TIME Research

Search Engine for Genes Will Boost Medical Research

DNA Genes
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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.

TIME Research

Marijuana Use Can Bring Sleepless Nights, Study Finds

Marijuana leaf
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A wake up call from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania finds that a history of drug usage, even among quitters, may disrupt a good night's rest

A new study has found higher incidences of restlessness and sleep deprivation among marijuana users, upending conventional wisdom that it can help a user relax into a good night’s rest.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed the sleep habits of 1,811 former and current marijuana users. The users reported higher rates of sleeplessness and drowsiness compared with nonusers, and the most affected group were participants who started using the drug at an early age. Those who experimented with marijuana before the age of 15 were twice as likely to report severe sleep loss, even if they had cut back on the drug on later in life, a finding that surprised researchers.

“As more people have access [to marijuana], it will be important to understand the implications of marijuana use on public health, as its impact on sleep in the ‘real world’ is not well known,” said senior author Michael Grandner.


Stress Degrades Sperm and Fertility, Study Finds

Men who feel stressed have fewer, slower sperm

Psychological stress may degrade sperm quality and sperm fertility, according to a study published today in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

“Men who feel stressed are more likely to have lower concentrations of sperm in their ejaculate, and the sperm they have are more likely to be misshapen or have impaired motility,” said researcher Pam Factor-Litvak, an epidemiologist at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, in a statement. “These deficits could be associated with fertility problems.”

Researchers studied 193 men ages 38 to 49, who rated how stressed they felt and shared the life events that led to said stress. Life stress degraded the quality of semen even when the scientists accounted for other factors, such as health concerns or previous issues with fertility.

Even though life stress affected the caliber of the sperm, workplace stress did not. However, job strain did lower testosterone levels and therefore could still hurt reproductive health. Unemployed men also had lower sperm quality than employed men, regardless of other stressors.

Scientists don’t know how exactly emotional strain affects semen, but this adds to a body of research examining the many ways emotional stress can take a toll on the body.

TIME Drugs

Marijuana Could Help Prevent Meth-Related Brain Damage

David Sutherland—Getty Images

A new study shows that giving marijuana to rats partly protects their brains against the damage caused by methamphetamine

Researchers from the University of Cagliari in Italy have suggested that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, could partially protect the brain from the damage caused by meth.

However, it’s early days, and the study was not conducted on humans but on rats.

Methamphetamine damages the brain in various ways, among others by stimulating micrologia to eat living brain cells. It can also cause inflammation in the brain, and it is against this latter effect that THC may be helpful.

“A neuroprotective effect of cannabinoid was likely mediated, at least in part, by its anti-inflammatory properties,” the researchers found.

TIME Research

Don’t Trust Wikipedia When It Comes to Your Health, Study Says

Researchers found errors and inaccurate assertions in 9 out of 10 Wikipedia entries on the costliest medical conditions

A new study has found that Wikipedia entries on the costliest medical conditions contradicted the latest medical research 90% of the time.

A team of U.S. scientists said they found “many errors” in Wikipedia articles concerning the 10 costliest medical conditions. The researchers cross-checked Wikipedia entries on coronary disease, lung cancer, hypertension and back pain, among other ailments, against the latest research from peer-reviewed journals.

Nine out of 10 entries analyzed on the crowd-sourced encyclopedia contained assertions that were contradicted by the peer-reviewed sources. Only the entry on concussions escaped the review error free. The authors noted that the article appeared to have contributors with a greater degree of expertise, mimicking the peer-reviewed process.

“Health care professionals, trainees, and patients should use caution when using Wikipedia to answer questions regarding patient care,” wrote the study’s authors in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

The authors laid particular stress on medical professionals; a recent study found that 50 percent of physicians admitted using Wikipedia as a reference source.

TIME Research

This Is Why Bacon Smells so Good

Science has an explanation.

It’s a smell that we all know and love, but what is it that makes the aroma of sizzling bacon so enticing?

The folks at the American Chemical Society decided to find out and were able to pinpoint the answer, with a little help from their friends at chemistry blog Compound Interest.

The answer is that the sugar and amino acids in bacon mix in what is called the Maillard Reaction, which produces about 150 aroma compounds that provide the unique smell.

Check out the video from the ACS for more information.


These Are The 5 Most Lethal States for Pedestrians

Fueled By Consumer Spending, Economy Grew At 3.2 Percent In 1st Quarter
A woman with shopping bags traverses a crosswalk near Columbus Circle April 30, 2010 in New York, New York. Chris Hondros—Getty Images

Read this, Floridians

A new study warns of a nationwide “epidemic” of pedestrian fatalities concentrated in states that aren’t exactly known for their bustling crosswalks.

Researchers at the National Complete Streets Coalition crunched the numbers on 47,025 pedestrian deaths over the last 10 years—a number that exceeds deaths from natural disasters sixteen times over, the study notes.

States with dense urban populations and heavy concentrations of walkers, including Washington D.C., New York and Massachusetts, skewed on the safe side of the study’s “Pedestrian Danger Index,” a measure of deaths relative to the number of people walking the streets.

The real danger zones are down south in the car-centric urban tracts of Florida, Alabama and Louisiana. In short, these states weren’t made for walking.

Source: National Complete Streets Coalition

Orlando, Florida topped the list of most hazardous cities with 583 pedestrian deaths and a danger index four times above the national average. Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami came in 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively among the most dangerous cities.

The study also found that elderly pedestrians accounted for one in five fatalities, suggesting that Florida’s urban planners should neither be singled out for blame nor let off the hook. And perhaps they should pay a visit to these 5 pedestrian-friendly states:

Florida and 5 States
Source: National Complete Streets Coalition

The study’s authors advocated for reductions in speed limits and clearer delimitations between car lanes, bike lanes and crosswalks to combat an “epidemic” of pedestrian deaths, averaging 5,000 a year.

“Not only is that number simply too high,” said Roger Millar, Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, “but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design, and practice.”

TIME human behavior

Sometimes Discrimination Is More About Favoritism Than Hostility, Research Says

Most cases of recent prejudice stem from preference for the ingroup, not hate for the outgroup

Discrimination we see in the United States is more complicated than we might assume, according to a review of recent research by two psychologists. Psychology has traditionally defined discrimination as hostility toward those unlike ourselves (or outgroups), but these psychologists believe that more recent cases of bias in the U.S. likely stem from our tendency to favor people who are like ourselves (or ingroups).

Tony Greenwald of the University of Washington and Thomas Pettigrew of the University of California, Santa Cruz reviewed studies on discrimination from the last decade and found that prejudice is often rooted in a preference for similar people, rather than in an intent to cause harm to others. They assert that the majority of cases of discrimination in the U.S. don’t stem from hostile actions like homophobic speech or acts of violence spurred by racist feelings. Instead, unintentional discrimination through favoritism is often the culprit. “This is not to say that prejudice and hostility are not related to outgroup discrimination,” Pettigrew said. “But they are not as central to most discrimination as ingroup favoritism.”

And those similar people may not necessarily look like you. “Your ‘ingroup’ involves people that you feel comfortable with, people you identify with,” Greenwald said in a statement. “We usually think first of demographic characteristics like age, race, sex, religion and ethnicity as establishing an ingroup, but there are also ingroups based on occupation, neighborhood and schools attended, among other things. Outgroups are those with whom you don’t identify.”

So when an employer is considering two candidates—think of one who grew up with a similar background, went to a similar school and is perhaps the same race, compared with another person who has had completely different life experiences—he’s more likely to hire the candidate with whom he identifies. The discrimination against the second candidate is not necessarily intentional or even conscious, it may be because he favors the candidate more like himself not because he dislikes candidate who isn’t like him. But the bias there nonetheless.


TIME Research

Researchers Identify Drugs To Slow Incurable Lung Disease

New study found that pirfenidone and nintedanib can aid sufferers of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that until now had no treatment at all

Researchers said Sunday that they have identified two drugs which could aid breathing and prolong life for patients suffering from an incurable lung disease.

The drugs, pirfenidone and nintedanib, slow the decline of patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, the researchers said during a meeting of the American Thoracic Society in San Diego. Their findings were published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Although the drugs do not cure the disease, which scars and thickens the lungs making it hard to breathe, researchers called the findings a “major breakthrough” for an ailment that until now has had no treatment at all.

“I suspect that many of my patients have picked up on more than a hint of frustration in my voice when I tell them that the cause of their shortness of breath is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis,” Dr. Gary M. Hunninghake, a lung specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. “This frustration stems from the fact that beyond providing information about prognosis or referral for lung transplantation or palliation, there has been little to offer in the way of treatment. …The game has now changed.”

The drugs’ manufacturers helped pay for the study, the New York Times reports. At least 80,000 Americans suffer from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which causes scarring of the lungs and is fatal within three to five years for most patients.

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