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Health & longevity news archive: March-April 2006

human chromosomes
Salvage prospect for 'junk' DNA
(Apr 26, 2006)

A mathematical analysis of the human genome suggests that so-called "junk DNA" might not be so useless after all. The term junk DNA refers to those portions of the genome which appear to have no specific purpose. But a team from IBM has identified patterns, or "motifs", that were found both in the junk areas of the genome and those which coded for proteins. The presence of the motifs in junk DNA suggests these portions of the genome have an important functional role.

Read more. Source: BBC

Small changes 'add years to life'
(Apr 25, 2006)

Making small changes to your lifestyle can have a significant impact on how long you will live, research has shown. The Cambridge University study looked at over 25,000 people. It found that stopping smoking, exercising more and eating better could give you the life expectancy of a person 11 to 12 years younger.

Read more. Source: BBC

Nintendo DS
Brain games aim to boost your IQ
(Apr 25, 2006)

Computer games have long been derided by critics as mindless, brain-rotting fun. But a new wave of games is turning the cliché on its head. Nintendo has sold nearly five million copies of its three Nintendo DS brain training games since the series launched in Japan a year ago. The first title in the series, Dr Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?, sees players follow a daily regime of brain-enhancing exercises and is due to be released in the UK in June.

Read more. Source: BBC

organic vegetables
Med diet 'reduces dementia risk'
(Apr 18, 2006)

Eating a "Mediterranean-style" healthy diet significantly reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, a study has suggested. US researchers looked at the diet and health of 2,200 people over four years. The more people kept to a Mediterranean diet, the less likely they were to develop Alzheimer's, according to the Annals of Neurology study. Alzheimer's experts said the research added to evidence that a healthy diet could have a protective effect.

Read more. Source: BBC

A cervical cancer cell dividing. Image: Imperial College, London
Cell division rewind button found
(Apr 13, 2006)

Scientists have found a way to reverse the process of cell division, previously thought to be unstoppable. The finding by US researchers could have important implications for cancer, which is caused by cells dividing uncontrollably. Writing in Nature, the team explained how controlling a key protein can interrupt the process. UK experts on cancer cell behaviour said the research aided understanding of how cells should divide.

Read more. Source: BBC

artist's impression of the tunnel and white light often seen during a near-death-experience
Are near-death experiences a dream?
(Apr 11, 2006)

People who have had near-death experiences are more likely to mix up dreams and reality than those who have not, researchers say. At times of extreme danger or trauma, many people report out-of-body experiences, seeing intense lights, or a feeling of peace. "Near-death experiences are more common than people realize," says neurophysiologist Kevin Nelson of the University of Kentucky, Lexington, lead author of the study published in Neurology.

Read more. Source: Nature

brain scan
Weak brain links 'explain autism'
(Apr 10, 2006)

The difficulties people with autism have in relating to others could be due to poor communication between brain areas, scientists suggest. It may explain why they do not interact well, as the weak links mean they benefit less from social situations. It had been thought that their lack of social skills was due to abnormalities in particular brain areas. The study in Neuroimage, carried out by University of London researchers, compared brain scans of 32 people.

Read more. Source: BBC

person eating burger
Cutting calories may boost your lifespan
(Apr 5, 2006)

People who substantially cut their calorie intake develop some of the traits associated with longevity discovered in animal tests, a new study reveals. Cutting calories reduced body temperature and levels of the metabolism hormone insulin, as well as decreasing DNA damage, showed the study. But follow-up tests are necessary to find out if these biological effects, which occurred relatively quickly, last for more than a few months. Scientists hoping to understand the biological mechanisms that control ageing have increasingly given attention to the idea that reducing food intake can extend life.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

bladder grown in the lab
Lab-grown bladders 'a milestone'
(Apr 4, 2006)

US scientists have successfully implanted bladders grown in the lab from patients' own cells into people with bladder disease. The researchers, from North Carolina's Wake Forest University, have carried out seven transplants, and in some the organ is working well years later. The achievement, details of which have been published online by The Lancet, is being described as a "milestone".

Read more. Source: BBC

human brain
Smart brains 'grow differently'
(Apr 3, 2006)

Clever people outsmart their peers not because they have more grey matter but because part of their brain develops differently, a Nature study suggests. The US National Institute of Mental Health used scans to study development of the cortex, which is responsible for thinking, in 307 children. They found smarter youngsters tended to have a thin cortex aged seven, but this thickened rapidly by the age of 12.

Read more. Source: BBC

man lifting weights
'Mind control' over muscle power
(Mar 31, 2006)

Thinking about the way your muscles work could physically boost your strength, research suggests. A Hull University team asked 30 subjects to do biceps curls and found their muscles worked more when they focused on what the muscles were doing. But lower rates of muscle activity were recorded when they simply visualised themselves lifting the weight.

Read more. Source: BBC

Aubrey de Grey
Scientists divided over longevity
(Mar 29, 2006)

The increase in life expectancy enjoyed by many societies is a triumph of modern science. Our understanding of the human body and how to repair it when it breaks down have continued to push "old age" into the distance - and researchers intend to keep pushing. But the claims made by Dr Aubrey de Grey, a scientist at the University of Cambridge, UK, that lifespan can be increased by over 1,000 years, have proven too much for some; and a dispute has now broken out within the gerontology community.

Read more. Source: BBC

Doubts cast on oily fish benefits
(Mar 24, 2006)

There is no evidence of a clear benefit to health from fats which are commonly found in oily fish, researchers say. Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is thought to protect against heart disease and UK guidelines advise eating four portions of oily fish a week. But the British Medical Journal review of 89 earlier studies looking at heart disease, cancer or strokes found no evidence the fats offered protection. Heart experts said people should not stop eating oily fish, such as salmon.

Read more. Source: BBC

humpback whales
Grammar revealed in the love songs of whales
(Mar 24, 2006)

The love song of a humpback whale sounds magnificently free-flowing and improvised to the casual human listener. But fresh mathematical analysis of shows there are complex grammatical rules. Using syntax, the whales combine sounds into phrases, which they further weave into hours-long melodies packed with information. Although the researchers say these songs don't meet the linguistic rigor necessary for a true language, this is the first evidence that animals other than humans use a hierarchical structure of communication.

Read more. Source: LiveScience

blindfolded woman
Sixth sense can come from within
(Mar 24, 2006)

To sense where the various parts of our body are, we sometimes rely on signals that originate in our brain rather than in our fingers or toes, a new study shows. The so-called sixth sense, known as proprioception, is essential to many basic actions, including walking without having to look at your feet or touching your nose with your eyes closed. But scientists have long pondered how this sense works.

Read more. Source: Nature

infant learning words
Babies can learn words as early as 10 months
(Mar 22, 2006)

A two-year-old can quickly link an object – whether a flashy rattle or a boring latch – to a word. Even a one-year-old can follow a parent's gaze to an object and match it with a word being spoken. But although anecdotal evidence seems to show that babies younger than one year can learn words, it remains unclear whether they are in fact mastering language. Now a new study reveals that 10-month-old infants can link words and objects, but only if the object is already interesting to them.

Read more. Source: Scientific American

jalapeno peppers
Chillies turn up the heat on tumours
(Mar 16, 2006)

The same component of jalapeño peppers that makes them burn the tongue also appears to kill prostate cancer cells. Prostate tumours in mice treated with the compound, called capsaicin, shrank to one-fifth the size of those in non-treated mice, found a new study. To explore capsaicin’s effect, Phillip Koeffler of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and colleagues exposed human prostate cancer cells in a laboratory dish to the natural compound. They found that capsaicin dramatically slowed the proliferation of the cells in the dish.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Amolops tormotus. Image: Albert Feng
Singing frog's 'ultrasonic croak'
(Mar 16, 2006)

A rare Chinese frog has entered the record books as the first amphibian known to communicate using ultrasound. Until now, only a few mammals – such as bats, whales and dolphins – have been found to use the very high frequency sound to contact each other. The frog may have evolved the mechanism to be heard above the babble of running water, scientists tell this week's edition of the journal Nature.

Read more. Source: BBC

mouse in a treadmill
Mum's exercise boosts baby's brain
(Mar 7, 2006)

Pregnant mice who take daily runs boost the production of new brain cells in their babies; but investigators say it is premature to say whether the same could be true in humans. Researchers already knew that exercise in adult animals can bump up the production of new neurons in a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory. But now it seems that the effect can be passed from mother to offspring.

Read more. Source: Nature

brain cross-section
Chronic fatigue brain injury link
(Mar 6, 2006)

Some cases of chronic fatigue syndrome could be due to brain "injuries" caused during the early stages of glandular fever, scientists suggest. A University of New South Wales team has followed people with Epstein-Barr virus since 1999. They suggest those who remained ill after the virus had gone had suffered a "hit-and-run injury" to the brain. Writing in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, they said the brain appears to keep behaving as if a person is ill.

Read more. Source: BBC

couple arguing
Marital rows 'harm heart health'
(Mar 4, 2006)

Marital rows do not just produce harsh words and hot air – they can harden your arteries too, a study suggests. But the cause of the damage differs depending on your gender, the research by University of Utah scientists involving 150 couples found. They said arterial disease in women was linked to either partner demonstrating hostility, but in men it was linked to either showing controlling behaviour.

Read more. Source: BBC


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