TIME medicine

These Mummified Cadavers Helped Teach Medical Students in the 1800s

The Burns Collection consists of human cadavers from the early 1800s that were anatomically dissected and preserved to teach anatomy and surgery to medical students. For the first time this portion of the collection is on display to the public as a part of traveling exhibit "Mummies of the World: The Exhibition."

TIME Research

Here’s How the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Actually Started

More than $15 million later, looking back at the origins of a viral sensation

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has quickly gone from a fundraising campaign to a viral Internet sensation, raising $15.6 million so far for the ALS Association to research Lou Gehrig’s disease.

But how did a campaign that has drawn in celebrities from Oprah and LeBron James to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg actually start?

Chris Kennedy, a golfer in Sarasota, Fla., was nominated by a friend to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge, which at the time, had nothing to do with ALS. The campaign was not tied to any specific charity, and participants would select a charity of their choice for donations. Kennedy’s friend had selected a charity that benefits a young child with cancer in the area. Kennedy, passing the challenge along, then selected ALS because a relative is suffering from the disease. Kennedy nominated his wife’s cousin Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband Anthony is the one suffering from ALS. Kennedy posted this video on July 15—what appears to be the first instance in which the Ice Bucket Challenge and ALS were linked.

“My cousin Chris sent me a message telling me to check my Facebook,” Jeanette Senerchia told TIME. “He nominated me as a joke because we bust each other’s chops. I was just going to donate money.” Instead, Senerchia, not to be outdone by Kennedy, accepted the challenge and posted the video on her Facebook page on July 16, nominating more people. In the beginning, they used the hashtags #takingiceforantsenerchiajr and #StrikeOutALS to support a newly-formed non profit and baseball tournament to honor Anthony.

Senerchia said their town of Pelham, N.Y., is small and the challenge started to spread like wildfire among everyone including their families and even high school friends. Soon, they couldn’t keep track of the number of videos. Eventually, it reached another man with ALS, Pat Quinn from Yonkers, N.Y. Quinn and Senerchia had a couple of mutual Facebook friends, and the campaign had spread to his online community. Quinn was diagnosed with ALS in March 2013.

Eventually, Quinn’s social network connected with Pete Frates in Boston, who has an especially large network of supporters, and is very involved with the ALS community. Frates was diagnosed a year before Quinn, and since the two had a lot in common (Frates was a former captain of the Boston College baseball team and professional baseball player in Europe) Frates has become a friend and mentor to Quinn. “Pete has been a mentor to Pat because he is a year ahead of him in progression,” said Nancy Frates, Pete’s mother.

When asked how Pete Frates gained such a large following, Nancy says, “If you met Pete you would know.” Frates has maintained friendships with people he’s met throughout his life, and they’ve all become part of his support network. Frates posted his own video on Facebook on July 31, using both the hashtags #StrikeOutALS and #Quinnforthewin—and that’s when the campaign really went viral.

The ALS Association says it started seeing an unexplained uptick in donations on July 29, and on Aug. 4, it was clear something was really taking off. The organization said Monday that it’s received more than $15 million from existing donors and 307,598 new donors. Nancy Frates said her family has received emails from other smaller ALS groups who have said their donations are also up. “Everyone is being made aware of this disease and the reality of it,” Frates said.

“What started out as a small gesture to put a smile on Anthony’s face and bring some awareness to this terrible disease has turned into a national phenomenon and it is something we never could have dreamed of,” Kennedy said.

TIME Research

Here’s How Much Money the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Has Now

Nearly 150,000 have donated so far, including some high-profile names

More than a week after the Ice Bucket Challenge first went viral, people keep dumping ice on their heads, and the ALS Association keeps collecting money. The organization’s national office has received $5.5 million for Lou Gehrig’s disease research since July 29, compared to $32,000 in the same period last year.

ALS Association spokeswoman Carrie Munk said earlier this week that the organization is “thrilled and completely amazed” at the sum they continue to raise and the public awareness the campaign has generated. Nearly 150,000 new donors have given to the cause as of Thursday.

The challenge, if you haven’t seen it already, features people dumping cold water on their heads and then nominating friends to do the same. If nominees don’t accept the challenge, they’re asked to donate money instead. A number of high profile figures have dumped ice on their heads, like Chris Christie and Mark Zuckerberg. Others, like President Obama, opted to donate instead.

TIME Research

There May Be a Neurotoxin in Your Skin Cream

Hand lotion
Getty Images

Scientists are finding methods to quickly screen products for unsafe metals

Scientists are ruining everything about your morning routine this week.

First, researchers reported that they had found a way to detect fillers like twigs, wheat, soy and corn in your coffee—a practice that has apparently become more common due to coffee shortages. Now, researchers presenting at the same conference, the annual American Chemical Society, are reporting a new way to filter out metals from skin cream. Yup, that’s right, there’s toxic mercury in some face lotion.

The researchers report that while the U.S. limit on mercury in products is one part per one million, they have found that some face creams contain levels up to 210,000 parts per million. Though some mercury in creams provide a skin lightening effect, which can fade scars and hyperpigmentation, mercury exposure has also been linked to a long list of negative health consequences including headaches, kidney damage and altered cognitive functioning.

In their presentation, the researchers report that by using a new machine that uses a method called total reflection X-ray fluorescence, they can effectively and quickly screen products for mercury. “Using the new instrument, I can run through 20 or 30 samples in a day quite easily. By identifying those products that contain mercury, we can direct people to remove them and clean up their households,” study author Gordon Vrdoljak of the California Department of Public Health said in a statement.

The FDA has warned consumers about mercury exposure from skin cream in the past. You can read tips for how to protect yourself, like reading labels, here.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

You Asked: Can Water Go Bad?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Does drinking old water make you sick?

That depends, says Dr. Kellogg Schwab, director of the Johns Hopkins University Water Institute. As soon as you take a sip, your lips and mouth introduce microorganisms into your H2O. Combined with the ambient temperature in your home or office, and sunlight streaming into your windows, those microorganisms could start to multiply pretty quickly, Schwab says.

“If you have clean water in a clean glass, you’re fine for a day or two,” he says, adding that almost all tap water in the U.S. contains chlorine additives that will kill small communities of microorganisms. But if you’ve ever swigged a sip of day-old water from bedside your bed or on your desk and wondered why it tastes funny, that’s because after about 12 hours it goes flat and, as carbon dioxide from the air interacts with the H2O in your glass, it slightly lowering its pH. “But it’s most likely safe to drink,” Schwab adds.

He says reusing the same dirty glass day after day will raise you risk of exposure to some unfriendly bacteria—especially if someone else is sipping from your vessel and mixing his or her mouth microorganisms with yours. But assuming you grab a new cup every few days? “You’re probably not going to have a problem,” Schwab assures, adding that, “This is far from the top of the list of public health concerns.”

One possible exception: Touching the rim of your glass with dirty fingers—especially if you (or whoever unloaded the dishwasher) forgot to wash up after using the bathroom. There are lots of different sickness-causing bacteria in human waste, and if you handle your glass with dirty hands, those bacteria could make their way into your water, Schwab warns.

But what about that plastic water bottle on the floor of your car? Heat and plastic are a bad combination, he stresses. “A chemical called bisphenol-A, or BPA, along with other things used to manufacture plastic can leach into your water if the bottle heats up or sits in the sun,” he explains. BPA is a hormone disruptor that research has tentatively linked to several health hazards, including heart disease and cancer. Schwab says the types of plastic used for bottling water aren’t meant to be washed or refilled, so use them once and recycle them. Or better yet, use refillable containers made of metal or glass.

When it comes to storing water for long periods, the answer is “Yes,” your H2O can certainly become unsafe to drink, says Zane Satterfield, an engineer scientist with the National Environmental Services Center at West Virginia University. “Most experts will tell you tap water has a shelf-life of six months,” Satterfield says. “After that point, the chlorine dissipates to the point that bacteria and algae start to grow.” That growth will speed up if you store your water in a warm or sunny spot—or in a glass container that hasn’t been thoroughly washed or sealed, he adds.

If you’re a doomsday hoarder with giant vats of pre-packaged water in your basement, you should know that will last at least a year. But after 12 months you’re best off swapping out what you have for fresh stores, Satterfield advises. “You’ll see that some of the water will evaporate during that time, which is proof that the plastic isn’t impermeable,” he explains.

If you want to play it safe when it comes to water that’s been stored for long periods, Satterfield says adding a few drops of plain, unscented bleach and waiting 30 minutes will make your water safe to drink. (Specifically, that’s four drops per gallon, he adds.) Good to know in case of an apocalypse—zombie or otherwise.

TIME Research

Here’s How Much Money the ALS Ice-Water Stunt Has Collected

More than $1 million was raised over the weekend

As people continue to dump ice on their heads, money continues to roll in. The ALS Association national office reported collecting $5.5 million in donations since July 29, compared with $32,00o in the same time period last year. Nearly 150,000 new donors have contributed.

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen the videos of people taking on the Ice Bucket Challenge, where, apparently in the name of awareness-raising about Lou Gehrig’s disease, people have been pouring buckets of ice water over their heads and then challenging others to do the same on social media. According to the ALS Association, the challenge has also resulted in lots of money, too.

Since July 29, when the campaign kicked off, more than 71,000 donors have donated $2.3 million dollars to the national ALS Association, the organization said. The organization collected $25,000 in the same period last year. The $2.3 million figure includes nearly $1 million raised since Monday afternoon.

ALS Association spokeswoman Carrie Munk said the organization is “thrilled and completely amazed” at the sum they’ve raised and the public awareness the campaign has generated. She expressed awe at the quick rate at which the campaign has grown and said it’s difficult to anticipate how much it might ultimately raise. More than a million dollars came in over the weekend alone.

Who would have thought dumping ice on your head could be so profitable?

 

TIME Research

Ingredients in Antibacterial Soap Could Put Fetuses at Risk

FDA Proposes Makers Of Antibacterial Soaps To Prove Their Effectiveness
Bottles of antibacterial soap are seen on a grocery store shelf in Miami on December 17, 2013 Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Researchers say pregnant women and fetuses exposed to common ingredients found in antibacterial soaps and other germ-killing products could suffer health risks

Adding to the evidence against the safety of antibacterial soaps, researchers have found that pregnant women and fetuses that are exposed to triclosan and triclocarban — two common ingredients found in germ-killing soap — could face health risks.

The report released by the American Chemical Society (ACS), which will be presented at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the ACS, found that pregnant women and their fetuses were being exposed to antimicrobials, an agent that kills micro-organisms. “We found triclosan in all of the urine samples from the pregnant women that we screened. We also detected it in about half of the umbilical-cord blood samples we took, which means it transfers to fetuses. Triclocarban was also in many of the samples,” one of the researchers, Benny Pycke, told ACS.

Researchers also found a link between women with high levels of butyl paraben — an antimicrobial found in many cosmetics — and shorter newborn lengths, although the long-term consequences of this remains unclear.

The research led by Rolf Halden, a professor at Arizona State University, adds to previous studies proving that antibacterial products could also cause bacterial resistance and a decrease in thyroid hormones. In reaction to the growing controversy surrounding antimicrobials, the Food and Drug Administration announced in December 2013 that antibacterial hand soap and body wash manufacturers would have to prove that their products were safe for long-term use and were more effective than regular soap at eliminating germs.

However, only removing a few products from the shelves may not eliminate exposure to the deleterious effects of antimicrobials. Scientists say the ingredients are difficult to avoid because they are found in over 2,000 products including paints, soaps, detergents and toothpastes.

At the very least, the ACS says the findings are alerting policymakers and adding additional pressure on companies to remanufacture their products to remain on the market. Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have already planned to remove triclosan from some products.

TIME Health Care

Even Dentists Disagree On How To Brush Your Teeth

Young boy brushing teeth, Italy
Getty Images

A study describes the different views as 'unacceptably inconsistent'

What’s the right way to brush your teeth? New research suggests that the experts don’t really know.

The study, published in the British Dental Journal, said that teeth-brushing advice provided to consumers is “unacceptably inconsistent” in its description of how often to brush and for how long.

“The wide range of recommendations we found is likely due to the lack of strong evidence suggesting that one method is conclusively better than another,” said lead author John Wainwright in a University College London press release.

The discrepancy is problematic, Wainwright said, because it leads to distrust in dentists and their profession.

“For something most people do twice a day, you would expect dentists to send a clearer, more unified message to their patients on how to brush their teeth,” said Wainwright, who now works as a dentist.

Hopefully the dental community doesn’t brush off his advice.

TIME Japan

Science Scandal Triggers Suicide, Soul-Searching in Japan

Sasai, deputy director of the Riken's Center for Developmental Biology, poses for a photo with Haruko Obokata in front of a screen showing STAP cells, in Kobe
Yoshiki Sasai, right, deputy director of the Riken's Center for Developmental Biology, poses for a photo with Haruko Obokata on Jan. 28, 2014. Kyodo/Reuters

Yoshiki Sasai’s death has generated mixed emotions among Japan's scientific community

It was a success story that Japan sorely needed: a young, talented and beautiful researcher developed a cheap and simple way to grow versatile stem cells.

The discovery promised to usher in a new age of regenerative medicine, validated Japan as a leader in scientific research and demonstrated that even in a male-dominated society, women could excel when given a chance.

Alas, it may have been too good to be true.

Intrigued by researcher Haruko Obokata’s breakthrough, other scientists tried but failed to replicate her results. Peer-review websites accused her of falsifying data and doctoring images, and supervisors were accused of lax management. Obokata, 30, was forced to retract her scientific papers, and the government-sponsored research center where she worked launched a formal investigation.

The matter took a darker turn this week when Obokata’s supervisor and mentor, Yoshiki Sasai, a noted scientist in his own right, was found hanging from a stairway railing at his office.

In farewell letters found at his desk, Sasai reportedly apologized for the turmoil, but urged Obokata to continue her work and to prove her detractors wrong.

Sasai’s death cast a pall over the controversy. But in a nation where suicide does not carry the same stigma as in some Western countries, there has been a certain degree of sympathy — if not outright approval.

“This is seen in some respects as an honorable way out of a shameful and devastating turn of events: ‘A highflyer brought low by an underling’s mistakes, seeking to atone for and expunge the shame,’” says Jeffrey Kingston, a professor of Asian studies at Tokyo’s Temple University-Japan. “This touches a chord of sympathy and understanding in Japan.”

Sasai was a noted stem-cell scientist and deputy director of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, in Kobe — part of a national research system that receives roughly $1 billion a year in government support and is part of an ambitious effort to boost scientific research throughout Japan.

The 52-year-old was not directly involved in Obokata’s research, but had helped recruit her and supervised the research papers that were published in the British journal Nature in January.

But whether Sasai’s death generates sympathy for Obokata or the rest of Japan’s scientific community remains to be seen.

Obokata burst onto the scene in late January with the publication of the Nature papers, of which she was the lead author. Those studies claimed to have found a new way of creating stem cells, dubbed stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP. Such cells could be used to create new tissue, with potential for treating illnesses like Alzheimer’s, heart disease and stroke.

Poised and photogenic, Obokata was an instant hit with Japan’s frenetic media —mainstream and social, alike. Here, after all, was a different kind of scientist. Even in the lab, Obokata flashed stylish clothes, false eyelashes and fashionable hairstyles. She eschewed the usual white lab coat in favor of a traditional housewife’s kappogi (a gift from her grandmother, she explained) and had the walls of her lab painted pink and yellow and decorated with cartoon characters.

Even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has made “womenomics” a key plinth of his economic revival package, noticed. He commended Obokata’s apparent achievement from the floor of Japan’s Parliament and vowed to build “a country where the women are the brightest in the world.”

But it didn’t take long for doubts to surface. Peer-review websites noticed oddities and discrepancies in Obokata’s research. Attempts to replicate her findings failed.

By mid-February, RIKEN had launched an internal investigation. In April, officials charged Obokata with fabricating data, doctoring images and borrowing descriptions from other research papers.

Meanwhile, discrepancies were found in the research of other leading scientists, though none with the public profile of Obokata.

In an excruciating, four-hour press conference televised live by many of Japan’s major networks, a tearful Obokata struggled to maintain her composure. She admitted errors in her research papers, but maintained they were innocent mistakes that did not affect the final results. STAP cells were real, she insisted.

She has remained on the staff at RIKEN but has maintained a low profile, refusing interviews. In July, RIKEN officials announced that she would be allowed to take part in a five-month experiment designed to discover once and for all whether her initial findings were real. Other researchers and video cameras would monitor her work, officials said.

The RIKEN affair has been watched closely by Japan’s scientific community, which has produced its share of Nobel Prizes but is often viewed as insular and underperforming.

“One thing that should not be lost in all this is that Japan produces outstanding science,” says Jonathan Dorfan, a former director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, at Stanford University, and now president of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan.

“People in the scientific community here are paying attention to this, and hopefully that will lead to the kind of training that will avoid an outcome like this happening again.”

TIME Research

Low Vitamin D Increases Risk for Dementia and Alzheimer’s, Study Says

Senior woman covering face with her hands
Getty Images

Research shows a correlation, not a causal link, with the ailments

Elderly people with a moderate-to-severe Vitamin D deficiency are significantly more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published this week, confirming a link that was much stronger than what the researchers had anticipated.

An international team of researchers spent six years looking at 1,658 Americans, aged 65 or older, who at the start of the study had not suffered from dementia, cardiovascular disease or a stroke—and who could walk without assistance. The team found that adults who were moderately deficient in Vitamin D were 53% more likely to develop a form of dementia; those with a severe deficiency were 125% more likely to be stricken with the disease.

The researchers emphasized that the study, partially funded by the Alzheimer’s Association and published online in Neurology, shows a correlation between Vitamin D deficiency and dementia but does not establish a causal link.

“Clinical trials are now needed to establish whether eating foods such as oily fish or taking Vitamin D supplements can delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” the study’s leader, Dr. David Llewellyn of the University of Exeter Medical School, said in a statement. “We need to be cautious at this early stage and our latest results do not demonstrate that low Vitamin D levels cause dementia. That said, our findings are very encouraging, and even if a small number of people could benefit, this would have enormous public health implications given the devastating and costly nature of dementia.”

More than 44 million people around the world suffer from dementia, the researchers note, and that figure could triple by 2050 as the global population quickly ages.

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