Tag Archives: health

These “Hero Rats” Are Saving Countless Lives By Detecting Land-mines and Tuberculosis (Video)

As a boy, Bart Weetjens loved to play with his pet rats. One thing that always stuck in his memory was the rat’s strong sense of smell and the ease at which they could be trained.

Bart recalled these skills years later as a student at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, where he was working on an analysis of the global land-mine detection problem (ie. how to find all of the unexploded mines left over from countless wars around the world).

Bart felt that rats could provide a cheaper, more efficient and more locally available solution to the land-mine problem, so he began to do early research on this concept in 1997.

Bart Weetjen, founder of APOPO, with one of his HeroRATs. Click to enlarge (Photo: Getty Images)

Bart called his project APOPO, which stands for  Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling (English translation: Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development).

The organization moved to Mozambique in 2000, where they partnered with the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force to help mine-clearing operations in that  country.

A HeroRAT sniffs out a a land-mine. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

By 2006, APOPO’s HeroRATS were also fully integrated into land-mine detection programs in Tanzania. In 2010, APOPO began operations in Thailand as well.

Check out below to learn more about the HeroRAT’s mine-detection skills:

The reason that these rats are so good at detecting land-mines is that they have an extremely acute sense of smell, which allows them to easily identify the scent of TNT (after being trained to recognize it).

Early on, Bart realized that the HeroRATS’ amazing sense of smell wasn’t being fully utilized. In 2003, he entered APOPO in the Development Marketplace Global Competition sponsored by the World Bank.

His idea: using the rats to help detect tuberculosis as well as land-mines. APOPO won the competition, and in doing so received the necessary funding for their research into training TB-detecting HeroRATS.

A HeroRAT checks samples for tuberculosis. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

TB is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. About 9 million new cases are reported annually, and the disease kills nearly 2 million people each year.

The HeroRATS give health workers a huge advantage over humans when it comes to detection of the disease.

A human lab tech can only process about 40 samples in a day; the HeroRATS can do that same amount of work in only seven minutes, and they often find TB-positive samples that the human technicians missed.

Check out the video below to learn more about he HeroRATS’ work in tuberculosis detection:

To learn more about the APOPO organization’s land-mine and tuberculosis detection programs, you can visit their website here.

New Study: The More Education You Have, The Slower Your Brain Ages

A group of Danish researchers recently made an interesting discovery about the relationship between our education level and how fast we age.

The researchers were led by Eigil Rostrup, who works as a doctor at Denmark’s Glostrup Hospital.

Glostrup Hospital in Denmark

The study, published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, was based off of data from a group of 2,400 boys who had been born in the Greater Copenhagen area in 1953. The boys were tested both physically and mentally at the age of 20, and again when they were 57.

The testing gathered data on the participants general state of health, as well as their weights, smoking habits and IQs.

After the second round of testing at age 57, the researchers invited 200 men to the Glostrup Hospital for additional research: the 100 men with the best scores compared to their first test (at age 20), and the 100 men with the worst scores compared to their first test.

“We asked the participants to lie completely still in the MR-scanner without doing anything. Once in a while a light would flash in the scanner and at the same time the participant had to move his fingers,”

said Rostrup. This allowed the researchers to see how fast the men’s brains were able to switch from “default mode” (ie. when our brain is relaxed) to problem solving mode. Moving your fingers when a light comes on may not seem like a complex problem, but problem solving (even for the most basic problems) all happens in one region of the brain.

The prefrontal cortex, where higher-level thinking and problem solving takes place (our “Default Mode” network is located in the frontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex and the parietal lobe). Click to enlarge

Rostrup and his team found that the men who had received a better education were able to more quickly and efficiently switch from default mode to problem solving mode than those with the least amount of education.

The findings suggest that an education or job that challenges you regularly can actually stave off diseases related to brain aging like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Here’s Rostrup again:

“In young people the brain quickly and efficiently switches from the default mode to problem-solving activity. But in elderly people, and especially those who are demented or suffer from Alzheimer’s, this change is slow and inefficient…

The better our brains manage this change from rest to problem-solving when we are 60, the better equipped we will be at the age of 80 when it comes to handling the tasks of daily life and avoiding the symptoms that are especially common in patients with dementia, including Alzheimer’s.”

The change in brain activity as Alzheimer’s sets in. Click to enlarge

Researchers and neuroscientists alike hope that this new study can help doctors predict conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s ahead of time.

One thing is for sure though: mental exercise keeps the mind young just like physical exercise does for our bodies. Keep that mind sharp!

Read the original story from Science Nordic here.

Despite All the Depressing News, The World Is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Much, Much Better

Today, I woke up and skimmed the world news headlines. 80% of the stories were about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis or the Malaysian aircraft shot down in Ukraine. The other 20% was mostly news on the Air Algerie flight which disappeared earlier this morning and ISIS’s exile and persecution of the Christians in Mosul.

It was a very depressing experience. But then, I thought to myself: are things really that bad? And I realized, the answer is undoubtedly NO.

What we must realize here is that it’s only in the last 10 years or so that the average person has really had unlimited access to news and information with the emergence of the internet. And it’s only in the last five or so years that social media emerged as a platform to share news.

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It may seem like more bad things are going on, but really we are just more aware of world events than we have ever been in the past.

Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness solves problems. It can be hard to read about the bad things happening in other places, but often times, the only reason those bad things persist is because not enough people around the world have been made aware of them.

And, with all that being said, the world is actually getting better- much, much better. Here’s a few pieces of evidence to support that claim.

First off, our health and medicine is improving at an extremely fast pace. Infant mortality is down about 50% since 1990, and we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from treatable disease like measles and tuberculosis as well.

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Click to enlarge

A second indicator is the rapid decline in poverty worldwide. Since 1981, the proportion of people living under the poverty line ($1.25/day) has decreased by 65%. 721 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2010 than in 1981.

The third indicator is violence. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. It may seem like the world is constantly embroiled in one conflict or another, but overall, war is almost non-existent when compared to past decades:

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Click to enlarge

And while we regularly see reports of gang violence and constantly debate how much guns should be regulated, violent crime and murders has been plummeting:

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Click to enlarge

So when you start getting too down from watching, reading, or listening to the news, just remember:

We can change the world for the better. We are changing the world for the better.

(h/t Think Progress)

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.