TIME medicine

5 Things to Know on World Down Syndrome Day

World Down Syndrome Day 2014 Celebrated in Indonesia
Robertus Pudyanto—Getty Images A girl with Down syndrome takes part in planting a tree during World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, 2014 in Surabaya, Indonesia.

From how it happens to what it does

Saturday is World Down Syndrome Day, a day recognized each year by the United Nations to raise awareness about the genetic disease. Here are five things you need to know about Down syndrome.

1. Down syndrome is caused by an extra set of chromosome 21. Every cell in the body has 23 pairs of chromosomes, one from each parent, but Down occurs when one parent contributes extra genetic material. Older mothers have a higher chance of having a Down baby.

2. More than 400,000 people live with Down in the U.S.

3. The most common symptoms of Down include cognitive delays, low muscle tone and a small stature.

4. People with Down can lead full, independent lives. They are, however, at higher risk of developing heart, respiratory problems and certain cancers.

5. People with Down are living much longer than in the past, thanks to treatments for their health issues. While the average life expectancy in 1983 was 25 years, today it is 60 years.

TIME Internet

Now You Can Own a Piece of Disney’s Magic Kingdom

Disney Monorail
Getty Images

Now is your chance to buy an original piece of the monorail that whisked people to the happiest place on earth—if you can afford it.

An eBay user is offering a car from the original train, for a steal—the opening bid is $169,000, and the monorails were valued at $6 million when they went into use at the park’s opening in 1971. So far, more than 800 people have viewed the page, but none have bid.

It’s used, obviously—in its prime, it transported 150,000 guests per day around the park.

TIME Environment

The World’s Water Supply Could Dip Sharply in 15 Years

A warning ahead of World Water Day

Global water resources may soon meet only 60% of the world’s water demands, the United Nations warned in a dire new report.

The World Water Development Report, issued ahead of World Water Day on Sunday, says demand for water around the world will increase by 55% over the next 15 years. With current supplies, that means only 60% of the world’s water needs will be met in 2030.

The reason for the shortfall include climate change, which causes irregular rainfall and dwindling underwater reserves. The results of the shortage could be devastating to agriculture, ecosystems and economies. With less water, health could also be compromised.

New policies that focus on water conservation, and more optimal treatment of wastewater, could alleviate some of the shortfall.

“Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit,” the report says.

TIME movies

Watch Vin Diesel’s Emotional Tribute to Paul Walker

Walker died in a 2013 car crash

Vin Diesel said this week that “I lost my friend” when Paul Walker died in a 2013 car crash.

“When the tragedy happened, I lost my friend,” the actor said of his late Furious 7 co-star during an advance screening in Los Angeles. “I lost my brother.”

“This was a very, very personal and important film for us,” Diesel said. “It was in some ways the hardest movie I ever had to do.”

Walker, 40, was killed in a car crash in November 2013 during a break in filming. His two brothers and stand-ins replaced Walker to complete the movie.

TIME Cancer

Pesticides Used in Pet Collars and Home Sprays Connected to Cancer

A World Health Organization group says five pesticides may be cancer-causing

Five pesticides used in pet collars and home insect sprays could cause cancer in humans, health officials said in a new report.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), evaluates studies on chemical compounds and ranks them by the strength of evidence of their cancer-causing effects. The new report, appearing in the journal Lancet Oncology, classifies glyphosate, malathion and diazinon as probable carcinogens. For these, there is only limited evidence that the compounds can cause cancer in animals or people.

Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide around the world, and its use has increased since crops have been genetically modified to resist the spray. It has been detected in low amounts in water, air and food. Malathion is used to control insects in both agriculture and in homes, and people can be exposed via sprayings and through food. Diazinon is used in more limited quantities in agriculture and homes, after regulations restricted spraying in the U.S. and Europe.

The pesticides tetrachlorvinphos and parathion received a slightly stronger designation as possible carcinogens because there is more evidence for their cancer-causing effects in animals, but still little information on their effect on people. Both of these possible carcinogens are already restricted; tetrachlorvinphos is banned in the European Union while still allowed for use in livestock and pet collars in the U.S. Parathion was banned in both the U.S. and Europe in 2003.

The classifications won’t appear on the labels for these products, but serve as the latest review of scientific evidence that governments and international organizations can rely on to create their own regulations.

TIME viral

Watch This Little Boy Adorably Pretend to Be Ed Sheeran

We’ve all done it: Lip-mouthed and mumbled our way through a song. But probably not as adorably as Daniel Breki with his electric blue plastic guitar. Complete with head cocks and hitting all the high notes, he does an irresistible version of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.”

Who needs the words when you’ve got cuteness?

TIME medicine

A Simple 3-Part Test May Predict Alzheimer’s

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Chris Parsons—Getty Images

Dementia is a part of aging, but how do doctors separate normal brain decline from the first signs of Alzheimer’s? A new test that any physician can perform in their office may help

Diseases like Alzheimer’s start years, even decades, before the first symptoms of memory loss shows up. And with rates of those diseases rising, experts say that more primary care physicians—not neurology experts—will have the task of identifying these patients early so they can take advantage of whatever early interventions might be available.

“If we had a simple blood test, a cholesterol test for Alzheimer’s disease, that would help,” says Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic, “but we don’t.” But Petersen has a potential solution, and according to a new paper released Wednesday in the journal Neurology, his Alzheimer’s test has promise.

Petersen and his team wanted to develop a test that any physician can administer to patients, without the need for any new technology or expensive equipment. Petersen believes that the test they came up with could become a useful tool for any physician, even those without special training in the brain. “What we are trying to do is give them some help so they can be as efficient as possible without ignoring these important cognitive issues,” he says.

In the first phase of the test, his researchers simply collected information from 1,500 patients’ medical charts—their age, family history of Alzheimer’s, factors such as diabetes or smoking that have been linked to Alzheimer’s, and whether the patient had ever reported problems with memory.

In the next phase they studied the results of the patient’s basic mental exam as well as of a psychiatric evaluation, because depression and anxiety have been connected to Alzheimer’s.

And another factor that emerged as important in developing the disease—how quickly the participant could walk a short distance. “We were a little surprised,” says Petersen. “But what’s nice about it is that it’s a nice non-cognitive, motor factor so it’s looking at another aspect of brain function.”

MORE: This Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Could Be a Game Changer

Petersen suggests that every physician should get this information on their patients at age 65; that way, they can have a baseline against which to compare any changes as their patients age. Only if they show such changes — a slower walk, for example, or worsening signs of depression or memory issues — should they move on to the third phase of the test, which is a blood analysis. That would look for known genetic factors linked to Alzheimer’s, including the presence of certain versions of the ApoE gene.

Currently, the only way to truly separate out those on the road to Alzheimer’s is to conduct expensive imaging tests of the brain, or to do a spinal tap, an invasive procedure that extracts spinal fluid for signs of the amyloid protein that builds up in the disease. “We have either expensive techniques or invasive techniques and it’s not practical to do them from a public health screening standpoint,” says Petersen.

MORE: New Test May Predict Alzheimer’s 10 Years Before Diagnosis

While his test is a possible solution to that problem, he acknowledges that the results need be repeated before it’s recommended on a wide scale to physicians across the country. But those who scored higher on the test of risk factors had a seven-fold higher chance of developing mild cognitive impairment than those with lower scores.

For now, even if doctors identify patients around age 65 who might be at higher risk of developing cognitive impairment, there isn’t much they can do to interrupt the process. But they can direct them toward clinical trials of promising new drugs to address Alzheimer’s dementia, which may slow the cognitive decline considerably.

TIME medicine

Here’s How 23andMe Hopes to Make Drugs From Your Spit Samples

The company is making a bold move to enter the drug-making business by using the genetic information donated by its clients

On March 12, 23andMe, the genetic testing company best known for analyzing your DNA from a sample of spit, announced the creation of a new therapeutics group. The group’s mission: to find and develop drugs from the world’s largest database of human genetic material.

That’s a huge shift for the company, which must now build a research and development arm from scratch. Richard Scheller, formerly of the biotechnology corporation Genentech, will lead the group and will also be 23andMe’s chief science officer.

Scheller admits that for now, he’s the therapeutics group’s only member. But soon after he starts on April 1, he anticipates that things will move quickly, as they do in the genetics world. That’s what attracted him to 23andMe after overseeing early drug development at Genentech for 14 years. “I’ve seen over the last couple of years how human genetics has impacted the way Genentech does drug discovery, and I thought it might be fun and interesting to work in an unrestricted way with the world’s largest human genetic database,” he says. “The questions we will ask are research based, but we could identify a drug target extremely quickly. I believe there is the real possibility to do really, really great things for people with unmet medical needs.”

MORE: Genetic Testing Company 23andMe Finds New Revenue With Big Pharma

More than 850,000 people have paid 23andMe to sequence their DNA since the company launched in 2006 until 2013, when the Food and Drug Administration requested that the company stop selling its medical genetic information services over concerns that their marketing claims weren’t supported by strong enough evidence about how the genetic information influenced human health. The company still retains that genetic information and continues to sell kits, but provides only non-medical information now while it continues to work with the FDA on further regulatory issues.

That experience “transformed” the company, as CEO Anne Wojcicki said to TIME earlier this year. Since then, the company has expanded its collaborations with pharmaceutical companies to access its database. The latest addition of drug development is a further evolution in the company’s identity.

Of those who have sent in samples, 80% have agreed to allow their genetic information to be used for research purposes. That’s the database that Scheller is eager to investigate. While at Genentech, he helped broker a collaboration between the biotech firm and 23andMe in which Genentech would have access just to the genetic testing company’s Parkinson’s disease patients, to search for any genetic clues to new therapies. Now, he says, “I plan on asking hundreds or maybe thousands of times more questions of the database than any pharmaceutical partner.”

MORE: 23andMe Finds Genes for Motion Sickness

He will be looking, for example, at whether patients who develop a certain disease tend to have specific hallmark genetic changes in their DNA, which could serve as potential launching points for new drugs. Or he might focus on the extreme outliers: people who have advanced cancer, for example, but somehow survive, or those who seem to succumb early. Mining their genomes might yield valuable information about what makes diseases more or less aggressive, and might become targets for drugs as well.

To do this, Scheller will have to create a drug development team from the ground up. The company is not divulging how much it intends to invest in this effort, but is soliciting another round of financing in the coming months. Initially, Scheller anticipates that even before the company has labs set up, he and his team will take advantage of labs-for-hire, or contract research organizations, to start doing experiments within weeks. Because his drug candidates will be more targeted and designed to address specific mutations or processes in the body, he anticipates that the cost of developing drugs that patients might eventually benefit from may be “substantially reduced” from the average $1 to $2 billion most pharmaceutical companies now spend.

MORE: Time Out: Behind the FDA’s Decision to Halt Direct to Consumer Genetic Testing

As for which disorders or medical issues he will tackle first, Scheller is being democratic. “We are going to be opportunistic,” he says. “That’s the nice thing about being part of 23andMe. We don’t really have a say. We can look generally at the database, and try and let it teach us what we should be working on.” In other words, anything is game.

TIME Cancer

A Breakthrough Treatment for Lung Cancer Approved

What you need to know about this promising new drug

On March 5, a novel way to treat lung cancer won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The latest drug, Opdivo, has showed promise with other cancers, and is the first to use the immune system to tackle hard-to-treat lung tumors. Here’s what you need to know.

How does the drug work?

Opdivo (nivolumab), made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, works the same way that releasing a parking brake frees a car to move. Normally, the immune system is held back from recognizing tumors as foreign and potentially harmful, since tumors are the body’s own cells that grow abnormally. Without such checks, “the immune system will destroy you,” says Dr. James Allison, chair of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center who discovered the first such brake that protected cancer cells from the immune system. But nivolumab releases this check on the immune system’s normally voracious appetite for anything it doesn’t recognize, so the body’s own defenses can preferentially recognize tumor cells as targets.

In the study submitted by the company to the FDA, 15% of patients showed some shrinkage or complete disappearance of their tumors.

MORE On the Horizon at Last, Cancer Drugs that Harness the Body’s Own Immune System

What makes this drug different from other cancer treatments?

Unlike surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or the anti-cancer drugs that interrupt specific signals that tumor cells use to survive, nivolumab doesn’t target the tumor itself. Rather it focuses on the environment in which the tumor lives, unleashing the immune system so it can recognize cancer cells more easily. “This drug doesn’t treat cancer; it doesn’t kill cancer cells so you can’t inject it and expect cancer to melt away immediately because it won’t,” says Allison. But when it’s combined with tumor-targeted treatments, what it could do is lower the risk of recurrent cancers by training the body’s T cells to recognize specific features of tumors, just as they do for viruses and bacteria, so the immune system can be alerted more quickly and efficiently to dispatch any returning or remaining cancer.

MORE A Shot at Cancer

Other drugs that work in different ways to unleash the immune system have also been approved by the FDA and more are in development.

How will this drug change lung cancer treatment?

While this drug was approved in 2011 to treat melanoma, the expanded approval to include non-small-cell lung cancer, the most common type of lung cancer, now means more patients can take advantage of the new, immune-based strategy to fight their disease. It also opens the door for other, next-generation immune therapies for treating the disease, which many experts thought would not be possible, given how aggressively lung cancer progresses. Now lung cancer patients who have failed other therapies and have no other treatment options have another shot at containing their tumors.

MORE Self-Sabotage: Why Cancer Vaccines Don’t Work

Read next: This Is What It’s Like To Be Awake During Brain Surgery

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