Latest research news

March 15, 2006

One pill a day to beat heart disease
Millions of people with heart disease may be able to reverse their illness and stave off heart attacks by taking higher doses of cholesterol-busting drugs, according to a landmark study. For the first time scientists have found a way of reversing the chronic build-up of fat in arteries, a development dubbed the holy grail in the fight against coronary heart disease. Patients put on intensive treatment with a cholesterol-lowering statin showed a significant reversal of atherosclerosis, when fatty deposits known as atheroma build up on artery walls. The process, often compared to scale forming in water pipes, causes narrowing of the blood vessels and can lead to fatal conditions including heart attacks and strokes.
The Times, The Independent

Decision to close climate change research sites is flawed, say experts
Four leading research centres that focus on wildlife and climate change are to close despite widespread opposition to the move from Britain's scientific elite, officials confirmed yesterday. The centres, which include the world-famous laboratory at Monks Wood in Cambridgeshire, will be shut as part of a restructuring of facilities owned by the Natural Environment Research Council. Experts in ecology have warned that the decision to close the sites is "scientifically flawed" and will threaten UK efforts to understand the impact of climate change. Staff at the sites have made several discoveries about the impact of humans on the natural world: Monks Wood research revealed that spring now arrives in Britain three weeks earlier than 50 years ago.
The Guardian

Nanotechnology restores hamsters' sight
Scientists claim to have repaired brain damage and restored the eyesight of blind animals using a revolutionary nanotechnology-based treatment. The therapy raises hopes that nanotechnology, the science of the incredibly small, could usher in an era of novel therapies for some of the most debilitating medical conditions, such as strokes and spinal cord damage. The treatment will require extensive testing in animals before scientists know whether it is safe and effective enough to use on humans, and if so, what kinds of damage it can help repair. But the study's researchers believe it could be used in humans within five years.
The Guardian, New Scientist

Ear's spiral responds to bass
Why is our cochlea, the key organ of hearing, curled into a spiral? It has been often thought to be a space-saving measure. But researchers in the United States have shown that the spiral could be vital for increasing our ear's sensitivity to sound, particularly at low frequencies. Daphne Manoussaki of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and her colleagues believe that the snail-shell curve of the cochlea focuses sound waves at the spiral's outer edge, making it easier for vibration-sensitive cells to detect them.
Nature

Fruit snacks could save 7,000 lives a year
An apple a day really will keep the doctor away, according to a new study that found eating a piece of fruit instead of a fatty snack could save 7,000 lives every year. The study comes as Scottish pupils enjoy their 40 millionth piece of fruit as part of a plan to get children eating more fruit and vegetables. Researchers at Liverpool University calculated the nutritional content of a healthy snack such as fruit against an unhealthy one such as chocolate or crisps. The team then calculated the impact of the reduced intake of saturated fat on blood cholesterol and how this will affect coronary heart disease. They also determined the impact of salt reduction on deaths from stroke.
The Scotsman

Long-term marijuana use may fog the brain
Long-term users of marijuana gradually become worse at learning and remembering things, a new study suggests. “It definitely fogs your brain,” says Lambros Messinis, who led the study at the University Hospital of Patras in Greece. Messinis and colleagues tested the mental abilities of 20 long-term users who had taken marijuana heavily – smoking at least four joints a week - for an average of 15 years. Their brains were rustier than those of 20 short-term users - who had averaged seven years of use – and 24 controls who had used the drug sporadically or not at all.
New Scientist

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