TIME Research

A New Treatment for Migraines Is Showing Promising Results

485221893
Getty Images

Treating migraines effectively might have gotten a lot easier, according to a new study published this month.

Researchers at the Albany Medical Center claim that a new innovative treatment offers chronic migraine sufferers prolonged relief from the debilitating headaches.

During the procedure, clinicians insert a spaghetti-size catheter through the patient’s nasal passages and administer lidocaine to the sphenopalatine ganglion — a nerve bundle behind the nose that is associated with migraines. It should be noted that no needles actually touch the patient during the process.

“When the initial numbing of the lidocaine wears off, the migraine trigger seems to no longer have the maximum effect that it once did,” said Dr. Kenneth Mandato, the study’s lead researcher at Albany Medical Center.

Following the procedure, 88% of patients reported that they required less or no migraine medication to provide additional pain relief.

[Science Daily]

Read next: 8 Things You Don’t Know About Supplements

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME astronomy

Scientists Find a Black Hole 12 Billion Times More Massive Than the Sun

An artist's illustration shows a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun at the center released by NASA on February 27, 2013.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout/Reuters An artist's illustration shows a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun at the center released by NASA on February 27, 2013.

It's discovery appears to confound current theories about how black holes are created

A team of international astronomers has discovered a black hole of almost unimaginable proportions.

At 12 billion times more massive than the sun, it challenges current cosmological thinking, reports Reuters.

“Our discovery presents a serious challenge to theories about the black hole growth in the early universe,” lead researcher Xue-Bing Wu for Peking University, China told the news agency.

The enormous object was formed 900 million years after the Big Bang, and scientists are stumped as to how a black hole of that size could have grown in such a relatively short time.

“Current theory is for a limit to how fast a black hole can grow, but this black hole is too large for that theory,” said fellow researcher Dr. Fuyan Bian, of Australian National University.

Not only is the black hole the biggest ever seen but also it’s at the center of the largest quasar ever discovered. (Quasars are the brightest and most powerful objects in the universe, with this one emitting huge amounts of energy and light as matter is ripped apart by the black hole at its core.)

For comparison, the black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, has only about four to five million times the mass of the Sun.

The black hole was discovered by a team of global scientists at Peking University, China, tasked with mapping the northern sky, and their findings were published in the journal Nature.

[Reuters]

Read next: This Is How Incredible (and Terrifying) Space Looks in Virtual Reality

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Research

You Asked: Why Is My Scalp So Itchy?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

It’s probably dandruff. But everything you’ve heard about dandruff is wrong.

Itches are inscrutable. They arrive unannounced and recede at the rake of a fingernail. But the stubborn kind—the type that skittle across your scalp with terrible regularity—tend to have an easily identifiable cause: Dandruff.

“People think dandruff has to do with dry skin, but it’s actually a problem with how the skin cells on your scalp turn over or replace themselves,” says Dr. Adam Friedman, director of dermatologic research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Your skin is constantly shedding layers of cells while manufacturing new ones, and Friedman says this process can be touchy. “Producing too many cells too quickly can lead to a build-up of dead skin, and this build-up itches and flakes off,” he explains. “That’s dandruff.”

What causes this over-production of skin cells? Anything that puts stress on your immune system—from cold winter temperatures to a crazy week at the office—can switch on certain genetic proteins that speed up the production of skin cells, Friedman says. (Other skin conditions—acne, eczema—also flare up when you’re stressed.)

Yeast microorganisms living on your scalp can also mess with your skin’s cell reproduction, says Dr. Anthony Rossi, a dermatologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. While usually harmless, these organisms—which live on everyone’s skin—can cause a reaction in some that leads to cell overabundance.

How do you stop the itching and flaking? Dandruff shampoo is a good start. Friedman says these shampoos work by killing scalp microorganisms and turning off the proteins that cause your skin cells to go nuts. That said, shampoos only help if you use them properly. “You’re trying to treat your scalp, so working these into your hair doesn’t do much good,” Friedman says. “You need to massage these products onto your scalp skin and leave them there for a couple minutes before rinsing.” (They aren’t usually very kind to your hair, though.)

He says dandruff shampoos typically include any one of a small number of chemicals that are all pretty much equally effective. While you could wash with them every day without over-drying your scalp, Friedman says this isn’t necessary. “Two or three times a week is plenty,” he says. “And if you don’t see improvement after a few weeks, switching to another product or using them more probably won’t do any good.”

There are many more explanations for an itchy dome. If your scalp is inflamed, red, and itchy, that may be seborrheic dermatitis—a more severe form of dandruff. “Scalp psoriasis is probably the next most common,” Friedman says. It can be hard to tell the difference between the two. But usually the flakes or “plates” of silvery gray plaques associated with scalp psoriasis are larger than dandruff flakes and tougher to brush from your clothing, he says. Scalp psoriasis could also cause some ear or face flaking.

Friedman mentions a few less-common issues: a skin disease called discoid lupus, or an allergic reaction. Rossi says an irritation to hair products like sprays or pomades is another possible itch-instigators. But trying to distinguish between those things and dandruff is really tough, Friedman says.

A good rule of thumb: If you have a red, itchy head and dandruff shampoos aren’t working after a month, see a doctor, he advises. He also cautions against waiting too long if dandruff shampoos don’t get the job done. “If you don’t treat inflammation of the scalp, there’s a chance of skin damage or hair loss,” Friedman says. “There’s often no coming back from that once it happens.”

TIME Research

This ‘Peanut Patch’ Could Protect Against Peanut Allergies

peanuts
Getty Images

Half of those who used the largest patch saw their peanut tolerance increase 10-fold

A small skin patch applied to patients with peanut allergies appears to safely and effectively protect against the sometimes life-threatening condition, researchers said Sunday

“This is exciting news for families who suffer with peanut allergies because Viaskin represents a new treatment option for patients and physicians,” study author Hugh A. Sampson, a doctor at Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mount Sinai, said in a statement.

The patch exposed patients to a small dose of peanut protein, ranging from 50 to 250 micrograms, for the course of the study. The study, which evaluated more than 200 patients with peanut allergies for a year, found that the treatment worked, particularly for patients who used the 250-microgram patch. Half of those who used the largest patch saw their peanut tolerance increase 10-fold. Tolerance increased 19-fold for some children treated with the 250-microgram patch.

The researchers, who presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, reported no serious side effects to the treatment.

“EPIT appears safe, well tolerated and effective,” Sampson said. “That’s good news for families who suffer from food allergies.”

Read next: 5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Gluten

TIME Research

Why Washing Dishes by Hand May Lead to Fewer Allergies

168849264
Getty Images

A new study shows kids in families who hand-wash their dishes have fewer allergies

Households worldwide now have extra incentive for getting family members to do the dishes: It could prevent the development of allergies.

A new and preliminary study, published in the journal Pediatrics, adds to an increasing body of evidence that suggests getting a little dirty does the immune system some good. That thinking is known as the “hygiene hypothesis,” which speculates that the reason kids develop so many allergies today is because their environments are just too clean. Without exposure to bacteria early in life, children’s immune systems don’t become as hardy as they could be.

Research over the years has linked a variety of early lifestyle factors, like having pets, eating fish and living on a farm to a significantly lower risk of developing allergies. Now this new study suggests that hand washing dishes might be the next behavior to add to the list.

“If you are exposed to microbes, especially early in life, you stimulate the immune system in various ways and it becomes tolerant,” says study author Dr. Bill Hesselmar of Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden. “We thought [hand washing dishes] might be important, but we didn’t know, so we asked that question.”

Hesselmar and his team surveyed the parents and guardians of 1,029 Swedish children ages 7 to 8. They discovered that children in homes where the family hand-washed the dishes instead of using a machine were less likely to have allergies. Only 23% of children whose parents used hand dishwashing had a history of eczema, compared with 38% of kids whose families mainly used machine dishwashing. The researchers also found that the result was amplified when kids ate fermented food or food bought directly from farms.

Though the study is only observational and can’t confirm causality, Hesselmar and his team have a few speculations.

It’s not necessarily that the kids are washing the dishes themselves and becoming exposed to bacteria. That might be one form of exposure, but as Hesselmar notes, some of the kids might be too young for that chore. Instead, it could be that long-term use of hand-washed dishes does the trick. Prior research comparing the cleanliness of dishes washed by hand to those washed by machine has shown that machine washing is more efficient and leaves fewer bacteria behind. Living in a household that hand-washes means family members are eating off of plates and cutlery that have more bacteria, and therefore more microbial exposure.

Families who hand-wash may also have other lifestyle factors that contribute to a lower allergy risk. The researchers note that overcrowded housing, low socioeconomic status and immigration status can also be linked to fewer allergies, as well as possibly different modes of dish washing.

“The study was really well done and caveated well, while simultaneously suggesting new areas of research and interesting models,” says Jonathan A. Eisen, a professor at the University of California at Davis. Eisen, who was not involved in the study, is an expert on exposure to microbial communities.

The study still leaves a few questions unanswered, like why hand washing was only associated with a lower likelihood of eczema and not other allergy-related symptoms like asthma, or why the effect was so significant even though dish washing requires the use of soaps, possibly even antibacterial products. Hesselmar says they are asking the same questions and hope to continue looking into the link.

Read next: This ‘Peanut Patch’ Could Protect Against Peanut Allergies

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Research

Are YouTube Videos With Alcohol Dangerous?

98324578
Getty Images

A new study shows popular YouTube videos make light of alcohol

Prior research has suggested that teen media exposure to alcohol, whether through TV shows or movies, could influence their drinking behaviors. Now, a new study suggests that online videos may also be a site for negative exposure.

In the new study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, a team of researchers watched 70 of the most popular videos on YouTube related to intoxication in order to see what kinds of messages they were sending.

To do that, the researchers searched for the terms “drunk,” “buzzed,” “hammered,” “tipsy,” and “trashed” and chose the most popular and relevant videos in those categories. In order to characterize the videos, they coded each one for a variety of factors, like how much alcohol was depicted, who the characters were and whether the video showed consequences of binge drinking. Overall, the videos contained more men than women, and usually depicted a specific brand. Rarely did the videos show poor side effects like withdrawal.

The videos with the most “likes” tended to be funny, and the overall vibe of the video was upbeat and positive when a specific brand was mentioned. Hard alcohol was the most common beverage featured, even though beer is the most common alcoholic beverage consumed in the United States, the authors note.

In the study, the researchers didn’t make any connections between watching the videos and drinking more or drinking more dangerously. But their findings shed light on what alcohol-related content is available online. The findings are still preliminary, but online videos may be another way to target young people who might be susceptible to messaging.

Conversely, the researchers also view YouTube as a potential venue to reach young people with positive messages about drinking as well. Videos could educate teenagers about the potential consequences of behaviors like binge drinking. Either way, YouTube may be worth further consideration by public health experts, they note.

TIME Research

A Home Screening Test for the Bloom Syndrome Gene Has Been Approved

119021558
Getty Images

Similar genetic testing devices will also soon be exempt from the FDA's premarket review protocols

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has allowed Google-backed company 23andMe to begin marketing a home genetic test for Bloom Syndrome — an inherited condition characterized by shortness of height and increased risk of cancer.

The FDA also announced that it intends to exempt similar genetic testing devices from its premarket review protocol.

Screening tests are largely used by prospective parents who are concerned that their future children may inherent harmful genetic disorders.

“Today’s authorization … along with FDA’s intent to exempt these devices from FDA premarket review, supports innovation and will ultimately benefit consumers” stated spokesman Alberto Gutierrez.

TIME Research

Why Smoking Pot Brings On the ‘Munchies’

a stock photograph of pizza
Getty Images

Marijuana can shake up the chemicals in your brain

Wherever marijuana is smoked, the consumption of snacks usually follows — and a new study suggests that’s because pot causes changes in brain circuitry that make you hungry.

Pot heads and scientists alike have long known that marijuana can make a person crave food, a phenomena known colloquially as the munchies. But the evidence is still cloudy when it comes to why this happens. So a team of Yale researchers set off to figure it out.

In a new study published in the journal Nature, the researchers discovered that cannabinoids from marijuana actually interfere with signaling in the brain that causes the body to feel hungry when it should be feeling full. To do so, they looked at the brains of high mice.

The researchers observed that the neurons in the mice brains that make them feel sated, called POMCs, were activated in those who were given a chemical to mimic marijuana in the brain. At first, it didn’t make any sense. If the neuron in the brain that inhibits hunger is activated, then shouldn’t the mice be much less hungry? Not hungrier?

What the team discovered was that the cannabinoids interfere with the chemical POMCs’ release — so that when the mice were “sober,” the neurons released a satiety chemical. But when the mice were “high,” their neurons released a chemical that spurs appetite.

“It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead,” said study author Tamas Horvath in a statement. “We were surprised to find that the neurons we thought were responsible for shutting down eating, were suddenly being activated and promoting hunger, even when you are full. It fools the brain’s central feeding system.”

The new findings join the many working theories looking at why marijuana causes hunger. A study from last February, for example, suggests that the THC in marijuana activates smell receptors which causes hunger. The new results are still preliminary and require further research. For now, the jury is still out.

Read next: This Event Will Teach Businesspeople How to Buy Pot

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME public health

People Who Sext Are More Likely to Text While Driving

texting while driving
Getty Images

'Technological deviance' may be the reason why

More than a quarter of American adults admit to texting while driving, but not everyone is equally likely to engage in the dangerous practice, finds a new study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. People who text and drive are more likely to be white than nonwhite, men than women and sexters than the sext-abstinent.

“In modern social life, we are tethered to our devices,” says study author Steven Seiler, assistant professor of sociology at Tennessee Tech University. “When we’re driving, we’re simply taking the norms that we have in other areas of life.”

The study evaluated survey data from more than 2,200 American adults and found that more than 27% of drivers admitted to texting while driving. The practice seemed to be fueled by a sense of constant connection to others. What the authors call “technological deviance,” a disregard for social norms around technology, may help explain why sexting was an associated behavior.

Read More: How Your Cell Phone Distracts You Even When You’re Not Using It

Even though a majority of states ban texting while driving, Seiler says he is skeptical that such laws are the most effective way to stop the practice. New Jersey, a state that keeps extensive records on texting-while-driving enforcement, enacted strict laws to ban the practice more than five years ago, but hasn’t seen a decline since, Seiler says.

“When there’s laws prohibiting mobile phones, rather than keeping the mobile phones near their face, they’ll keep it in their lap,” he says. “The change has to occur on a cultural level, not simply stricter laws.”

Much like state laws, simple restrictions aren’t likely to change culture. Students who attend a school that bans mobile phones from the classroom are more likely to engage in texting while driving, Seiler says he found in an forthcoming study. “They’re catching up on that time lost,” he says. “This goes back to how integrated cell phones are with our relationships.”

To truly eradicate the practice, Seiler says the dangers of texting while driving need to be ingrained in a child early in their socialization. Parents need to monitor their children’s texting, and texting while driving should have consequences, he says.

Traffic safety campaigns should try to spread the message in every way possible, much like the seatbelt campaign of the 1990s, he says. In the United States in 2012, more than 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving accidents, which include talking on the phone and texting while driving.

Read more: Why People Text And Drive Even When They Know It’s Dangerous

TIME HIV/AIDS

Scientists Find a Way to Block HIV from Infecting Healthy Cells

475180273
Getty Images HIV viruses infecting a human immune cell

Researchers overcome a major hurdle in developing the ultimate protection against HIV

Reporting in the journal Nature, scientists describe a new way to potentially block HIV from infiltrating healthy cells. Such interference is key to protecting people from HIV infection, but most efforts so far haven’t been successful.

This time, however, may be different. Michael Farzan, professor of infectious diseases at Scripps Research Institute, and his team used a gene therapy technique to introduce a specific HIV disruptor that acted like gum on HIV’s keys. Once stuck on the virus’s surface, the peptide complex prevents HIV from slipping into the molecular locks on healthy cells. Because the gum isn’t picky about which HIV strain it sticks to—as long as it’s HIV—the strategy works against all of the strains Farzan’s group tested in the lab, including both HIV-1 and HIV-2 versions that transmit among people, as well as simian versions that infect monkeys. In lab dishes containing the virus and human and animal cells, the disruptor managed to neutralize 100% of the virus, meaning it protected the cells from getting infected at all.

MORE: The End of AIDS

The strategy is based on what HIV experts know about how the virus infects healthy cells. HIV looks for a protein, or receptor on immune cells called CD4, which serves as the lock, and uses a specially designed portion of its own viral coat made up of three proteins as the key. Once HIV finds its target and the match is made, the virus changes its shape to better slip inside the healthy cell, where it takes over the cell’s machinery and churns out more copies of itself. Farzan’s gum, called eCD4-Ig, not only seeks out these parts of the key and renders them useless, but by glomming onto the key, also causes the virus to morph prematurely in search of its lock. Once in lock-finding mode, the virus can’t return to its previous state and therefore is no longer infectious.

The encouraging results suggest that eCD4-Ig could provide long-term protection against HIV infection, like a vaccine; in four monkeys treated with gene therapy to receive eCD4-Ig, none became infected with HIV even after several attempts to infect them with the virus. The protection also seems to be long-lasting. So far, the treated monkeys have survived more than a year despite being exposed to HIV, while untreated control monkeys have died after getting infected.

MORE: This Contraceptive Is Linked to a Higher Risk of HIV

The strategy, while promising, is still many steps away from being tested in people. Farzan used a cold virus to introduce the eCD4-Ig complex directly into the muscle of the animals, and it’s not clear whether this will be best strategy for people. Previous gene therapy methods have led to safety issues, and concerns have been raised about controlling where and how much of the introduced material gets deposited in the body. It may also be possible to give the peptide as an injection every few years to maintain its anti-HIV effect.

MORE: HIV Treatment Works, Says CDC

Farzan anticipates that if proven safe, the strategy could help both infected patients keep levels of HIV down, as well as protect uninfected, high-risk individuals from getting infected. But many more tests will need to be done before we might see those results. Four monkeys can provide valuable information, but can’t answer questions about safety and efficacy with any confidence. “Things change when we get to humans and when we get to larger numbers,” he says. “But the data in monkeys are as encouraging as one could hope.”

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com