longer a figment of the science fiction imagination.

This month at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 10 people will be put into suspended animation. But rather than using the process for intergalactic travel or some other futuristic application, the doctors will use it to try to save the lives of patients with wounds that would otherwise be lethal.

The real process is arguably crazier than the methods typically seen in science fiction. Rather than cooling the body externally (as is usually the case in science fiction), the doctors will actually drain all of the blood out of the patient, replacing it with a cold saline (saltwater) solution.

The solution cools the patient, slowing bodily functions to a halt and significantly reducing the body’s need for oxygen. Keeping the body in a state of suspended animation buys doctors and surgeons more time to repair the damage.

The technique was designed by Dr. Peter Rhee, who successfully tested it on pigs in 2000. Rhee and his colleagues induced fatal wounds to the pigs by cutting arteries, then replaced their blood with the saline solution, which cooled their body to 10º C (48º F).

Dr. Peter Rhee (Image: Tucson Sentinel)

All of the pigs in the control group (the ones that weren’t put into suspended animation) died, but the pigs who were put into suspended animation and then resuscitated at a moderate rate had a whopping 90% survival rate. Even more impressively, these pigs showed no signs of physical or mental impairment as a result of the process.

The procedure will be tested on patients who have gone into cardiac arrest and lost at least half of their blood as a result of a traumatic injury, a group with only a 7% survival rate. Though the body can only handle the suspended animation for a few hours, any increase in the survival rate of these patients will be a huge step forward for the medical field.

Read more from CNET here.

New Discovery: HIV Can “Cut and Paste” In Our Genome, Allowing Us To Use It to Repair Genetic Conditions

Researchers in the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University in Denmark just did something truly amazing: they altered particles of the HIV virus to simultaneously “cut and paste” within our genome. Here’s Jacob Giehm Mikkelsen, associate genetics professor at Aarhus:

“Now we can simultaneously cut out the part of the genome that is broken in sick cells, and patch the gap that arises in the genetic information which we have removed from the genome. The new aspect here is that we can bring the scissors and the patch together in the HIV particles in a fashion that no one else has done before.”

The technology will allow doctors to repair the human genome in a new way, and will also be invaluable in the treatment of hereditary and viral diseases as well.

HIV particles (yellow) infecting a human T-cell (Image: NIAID/NIH)

The cutting and pasting process isn’t actually a new one- we have been able to “cut and paste” parts of the genome using cells for a while now. The problem with this process, however, is that these cells would keep producing more “scissors”. Mikkelson explains,

“In the past, the gene for the scissors has been transferred to the cells, which is dangerous because the cell keeps on producing scissors which can start cutting uncontrollably. But because we make the scissors in the form of a protein, they only cut for a few hours, after which they are broken down. And we ensure that the virus particle also brings along a small piece of genetic material to patch the hole… We call this a ‘hit-and-run’ technique because the process is fast and leaves no traces.”

We have known for years that HIV particles can be turned into transporters of genetic information. However, this new discovery that they can also be altered to carry proteins that can have a direct effect on infected cells, rather than just on the genes, is huge.

Artist rendition of the HIV virus (Image: Russel Kightley)

Ironically enough, HIV infection is one of the main fields in which the researchers plan to employ this new process. Here’s post-doctoral professor Yujia Cai, who was also part of the research team:

“By altering relevant cells in the immune system (T cells) we can make them resistant to HIV infection and perhaps even at the same time also equip them with genes that help fight HIV. So in this way HIV can in time become a tool in the fight against HIV.”

Read more from Aarhus University News here.

How The CIA’s Fake Vaccination Campaign Helped To Fuel A Resurgence of Polio in Pakistan

Back in November, The Higher Learning reported on how extremist islamic superstitions have contributed to a comeback of polio, especially in Middle Eastern countries like Pakistan, which has 61 of the 77 cases reported so far this year (though it’s estimated that the real number is closer to 100, since some people never report being sick).

Polio statistics for 2014. Click to enlarge (From the World Health Organization)
Polio statistics for 2014. Click to enlarge (From the World Health Organization)

For decades, vaccinators from all over the western world have been risking their lives to try and vaccinate children in these dangerous regions. In the past 20 months alone, at least 59 vaccinators and their security personnel have been murdered. The majority of these murders occurred in Pakistan.

One of the reasons for this dangerous and hostile environment is that extremist groups like the Taliban spread superstitions that the vaccinators are,

“un-Islamic or Western purveyors of poison meant to sterilize Muslim women.”

One cleric from the Pakistani city of Punjab went so far as to say that the mission of the vaccinators was a Western conspiracy, and that jihad would be launched against polio vaccination teams.

Vaccination workers shout slogans denouncing the murders of 3 colleagues while demonstrating in Islamabad

Unfortunately, it seems like the CIA has been giving some legitimacy to these claims of conspiracy. Back in early 2011, when trying to local Osam Bin Laden, the agency tracked a courier to his compound in Abbottabad. They were unsure, however, if Bin Laden was actually there or not.

So, they hired a local doctor to lead a fake vaccination campaign, hoping to get inside the compound under the guise of vaccinating Bin Laden’s many children. The CIA hoped that during these fake vaccinations, the doctor could collect a DNA sample that they could match to Bin Laden’s to confirm he was there.

Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad (Photo: AFP)

The doctor, Shakil Afridi, put up flyers all over the city advertising a vaccination drive that would offer free immunization for hepatitis B. He also bypassed health management officials and directly recruited low-level health workers, who, oblivious as to the Bin Laden connection, were eager to take the generous sum he offered.

Eventually, Afridi was able to get one of his nurses into the compound. According to the Guardian, he gave the nurse a handbag which contained some sort of electronic device and waited for her outside.

Shakil Afridi, the doctor who worked with the CIA during the campaign

It is unclear what that device was or whether she planted it in the compound somewhere, but based off the information available, it seems that the operation was unsuccessful in collecting a DNA sample.

Despite this failure, U.S. special forces were still able to take out Bin Laden shortly thereafter on May 2, 2011. Afridi is currently serving 33 years in Pakistani prison for secretly aiding American intelligence agents.

On Monday, the CIA officially announced that they would no longer be carrying out any false vaccination operations. Lisa Monaco, Obama’s top advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism, wrote the following in a letter sent to the deans of 12 public health:

“I wanted to inform you that the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) directed in August 2013 that the agency make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers.

Similarly, the Agency will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs. This CIA policy applies worldwide and to U.S. and non-U.S. persons alike.”

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