TIME Research

Paralyzed Man in Robotic Body Suit Will Kick Off World Cup

The exoskeleton is controlled by brainwaves, and has the potential to replace wheelchairs for victims of paralysis

A paraplegic man in a state of the art brain-controlled body suit will make the first kick of the World Cup on Thursday in front of 1 billion people.

Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist at Duke University, led a team of 156 researchers to create an exoskeleton that could enable people who are paralyzed to walk, and the technology will be displayed in action during the World Cup’s opening ceremonies ahead of the first match, Brazil vs. Croatia, in Sao Paulo. The man taking the kick has asked not to be named.

The suit, controlled by a non-invasive cap that reads brainwaves, can also send signals from the “feet” to artificial skin on the user’s arm to convey a sense of moment. The technology has the potential to replace wheelchairs for victims of paralysis.

“Doing a demonstration in a stadium is something very much outside our routine in robotics,” Nicolelis told AFP, an epic understatement given the potential of the robot and given the expected television audience for the match of 1 billion people.

Here’s a video about the technology from the National Science Foundation:

TIME Research

Exercise Helps Your Gut Bacteria: Amazing, Overblown, or Plain Incorrect?

Debate over a new study looking at the difference in gut bacteria among athletes serves as a reminder of the delicacy of new fields of science

A new study out this week has experts in the field raising their eyebrows. After sampling the gut bacteria of 40 rugby players, researchers from the University College Cork in Ireland reported that exercise may improve the diversity of microbes that make up the microbiome. The microbiome is a relatively new area of scientific inquiry, and researchers think the bacteria that live in and on us may play a much larger role in our overall health that we currently have proof for. But even within the field, there’s concern that we might be getting a little ahead of ourselves.

In the latest research, scientists concluded this:

The results provide evidence for a beneficial impact of exercise on gut microbiota diversity but also indicate that the relationship is complex and is related to accompanying dietary extremes.

And in a section of their research explaining the significance of their findings, the authors write: “This is the first report that exercise increases gut microbial diversity in humans.”

The authors couch their finding by noting that diet is part of the relationship, but it’s the first part of their conclusion—that working out improves your gut bugs—that has skeptics taking to Twitter to express concern about the findings. At issue is the fact that diet likely plays a very large part in the findings, and it’s not news to scientists that what people eat affects their microbiome. When it comes to exercise, meanwhile, the connection was correlational—meaning the researchers found that rugby players both worked out a lot and happened to have diverse gut bugs when compared to a control group—but it did not in any way prove that one caused the other.

The backlash among science writers and researchers brings up an interesting debate about how we present many scientific findings, particularly in nascent fields like this one. “This is what I do. I love this type of work,” says Jonathan Eisen, a professor at University of California, Davis, focusing on evolution and ecology of microbes and genomes. “I just don’t want people to overstate what they are doing because I think that’s a longterm risk to the field.” Eisen runs a blog called “The Tree of Life” on which he fairly regularly gives out the “Overselling the Microbiome Award” (where TIME has been called out in the past). This week, that award went to the exercise study. Though he sees great promise in researching the microbiome, Eisen says it irks him when studies are blown out of portion both by scientists and the press.

Dr. Martin J. Blaser, author of the recent book ‘Missing Microbes’: How Antibiotics Can Do Harm, has a different take. “It’s kind of a brand new field,” says Blaser. “If you claim that the microbiome has cured cancer, that certainly would be hype,” he says. “But could it one day? Could our knowledge one day affect the treatments of many cancers and the preventions and diagnoses of many cancers? Yes.”

He adds: “Maybe nothing is ready for prime-time yet, but I won’t be surprised if research in this field changes medicine and healthcare dramatically.” Though Dr. Blaser does not hide his sincere excitement and optimism for the field, he acknowledges that we need to remember how new it is. “We are in the early stages of a scientific revolution. But it’s early stages,” he says. “We have to recognize that it’s all promise, but I think reasonable promise.”

I’m not sure how Eisen will rate this post, but as microbiome fervor continues to swell—and I expect it will—it’s worth taking a moment to be critical while still celebrating an area of science that’s honestly, pretty awesome.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Truth About Fat

When you want to lose weight or get healthy, what is the first thing you would normally cut from your diet? If you said fat, you’re not alone.

For years, the advice from the USDA has been to reduce the level of saturated fat in your diet, in order to lower your overall cholesterol. However, a new meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine has thrown that whole approach in to question.

The removal of fats from our diet has led to an increase in consumption of carbohydrates and processed low-fat alternatives, which has contributed to record levels of diabetes and obesity.

When you consider that most low-fat or non-fat products are laden with salts, sugars and preservatives, continuing to seek out fat-free alternatives could be doing you more harm than good.

MORE: Give (Frozen) Peas a Chance–and Carrots Too

MORE: The Oz Diet

MORE: Further Reading On Fat

TIME Research

29.1 Million Americans Now Have Diabetes

The CDC reports an increasing number of Americans are diabetic

About 29.1 million Americans—nearly 10% of the U.S. population—now has type 2 diabetes, according to a new report.

Of those Americans with the illness, 27.8% of them are undiagnosed, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report released Tuesday. The report uses data collected between 2009-2012, as well as national surveys.

The CDC estimates that the direct and indirect costs of the disease have reached $245 billion, with direct medical costs making up 72% of that amount. People with type 2 diabetes incur medical costs on average 2.3 times higher than people without the disease, the CDC found.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by various factors that result in a heightened amount of blood sugar in the body. The disease is divided into two types; type 1 diabetics do not produce enough insulin, a hormone integral to metabolizing blood sugars, while in type 2, the body cannot use the insulin it makes. Diabetes can in the most severe cases result in serious complications including heart and kidney disease.


If Looks Could Kill: Carcinogens in Hairdressers’ Blood from Dyes and Perms

Mladen Mitrinovi—Getty Images

Study finds concerning carcinogens from dyes and perms in hairdressers' blood

Looking fabulous can come at a price—and sometimes that price is unwittingly outsourced to the people who provide these services for a living.

A new study of 295 female hairdressers, 32 regular users of hair dyes, and 60 people who get regular hair treatments found that permanent hair dyes and the chemicals used to straighter or curl hair can be carcinogenic to humans. Those with the highest exposure are hairdressers. The researchers found that among hair dressers, carcinogen levels in their blood tended to rise alongside the number of weekly permanent light hair coloring treatments they did.

It was only a few years ago that it was discovered that the Brazilian hair straightening—a treatment that smooths hair for up to six months–could release the known carcinogen formaldehyde. This despite the suggestion that keratin, which is a natural protein found in hair, is the ingredient doing the heavy lifting. In 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and several State OSHA programs issued a Hazard Alert after hearing complaints from salon workers. A subsequent investigation found air-borne formaldehyde that exceeded OSHA safety guidelines

Brazilian blowouts are still a beauty salon option, even though the FDA issued a warning letter to one company that makes Brazilian blowout solution for labeling and safety violations. Yet, due to how the United States regulates salon treatments and cosmetics, the agency had little recourse to pull the products from salon shelves.

While it’s up to the consumer to choose whether to undergo a hair styling that puts them at a risk for chemical exposure, hairdressers are the ones really putting themselves at risk. The new study, published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, says hairdressers should protect themselves by using gloves and completing steps that cannot be done with gloves before hair dying.


TIME Research

We Evolved To Withstand Getting Punched in The Face

University of Utah
University of Utah An artist's impression of how human faces may have evolved to minimise injury from punches.

"When modern humans fight hand to hand, the face is usually the primary target," a researcher says

Humans evolved to minimize injury incurred by punches to the face, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Utah observed that the fossils of australopiths—bi-peds that lived 4-5 million years ago and directly preceded the human genus Homo—had robust cheek, jaw, eye and nose features. Scientists had previously thought that the australopiths’ strong facial features were an evolutionary adaptation to their hardy diet, but the study published in the journal Biological Reviews suggests that they were likely eating softer foods like fruit.

Dr. David Carrier, the lead researcher in the study, told the Guardian that the australopiths’ hands had adapted to form a fist, allowing them to engage in hand-to-hand combat. “When modern humans fight hand to hand, the face is usually the primary target,” Carrier said. Carrier and his team found that the bones that had evolved to be more robust were typically the features that suffer the greatest impact in a fight.

The study also shows that while the faces, hands and up-right nature of australopiths evolved to allow for improved fighting, modern-day humans have less robust facial features. Carrier told BBC that humans have less of a need to protect themselves because violence is no longer a driving evolutionary factor. “There’s a temporal correlation,” Carrier said.

TIME Sex/Relationships

Husbands, If You Want a Good Night’s Sleep Make Sure Your Wife Is Happy

A new study finds that sleep-wake schedules are more synchronized when a wife is content with her marriage, indicating that sleep patterns are a shared behavior between partners.

A happier wife may bring better sleep for husbands.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, married couples are more likely to sleep in sync when a wife is more satisfied with her marriage.

The study indicates that partners who sleep in the same bed are awake, or asleep, at the same time for 75 percent of the time – but it also suggests that the percentage is higher if the wife has a higher level of marital satisfaction.

“Most of what is known about sleep comes from studying it at the individual level; however, for most adults, sleep is a shared behavior between bed partners,” said Heather Gunn, lead author of the study.

“This suggests that our sleep patterns are regulated not only by when we sleep, but also by with whom we sleep.”

[American Academy of Sleep Medicine]

TIME Research

Birth Control Works in Long-Term Acne Treatment, Study Says

More effective than previously thought

Birth control pills are as effective as antibiotics for treating women’s acne in the long term, according to a new review of clinical studies.

The dermatological study shows that antibiotics are more effective than the Pill for the first three months of treatment, but are equally successful after six months.

“This confirms that birth control pills are a good solid treatment for acne, and they’re probably underutilized,” Dr. Steven R. Feldman, a dermatologist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, told Reuters. “Given the desire to minimize antibiotic resistance and exposure, hormonal birth control could be a good alternative.”

Birth control pills may soon be the more benign alternative to some of the antibiotics and harsh topical gels used in acne treatment. Dermatologists are already recommending low doses of birth control for female acne patients, Feldman said.

TIME Research

Search Engine for Genes Will Boost Medical Research

DNA Genes
Getty Images

With the database, researchers will be able to see links between different genes, helping them find better treatments for everything from Alzheimer's to cancer

Researchers at Virginia Tech have developed a search engine, called EvoCor, which finds genes that are functionally linked.

By typing the name of a gene type into the database, the platform generates a list of genes that are compatible and likely to function together. This list of gene candidates can then give scientists a tighter focus in their research — for example, in identifying genes that function too slowly or impair cognitive and motor skills, the variants of which may lead to Alzheimer’s or other diseases.

“We know of many genes that, when mutated, lead to disastrous outcomes,” said Gregorio Valdez, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “But these genes don’t function alone. EvoCor identifies functional partners and those partners could turn out to be better targets for therapeutics.”

[Science Daily]

TIME Research

How Men and Women Feel Pain Differently

Understanding how men and women feel feel pain is clouded by conflicting results and murky interpretations. While some work suggests that women feel more pain than men, other studies have found the opposite to be true. So which gender has the higher threshold? That depends on what’s hurting and how.

Dr. Andreas Sander-Kiesling, in the department of anesthesiology and intensive care at the Medical University of Graz in Austria, reviewed records of more than 10,000 patients undergoing various surgeries over a two year period who were asked to rate their pain within 24 hours of their procedure. The men were 27% more likely to report feeling more pain after major operations such as heart and shoulder surgery, while women were more likely to show higher pain readings after relatively minor or routine ones such as biopsies and even abortions. Interestingly, women reported less pain after invasive procedures. Because the average age of the women was 58—post-menopause when estrogen, which can increase pain sensitivity, drops—that might in part explain the finding.

MORE: Men vs. Women on Pain: Who Hurts More?

Another factor could be psychological. Biopsies, for instance, are done to determine if suspicious growths are cancerous, or life-threatening, says Sandner-Kiesling, so the anxiety of worrying about cancer may be playing a role in how women perceive the relatively minor procedure. The same may apply to abortion, which can be fraught with emotional and psychological implications.

“We were hoping we could answer more about gender and pain,” says Sandner-Kiesling, “and in certain ways we did, and certain ways we did not. We found a [gender] difference but the difference may depend on the procedure. So the whole picture is still completely fuzzy and confusing.” Which means for the time being, at least, there won’t be male or female versions of pain-killing treatments, but if research continues to tease apart how and why men and women perceive pain in different ways, that may not be so far off.

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