Latest research news

September 13, 2006

No proof that Sars therapies worked
Four years after the Sars virus prompted international panic, researchers are realizing that very little useful information was collected during the epidemic on how to treat the disease. The finding holds lessons for the treatment of bird flu. The virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) zipped around the world in 2002 and 2003, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 700. In the heat of the moment - facing an entirely alien disease - doctors tried out any drugs they thought had a good chance of working.

Why viral stowaways are a baby’s best friend
Harmless viruses apparently stowed away for millions of years in the DNA of mammals have proved to be more than idle passengers. New research in live sheep has demonstrated for the first time that they help embryos change shape, implant themselves in the womb and grow a placenta. The same almost certainly happens in other mammals, including humans, they say. The findings provide new insights into how so-called endogenous retroviruses and mammals evolved together to the mutual advantage of both.
New Scientist

Vitamin D 'can halve pancreas cancer risk'
Taking vitamin D tablets has been found to nearly halve the risk of getting pancreatic cancer, in a study by US researchers. The vitamin is present in foods such as oily fish, liver and eggs and is also produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight. United States scientists found that taking the recommended US dose of ten microgrammes a day, twice the European level, appeared to reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer by 43 per cent. Those who consumed less than four microgrammes had a 22 per cent lower risk, according to an analysis of the health of more than 120,000 people.
The Scotsman

Texting slang aiding children's language skills
Sending text messages - from the slang "wot" and "wanna", to the short cut "CU L8R"- may actually be improving, not damaging, young children's spelling skills, new research shows. Contrary to popular belief, the use of text message abbreviations is linked positively with literacy achievements, researchers at Coventry University have found. Researchers Beverly Plester and Clare Wood presented the findings of their research on 35 11 year olds to the British Psychological Society's developmental section annual conference at the Royal Holloway, University of London.
The Guardian

Dip in air travel post-9/11 delayed flu spread
The sharp drop in air travel after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 may have slowed the spread of flu in the US, researchers have discovered. These real-world data about ordinary flu contrast with recent computer simulations modelling the spread of pandemic bird flu. These models cast doubt on the idea that air travel restrictions could slow bird flu's spread. The new work shows that the reduction in air travel following 9/11 may have slowed the spread of ordinary flu in the US by about two weeks in the winter. Researchers suggest that reducing the number of air passengers could give some communities a few extra weeks to prepare for a pandemic bird flu virus, should it emerge.
New Scientist

Quick series of births 'can mean women dying earlier'
Women who have their children in quick succession - and those who never start a family - run the risk of an earlier death and poorer health in later life, research suggests. The study found that women who had less than 18 months between births faced up to a 20 per cent higher risk of early death compared with those with longer gaps. The researchers said the strains of having to look after young children of a similar age might be behind the poorer health of the mothers. The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, also found that childless women had a 20 per cent higher risk of death as they got older, compared with women with two children.
The Scotsman, The Independent

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