Latest research news

January 18, 2006

Mission set for Pluto
Nasa is readying to send a speedy craft out to the edges of our Solar System, to give us our first ever close-up of Pluto. The New Horizons mission, which is due to launch from Florida on 17 January, will zoom past the Moon in just nine hours, travelling at a speed nearly 100 times that of a jet plane. The piano-sized craft is then scheduled to swing past Jupiter in 2007 picking up a gravity 'sling-shot' that will speed up its travel to Pluto. If all goes according to plan, the craft should reach Pluto by mid-2015. The smallest planet in our Solar System, Pluto is the only one that has not yet been visited by a spacecraft. It is located at the outermost zone of the Solar System, known as the Kuiper belt.
Nature

Exercise linked to big drop in dementia risk
Regular exercise may reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly by as much as 40 per cent, according to a new study. And the effect is even more pronounced for those who are more frail, say the researchers. The US team, at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, studied a group of 1740 people aged 65 or over, all of whom began the study with good cognitive function. The participants reported how many days per week they had exercised for 15 minutes or more, in activities varying from walking to callisthenics to swimming. Their physical function was also recorded, including grip strength and walking speed. Each was evaluated again every two years and tests were performed to determine whether they had developed dementia.
New Scientist

Leptin fights depression
The appetite-control hormone leptin staves off symptoms of stress in rats, and might lead to new ways to fight human depression, say researchers in the US. Leptin is famed for controlling our weight and appetite. But the hormone, which is released by fat cells and gives the brain a reading of our fat stores, is also thought to act in brain areas involved in emotion. To explore this link, Xin-Yun Lu and her colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio stressed rats by, for example, separating them from other animals. The rats' leptin levels plunged at the same time that they showed behavioural changes such as losing interest in a sugary drink, the kind of apathy that is often associated with human depression.
Nature

Warning over Viagra and damage to sight
Men who take drugs for impotency such as Viagra or Cialis and who have previously had a heart attack may have a 10-fold increased risk of damaging their eyesight, an American study claims today. It warns that increasing use of the drugs could produce an increase in a rare condition that can cause irreversible loss of vision. While doctors are advised to prescribe the drug with caution to men with cardiovascular disease, thousands buy them online. Many of the websites ask no questions about health or other medications that are being taken.
The Daily Telegraph, The Scotsman

Research ties cadmium to lung cancer
Researchers have proved the first direct link between the build-up of industrial emissions of cadmium in the environment and lung cancer. The metal has long been associated with higher risks of cancer but the Belgian study, published on the Lancet website, is the first to link the accumulation of cadmium in the environment with higher rates of cancer. Previous studies have proved the link in animals and its effect on people working in close contact with cadmium. The researchers followed nearly 1,000 people living in north-east Belgium since 1985. Half lived in areas close to three zinc smelters where exposure was high while the others lived in low exposure areas. By June 2004 19 had died of lung cancer; 15 of them lived in the high exposure areas.
The Guardian

Caesareans are 'no better for your love life'
Women who believe having a Caesarean birth will help protect their sex life after they have their baby should think again, a study has revealed. There is a widespread belief among the public and some doctors that women who have a surgical birth will experience fewer sexual problems than those who give birth naturally. But a study, published in the journal Birth , has found that in the long-term there is no difference in sexual health between the two groups. The researchers said they hoped the study would dispel myths about Caesarean births and help give women the best information before they make a decision.
The Daily Mail

Having children 'is bad for your mental health'
If you thought that the joys of watching your young ones grow up was one of life's simple pleasures, think again. Parenthood is actually bad for your mental health, according to the latest research. The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour , surveyed 13,017 adults who were asked how many times in the past week they had experienced symptoms of depression. Questions included how often "you felt lonely", "you felt depressed", "you felt fearful", and "you had trouble keeping your mind on what you were doing". The results, found parents experience "significantly higher levels of depression than non-parents."
The Daily Telegraph

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