TIME Research

11 Remarkable Health Advances From 2014

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And what to look forward to in 2015

From groundbreaking new drugs to doctor-assisted suicide, 2o14 was full of historic moments that are bound to play on in a big way throughout 2015 and beyond.

1. 3D Mammography is proven to be effective
Multiple studies in 2014 showed 3-D mammography to be a highly accurate screening tool for detecting breast cancer with fewer false positive results. It’s not widely available yet, but the growing evidence suggests we’ll see more adoption in 2015. Hologic, one of two U.S. companies selling 3-D mammography machines, told TIME there’s growing interest, with at least one of their machines in all 50 states.

2. The number of uninsured Americans nears record low
Federal data released Dec. 18 revealed that the percentage of uninsured Americans neared historic lows in 2014 at 11.3%. As TIME reported, it appears certain to fall to record lows next year.

3. Brittany Maynard wins support for “death with dignity”
After she discovered she had terminal brain cancer, Maynard, 29, chose to end her own life in the company of her family and friends by taking prescribed barbiturates on Nov. 1. Maynard moved from California to Oregon for the state’s death with dignity law that allows doctors to prescribe lethal medications for the terminally ill. A video of Maynard explaining her choice went viral, and a recent poll showed most U.S. doctors now support death with dignity.

MORE: TIME’s Person of the Year: The Ebola Fighters

4. CVS stops selling cigarettes
In February, CVS announced it would stop sales of cigarettes and tobacco products in its 7,600 U.S. stores by Oct. 1. Tobacco products made up about 3% of the company’s annual revenue. Anti-smoking advocates were pleased by the move.

5. Way more calorie counts are coming
The FDA rolled out new rules in November that require chains—including restaurants, movie theaters, vending machines and amusement parts—with 20 or more locations to list their calories for all their food and drinks. Companies have a year to comply.

6. The FDA unveils new nutrition labels
In a similar move, the FDA revealed in February proposed changes to nutritional labels that will put greater emphasis on calories, added sugars and have more realistic serving sizes. Calories will be listed in bigger and bolder type, and may be listed on the front of food packaging.

MORE: 3D Mammograms Are Better For Dense Breasts

7. The Sunscreen Innovation Act becomes law
In December, President Obama signed into law the much-anticipated Sunscreen Innovation Act, which requires the FDA to quickly respond to pending sunscreen-ingredient applications that have been awaiting a response for over a decade. There’s a good chance that in summer 2015, we could have a batch of new, up-to-date sunscreens to try.

8. New drugs show promise for heart failure
Novartis is anticipating approval for its new heart failure drug, LCZ696, in the second half of 2015. The drug could replace the current treatment of care: ACE inhibitors. The company’s most recent human clinical trial was forced to end when it apparent LCZ696 saved more lives than standard of care.

9. PillPack offers a new kind of pharmacy
For people on multiple medications, remembering what to take and when can be a medical nightmare. That’s why pharmacist T.J. Parker launched PillPack in 2014. Instead of sending customers bottles, every two weeks the company sends a dispenser that has all the customers’ individual pills sorted and organized by day on a ticker tape sheet of tearable pouches. TIME named it one of the best inventions of 2014.

MORE: New Heart Drug Saves More Lives Than Standard of Care

10. A device literally filters Ebola from blood of a sick patient
One of the most novel treatments during the Ebola outbreak is a device that can suck the Ebola virus out of the blood. Developed by Aethlon Medical, the Hemopurifier is a specially developed cartridge that can be attached to a standard dialysis machine and uses proteins that bind to the Ebola viruses and pull them out of patients’ blood. It’s still experimental, but appears to have worked in at least one patient with Ebola in Germany.

11. The Ebola vaccine shows promise
In August, two vaccines to prevent the deadly Ebola virus went onto human clinical trials. The vaccines are being tested with the hope that it could be deemed effective, and safe enough to be distributed widely in West Africa, where the Ebola crisis rages on.

TIME Healthcare

Should You Video Chat With Your Doctor?

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When to embrace the digital doc

In a world where you can manage your money, order a ride to the airport, and shop for pretty much everything via your phone, going to the doctor’s office is probably one of the only things you still do face-to-face. For the most part, that’s for a good reason. Your medical care requires much more specialized expertise than depositing a check, after all.

But if you’ve ever waited more than an hour at an urgent care clinic for a sore throat, you know that the whole business of going to a doctor can seem frustratingly antiquated. How many times have you wanted to see a doctor, but decided to postpone it for as long as possible on account of the hassle? The trek there, the rude receptionist, the waiting room—all for just three minutes of doctor time. Oy.

Well, it looks like change might finally be on the horizon: Thanks to the growing availability of telemedicine or telehealth services, you can now skip all of that noise and video conference with a doctor from home any time–even in your pajamas. Sounds amazing, if also a little too good to be true. We talked to experts to find out whether it’s worth a try.

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Is it safe?

Telemedicine has actually been around for some time. Right now there are about 200 telemedicine networks and more than half of U.S. hospitals are using it in some way to better connect doctors with patients with chronic illnesses like heart disease, according to the American Telemedicine Association. Certain health insurance companies are also hopping on-board to reimburse for online visits. But because of the wide availability of smartphones it’s only now that we’re starting to see new services for everyday health complaints.

Even the always conservative American Medical Association agrees that it can be helpful, though it’s not a total substitute for in-person care.”We need more research, but there are plenty of circumstances where a video call with a doctor could work,” says Robert M. Wah, MD, president of the American Medical Association and a reproductive endocrinologist in McLean, Va. That said, he adds: “Better information is what leads to better decisions, so on balance, face-to-face is best. Being in the office with your doctor offers a more complete picture of whatever is going on.”

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But according to some of the brains behind the phenomenonexecutives who see a business opportunity in making healthcare more accessible, and yes, the physicians moving their practices onlinewhen used appropriately, telemedicine is not only safe, it’s a much-needed option.

“The fact is my doctors are treating patients every day who have gaps in their care,” says Peter Antall, MD, a pediatrician in Thousand Oaks, Calif. and president and medical director of the Online Care Group, which provides doctors for patients to see online via Amwell. “We don’t aspire to be your primary care physician, but we recognize that many people don’t have a primary care doctor. Even if they do, it’s not convenient or even feasible for that primary care doctor to be available 24-7.”

On top of that, “using a whole afternoon to see a doctor in-person is in many cases, unnecessary,”says Ron Gutman, the CEO of HealthTap, an app and healthcare platform that like Amwell, allows you to log in, choose a doctor, and see him or her via video within minutes. According to Healthtap’s research, “between 35 and 40% of visits are for simple issues that can be solved with a conversation. But doctors ask you to come in because of the way payment works: the only way they will get reimbursed by your insurance is if you make the trip.” (With Healthtap, you pay $44 per visit via their concierge service, or for unlimited access to on-call doctors for $99 per month with Healthtap prime. They don’t take insurance, but some platforms, like Amwell, do.)

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And if you’re worried about who you’ll meet on the other end: “We’re working with real, board-certified doctors that we’ve vetted for you,” Gutman continues. “They are very protective of their medical licenses. If you’re dialing in for a scary situation they will say, get to the ER now. They will tell you when you need in-person care.”

When can I use it?

As Dr. Wah says, online visits aren’t going to replace seeing your doctor in real life. But it may be helpful to have the option in your back pocket when certain situations arise.

Let’s say you wake up one morning and your eye is red, puffy, and oozing. For something like that, Dr. Antall explains, you can be connected within minutes with a doctor who can confirm whether you have pink eye and send a prescription for eyedrops to your local pharmacy, if needed. Same goes for when you have say, a lingering cough or a sinus infection.

If you have a chronic condition like diabetes or asthma, you might want to look into it as an extra resource. “It’s useful when it’s a Friday night. Your sugars are out of whack and you can’t figure out why, and the regular doctor is unreachable until Monday,” Dr. Antall explains. “Or maybe you’re an asthmatic who’s out of your inhaler refills.” It’s also helpful for skin issues: A new study published in JAMA Dermatology found that people with eczema who were treated remotely by sending pictures to dermatologists fared just as well as those treated in-person.

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You can also easily get a second opinion. Maybe you have fibroids and your doctor has recommended a certain type of surgery. Signing up for something like Healthtap, which has a database of more than 64,000 doctors in 137 specialties, can be an easy, convenient way to get advice from a handful of experts. You can spend an afternoon asking all the questions you want before making your final decision.

And finally, you know those times when you’re in some pain or have a weird symptom, but you’re not quite sure if you need to see a doctor or not? You can use one of these apps to ask a few questions, explains Buck Parker, MD, a general surgeon who sees patients via HealthTap eight hours a week. “A lot of what I’m doing is simply answering basic questions: ‘I smashed my finger in the door, does it look broken?’ for example. It’s almost like ‘pre-doctor’s visits’ where we can really save people a lot of hassle by counseling them on whether they need to see a doctor in-person or not.”

But how much can you really do over video?

You can’t do blood tests or urinalysis, that’s for sure. “But you can direct the patient to push on lymph nodes or a swollen ankle in the right spot (so the doctor can see how it reacts), and you can ask all the necessary questions,” Dr. Antall says.

To stretch the video capabilities, there are also solutions like HealthSpot, which creates kiosks that are sort of like the medical version of an ATM, says the company’s CEO Steve Cashman. Staffed with doctors from big health systems like the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, and Kaiser Permanente and located in places like community centers and strip malls, all you do is step inside and the doctor appears on screen. The kiosk is equipped with diagnostic devices like a digital stethoscope and thermometer as well as digital scopes for looking in ears, throat and getting close-ups on your skin.

Right now Healthspot only has about 20 stations across the country, but soon you might see them at a Rite-Aid near you.

HEALTH.COM: What to Do When You Disagree With Your Doctor

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Infectious Disease

WHO: Recorded Ebola Deaths Top 7,000

Grave digger walks past fresh graves at a cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone
A grave digger walks past fresh graves at a cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Dec. 20, 2014. Baz Ratner—Reuters

(CONAKRY, Guinea) — The worst Ebola outbreak on record has now killed more than 7,000 people, with many of the latest deaths reported in Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization said as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continued his tour of Ebola-affected countries in West Africa on Saturday.

The three countries hit hardest by Ebola have now recorded 7,373 deaths, up from 6,900 on Wednesday, according to WHO figures posted online late Friday. A total of 392 of the new deaths were in Sierra Leone, where Ebola is spreading the fastest.

The new totals include confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola deaths. The WHO says there have also been six Ebola deaths in Mali, eight in Nigeria and one in the United States.

The total number of cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia now stands at 19,031, up from 18,569.

Ban arrived in Guinea, where the outbreak’s first cases were confirmed back in March, on Saturday after touring Liberia and Sierra Leone on Friday. After meeting with President Alpha Conde, he expressed concern about the situation in the country’s southeast forest region, where he said the number of infected people “seems to continue to grow.” The region borders Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, and Ban called for cross-border collaboration to bring the disease under control.

He urged all Guineans to commit themselves to eradicating Ebola, saying that the U.N. and its partners “are there to help you.”

“It has never been so important to work together,” he said.

Guinea has recorded 2,453 Ebola deaths and 1,550 cases, according to the WHO. This past week, officials in Conakry, the capital, announced a ban on New Year’s Eve celebrations such as fireworks displays and beach gatherings in a bid to curtail transmission.

Ban was expected to travel to Mali Saturday evening.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Tips for Keeping Off the Weekend Weight

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Choosing protein-packed foods can help you stay on track

Around the holidays, weekends are always jam-packed with opportunities to eat, drink, and be merry. Of course, it’s the most wonderful time of year (you should enjoy yourself), but if you’re not careful with your choices, weekend splurges can really add up and wreak havoc on your health and your waistline.

Even though festive holiday get-togethers might be the perfect excuse to let loose, you probably don’t want your healthy habits to fall by the wayside all together. I mean, no one wants to ring in the new year a few pounds heavier, right?

Here are five tips to keep in mind when you’re enjoying yourself during the weekends around the holidays.

Aim to maintain, not lose weight

The holidays are a time to relax and enjoy quality time with family and friends, so putting pressure on yourself to lose weight can potentially stress you out and lead to emotional eating—neither of which will make you feel very festive. Instead of making your goal to lose weight this holiday season, take a more realistic approach and aim to simply maintain your weight. That way, when Friday evening rolls around, you can enjoy yourself, but not overdo it either. You’ll feel much better about yourself when Monday morning arrives.

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Eat breakfast and lunch (and maybe dinner too)

It might sound a little counterintuitive to eat before a holiday event, but sticking to your normal meal schedule will help you make smarter decisions when it comes to what you eat and drink. During mealtime, be sure to choose foods that are high in protein to keep you satisfied and your blood sugar steady. It’s tough to resist such delicious holiday fare when you’re hungry or experiencing crazy cravings, so be sure to fill up on healthy, high-quality foods before your next holiday soiree.

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Choose your calories wisely

The food and drinks at your next holiday gathering will likely include many of your favorites, so making a decision about what to enjoy might be difficult. Instead of wasting your calories on the same-old, same-old, like cheese and crackers or chips and salsa, save them for the best of the season. I’m talking bacon-wrapped dates and sugared gingerbread cookies! You want to make sure your splurges are worth it, so choose your calories wisely.

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Enjoy a true splurge

Whether it’s a second cocktail or a slice of warm pecan pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, allow yourself to enjoy one true splurge each weekend. Having an indulgence like this to look forward to will help you make better choices when it comes to the rest of your eating and drinking decisions. You’re less likely to go overboard if you know you have a splurge coming to you. Plus, if you plan your special indulgence at a time when you’re around loved ones, it will make it that much more enjoyable—and isn’t that what the holiday season is all about?

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Use Sunday to get back on track

If you lived it up on Friday and Saturday night, use Sunday as the day to get back to your healthy habits. Start your morning with a healthy breakfast and a heart-pumping workout. Then, prepare some nutritious and satisfying foods for the upcoming week, such as overnight oatmeal for breakfast and hard-boiled eggs as a protein-packed snack. And, finally, plan out the rest of your workouts for the week by scheduling them into your calendar like appointments that you can’t miss. Getting yourself organized on Sunday sets you up for a healthy week ahead.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME medicine

Here’s What Experts Say About the Advice on Dr. Oz and The Doctors

Experts evaluated the advice given on medical talk shows, and the results were surprising

Many Americans get their health advice not from their doctor, but from daytime television. But how good are those recommendations?

Reporting in the BMJ, Canadian researchers analyzed two medical TV talk shows—The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors—and found that only 46% of the recommendations on The Dr. Oz Show and 63% on The Doctors were supported by evidence. 15% of advice given on Oz and 14% of advice on The Doctors contradicted the available published evidence in journals.

“The bottom line message is for people to be really skeptical about the recommendations made on these medical television shows,” says study co-author Christina Korowynk, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Alberta. “They should look for more balanced information to be presented, and understand that they need all of that information in order to make an informed decision.”

They measured 80 major recommendations made on the two shows from January to May 2013 against evidence gleaned from published studies in medical databases. They looked at both consistency—how much the conclusion was supported by the studies—and believability, which included the quality, number and type of study.

On average, Korownyk’s group found that both shows mentioned how the advice might specifically help a person in only about 40% of the recommendations, and they mentioned the amount of benefit, another aspect of useful health advice, in less than 20% of recommendations. (Harms were mentioned in less than 10% of the recommendations, and costs in less than 15%). She says that without such information on how much benefit and harm a particular recommendation might have, it’s hard for people to make informed choices about whether the advice is right for them.

Korownyk and her colleagues aren’t the first to cast doubt on the quality of advice given on the shows. In June a Senate subcommittee heard testimony from Oz on false advertising of weight loss claims and Sen. Claire McCaskill queried the doctor about the statements he made on the show. “I do personally believe in the items that I talk about on the show,” he said at the hearing. “We have to simplify complicated information. We have to make the material seem interesting and focus on the ‘wow’ factor.”

Representatives for The Doctors said in a written statement to TIME: “The Doctors was never contacted about the study or the article. Our producers and doctors all do their due diligence to make sure information provided on the show is sound, relevant and timely—often debunking the myriad of medical myths that abound in the media and across the internet.”

Members of The Dr. Oz Show wrote: “The Dr. Oz Show has always endeavored to challenge the so-called conventional wisdom, reveal multiple points of view and question the status quo. The observation that some of the topics discussed on the show may differ from popular opinion or various academic analyses affirms that we are furthering a constructive dialogue about health and wellness.”

Korownyk acknowledges that the exact impact of television health advice isn’t clear, since the study didn’t investigate how many of the recommendations people adopted and whether they had an effect on their health. But the advice is clearly reaching people. “What we’d love to see is a process on these shows where the evidence is reviewed in a critical manner, and presented in a balanced, objective way so the audience can understand,” she says. “As physicians, we are moving toward that, and we’d love to see the broader television personalities doing the same sort of thing.”

TIME ebola

Ebola-Stricken Families to Receive Cash Payments

Hawa Musa with her mother and children. Of 25 people living in the house, 17 have died from ebola, including her husband.
Hawa Musa (blue) with her mother and children. Musa used to rent rooms for income, but no one wants to rent her rooms anymore. She previously had 25 people living in her house, but 17 died of Ebola including her husband and a few of her children. She's taken in 10 more kids. Carly Learson—Carly Learson / UNDP

In 2015, the three Ebola-affected countries will start offering cash payments for families hit by Ebola, as well as survivors having trouble re-acclimating to society out of stigma for the disease.

Every aspect of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone’s societies have taken a hit from Ebola, and the disease has shocked what were once fragile but growing economies. Public spaces are now forbidden, so markets are empty, tourists are no longer traveling into the countries and international companies have largely pulled out, including large industries like mining. The World Bank estimates the aftershock of Ebola to already weakened economies will be “devastating.”

“We are seeing a backwards slide of development of about 10 years,” says Boaz Paldi, chief of media and advocacy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “The outlook is not good. We are fearful for these countries.” That’s why instead of waiting for caseloads to reach manageable numbers, the three countries, with the help of UNDP and other partners, are laying the groundwork now for rebuilding the damaged economies. One of the first major initiatives to be rolled out in the new year are cash transfers and payments to families who no longer have breadwinners and survivors out of work. Many women in the Ebola-affected countries have taken in orphaned children of their family members or neighbors, despite having no steady income.

Dudu Kromah's husband died recently from ebola. She is looking after ten children, many of them orphans including a 3-month-old baby.
Dudu Kromah’s husband died from Ebola. She is looking after ten children, many of them orphans including a 3-month-old baby. She has no income. Carly Learson—Carly Learson / UNDP

According to UNDP leaders, plans for the payment process are still being refined. Lists of names of affected families and survivors are being collected and coordinated for small pilot programs, starting early next year, to test the effectiveness of the payments in preparation for widespread efforts. UNDP has calculated that around $50 will keep a family of five going in the three countries with essential needs for one month, with some variations by country. The group is anticipating making monthly payments to 150-200,000 people in each of the countries.

Ultimately, the payment program may develop into a cash-for-work model, with payments in exchange for work rebuilding communities in an effort to inject cash into the local economy and enable people to earn a living.

Ideas for how to get youth involved are also being considered. In Sierra Leone, Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, the deputy director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, spoke to young people concerned that since residents can no longer go to their local markets, they are unable to buy the food they need. “So why not start a delivery company to have food delivered to the different communities? How can we provide the start-up capital for young people who want to initiative those types of activities?” says Sandhu-Rojon.

The three countries and the U.N., which launched the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) earlier this year, are also looking to the private sector. On Dec. 11 the U.N. held a U.N.-Business Collaboration for Global Ebola Response meeting as a way to get the private sector involved in both the response and recovery. A panel of high-level representatives from U.N. Missions in the affected countries, the U.S., U.K., and France put out a call for help from companies in areas major like logistics. Ultimately, the greatest plea was for companies to return to the countries and invest.

Sadly, all three countries were experiencing high growth rates before the start of Ebola, after coming out of conflicts like civil war. Sierra Leone had only recently launched its “Agenda for Prosperity,” a high-level initiative to become a middle-income country by 2035. High growth rates could largely be attributed to extractive industries like mining, which have now largely decreased their production or shut down, causing a government shortfall in revenue and massive loss of employment. Remaining national resources have been reallocated to the Ebola fight.

“It’s very disheartening, because all three of these countries were on their way up,” says Sandhu-Rojon.

The hope is cash payments will be a boost to help people get by. But increasingly more support and funding will be needed from the international community and private sector to get the countries back on their feet. Whether the countries will make it back to pre-Ebola growth may be a much greater, and longer battle.

TIME Healthcare

Nonprofit Hospitals Seize Low-Income Patients’ Wages

An investigation reveals the ongoing struggles of people too poor to afford health insurance but no poor enough to qualify for Medicaid

Many hospitals in the U.S. receive tax breaks in exchange for the community service of providing care to those who cannot afford to pay. But hospitals in at least five states employ aggressive debt collectors to garnish the wages of low-income patients with unpaid debts, a ProPublica/NPR investigation revealed Friday.

Hospitals in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama and Missouri pass debts along to for-profit collection agencies. People affected tend to be those who earn too much to qualify for assistance in states that rejected the Medicaid expansion in President Barack Obama’s health care law, but not enough to purchase health care on their own. The cost of health care services for the uninsured tend to be significantly higher than for people with health insurance.

Read more at ProPublica

TIME ebola

How Your Tablet Can Help Find an Ebola Cure

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Anyone with a computer or Android smartphone can perform cutting edge research on the formidable virus

Mark McCaskill’s daughter is only 11 years old and so far knows only the most basic things about viruses and how they work. But she’s conducting pioneering biological experiments to find a treatment for Ebola. Or at least her Kindle is. When she’s not using it to listen to her favorite singers or watch the latest TV shows, her tablet is scanning thousands of chemical compounds, any one of which could turn out to neutralize, or even destroy Ebola and save thousands of lives.

That’s because her father, Mark, a transportation planning expert for Roanoke Valley in Virginia, signed up her Kindle, two of his own PCs and his mother’s computer to IBM’s World Community Grid (WCG), an innovative mass computing network that allows anyone to contribute in the fight against everything from brain cancer to polluted water and now, Ebola, by essentially offering to WCG their computer’s processing power when it’s not otherwise being used. Nearly 700,000 people have registered their Android phones or PCs on the WCG (the grid isn’t compatible with iOS yet, but IBM says it’s working on it).

“Some people volunteer in a traditional sense with Meals on Wheels. I think of this as my own personal form of volunteering, a new high tech way of volunteering,” says McCaskill.

There’s massive amounts of data out there that could prove revolutionary, but sifting through thousands—or millions—of compounds takes a whole lot of computing power. So every time McCaskill and his family members aren’t on their computers or tablet, their processing power is shunted to combing through the millions of compounds that exist in drug libraries that could be the answer to stopping Ebola in its tracks. Computational engineers call it “distributed computing,” but for the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to make like a world class biologist or immunologist or environmental scientist and indulge our inner science geek. In 1999, the team behind SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, began using a similar strategy to analyze reams of radio signals from telescopes for possible extraterrestrial communications.

WCG essentially turns each device into a circuit in a massive virtual supercomputer. Each supercomputing task, such as vetting millions of chemical compounds for any potential activity against Ebola, is broken down into more manageable chunks and shunted to individual devices. The data, which is downloaded to the WCG in real time, is then collected, digitally ‘cleaned’ and delivered to the researcher like a birthday gift, neatly packaged and containing valuable and eagerly awaited information.

The idea for the WCG was born at IBM Foundation, when Stanley Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, began getting numerous requests from desperate scientists for IBM to donate supercomputers for their work. Declines in federal science grants meant that few institutes could afford the cost of a supercomputer at the same time that many of the most critical scientific projects—such as querying enormous databases of chemical compounds for potential cancer treatments and compounds that can fight emerging diseases like Ebola—required massive computing power. “We came to the conclusion that it would be possible to try to solve this problem with a virtual super computer using grid technology if we could get enough people to sign up to combine their computing power,” Litow says.

People were more than willing to chip in. More than 3 million devices from 680,000 donors are registered on the WCG. One of the grid’s projects, Help Fight Childhood Cancer, conducted 9 million virtual chemistry experiments in five years and found seven promising agents that are being studied to fight a common childhood brain cancer. The Clean Energy Project evaluated 100,000 molecular shapes of organic molecules to identify formations most suitable for becoming organic solar cells that may emerge as alternative sources of energy. And FightAIDS@Home was launched in 2005 and enlisted individual computers to collectively scan chemical compounds to find new drugs against HIV; it’s 90% complete. The Ebola project, which debuted on the grid the first week of December, completed in one week what it would have taken a PC with a single processor about 35 years to accomplish.

“My biologists cannot look at a million compounds, for one, and even if they could, we couldn’t afford to buy them all. And even if we could, there just isn’t enough time to screen them all,” says Erica Ollmann Saphire from the Scripps Research Institute who is scanning chemical databases for possible Ebola therapies.

Saphire has two Ebola-related projects that she’s hoping the network of devices out there will solve. In 2013, she and her team discovered that the wily Ebola virus actually existed in three different structural forms during its life cycle, changing from a holiday wreath structure to a zig-zagging matrix to a butterfly-like shape, each uniquely designed to optimize its journey from budding new virus to finding cells to infect and finally invading those cells. “It’s like having thread that can be yoga pants in the morning, unraveled and reknitted into a shirt for work, then unraveled and reknitted into slippers for the evening when you go home,” says Saphire.

But understanding how these three complex structures form, and what signals them to materialize at specific times, is a “really complex computational problem,” she says. “The level of complexity of the three entirely different structures is each so big that you can’t even say it might take hundreds of years for a computer to accomplish; it would just be impossible to accomplish since there are just too many atoms and too many variables,“ says Saphire.

But with thousands of people chipping away at a small part of the problem, the large, complex, nearly impossible problem becomes potentially manageable. At least that’s what Saphire and the scientists at IBM are hoping.

And people like McCaskill are happy to do their part. Has the heavy lifting for science put a dent in his computing power? Not at all, he says. Cyber security hasn’t been a concern since IBM monitors the grid and ensures that any private information on PCs isn’t accessed or downloaded. And his daughter hasn’t complained about the grid draining her battery power, since the Kindle is set up to do most of its computing while the device recharges at night.

“You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley, or some megalopolis, you can be in an area like we are, and be doing creative stuff and cutting edge research,” McCaskill says.

TIME toxins

4 Easy Ways to Cut Down on a Nasty Chemical That’s Everywhere

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Don't heat up plastic, for one

The thing I hate most about shopping is not navigating a crowded store or staring at my pasty reflection under the dressing room’s harsh lighting. Nope, that stuff doesn’t bother me. If you ask me, the most dreaded store moment is watching the machine spit out a footlong receipt, and then swimming in awkwardness because no way am I touching that thing.

“Um, can you just toss that for me?” I always ask—as I back away in horror.

“Sure,” the cashier replies, frowning at my apparent paper phobia.

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OK, so that’s a slight dramatization, but it does accurately represent my feelings regarding receipts. My reason: they’re coated with bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that the National Toxicology Program deemed worthy of “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures” after reviewing the research in 2008. Two studies just this year linked handling receipts to elevated levels of BPA in the body.

Previous research has shown an association between BPA and heart problems, as well as asthma and obesity risk in children. And now, in a recent study published in the journal Hypertension, South Korean researchers found that drinking from cans lined with the chemical may raise blood pressure immediately.

The issue with BPA isn’t just that it’s linked to health issues—it’s that it’s so widely used in a variety of consumer products like car seats, food packaging, dental sealants, and electronics, to name a few, explains Laura Vandenberg, PhD, an assistant professor of environmental health science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Everyone is exposed to this chemical every day.”

HEALTH.COM: 10 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration contends that BPA “is safe at the current levels occurring in foods,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that the levels we’re exposed to from all our daily contact with it are “entirely safe,” Vandenberg says. “Pregnant or breastfeeding women, babies, and small children are especially vulnerable. The new study about blood pressure is a big deal because it shows for the first time that there are measurable health effects in human adults.”

All of this means that perhaps my over-the-top receipt anxiety isn’t misplaced. If you’re concerned about BPA, here are a few changes to make that really can put a dent in your exposure.

Skip canned goods when possible

The plastic that lines the inside of your can of beans or soup serves a very important purpose: without it, the can would corrode over time, allowing metals to leach in your food. The problem? The lining is made with BPA which can get into your food, too. “The majority of the exposure is thought to happen this way,” Vandenberg says. Some companies, like Amy’s, Eden Organics, and Muir Glen use BPA-free cans, but very few follow their lead because it’s so much more expensive. Outside of those companies, this leaves you with few options other than choosing fresh whenever possible and looking for soups, broths, and tomato products packaged in glass jars or Tetra Paks (aka those paperboard cartons).

HEALTH.COM: 15 Ways to Be a Natural Beauty

Don’t microwave plastics

BPA helps make plastic materials hard and strong, so they keep their shape and don’t break. “A lot of plastics say on them ‘microwave-safe’, but that only means it won’t totally ruin the plastic,” Vandenberg says. “It doesn’t mean it’s safe for you or your food.” When microwaved, plastic food containers can break down from high temperatures, allowing more BPA or other chemicals into your food, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Put your leftovers in ceramic or glass before heating. (It’s also a good idea to wait for food to cool before putting it in plastic containers.)

Say no to receipts

This is one of the easiest ways to limit BPA in your life: ask the cashier if she can skip printing one (this saves her the exposure, too) and press “No” at the ATM or gas station. Simply touching a receipt allows your skin to absorb the BPA, and “so many people don’t realize how much they’re actually handling receipts. I’ve seen women use it to blot their lipstick or put it in their mouths while they go through their wallets,” Vandenberg says. For those times you absolutely need a receipt, store it in an envelope away from the rest of the things in your purse, and be sure to wash your hands after touching it. This may help reduce the amount that ends up in your system.

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Buy a BPA-free water bottle

The FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups back in 2012 because of the known risks to children, and BPA-free water bottles became all the rage. But if you still haven’t picked one up, here are some options:

Lifefactory Glass Bottle with Silicone Sleeve ($15, amazon.com)

Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Bottle With Stainless Loop Cap ($17, amazon.com)

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Parenting

You Really Can Blame Your Parents for Everything

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How your parents treated you as a child has long-lasting effects on what kind of adult you turn into, finds a new study in the journal Child Development.

The researchers looked at 243 kids in Minnesota from low-income families and followed them for many years, until they turned 32. Researchers studied how their mothers interacted with the kids during their first three years of life, and as they got older, they asked their teachers about the child’s social skills and academic competence. Once the kids were in their 20s and 30s, researchers asked them about their education and relationships.

Children with mothers who practiced a more sensitive kind of parenting during their first three years of life—those who responded to their child promptly, had positive interactions with their kid and made their child feel secure—went on to have more successful relationships and higher academic achievement compared to those whose mothers didn’t engage with them in this way. The influence on academics appears to be stronger, but the overall effects of parenting could even be seen past age 30.

Prior research has shown that sensitive caregiving can influence social development when a child is young, but the new study shows that even despite economic factors, this type of parenting impacts children well into their adult lives—in a wide range of unexpected ways.

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TIME

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