Latest research news

July 26, 2006

Nicotine 'sobers up' drunk rats
A new study helps to explain why smokers tend to have boozier nights out than non-smokers. The work, done in rats, shows that a heavy dose of nicotine can cut blood-alcohol levels in half. If cigarettes similarly lower intoxication in people, it could mean that smokers need to drink more than non-smokers to get the same buzz. Many studies have shown that smokers tend to drink more alcohol than non-smokers, and a number of reasons are proposed for this. People who indulge in one habit may be simply more inclined to indulge in another, and socially both habits tend to go hand-in-hand at pubs and parties. Researchers also know that both nicotine and alcohol trigger a release of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine, but that indulging too much in either habit can breed tolerance to the drugs and reduce this pleasurable reward.
Nature

Trauma may make the brain grow old
A bout of post-traumatic stress disorder may do damage to the brain that kick-starts memory problems, scientists have discovered. Even patients who had recovered from a period of stress started to get age-related memory difficulties about a decade earlier than non-traumatized people, they report. Post-traumatic stress, a condition that can cause patients to feel physical pain on remembering a traumatic event, is known to have a number of effects on the mind and body. One of the side effects is that patients tend to be forgetful, unable to remember a story or a list of words after they've heard it, for example. This problem, which could come from emotional distraction and an inability to concentrate, can interfere with everyday tasks.
Nature

Why elephants hate hill-walking
Elephants hate walking up slopes and prefer to stick to the flat, according to a study of their movements across the African savannah. Using global-positioning tracking data, researchers have found that hills are a key influence on elephant movements and land use. The findings of the study in northern Kenya, where more than 5,000 elephants roam, are reported by Professor Fritz Vollrath of the University of Oxford and Jake Wall and Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, and appear today in the journal Current Biology . Understanding factors that determine density hot-spots and corridors where elephants like to move is critical in securing safe niches for them in the face of human encroachment on their habitat.
The Daily Telegraph, New Scientist

Bio-terror jabs 'too dangerous'
Mass vaccination would not be needed to contain a smallpox outbreak started by bioterrorists in Britain and could cost more lives than it saved, according to research. A study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , indicated that an attack could be brought under control using quarantine and targeted inoculation. While the Government has ordered a stockpile of smallpox vaccine, it is highly unlikely that all or even most of it would be needed in the event of an attack, says the study by Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, London, and Steven Riley of the University of Hong Kong.
The Times

Computer games could save your brain
If you're one of the many people who while away hours playing FreeCell , that heinously addictive and complicated version of Solitaire, you may be interested to hear that some researchers think your performance in this computerized card game might reveal early signs of dementia. As Holly Jimison from the Oregon Center for Aging and Technology explains, scientists are looking for ways to spot mild loss of brain function, termed 'mild cognitive impairment', before the full-blown symptoms of Alzheimer's disease emerge. This would allow doctors to plan their treatments earlier.
Nature

Enzyme hope in war on obesity
Obese patients could lose weight without changing their diet or exercising more following research by Scots scientists. A team at Dundee University have uncovered key links between cystic fibrosis, a debilitating inherited illness, and other conditions including cancer, diabetes and obesity. Their findings could eventually lead to drugs being developed to exploit the enzymes that make it hard for cystic fibrosis patients to put on weight. In reverse, the enzymes could be manipulated to help cystic fibrosis patients gain weight. But Dr Anil Mehta predicted it would be more than ten years before treatments based on the findings would be available.
The Scotsman, The Guardian

Patients prefer nurses' advice to that of GPs
Patients prefer to get medical advice from nurses rather than doctors, according to a study published today. Researchers at Brunel University, Cardiff and Bristol, found that nurses spent far longer on appointments and patients experienced greater satisfaction. Nurses were more likely to view a problem holistically, giving advice on a whole range of medical and lifestyle factors, the study found. Patients also found it easier to speak to nurses rather than doctors and talked more during appointments. Professor Clive Seale, who led the study, examined the treatment advice given by both GPs and nurses to "same day" patients with urgent problems.
The Scotsman

'Pets are better than Prozac'
"Pet therapy" used to mean sending your sad pooch to see a doggy shrink. These days, however, your pet is less likely to see a therapist than to be one. The change is down to the growing scientific evidence demonstrating the therapeutic potential of animals. Dogs, cats, horses - and even rabbits or fish - are being used to provide psychiatric assistance to humans suffering from agoraphobia, addiction, depression and schizophrenia. "There has certainly been a recent surge of interest in the relationship between companion animals and human health," says Dr Deborah Wells, a psychologist specialising in animals at Queen's University, Belfast. A recent British study found that the presence of a dog during potentially painful medical procedures reduced chronically ill children's physiological and psychological levels of distress.
The Daily Telegraph

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