Astronauts fly to International Space Station in under six hours.

Soaring Bee Deaths in 2012 Sound Alarm on Malady.

‘An absolute scandal’: MP calls for top doctor’s resignation over suspension of surgery at Leeds General Infirmary children’s heart unit.

Physicists Find Evidence That The Universe Is A ‘Giant Brain’.

Here is a story worth sharing. We often speak of the universe being a reflection of ourselves, and point to how the eye, veins, and brain cells mirror visual phenomenon in the universe. As above so below right? Well check this out. How about the idea that the universe is a giant brain? The idea of the universe as a ‘giant brain’ has been proposed by scientists and science fiction writers for decades, but now physicists say there may be some evidence that it’s actually true (in a sense).

According to a study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, the universe may be growing in the same way as a giant brain – with the electrical firing between brain cells ‘mirrored’ by the shape of expanding galaxies.

The results of a computer simulation suggest that “natural growth dynamics” – the way that systems evolve – are the same for different kinds of networks – whether its the internet, the human brain or the universe as a whole.

A co-author of the study, Dmitri Krioukov from the University of California San Diego, said that while such systems appear very different, they have evolved in very similar ways.

The result, they argue, is that the universe really does grow like a brain.

The study raises profound questions about how the universe works, Krioukov said.

“For a physicist it’s an immediate signal that there is some missing understanding of how nature works,” he told

The team’s simulation modelled the very early life of the universe, shortly after the big bang, by looking at how quantum units of space-time smaller than subatomic particles ‘networked’ with each other as the universe grew.

They found that the simulation mirrored that of other networks. Some links between similar nodes resulted in limited growth, while others acted as junctions for many different connections.

For instance, some connections are limited and similar – like a person who likes sports visiting many other sports websites – and some are major and connect to many other parts of the network, like Google and Yahoo.

No, it doesn’t quite mean that the universe is ‘thinking’ – but as has been previously pointed out online, it might just mean there’s more similarity between the very small and the very large than first appearances suggest.

Mayo Clinic finding a way to diagnose concussions with more certainty.


At the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, neurologists are discovering new ways to diagnose concussions. Research shows that autonomic reflex testing, which measures involuntary changes in heart rate and blood pressure, consistently shows significant changes in those with concussions. The findings were presented at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting held in San Diego last week.

Today, doctors count on self-reports from the patients of symptoms to make a diagnosis of concussions. Besides the report of symptoms, or lack thereof, there is no regular test to decide whether the injured person’s brain has fully recovered from a concussion. In light of brain-research studies, doctors are positive that there is a lag between when the patient believes that symptoms have resided and when the brain has actually healed. This means that a fast, definitive tool is needed to tell whether a brain has fully recovered from a concussion.

“This has the potential to change the way we approach concussion patients,” says Dr. David Dodick, a neurologist and director of the Mayo Clinic Concussion Program. “One of the challenges of treating someone with a concussion is to reliably make a diagnosis: to know when the brain is injured and to know when the brain [has] actually recovered.”

“Autonomic nervous system dysfunction has long been recognized as a possible complication of people with severe traumatic brain injury but has rarely been associated with people with concussions or milder forms of brain injury,” adds co-author Dr. Brent Goodman, a Mayo neurologist and autonomic system expert.

The autonomic nervous system involuntarily controls heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, respiratory rate and perspiration.

In one study, doctors watched over 21 patients after they had received concussions. All of them experienced big changes in heart rate and blood pressure during autonomic testing. The physicians concluded that these changes were due to concussion.

“Contrary to popular belief, the symptoms of dizziness that patients feel just after a concussion may, in some cases, be symptoms of autonomic system impairment rather than a vestibular or inner ear disturbance,” says Dr. Bert Vargas, a Mayo neurologist.

More research is needed, but the Mayo team is optimistic, Dodick says.

“This study shows a possible electrophysiological biomarker that indicates that a concussion has occurred. We are hopeful that with more research this will be confirmed and that this may also be a biomarker for recovery,” he says.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Sex Drive and Menopause: 50 Shades of Normal.

Desire may decline with estrogen levels

Sex and menopause may seem like odd bedfellows. Especially if you’re one of the 15 to 70 percent of menopausal or postmenopausal women with sexual dysfunction, such as low desire or painful intercourse.

Why do studies report such varying percentages?

Perhaps because when it comes to sex, there are 50 shades of “normal,” according to Judith M. Volkar, MD, an OB/GYN for Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Specialized Women’s Health. There are no standards on how often you should have — or desire — sex. Sexual dysfunction simply refers to any issue that causes distress or interpersonal difficulty in the bedroom. So if you’re not desiring or having sex and you’re not distressed by it, then you’re not dysfunctional.

But if you are distressed, you’re not alone. And there are plenty of things you can do to make your sex life satisfying during menopause and beyond.

Improve function — even without hormone help

As women go through menopause, their estrogen levels drop. Lower levels of estrogen cause a decrease in blood flow to the vagina, which can make it less sensitive to touch and less receptive to physical arousal. Less estrogen also can mean less vaginal lubrication. All of that can make intercourse less desirable, more difficult or downright uncomfortable.

Fortunately, several things can help women, says Dr. Volkar:

  • Over-the-counter vaginal lubricants can supplement natural lubrication.
  • Vaginal moisturizers are like lubricants, but they stay in the vagina longer and cling to vaginal walls. Use them a couple of times a week (not at the time of intercourse).
  • Vaginal estrogen can help if lubricants and moisturizers are not enough. As a vaginal cream, dissolvable tablet or long-term insert, estrogen can restore vaginal mucosa to the way it was before menopause.
  • An FDA-approved clitoral therapy device works like a gentle vacuum that can increase blood flow to the clitoris. In addition to increasing vaginal lubrication, it can enhance the ability to achieve orgasm.

While some drugs are being tested, currently there is no Viagra®-type drug to treat low libido in women.

Try increasing your receptivity instead of your sex drive

Hormones aren’t the only factor in a woman’s sex life. Emotions play a big role, too. While men can use sex as a stress reliever, women usually prefer to relieve stress before having sex. Tension, fatigue and relationship issues all can affect a woman’s sexual desire.

But here’s an interesting fact: Women don’t necessarily need to desire sex in order to enjoy it. It’s like going to the gym. You may not feel like working out on a particular day. But once you start on the treadmill, you get into it, enjoy it and feel better afterward.

So, instead of trying to increase your sex drive, try increasing your receptivity — your willingness or ability to enjoy sex once you get into it. You might try:

  • Reading erotic books or articles that make you start thinking about sexual things
  • Watching erotic videos
  • Talking to your partner about things that arouse you
  • Scheduling a romance night — and thinking beforehand about what you’ll do

You’re never too old! Talk to your doctor

If these tips don’t help and you are bothered by your sexual function, see a physician. You are never too old. Even if you haven’t had sex in years, a doctor can guide you in restoring enjoyment.


Isolated Limb Infusion for In-Transit Melanoma and Extremity Sarcomas.


farma_224x164Isolated Limb Infusion (ILI) is a regional technique which involves temporarily isolating the blood supply to an extremity to concentrate chemotherapy treatment there.

It’s a minimally invasive procedure for delivering high doses of chemotherapy to treat recurrent in-transit disease in a limb, including melanoma and sarcoma.

Only a handful of physicians nationwide offer ILI.

At Fox Chase Cancer Center,
it’s Dr. Jeffrey Farma.

Metastatic melanoma and extremity sarcoma are some of the hardest cancers to treat. Treatment for patients with advanced melanoma and sarcoma (that has spread to other parts of the body) may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, interferon therapy, biologic/immunotherapy and/or innovative therapies using new drugs to fight the disease.

What is Limb Infusion?isolatedDiagram

With ILI, the effects of chemotherapy can be concentrated regionally in one area, easing the strain and toxicity on the full body that can accompany standard chemotherapy. It also allows a much higher concentration of the dose than a standard intravenous chemotherapy would permit.

In an Isolated Limb Infusion, a tourniquet is used to stop the blood circulation in the affected limb. A catheter is inserted into both the artery and vein and used to circulate a high dose of the treatment drug into the limb for up to 40 minutes, without the stress on other organs that would normally occur.

When the session is over, the drugs are flushed from the limb, and normal blood flow is returned. The full session can take three hours.

The ILI procedure can safely be repeated if deemed necessary.

ILI Treatment Results

For melanoma, we see response in the tumor in approximately 60% of patients.  The technique was developed on the 1990s by an Australian melanoma specialist, John Thompson, MD, as a refinement of an older treatment called Isolated Limb Perfusion (ILP). While the ILI procedure has a good success rate for patients with recurrent melanoma and sarcoma, the skilled team necessary to perform the procedure is rare enough to make it only available at a few centers in the United States.

Source: Fox Chase Cancer Center

Talk it over: language, uniquely, makes us human.



We humans tend to consider ourselves apart from other species. But we’re not really so different. So what makes us unique? I’d say it’s language, though not everyone would agree.

Some people insist it’s our large brains, but dolphins have proportionally larger brains than we do. Some still contend our opposable thumbs set us apart, but koalas have two thumbs on each hand.

We walk on two legs? Yes, of course, but the feathered species do that too.

Some are insistent that our individuality as a species rests on the fact we can use tools, but many diverse vertebrate species are tool-users, including primates, elephants and birds. Even the veined octopus and certain ants and wasps have been observed using tools.

The answer, then, is… language. We uniquely have the ability to communicate complex and abstract ideas.

At first it was spoken language. Then, independently, several human cultures developed the written word – the means to communicate with others over thousands of miles or years.

Through language we have built civilisations, developed science and medicine, literature and philosophy. We do not have to learn everything from personal experience, because through language we can learn from the experience of others.

Language makes us human, and it’s encoded in our DNA.

The language gene
FOXP2, known as the “language gene”, has a unique sequence in humans. While other living mammals share identical amino acids at two key amino positions 303 and 325, these amino acids are different in humans (threonine to asparagine at amino acid 303 and asparagine to serine at amino acid 325).

Such substitution mutations occurred some time after we diverged from our common ancestor with the chimpanzee 4-8 million years ago.

We shared this unique FOXP2 protein sequence with both Neanderthals and Denisovans, from which we diverged somewhere in the region of 400,000 years ago.

Compared to these other hominids, humans have an additional mutation in a region that regulates FOXP2 gene expression. Was it this latest mutation in FOXP2 that ensured our survival through better communication, as other hominids went extinct?

This mutation was swiftly incorporated into the human genome at high frequencies during the last 50,000 years suggesting it carries a survival advantage. Studies to understand the effect of this most recent change in FOXP2 are currently underway.

The FOXP2 gene is involved in brain development, particularly those areas involved in vocal behaviour. FOXP2 is particularly important for animals, including songbirds such as finches, canaries and parrots that learn to sing by imitation.

In the songbird brain, FOXP2 expression is highest when birds are learning to sing. Reduction of FOXP2 expression in the brain of zebra finches at this critical period left birds unable to completely or accurately learn to sing.

In humans, FOXP2 mutations are associated with severe speech and language deficits known as developmental verbal dyspraxia – affecting both the ability to coordinate vocal muscles in speech and causing language comprehension difficulties. What a terrible, isolating condition that must be.

In language we find both truth and beauty; then, being human, we use it to argue about what is true and beautiful.

Language is fundamentally what makes us what we are. Would you disagree? If so, please, use your voice and let me know.


IVF Success Predicted in New Individualized Test.

A simple online test may give women considering in vitro fertilization (IVF) a much more accurate idea of their chances of a live birth on the first try, compared with a model based on age alone, the authors of a new study say.

The test, called PreIVF-Diversity (PreIVF-D), uses the patient’s age, body mass index, day 3 follicle-stimulating hormone level, and medical and fertility history, as well as a semen analysis, to estimate her chances of a live birth resulting from her first IVF treatment.

In the study, published online March 21 and in the June issue of Fertility and Sterility, researchers used data from 3 clinics in North America and Europe to develop and validate the model.

PreIVF-D was developed by Univfy Inc. The company’s founders, Wing Wong, PhD, and Mylene Yao, MD, are coauthors of the study. Several other authors are employees of, or hold stock in, Univfy.

Lead author Bokyung Choi, PhD, and colleagues retrospectively analyzed 13,076 first IVF treatment cycles performed at clinics in Spain, Canada, and the United States. They initially developed clinic-specific PreIVF models using 10,957 of the available cases, taking into account baseline clinical variables and data available from each clinic before the patients started IVF, as well as variables and outcomes data from each individual clinic.

The team then used those models to develop a clinic-independent model. “We built PreIVF-D by blending and weighting the individual components from all 3 clinic-specific models to form a resulting model that was adjusted for the different numbers of cases available from each clinic,” they write.

The team simultaneously developed a control age-based model from the same 10,957 cases. They classified the women into age categories identified by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Age-D).

The team further used 1061 independent cases from the 3 clinics as a training set for the PreIVF-D model and then validated it on an independent set of 1058 cases from clinics.

The validation was performed by comparing PreIVF-D against the Age-D model based on objective measures: predictive power, discrimination (the ability to distinguish patients based on their prognoses), accuracy, and the percentage of patients that would have been reclassified as having a different predicted probability of having a live birth. “We determined the posterior probability of having a live birth in the first IVF cycle based on the collective phenotype profile of the patient and her male partner, or the patient”s phenotype profile alone if donor sperm is used,” the authors explain.

Compared with Age-D, PreIVF-D showed a 35.7% improvement in the ability to predict live birth, representing more than a 1000-fold increase in predictive power on a linear likelihood scale. PreIVF-D resulted in significantly different live birth probabilities in 86% of cases (P < .05), compared with the Age-D model, with 57% showing higher probability of live birth and 28% a lower probability.

The authors suggest that many patients may avoid IVF because they underestimate their chances of success. If more accurate testing encourages even a small percentage of those women to pursue a pregnancy, “that represents an increase in IVF utilization by good-to-excellent prognosis patients, which in turn would improve the overall success rates and utilization of IVF,” they write.

However, at least 1 independent expert sounds a cautionary note. “IVF is an effective, but expensive, technology for assisting with reproduction,” said Sanjay Agarwal, MD, clinical professor, director of fertility services, and director of the Center for Endometriosis Research and Treatment, University of California, San Diego. “Based on the woman’s age, many couples wrongly assume their chances of success are either substantially better or worse than they really are,” he told Medscape Medical News in an email.

Given this uncertainty, “there is definitely a need for [the] sort of individualized assessment” provided by PreIVF-D, he continued. But, he warns, “centers vary quite substantially in terms of success, and this model remains unproven for centers not involved in this study.”

With that issue in mind, Univfy has offered to perform a free analysis for any clinic interested in learning how their patient-specific success rates compare to the PreIVF model.


Powder Tobramycin Okayed for Cystic Fibrosis Lung Infections.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a tobramycin inhalation powder (TOBI Podhaler, Novartis) for treating patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) whose lungs are infected with the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the agency announced today.

P. aeruginosa infections easily develop in the excess mucus accumulating in the lungs of patients with CF, according to the FDA. One antibiotic remedy in the past has been tobramycin inhalation solution (TOBI, Novartis), on the market since 1997. It is delivered through a nebulizer. In contrast, tobramycin inhalation powder (TIP) is delivered through a hand-held, pocket-sized inhaler.

“Today’s approval broadens the available delivery mechanism options for patients with cystic fibrosis who require treatment for P. aeruginosa,” said Edward Cox, MD, MPH, director of the Office of Antimicrobial Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research in a press release. “This product is the first dry powder antibacterial drug delivered with a handheld dry powder inhaler.”

An FDA advisory panel last September voted 13 to 1 to recommend approval of TIP even though FDA staff had questioned the drug’s effectiveness in helping patients with CF breathe better.

In its press release today, the FDA said the efficacy of TIP was established in a clinical trial involving 95 patients with CF who were 6 years of age and older and infected with P. aeruginosa. The study attempted to determine gains in lung function by measuring the change in forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1). For patients receiving TIP, FEV1 rose a statistically significant 12.5%. Patients given a placebo experienced a 0.09% gain. Other studies supported the effectiveness as well as the safety of the drug, according to the FDA.

Common adverse events that surfaced in the studies include coughs producing phlegm or blood, lung disorder, shortness of breath, fever, mouth and throat pain, changes in voice volume or quality, and headache.