Latest research news

October 25, 2006

Stay trim to cut cancer risk
Fat could send the wrong signals to sick cells. In studies with mice, shedding a bit of weight acted as a preventative against cancers. And they didn't even have to exercise to get the benefit: the mouse equivalent of liposuction did the trick. Allan Conney and his colleagues at Rutgers University in New Jersey chopped the excess fat from some mice and exposed them to UV light, damaging some of their skin cells and inducing sunburn. The fat reduction boosted the rate of helpful cell suicide, called apoptosis, in skin tumour cells: cancerous cells died twice as fast in the slimmed-down mice as in the fat ones, they report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .
Nature, The Daily Telegraph

Excessive use of mobiles may be causing dramatic drop in sperm count
Men who use mobile phones a lot have lower sperm counts and produce sperm of poorer quality than those who use them infrequently or not at all, according to new research. Researchers found men who did not use mobiles had much more, fitter and healthier sperm than those who used them for four hours or more per day. However other experts questioned the findings, suggesting that people who use mobiles excessively could have other significant lifestyle differences, such as worse diets, higher stress levels and smoking more.
The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Independent

UK scientists attack Lancet study over death toll
A study which found that more than 650,000 Iraqi people have died since the US-led invasion was attacked by scientists in the UK, who claimed that the households interviewed tended to be located in violence-hit streets. Sean Gourley and Professor Neil Johnson of the physics department at Oxford University and Professor Michael Spagat of the economics department of Royal Holloway, University of London, claimed the methodology of the study was fundamentally flawed by what they term "main street bias". But the lead author of the study, which was published by the Lancet medical journal, said their criticism was "a misconception".
The Guardian

Frisky females know what's best for future fawns
Female pronghorn antelope are able to recognise good genes when they see them in a potential mate, despite an absence of visible male ornaments that reveal which are the fitter. And their offspring reap significant benefits, researchers found. The study, which used ear-tagging and genetic analysis, is the first to show such clear consequences of mate choice in a wild animal, the researchers claim. Each September, female pronghorn roam widely across the plains, checking out several males and mating with the one best able to defend a harem. Such a defence task requires speed, endurance and alertness.
New Scientist

Catching a cold could cause memory loss
Common viruses may be a cause of memory loss in the elderly, accelerating the "senior moments" that become commoner with the years. Forgetting names, where you left your glasses, or going upstairs to fetch something and then realising you can’t remember what it was are typical examples. They fall well short of the devastating memory loss caused by dementia. But, American researchers say, by "chipping away" at the memory for years, viruses may reduce its reserves so significantly that Alzheimer’s becomes more likely.
The Times, New Scientist

Should we scratch the definition?
Something is stirring in the world of itching. New treatments and theories are emerging, and the International Workshop for the Study of Itch has held its biggest conference yet, with more than 200 researchers revealing their findings. Itching, or pruritus, was defined by the German physician Samuel Hafenreffer more than 300 years ago as "an unpleasant sensation that elicits the desire or reflex to scratch". That definition still holds, but it is recognised that there are acute forms of itching.
The Independent

Gene affects pain, says study
People who say they are less sensitive to pain than others could be right. Researchers said they had found a gene that appears to affect how people feel discomfort. Tests in rats showed that blocking increased activity of the gene after nerve injury or inflammation could prevent the development of chronic pain, a finding that points to possible ways to develop new pain drugs. And studies in volunteers showed that about a quarter of them had the genetic variant that protects them from pain somewhat, and 3 percent carried two mutated copies that make them exceptionally insensitive to pain.
The Scotsman

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