The third state of consciousness under the knife

Having a general anaesthetic is a routine part of many operations. But what happens if you are still conscious after you close your eyes?

You are in the operating theatre. Anaesthetic has been administered and the countdown to unconsciousness begins.

Surgeons in an operating theatre

For most people, the next thing they will remember is being roused from a deep sleep.

But in a small minority of cases, complete unconsciousness never comes.

Being awake during surgery and not being able to do anything about it is every patient’s worst nightmare.

But according to one of the country’s leading anaesthetists, it may not be as simple as saying that someone is either asleep or awake.

Prof Jaideep Pandit, consultant anaesthetist at the Oxford University Hospitals, believes there is an alternative “third state” of consciousness somewhere between sleeping and waking that patients under general anaesthetic can and do experience.

“I call it dysanaesthesia,” he explains. “A type of awareness where the patient is aware of the surgery but is neither conscious nor unconscious.”

A third dimension of consciousness

Despite being used around the world on a daily basis, no-one is exactly sure how a general anaesthetic acts upon the body.

Anaesthesia is a complicated business requiring many years of training and a proper understanding of which drugs to give, and how much.

However in general, a patient can be expected to receive an anaesthetic to make them unconscious and a painkiller to numb the pain.

A specialist doctor will then monitor a whole host of measurements throughout the operation to make sure that the patient really is out for the count.

Even so, in an estimated 1 in 15,000 surgeries patients experience what is known as accidental awareness where they remember aspects of their surgery after waking. Around a third of those will feel pain.

The question whether someone is conscious or not is mind-bogglingly complex.

But Professor Pandit is investigating something that goes one step further – a twilight state that lies between conscious and unconscious states – and one that his experiments show happens much more frequently than accidental awareness.

He has been able to show this through the use of something known as the Isolated Forearm Technique.

The patient is aware of the surgery but is neither conscious nor unconscious.”

Professor Jaideep Pandit Oxford University Hospitals

Before the advent of carefully calibrated monitoring equipment, anaesthetists were able to use this technique during surgery to check whether someone was fully unconscious.

The method uses a tourniquet to prevent any muscle relaxants from paralysing the forearm. This means that if the patient becomes conscious during surgery, they can move their arm to alert the surgeon.

Professor Pandit has used the technique to show some fascinating aspects to human awareness.

In repeated tests, one third of patients who are seemingly unconscious are able to squeeze the experimenter’s fingers on command using their non-paralysed forearm. But none of them will move spontaneously to show that they are awake or in pain during surgery.

“To all extents and purposes, these patients are unconscious,” says Prof Pandit. “But they are clearly in a state where they can respond to some stimuli like verbal commands but not to others like the surgery, possibly because they are not distressed by it.”

According to Prof Pandit, this suggests there is a third level of consciousness.

But analysing the concept remains extremely difficult.

“Mainly when patients come round they will have no recall of the event or if they do they do it’s just vague memories. They’re unable to remember anything with clarity,” he told the BBC.

Still a mystery

One way doctors frequently explain general anaesthesia to patients is to compare it to being asleep. But that is technically inaccurate says Dr Emory Brown, a professor of anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School.

“What we need to do to safely and humanely operate on you – to perform a procedure which is indeed, very invasive and certainly traumatic – is to put you in a state which is a coma that we can readily reverse,” he told the BBC.

This coma-like condition potentially protects the patient from pain and memory of the surgery. But it also helps the surgeons to operate by keeping the patient still and maintaining bodily functions at a stable level.

However, what’s happening in the brain as it slips from conscious into unconsciousness is still uncertain.

In 2011, a research team at Manchester University were able to watch for the first time the effects on a human brain as it lost consciousness under anaesthetic.

Using a novel method of brain imaging, they were able to construct real-time 3D images of the brain – rather than the 2D slices of standard brain scans.

It enabled them to see how electrical activity in the brain changed as the patients went under.

Interestingly, activity in the brain appeared to hot up as the patient became unconscious. This suggests that rather than switching off, the brain works hard to dampen down or inhibit consciousness while they are under the influence of anaesthetic.

But scientists are still a long way off from understanding the impact on the brain as unconsciousness occurs.

Pain and Trauma

“We are still unable at this time to define what human consciousness is, so trying to find a box of tricks that’s going to monitor its absence is difficult,” says Dr Kevin Fong, a consultant in anaesthesia at University College London Hospitals.

“But awareness during anaesthesia is something we’ve learnt to guard against through layers and layers of monitoring. We check surrogates of awareness such as heart rate, blood pressure and rates of respiration, and also constantly monitor the exact concentration of drugs in the blood.”

Indeed having memory of your surgery is one of the most important complications that both anaesthetists and patients wish to avoid.

Although a national survey this year found the risk of waking up under the knife was extremely low, the effects for patients who do experience it can be acutely traumatic.

For Prof Pandit, the ultimate aim of understanding human unconsciousness is to prevent such episodes from occurring.

“The risk of experiencing pain or distress during accidental awareness is very low at around 1 in 45,000,” he explains. “But when it does happen it can have a very bad effect on the individual.”

“So it’s not just the numbers that are driving us to research dysanaesthesia, but also the impact.”

The drugs used to take you under..

Person under anaesthetic
  • Anaesthetics are drugs that cause unconsciousness. They do not prevent a patient from feeling pain or paralyse their muscles. They can be delivered through either an injection or through gas.
  • Analgesics are painkillers. These are needed to make sure that the patient doesn’t experience pain either during the operation or for a short time afterwards.
  • Muscle relaxants are used to help paralyse the patient. However, they are not used in all forms of surgery. It is possible to fix a broken wrist, for example, without paralysis.

Study shows maths experts are ‘made, not born’

A new study of the brain of a maths supremo supports Darwin’s belief that intellectual excellence is largely due to “zeal and hard work” rather than inherent ability.

University of Sussex took fMRI scans of champion ‘mental calculatorYusnier Viera during arithmetical tasks that were either familiar or unfamiliar to him and found that his did not behave in an extraordinary or unusual way.

The paper, published this week (23 September 2013) in PloS One, provides scientific evidence that some calculation abilities are a matter of practice. Co-author Dr Natasha Sigala says: “This is a message of hope for all of us. Experts are made, not born.”

Cuban-born Yusnier holds world records for being able to name the days of the week for any dates of the past 400 years, giving his answer in less than a second. This is the kind of ability sometimes found in those with autism, although Yusnier is not on the autistic spectrum. Unlike those with autism or the related condition Asperger’s, he is able to explain exactly how he calculates his answers – and even teaches his system and has written books on the subject.

The study, carried out at the Clinical Imaging Sciences Centre on the University of Sussex campus, suggests that Yusnier has honed his ability to create short cuts to his answers by storing information in the middle part of the brain specialised for long-term (the and surrounding cortex). This type of memory helps us carry out tasks in our area of expertise with speed and efficiency.

Although the left side of his brain was activated during – which is normal for all brains – the scientists observed that something slightly different happened when Yusnier was presented with unfamiliar problems.

The scans showed marked connectivity of the anterior (prefrontal cortex), which are involved in decision making, during the unfamiliar calculations. This supports Yusnier’s report that he was building in an extra step to his mental processes to turn an unfamiliar problem into a familiar one. His answers to the unfamiliar questions had an 80 per cent degree of accuracy (compared with more than 90 per cent for familiar questions) and his responses were slightly slower.

Dr Sigala explains: “Although this kind of ability is seen among some people with autism, it is much rarer in those not on that spectrum. Brain scans of those with autism tend to show a variety of activity patterns, and autistic people are not able to explain how they reach their answer.

“With Yusnier, however, it is clear that his expertise is a result of long-term practice – and motivation.”

She adds: “It was beyond the scope of our paper to discuss the debate on deliberate practice vs. innate ability. But our study does not provide evidence for specific innate ability for mental calculations. As put by Charles Darwin to Francis Galton: ‘ […] I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work; I still think this an eminently important difference.'”

MacArthur Genius Working to Bring Sight to the Blind.

Sheila Nirenberg didn’t think a prosthetic eye was possible. Now, she’s seeing the light of the future.

“This year’s class of MacArthur Fellows is an extraordinary group of individuals who collectively reflect the breadth and depth of American creativity,” said Cecilia Conrad, vice president of the MacArthur Fellows program, in a press release announcing the 2013 recipients on Wednesday. “Their stories should inspire.”

Over the next few days, we will profile some of these innovative people in this series, “Interview With a Genius.”


Sheila Nirenberg, a 2013 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grants, has a mission: She’s working toward an affordable, widely available prosthetic eye for people suffering from eye diseases like macular degeneration.

The prosthetic is part Google glass, part camera, and part gene-translator—and some hope it will revolutionize the treatment of macular degeneration and blindness.

Not a Glass Eye

Normal vision is a three-step process that involves an image, the retina, and the brain.

When you look at an object, reflected light delivers its image to the retina. Photoreceptors in the retina take the image and transform it into a code composed of unique sets of electrical pulses—Morse code for the mind. Then those signals are sent to the brain.

In a December 2011 TED talk, Nirenberg spoke of the complexity of the patterns, which change every millisecond as new images come into your eye.

“The pattern of pulses is changing all the time because the world you’re looking at is changing all the time, too,” said Nirenberg during the talk.

But what happens when that process falls apart? Say, for someone with a retinal disease like macular degeneration?

“The photoreceptors die,” she explained. “All the cells around them die. And then one day, the only cells you have left are the output cells, the ones that send signals to the brain.”

But because there is no image coming in, the output cells simply sit there without a job to do.

“They aren’t getting any inputs, so the person’s brain isn’t getting any visual information,” Nirenberg said during her TED talk. “That is, he or she is blind.”

Rewiring the Eye

That’s where Nirenberg’s innovative prosthetic eye comes in.

Nirenberg thought if she could just rewire the eye’s output cells so that they started translating images into electrical signals, those signals could be sent to the brain and vision would be restored.

“I was talking with a student about it and jumped out of my chair. I knew. I knew how to make a prosthetic device. I had all the pieces.”

The idea? Creating a coding and translator device that would take the images being processed, encode them into electrical pulses, and then send them to the brain.

The patient would have to undergo a brief gene-therapy session in order to redirect the output cells in their eye—normally used to transmit image signals to the brain—into also accepting signals from a camera.

“We shoot a compound into the eye that will get expressed in the output cells,” Nirenberg said. “The person will wear a sort of camera that has an encoder device that takes the information from the camera and translates that into the retina’s code.”

A tiny processor—about the size of the one in a cell phone—helps in the process.

And voila: a person who previously had cloudy vision at best would suddenly not just be able to discern between light and dark, but could actually see again.

Not Just for “Zillionaires”

Nirenberg’s reasons for creating this device are relatively simple.

“I felt like it was my responsibility,” she said, noting that she had already done most of the hard work of coding the electrical pulses. “It doesn’t involve surgery, [which is] less daunting for patients, and hopefully [it’s] cheaper to make,” she said.

For now, Nirenberg’s focus is on raising money so she can bring the device through initial clinical trials and the Food and Drug Administration approval process.

The MacArthur genius grant money would be a small step in that direction—Nirenberg estimates that the cost of getting the device from research and development to market is about $6 million. That hasn’t stopped Nirenberg, who wants to get a prosthetic eye out to the millions of people suffering from, or at risk of, blindness.

Her ultimate goal for the prosthetic eye? That “it won’t only be for zillionaires.”

Strong link found between rheumatoid arthritis and vitamin D deficiency.

New evidence has emerged that vitamin D deficiency might not only be a cause of rheumatoid arthritis but also worsen the severity of the disease.

In a study published in the journal Nutrients in June, researchers from the University of Saskatchewan evaluated the vitamin D status in 116 patients at a community clinic, 60 of them suffering from rheumatic diseases. The researchers found that vitamin D levels were significantly worse in patients suffering from autoimmune rheumatic disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis).

In addition, the researchers found that, among rheumatoid arthritis patients, lower vitamin D levels were directly correlated with more severe symptoms. The effect was so striking that rheumatoid arthoritis patients with low blood levels of vitamin D were actually five times more likely to suffer from active symptoms than patients with higher levels.


An emerging consensus

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is characterized by the immune system misidentifying part of the body as a threat and attacking it. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the joints and other bodily tissues.

Vitamin D has been shown to play a critical role in helping regulate the immune system, and low levels have been linked to a higher risk of various autoimmune diseases. For this reason, researchers have suspected for many years that vitamin D might play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Population studies have supported this hypothesis, such as one published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2010 which found that women living in the northeastern United States were significantly more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than women living in places that get more year-round sunshine.

The body produces its own vitamin D when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, so overall levels of vitamin D deficiency are lower in regions closer to the equator.

A study published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism in 2004 suggests that high levels of dietary vitamin D may also help prevent the development of rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers analyzed data from nearly 30,000 women between the ages of 55 and 69 who had participated in the Iowa Women’s Health Study and had been followed for 11 years. Study participants were periodically questioned about their health status, eating habits and use of nutritional supplements. Over the course of the decade-long study, 152 of the participants were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

The researchers found that women with the highest dietary intake of vitamin D were the least likely to have developed rheumatoid arthritis. In contrast, women whose diet included fewer than 200 International Units of vitamin D per day had a 33 percent higher risk of developing the disease than women whose diets included more. These results remain statistically significant even after adjusting for other potential rheumatoid arthritis risk factors, such as smoking and calcium intake.

Get more sunlight

Although certain foods are enriched with vitamin D and the vitamin can also be taken in supplement form, getting more sunlight is still the safest and most effective way to increase your body’s levels of this powerful nutrient. Doctors say that your body can produce all the vitamin D it needs from just 15 to 30 minutes per day of skin on the face and hands (without sunscreen) for lighter skinned people, with more time needed for people with darker skin.

And it’s not just for reducing your risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Higher levels of vitamin D have been linked to lower rates of various autoimmune diseases, as well as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

If you think the timing is wrong for quitting cigarettes, you are wrong – Now is the time.

I bet you didn’t know that nicotine in commercial cigarettes is up to 35 times stronger than it was in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, before Big Tobacco (Marlboro and Kool) started using ammonia to free-base it. That is the number one reason why 95% of smokers who try to quit without help will return to smoking within 6 months. Nicotine is artificial chemical control of your emotions. Some people are switching to e-cigs (electronic cigarettes), so they can keep their nicotine addiction going strong while eliminating “some” of the chemicals found in the commercial cancer sticks. Other people quit cold turkey, usually after finding out they have cancer, or after a close friend or relative winds up six feet under from the nicotine nightmare. Talk about bad timing.


Quitting “cold turkey” is very difficult. Most people who quit smoking “cave in” and start back up again within half a year, but why? That’s because most programs give little to zero advice about nutrition and building back up the nutrients and the gut “flora” (good bacteria), which is destroyed by the 4,000 chemicals in every cigarette. Also, behavior rituals like breathing patterns and hand to mouth habits must be replaced with positive ones, or they will be missed and might cause a relapse. (

Plus, on top of everything else that sends smokers back to the well, toxic food and high blood acidity can cause nicotine withdrawal symptoms to flare up and the “urge to smoke” seem more “necessary,” leading to temporary relief from cravings and stressful moments, only to drag the person back into the undertow of chemical addiction and artificial emotion control. (

On top of the big “hooks” that keep smokers addicted, the cigarette industry spends about $23,000,000 a day on advertising and promotions. The statistics are all consuming, and cigarettes cause about 5 million deaths annually worldwide. Still, people smoke and wonder why they don’t quit. Want to know why? They can’t quit because they don’t know how. Even though “Big Tobacco” got busted for fraud and settled in the billions, they’re still up to no good, free-basing nicotine and brainwashing people into the habit from which they just can’t seem to “escape.”

23 million smokers in U.S. wish they could QUIT today

There are 46,000,000 smokers in the U.S. alone and half want to quit, but only 5% will succeed. Scary ads don’t work, and commercial cigarettes are STILL JUICED UP WITH AMMONIA, despite settling with Blue Cross Blue Shield to the tune of $6.5 billion in the 1990’s for doing just that and also marketing to children and teens. “More than 15 years has passed since the conclusion of the Minnesota tobacco trial and the signing of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) by 46 U.S. State Attorney Generals and the US tobacco industry. The Minnesota settlement exposed the tobacco industry’s long history of deceptive marketing, advertising, and research and ultimately forced the industry to change its business practices. It has also been more than 15 years since the tobacco industry’s individual settlements with the states of Mississippi (1997), Florida (1997), and Texas (1998) … These agreements are the 5 largest settlements in the history of litigation.” (

The CDC scary advertising campaign is also a dismal failure, only helping about 4% of the people who see it quit smoking, half of whom go back to smoking within 6 months, so what’s the use? Although the CDC brags that 1.6 million people TRIED to quit thanks to their scary ad campaign, how many really did quit? You can’t just scare people out of the third strongest addictive drug on the planet (nicotine); people need guidance and nutritional help.

The Number One Excuse is “Bad Timing”

The single most popular excuse that people use for not quitting is that the timing is wrong. They will say that times are TOO stressful, so they’ll have to wait, but the last thing the body needs while it’s under stress is ammonia, bleach, pesticide and plastic fumes entering the lungs, attached to chemical tar and glass fibers that cut the epithelial tissue. This breaks down the person’s immunity and makes them more susceptible to common colds, flu, viruses, bacterial infections, nasal congestion, allergies, sinus infections, bronchial infections, bladder infections, depression, sleep disorders and more. So go figure. Who needs all of that when times are stressful? Some people turn to electronic cigarettes to filter out some of the chemicals contained in commercial cigarettes (except for diethylene glycol – antifreeze – which causes leukemia!), but many of those people learn a hard lesson: nicotine damages the central cleansing organs and causes a host of its own problems, short term and long term, so bragging rights there are few and far between. (

One way out of the nicotine “prison” is to combine chemical knowledge with behavior modification and nutritional guidance. These three factors and skill bases, when taught and used correctly, have the highest success rate for helping smokers quit and stay smoke-free for life. There is a natural method that incorporates all three of these phases and is receiving excellent reviews. Studies show that smokers who seek help and follow the “yellow brick road” to a smoke-free life have an easier time “sticking to their guns.” The 14AndOut one hour program (video of the class) teaches smokers how to wean themselves off commercial cigarettes in 14 days or less and is recommended by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger and Editor of Natural News. The program has been a sensation for the past two years and there is nothing else like it on the market right now. Give 14AndOut a try and share the natural method with your friends, co-workers, relatives and/or neighbors who smoke cigarettes and speak of quitting. Stop smoking before 2014 and bring in the New Year with style and good health. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Thermoacoustic Headphones Make Sound With Hot Nanotubes.

RNA-based mechanisms underlying axon guidance.

Axon guidance plays a key role in establishing neuronal circuitry. The motile tips of growing axons, the growth cones, navigate by responding directionally to guidance cues that pattern the embryonic neural pathways via receptor-mediated signaling. Evidence in vitro in the last decade supports the notion that RNA-based mechanisms contribute to cue-directed steering during axon guidance. Different cues trigger translation of distinct subsets of mRNAs and localized translation provides precise spatiotemporal control over the growth cone proteome in response to localized receptor activation. Recent evidence has now demonstrated a role for localized translational control in axon guidance decisions in vivo.

Researchers find that bright nearby double star Fomalhaut is actually a triple.

The nearby star system Fomalhaut – of special interest for its unusual exoplanet and dusty debris disk – has been discovered to be not just a double star, as astronomers had thought, but one of the widest triple stars known.

In a paper recently accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal and posted today to the preprint server arXiv, researchers show that a previously known smaller star in its vicinity is also part of the Fomalhaut system.

Eric Mamajek, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, and his collaborators found the triple nature of the star system through a bit of detective work. “I noticed this third star a couple of years ago when I was plotting the motions of  in the vicinity of Fomalhaut for another study. However I needed to collect more data and gather a team of co-authors with different observations to test whether the star’s properties are consistent with being a third member of the Fomalhaut system.”

Serendipity also played a part. A chance meeting in Chile between Mamajek and Todd Henry, from Georgia State University and director of the Research Consortium On Nearby Stars (RECONS) team, revealed a clue that helped solve the mystery: the distance to the star. Henry recalls sitting in the kitchen of a motel in La Serena, Chile, with Mamajek, discussing nearby stars. “Eric was playing detective on this third star and I just happened to be sitting there with an observing list that contained the unpublished parallax,” Henry said. Parallax is a type of measurement astronomers use to determine distances. “A student at the time, Jennifer Bartlett at the University of Virginia, was working with us on a sample of potentially nearby stars for her Ph.D. thesis, and LP876-10 was on it. Eric and I got to talking, and here we are with a cool discovery.”

By carefully analyzing astrometric (precise movements) and spectroscopic measurements (that allow the temperature and color to be determined), the researchers were able to measure the distance and speed of the third star. They concluded that the star, until recently known as LP 876-10, is part of the Fomalhaut system, making it Fomalhaut C.

“Fomalhaut C looks quite far apart from the big, bright star that is Fomalhaut A when you look up at the sky from Earth,” added Mamajek. There are roughly 5.5 degrees between the two stars, which is as if they were separated by roughly 11 full moons for an observer on Earth. Mamajek explained that they look this far apart, in part, because Fomalhaut is relatively close to Earth as stars go – approximately 25 light years. If these stars were far away from Earth, they would appear much closer together in the sky. That they appear so far apart could explain why the connection between LP 876-10 and Fomalhaut had been previously missed. Being able to obtain high quality astrometric and velocity data were the other keys.

The researchers also had to show that it would be feasible for these two stars to be bound, rather than moving independently. “Fomalhaut A is such a massive star, about twice the mass of our Sun, that it can exert sufficient gravitational pull to keep this tiny star bound to it – despite the star being 158,000 times farther away from Fomalhaut than the Earth is from the Sun,” Mamajek said.

Mamajek worked with a large team of collaborators to piece together the story of this interesting tiny star. “Henry and the RECONS team have been doing an exhaustive survey of the “Solar Neighborhood,” characterizing the stellar systems that are closest to our solar system and discovering new ,” said Mamajek. “His team had already gathered several years of observations on this particular star – using the SMARTS 0.9-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo in Chile.” The researchers also needed to know the radial velocity of the star, which Andreas Seifahrt from the University of Chicago measured, and which they pinpoint in the paper to be within about one kilometer per second of that of Fomalhaut A.

There are another 11 star systems closer to our Sun than Fomalhaut that consist of three or more stars, including the closest star system, Alpha Centauri. The new measurements in the paper also show that the Fomalhaut system is the most massive and widest among these nearby multiple systems.

Fomalhaut A is also the 18th  visible in our night sky and one of the few stars with both a directly imaged exoplanet and a dusty debris disk. The famous star has been featured in science fiction novels by writers Isaac Asimov, Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, and Frank Herbert. Despite being a well-studied system, it was only recently confirmed that Fomalhaut was a binary star – two stars that orbit each other – although it had been first suggested in the 1890s.

One of Mamajek’s colleagues at Rochester, Professor of Physics and Astronomy Alice C. Quillen, has worked for years to understand the way planets shape stellar dust disks like the one surrounding Fomalhaut. In 2006, she predicted the existence of a planet around Fomalhaut, as well as the shape of its orbit, by trying to understand why the debris ring was off-center and why it had a surprisingly sharp edge. The following year a new planet around Fomalhaut was imaged.

Many questions about Fomalhaut A’s exoplanet and debris disk still remain unanswered. For example, astronomers are puzzled by why the exoplanet known as Fomalhaut “b” is on such an eccentric orbit and why the debris disk does not appear to be centered on the star Fomalhaut A. It is possible that Fomalhaut’s wide companions B and C have gravitationally perturbed the Fomalhaut “b” exoplanet and debris belt orbiting Fomalhaut A, however the orbits of Fomalhaut’s companion stars are not well-constrained. The orbits of Fomalhaut B and C around Fomalhaut A are predicted to take millions of years, so pinning down their orbits will be a challenge for future astronomers.

While Fomalhaut C is a red  – the most common type of star in the universe – Fomalhaut B is an orange dwarf star about three-fourths the mass of our Sun. From the vantage point of a hypothetical planet orbiting Fomalhaut C, Fomalhaut A would appear to be a brilliant white star nine times brighter than Sirius (the brightest star in our ) appears from Earth, similar to the typical brightness of the planet Venus. Fomalhaut B would appear to be an otherwise unremarkable bright orangish star similar in brightness to Polaris. The age of the trio is about 440 million years – roughly a 10th of the age of our solar system.

Other collaborators who worked on this paper include Jennifer Bartlett, now at the U.S. Naval Observatory who published a preliminary distance to the star in her Ph.D. thesis, and Matt Kenworthy, from the Leiden Observatory, who measured the rotation period showing Fomalhaut C is a very fast rotator.


300% Increased brain cancer risk for long-term users of cell phones and cordless phones.

A Swedish study on the use of wireless phones, including cell phones and cordless phones, has uncovered a link between electromagnetic radiation exposures and the risk of malignant and non-malignant brain tumors.

Cell phones and cordless phones emit a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, radiation which can be absorbed by tissues and cells that come into close contact with the phone, e.g., the head and neck. The most conclusive evidence as to the dangers of cell phone and similar radiation exposures come from studies on long-term exposure (ten years or more) like this Swedish study.


300% increased risk for long term users

This new study reveals that people who used cell phones and cordless phones for more than a year were at a 70% greater risk of brain cancer compared to those who used cell phones and cordless phones for a year or less. Those who used cell phones and cordless phones for more than 25 years were found to have a 300% greater risk of brain cancer than those who used cell phones and cordless phones for a year or less.

The total number of hours of cell phone and cordless phone use was found to be as important as the number of years of use. A quarter of the study’s subjects were found to have lifetime cell phone or cordless phone use of 2,376 or more hours, which corresponds to about 40 minutes a day over ten years. Heavier users were found to have a 250% greater risk of brain tumors compared to those who’d never used cell phones or cordless phones or used them for less than 39 hours in their lifetime.

Brain cancer risk highest on side of head used to phone

This new study echoes the previous study findings of the decade long 13-nation Interphone study, which found a 180% greater risk of brain cancer among those who used cell phones for 1,640 or more hours in their lifetime. But it also goes further.

In this latest study, for all types of cell phone and cordless phone use, brain cancer risk was found to be greater in the part of the brain where the exposure to cell phone and cordless phone radiation was highest, on the side of the head where people predominantly used their phones.

Wireless safety standards inadequate

Given the consistent results from these studies, public health bodies from around the world are asking that the current wireless safety standards be reviewed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as a Group 2B possible carcinogen. Doctors groups are also sounding the alarm. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine, the International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE) and the Irish Doctors Environmental Association (IDEA) are all calling for improved standards.

Practice safe use of wireless phones

In the absence of sufficiently protective standards and legislation, individuals need to act now. This means:

  • Limiting calls to those that are absolutely necessary on wireless devices
  • Using a speaker phone or air tube headset whenever possible
  • Keeping cell phones away from the body
  • Turning your cell phone off when not in use
  • Texting instead of talking
  • Alternating from one side of the head to the other when phoning
  • Avoiding using a cell phone when reception is poor
  • Using a corded land line whenever possible
  • Removing cordless phones from bedrooms

Minimizing the effects of these wireless exposures now instead of later is timely and crucial.

Sources :

Vaccination Opt-Outs Found to Contribute to Whooping Cough Outbreaks in Kids.

Several factors may be contributing to recent whooping cough outbreaks, but parents’ refusal to immunize their children is one

A California whooping cough epidemic in 2010 was one of the worst U.S. outbreaks of the disease in the past several decades. Ten infant deaths occurred among the more than 9,000 cases—the most in that state since 1947. Now, a study reveals that parental refusals to vaccinate their children may have played a part in that epidemic and possibly in a concurrent nationwide resurgence of the disease. The research found significant overlaps of areas with high numbers of whooping cough cases and areas where more parents had sought legal exemptions to opt out vaccinating their children.


CAUSE FOR WHOOPING COUGH‘S RESURGENCE?: Research shows California’s rates of nonmedical vaccine exemptions tripled from 0.77 percent in 2000 to 2.33 percent in 2010, and some schools had 2010 nonmedical exemption rates as high as 84 percent.


Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial infection in the lungs that causes violent coughing and sometimes lasts for months. A combination vaccine called the DTaP (for diphtheria,tetanus, and acellular pertussis) protects children up to six years old from pertussis, and a similar formulation called Tdap is used to protect older children and adults.Previous research has found, however, that neither vaccine, made from the pertussis toxin and other genetic pieces of the bacterium, is as effective as DTP vaccine, a preparation that contained the whole bacterial cell; it was discontinued in the 1990s. Accordingly, pertussis cases remained low when DTP was the standard of care—typically fewer than 5,000 U.S. cases annually—but made a comeback in the past decade.

Parents in many states may opt out of vaccinating their children by seeking legal exemptions to public school immunization requirements. All but two states—Mississippi and West Virginia—allow religious exemptions, and 19 states, including California, offer some variation of a philosophical or “personal belief” exemption, depending on the law’s language. California’s rates of nonmedical exemptions tripled from 0.77 percent in 2000 to 2.33 percent in 2010, and some schools had 2010 nonmedical exemption rates as high as 84 percent.

In the new study, published September 30 in Pediatrics, lead author Jessica Atwell and her colleagues mapped “clusters”—statistically unusual aggregations—of nonmedical exemptions for kindergartners between 2005 and 2010. Theresearchers identified 39 clusters of such opt outs, including one that covered nearly all of northern California. In each of these clusters the area covered contained a statistically higher concentration of kindergartners with exemptions than the areas outside the clusters. Atwell’s team then used a similar modeling method to identify two pertussis outbreak clusters—areas where the cases reached statistically higher numbers than the rest of California. One such cluster included most of central California between May and October 2010. The other included San Diego County between July and November 2010. Then the researchers analyzed the clusters’ overlap.

“The strength of our approach was not just to find out the clustering of cases but also the statistical significance of the clustering overlap,” says senior author Saad Omer, an associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine’s Vaccine Center. “This tells us whether the clustering is by chance or not.” Neither the clusters nor their overlapping was by chance. Census tracts within a nonmedical exemption cluster were 2.5 times more likely to be within a pertussis cluster, even after accounting for population characteristics including racial demographics, population density, household income, average family size, percentage of residents with a college degree and location within a metropolitan area. Residents living in a census tract within a nonmedical exemption cluster were 20 percent more likely to catch pertussis than those outside a cluster, the analysis revealed.

Past research has already revealed that the weaker vaccine is driving whooping cough outbreaks and epidemics in the past decade. The new findings reveal there is more to the story. “What this study tells us is that if more and more people choose not to get a vaccine,” says Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “then you’ll have bigger and bigger outbreaks.” This study also backs up the results in a 2008 study led by Omer that similarly found overlaps in pertussis outbreaks and nonmedical exemptions in Michigan during an 11-year period.

Atwell, a PhD candidate in Global Disease Epidemiology and Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says it is difficult to quantify the contributions of different factors to the resurgence of pertussis and that it is a multifaceted issue. “There are a lot of factors, including waning immunity from the vaccine, increased case detection and possible changes in circulating strains,” she says, “but our study shows that nonmedical exemptions and clustering of unvaccinated individuals may have also played a role.”

Public health efforts to prevent epidemics of infectious diseases typically rely onherd immunity: The more people in a community are vaccinated or otherwise protected from a disease, the less likely it is to be transmitted throughout the population. This approach is particularly crucial with pertussis, which is almost as contagious as measles and requires about 95 percent vaccination coverage to maintain herd immunity. Increasing numbers of parents opting out of vaccinating their children can erode this immunity. “When you look at statewide or countywide data, the increases in nonmedical exemptions don’t look that significant,” Atwell says, “but when you look at community-wide coverage, it is much lower than the threshold needed to maintain herd immunity in some areas.”

Unvaccinated individuals in the 2010 epidemic were eight times more likely to contract pertussis than vaccinated ones. But unvaccinated individuals pose risks to the community as well. “It’s a choice you make for yourself and a choice you make for those around you,” Offit says. “Infants need those around them to be protected in order not to get sick. We have a moral and ethical responsibility to our neighbors as well as to ourselves and our children.”

Data has shown exemptions are more prevalent where they are easier to obtain. In California parents currently can obtain exemptions simply by signing a form. A law takes effect there next year requiring parents to meet with a health care provider before obtaining an exemption. “I hope the legislation will help address the increased risk for pertussis and raise immunization rates in those areas,” says Richard Pan, a pediatrician and member of the California State Assembly who sponsored the bill. He says the law may not effect much change in areas with strong pockets of vaccine-refusing parents, but he hopes more of the parents feeling uncertain about immunization will realize the benefits after getting accurate information from a health care professional.

Parents who turn down vaccinations for their children are often misinformed aboutthe safety and effectiveness of vaccines. “I don’t think people understand that our control of vaccine-preventable diseases such as pertussis and measles is fragile,” Atwell says. “We need to continue to educate people about the implications of not vaccinating their children.”