TIME neuroscience

Three Guys in Austria Have Basically Become Cyborgs After Getting Robotic Hands

The bionic hand allows the patients to perform everyday activities

Robotic hands have been successfully attached to three amputees in Austria, using a new technique that allows the users to control their electronic limbs with their minds.

The operations were completed by using an innovative procedure called bionic reconstruction, which connects prostheses directly to a patient’s nerves, according to a study in British medical journal The Lancet.

The procedure first involves intense cognitive training to prepare the body and mind for the advanced robotic prosthesis, followed by elective amputation and replacement. Once attached, the bionic hand allows all three patients to perform everyday activities, like using kitchen utensils and opening doors.

“So far, bionic reconstruction has only been done in our center in Vienna,” said Professor Oskar Aszmann from the Medical University of Vienna. “However, there are no technical or surgical limitations that would prevent this procedure from being done in centers with similar expertise and resources.”

[Science Daily]

TIME neuroscience

A Simple Skin Test May Detect Alzheimer’s

There’s new hope that the first signs of these brain disorders may lie in the skin

Detecting Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as early as possible is critical. But while doctors know that the conditions can start 15 to 20 years before the symptoms appear, there aren’t many reliable ways of pinpointing exactly when that occurs. Now, scientists led by Dr. Ildefonso Rodriguez-Leyva at Central Hospital in University of San Luis Potosi in Mexico report that the skin may hold the clue to such early detection.

MORE Early Warning: Detecting Alzheimer’s in the Blood and Brain Before Memory Loss

In a study that will be presented in April at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Rodriguez-Leyva found that compared to healthy patients and those with age-related dementia, patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases had seven times higher levels of an altered form of a protein called tau in skin biopsies, and Parkinson’s patients also showed seven to eight times greater levels of a harmful version of another protein known as alpha-synuclein. Researchers aren’t sure what alpha-synuclein’s role is in the brain, but in Parkinson’s patients, it tends to clump into harmful aggregates that interrupt normal nerve function. Tau is involved in the brain decline associated with Alzheimer’s; as nerve cells die, the normally aligned molecules of tau, which function like railroad tracks to transport nutrients, collapse, twisting into unorganized masses of tangled protein.

“This skin test opens the possibility to see abnormal proteins in the skin before central nervous system symptoms — cognitive or motor deficits — appear,” Rodriguez-Leyva says.

MORE New Research on Understanding Alzheimer’s

Rodriguez-Leyva turned to the skin to look for signs of the altered brain proteins since the skin and brain share a common embryonic origin; while everyone makes the two proteins, those who go on to develop Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s seem to be especially vulnerable to having them fold in abnormal ways and stick together in damaging masses in the brain. If there were genetic signals dictating these sticky forms of the proteins, he speculated, then those signals might be detectable in the skin as well. “The ectoderm originates the nervous tissue and the skin,” he writes in an email to TIME discussing the study. “Our idea is that they have a similar program of protein expression. Therefore the skin could reflect events taking place in the nervous system.”

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

The study involved only a few dozen patients — 20 with Alzheimer’s, 16 Parkinson’s patients and 17 with age-related dementia, who were compared to 12 healthy controls — so more work needs to be done to confirm the findings. But the results hint that it may be possible to detect these neurodegenerative conditions sooner, and it also provides drug developers with more confidence that targeting abnormal forms of tau and alpha-synuclein may lead to effective treatments.

Read next: America’s Pain Killer Problem is Growing, Federal Data Shows

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME

Here’s How Drugs and Screening Can Stop HIV’s Spread

Getting someone diagnosed reduced the chance of transmission by 19%

The vast majority of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who are not receiving care for their condition, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that of the 1.1 million people with HIV in 2009, 700,000 were not receiving care, and accounted for 91.5 percent of new HIV infections.

The following interactive shows the study’s findings. Click or tap the arrows to explore.

*Viral suppression indicates a very low level of HIV remains in the blood.

TIME Heart Disease

This Makes Your Heart Attack Risk 8 Times Higher

157482086
Getty Images

A new study links high levels of anger to an increased risk for heart attack

Getting very angry isn’t just off-putting to the people around you, it may also significantly increase your short-term risk for a heart attack, according to new findings.

Having an episode of intense anger was associated with an 8.5 times greater risk of having a heart attack during the following two hours, a new study published in The European Heart Journal Acute Cardiovascular Care showed. The new findings add to prior research that has suggested high levels of anger may spur a heart attack.

The study looked at 313 people who were being treated in a hospital for a heart attack. The men and women were asked to fill out a questionnaire about the level of anger they experienced in the last 48 hours based on a number scale:

  1. Calm.

  2. Busy, but not hassled.

  3. Mildly angry, irritated and hassled, but it does not show.

  4. Moderately angry, so hassled it shows in your voice.

  5. Very angry, body tense, maybe fists clenched, ready to burst.

  6. Furious, forced to show it physically, almost out of control.

  7. Enraged, out of control, throwing objects, hurting yourself or others.

An anger level greater than five was reported among seven of the people in the study in the two hours prior to their heart attack, and up to four hours prior for one person. An anger level of four was reported among two people within the the two hours before heart attack symptoms, and among four hours before for three people. According to the researchers, the results come to a 8.5-fold increase in relative risk of a heart attack in the two hours following severe anger. People who reported high levels of anxiety, also had a higher risk.

The study is small and therefore it’s still too early to know how great of a factor intense anger is in predicting heart attack onset. The anger levels are also self-reported and could differ person to person. But the study does provide experts with information about what emotional factors could trigger a heart attack. For instance, the researchers found that some of the greatest reported anger was due to arguments with family members followed by arguments with non-family members, work anger and driving anger. “Our findings highlight the need to consider strategies to protect individuals most at risk during times of acute anger,” the authors conclude.

Exactly how anger could trigger a heart attack still remains unknown, but the researchers speculate that the stress may stimulate activity in the heart like increased heart rate and blood pressure, blood vessel constriction, a plaque rupture, and clotting which could eventually lead to a heart attack.

“I think this study is very helpful in many ways because it’s validating to what we already know. Anger is not what we would call a traditional risk factor because it’s so hard to measure,” says Dr. Curtis Rimmerman a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic who was not involved in the study. “It highlights the importance of paying attention to a patient’s wellbeing.”

TIME public health

Majority of Americans Favor Vaccinations, Poll Says

The results come amid a measles outbreak in the U.S.

Nearly 80% of Americans support vaccinations, according to a new poll.

The Reuters/Ipsos survey comes amid a measles outbreak in the U.S. that recently reached 154 cases and the death of a toddler in Berlin, who was not vaccinated for the highly contagious virus. Only 13% of survey respondents opposed vaccinations while 78% said that all healthy, medically eligible children should be vaccinated.

Forty-four percent of respondents said parents should be mandated to vaccinate their child, while 38% favored some parental choice. The survey also showed a generational difference in vaccination support with younger Americans more in favor of it.

 

The issue flared in the Republican presidential campaign recently when candidates split on whether vaccines should mandatory.

[Reuters]

TIME

Toddler Dies of Measles in Berlin, 1st Death in Outbreak

(BERLIN) — An 18-month-old boy has died of measles amid an outbreak in Berlin, a hospital in the German capital said Tuesday.

An autopsy on the child, who wasn’t inoculated against measles, showed that he had an unspecified other disease as well but that wouldn’t have led to his death without the measles infection, the Charite hospital said.

It is the first known death in an outbreak in which Berlin has recorded more than 570 cases since October.

Officials believe the outbreak began with a child asylum-seeker from Bosnia. They said it spread to the wider population partly because immunization rates among over-45s are low, and younger adults also are at risk because many only received one shot instead of two, as is now recommended.

Although it’s rare for measles to be fatal in developed countries, the measles virus kills up to 10 percent of children infected in developing countries that have high levels of malnutrition and poor health care. Most measles deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease and are most common in children under five.

Measles is highly contagious and health officials say more than 90 percent of a population needs to be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks. Vaccination rates across Europe fell after a now-discredited study that suggested a link between autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.

Health Minister Hermann Groehe called Monday for increased efforts to ensure that children are vaccinated and even suggested if that doesn’t succeed, authorities might consider making it mandatory, though he said that isn’t currently on the agenda.

A Berlin secondary school was closed as a precaution Monday because a student had measles, but reopened Tuesday. Officials checked students’ and teachers’ vaccination records and local health official Sibyll Klotz said five students who couldn’t show that they were properly vaccinated were sent home, news agency dpa reported.

The German measles outbreak coincides with smaller ones in the United States tied to Disneyland in California and an Illinois day care center, which in total make up less than 150 cases. Officials say at least two of the measles cases in Berlin have been linked to the U.S. — one person who developed symptoms there before traveling to Germany, and another who developed the infection after returning from the U.S.

TIME medicine

7 Dizzying GIFs of Spinning Cannabis Strains

This new approach to cannabis photography was created by the San Diego based company Nugshots. Applying traditional still-life photography techniques, the company began by photographing buds of marijuana for local dispensaries. The images are created using a computer-controlled motor, rotating the marijuana buds only a few degrees at a time. The resulting 50 photographs were then color-corrected and uploaded onto a custom-built player that allows the viewer to rotate the images by dragging their cursor.

Each crop of plants produces unique buds, which requires the dispensaries to commission new photography for each shipment that comes in.

Nugshots has turned its attention toward more stable forms of marijuana-related income. They recently released T-shirts with their macro images printed on them. Soon they will be releasing a book of marijuana photography entitled Green: A Field Guide to Marijuana, featuring hi-resolution macro photography of over 170 different strains.

TIME Sex/Relationships

IUDs Are Getting More Popular With American Women

149321478
Getty Images

More U.S. women are using the IUD or implant

American women are increasingly opting for longer-lasting and highly effective forms of birth control, according to new federal data released on Tuesday.

New numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) show women are choosing long-lasting reversible contraceptives (LARC) like the intrauterine device (IUD) and the implant more than they have in the past. According to the numbers, IUD use increased 83% from 2006–2010 to 2011–2013 and implants tripled in use during the same time period. Both methods are approximately 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

“I am delighted LARC use is rising. It’s terrific and I would like to see even more,” says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine.

Overall, the use of LARC has increased fivefold in the past decade among women between the ages of 15 to 44, though overall usage remains low. Use spiked from 1.5% in 2002 to 7.2% in between 2011 and 2013. Women ages 25 to 34 are the most likely to choose LARC at 11% compared with 5% of women ages 15 to 24 and around 5.3% of women ages 35 to 44.

As TIME previously reported, one reason for the slow uptake among American women is that older versions of the IUDs from the 1970s and ’80s were plagued with problems. The new CDC data shows that LARC use declined between 1982 and 1988 and remained stable from 1988 to 1995. Today, IUDs are considered very safe and effective. Planned Parenthood told TIME it has experienced a 75% increase in IUD use among its patients since 2008.

“I think the current generation of women haven’t heard about the errors of the past, which is good,” says Minkin. “They are looking anew at LARC and looking at them for the value they have. People can forget their pills. These other methods take the human variable out of it, and they work very nicely.” (Minkin was not involved in the new study.)

MORE: Why the Best Form of Birth Control Is the One No One Is Using

New, separate data published Monday in the journal Contraception showed that among 500 female health care providers, 42% used LARC, which is significantly higher than the general population.

Women in other countries are significantly more likely to use LARC, especially the IUD. Separate research has shown that 23% of French women using contraception use an IUD as well as 27% of Norwegian women and 41% of women in China. In the U.S., cost may be a factor: the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health nonprofit, reports that their research shows sharp increases in the numbers of women who don’t have to pay out of pocket for LARC thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Without insurance coverage, LARC can be prohibitively expensive for some — around $900 for an IUD, for instance.

“If you have contraceptive coverage that makes it much more doable,” says Minkin, “I think it increases the availability and viability for women.”

TIME Heart Disease

The Strange Connection Between Saunas and Longevity

Higher frequency and longer duration of sauna use was correlated with less risk for heart problems and a lower chance of mortality

Frequenting the sauna appears to be connected to a reduced risk of number of cardiovascular conditions including heart failure and coronary heart disease and ultimately lead to a longer life, according to a new study in journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers collected health data for more than 2,300 Finnish men who used the sauna between 1984 and 1985. The researchers followed up on the participants in 2011. Higher frequency and longer duration of sauna use was correlated with less risk for heart problems and a lower chance of mortality.

“More is better,” says study author Jari Laukkanen of the time spent in the sauna. “It seems that with more than four sauna sessions per week had a lowest risk, but also those with two to three sauna sessions may get some benefits.”

The benefits of sauna use are much like those of exercise, according to the study. Sauna use increases heart rate and greatly boosts sweat levels like light or moderate exercise does. Overall, sauna use also leads to “better relaxation and well-being,” Laukkanen said.

Despite the study’s limitations—it looked only at men, it was associative—Laukkanen, a cardiologist at the University of Eastern Finland, said he thinks it can be generalized for women as well. Still, he added, further tests would be needed for more definitive evidence.

Before you head to the sauna it’s worth noting that not all saunas are built equal. The study looked specifically at Finnish saunas, which typically have very dry air and a temperature between 80 and 100 degrees Celsius—that’s a minimum of 176 degrees Fahrenheit.

While studying saunas may seem like a fringe research interest in the United States, saunas’ ubiquity in Finland prompted Laukkanen to investigate their impact on health. Of the 2,327 Finnish men initially reached for the study, only 12 said they do not use a sauna.

Read next: What Longevity Looked Like in the 1950s

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME medicine

The Surprising Way to Treat Peanut Allergies

imsis270-064
Getty Images

In a breakthrough study, researchers show that it’s not only possible to tamp down allergic reactions to peanuts, but by eating small amounts of them infants can avoid getting allergic in the first place

More studies hint that it’s possible to “train” the immune system to tolerate peanuts even if it doesn’t want to by giving children with peanut allergies small amounts of peanuts over a period of time. But researchers now report that it may be possible to prevent peanut allergies altogether. In a study published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers led by Gideon Lack, a professor of pediatric allergy at King’s College London and Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital, found that non-allergic young infants who ate small amounts of peanuts at an early age had a much lower rate of peanut allergy than those who avoided nuts altogether for five years.

MORE This ‘Peanut Patch’ Could Protect Against Peanut Allergies

“We are actually preventing the immune response from going along a pathway that leads to clinical reactivity, and it’s like, wow,” says Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, professor of medicine and pediatrics at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center who wrote an accompanying editorial. “It’s pretty cool to actually divert and keep the immune system from developing along a pathway that we don’t want it to go.”

Lack and his senior co-investigator George Du Toit, a pediatric allergy consultant at the College, conducted their study on 640 infants with severe eczema or egg allergy. These babies were chosen because of their increased risk of developing other food allergies, including to peanuts, and were enrolled when they were between four months and 11 months old. That’s an important window of opportunity, says Lack, to intervene and retrain the immune system to become tolerant to peanuts.

MORE The Bacteria That May One Day Cure Food Allergies

The group was divided into babies who showed a positive skin prick test to peanuts, and another who were negative. Each group was then randomly divided into those who were given to small amounts of peanuts to eat and those who were told to avoid it for five years. (Those with positive skin tests were given smaller amounts in gradually increasing doses if they could safely tolerate them, while those who were negative for peanut allergies were given larger doses.) Because the babies started out with varying levels of egg allergy and eczema, they also had differing levels of antibodies against peanuts; some had higher levels indicating they were already on the path toward developing allergic reactions to peanuts, even if they hadn’t tested positive and weren’t already allergic.

What’s noteworthy about the findings are that all groups that ate the peanuts, regardless of how far along they were toward developing peanut allergies, showed lower rates of peanut allergy when they were 5 compared to the babies who didn’t eat peanuts at all. The fact that even babies who were negative for peanut allergies at the start of the study, but who might go on to develop them, could prevent the allergy is a potentially game-changing idea.

“In primary prevention we can halt the process before the disease starts,” says Lack. “In secondary prevention, in the babies who already were positive for peanut allergy, the ball is already rolling downhill, but we can still prevent it, and push it back up the hill. We showed both primary prevention and secondary prevention were effective.” Overall, only 2% of the babies who ate peanuts were allergic to peanuts when they were 5, compared to nearly 14% of those who didn’t eat any peanuts during that time. For those who were already positive for peanut allergies at the start of the study, nearly 11% of those who ate small amounts of peanuts ended up getting a peanut allergy compared to 35% of those who avoided them.

MORE Why We’re Going Nuts Over Nut Allergies

It’s not clear how long the protection from peanut allergies lasts; other studies that used similar food exposure strategies in children with egg and milk allergies showed that as soon as the exposure to the allergy-causing food was stopped, the tolerance waned and the allergic reaction returned. Lack and his colleagues are continuing their study by asking all of the participants to avoid eating peanuts for one year and then giving them peanuts to see whether the peanut-consuming group remain non-allergic. “That will tell us whether we truly prevented peanut allergy in the long run or just put the brake on the development of peanut allergy,” he says.

Whether the approach will work on other food allergies, or even other allergies to cats, dogs or pollen, isn’t clear. Lack and his team have not, for example, fully analyzed the data on whether the peanuts helped the babies’ eczema or egg allergies to abate. But the results hint that the immune response may be redirected, at least for some allergens, toward a non-allergic response.

MORE Can Peanut Allergies Develop in the Womb?

It also hints that the rise in peanut allergies, especially in the U.S., may be in part of our own making. For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), for example, advised parents to avoid giving their babies peanuts in order to protect them from develop allergic reactions. Mothers-to-be were even advised to avoid eating peanuts during pregnancy to reduce their babies’ chances of becoming allergic. But recent studies in animals show that the immune system’s response to things like peanuts, egg, milk and other allergens may be a balance between exposure through the gut and exposure through the skin. Skin exposure tends to trigger aggressive immune responses that treat most new objects, including peanut protein, as foreign, and therefore sensitizes the body to recognize the food as foreign and dangerous. Eating such proteins, on the other hand, presents them in a different way to the immune system that recognizes their nutritious value. When these two routes are in balance, the gut-based system overrides the skin-based signals and the body sees peanuts as friend rather than foe.

But if babies aren’t eating peanuts, then the signals about peanut proteins entering via the skin become dominant, and nuts become an unwanted intruder rather than a welcome source of food. That’s why, for example, Lack and others believe that rates of peanut allergy are higher in countries like the U.S. where parents have been advised to avoid feeding their babies peanuts, compared to countries like Israel, where infants are given peanuts early on.

Based on recent findings, the AAP in 2008 changed its advice and now does not say parents should avoid feeding their babies peanuts. They haven’t concluded yet whether giving peanuts to infants early in life is a better choice, but given their latest data, Lack ,Du Toit and Gruchalla believe that it’s something that parents should discuss with their pediatricians and allergy specialists. We recommend that peanut be introduced very early on once weaning has been established,” says Du Toit. “Our study demonstrated that it’s safe as long as whole nuts are avoided for their choking hazard.” For children who come from families with no history of food allergies and whose parents or siblings don’t have other food allergies, peanuts can be started right away. For those who have a family history of food reactions, parents should consult with an allergist to get a skin prick test and then work with the specialist to determine the safest way to gradually introduce peanuts into their babies’ diet.

Such exposure to possible food allergens “is not part of clinical practice yet, but I think it will be likely that there are going to be experts who are going to get together and revise the guidelines to make it more common,” says Gruchalla. And hopefully lower rates of food allergies in coming years.

Read next: New Guidelines Help Doctors Diagnose Food Allergy

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser