OPCW Syria chemical weapons watchdog win Nobel Peace Prize 2013.

Nobel committee reveals official winner one hour after the result was leaked by Norweigan public broadcaster NRK.

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2013 has been announced, with the award and $1.25 million prize going to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The OPCW is charged with overseeing the destruction of Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons, following the atrocity – widely blamed on the regime of Bashar al-Assad – committed in Damascus on 21 August this year.

Experts from the Hague-based global watchdog are leading the programme which will see Syria’s chemical weapons production facilities demolished by 1 November, with a view to safely destroying Assad’s complete stockpile by the middle of 2014.

The Norwegian Nobel committee hailed the global chemical watchdog for creating “the chance to eliminate a whole category of deadly weapons”.

The statement announcing the winner read: “The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law.

“Recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons. Some states are still not members of the OPCW. Certain states have not observed the deadline, which was April 2012, for destroying their chemical weapons. This applies especially to the USA and Russia.

“Disarmament figures prominently in Alfred Nobel’s will. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has through numerous prizes underlined the need to do away with nuclear weapons. By means of the present award to the OPCW, the Committee is seeking to contribute to the elimination of chemical weapons.”

The identity of the this year’s winner was leaked an hour ahead of the official announcement by Norweigan public broadcaster NRK – which confirmed the winner would not to be hotly-tipped favourite 16-year-old girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai.

NRK also correctly anticipated the winner of last year’s award an hour early – taken by the EU.

Malala had been favourite to win, having already been honoured as Harvard University’s humanitarian of the year and named the winner of the EU’s annual Sakharov human rights award.

The 16-year-old came to global attention, campaigning for female education in the country, in the face of violent fundamentalism. Her efforts led to her being shot in the head on a school bus a year ago.

Vitamin D pills’ effect on healthy bones queried.


Healthy adults do not need to take vitamin D supplements, suggests a study in The Lancet which found they had no beneficial effect on bone density, a sign of osteoporosis.

But experts say many other factors could be at play and people should not stop taking supplements.

University of Auckland researchers analysed 23 studies involving more than 4,000 healthy people.

The UK government recommends children and over-65s take a daily supplement.

The New Zealand research team conducted a meta-analysis of all randomised trials examining the effects of vitamin D supplementation on bone mineral density in healthy adults up to July 2012.

The supplements were taken for an average of two years by the study participants.

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I’m not surprised they didn’t find any evidence of the effects of vitamin D on bone density because there are so many other factors involved…”

Dr Laura Tripkovic University of Surrey

Bone mineral density is a measure of bone strength and measures the amount of bone mineral present at different sites in the body. It is often seen as an indicator for the risk of osteoporosis, which can lead to an increased risk of fracture.

The trials took place in a number of different countries including the UK, the US, Australia, Holland, Finland and Norway.

Although the results did not identify any benefits for people who took vitamin D, they did find a small but statistically significant increase in bone density at the neck of the femur near the hip joint.

According to the authors, this effect is unlikely to be clinically significant.

Free up resources

Prof Ian Reid, lead study author, from the University of Auckland, said the findings showed that healthy adults did not need to take vitamin D supplements.

“Our data suggest that the targeting of low-dose vitamin D supplements only to individuals who are likely to be deficient could free up substantial resources that could be better used elsewhere in healthcare.”

Writing about the study in The Lancet, Clifford J Rosen from the Maine Medical Research Institute agrees that science’s understanding of vitamin D supports the findings for healthy adults, but not for everyone.

“Supplementation to prevent osteoporosis in healthy adults is not warranted. However, maintenance of vitamin D stores in the elderly combined with sufficient dietary calcium intake remains an effective approach for prevention of hip fractures.”

The Department of Health currently recommends that a daily supplement of vitamin D of 10 micrograms (0.01mg) should be taken by pregnant and breastfeeding women and people over 65, while babies aged six months to five years should take vitamin drops containing 7 to 8.5 micrograms (0.007-0.0085mg) per day.

Additional factors

Dr Laura Tripkovic, research fellow in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Surrey, said the study was important but very specific.

“I’m not surprised they didn’t find any evidence of the effects of vitamin D on bone density because there are so many other factors involved in osteoporosis, like genes, diet and environment.

“To pin it all on vitamin D… it’s difficult to do that.”

Dr Tripkovic said it was no good taking vitamin D supplements if people didn’t also maintain a healthy, balanced diet containing calcium and take plenty of exercise.

She said most healthy people should be able to absorb enough vitamin D naturally, through sunshine and diet.

“But if people are worried about their vitamin D levels then a multi-vitamin tablet would do. If you have bone pain and muscle aches then you should go and see your GP and discuss it.”

We get most of our vitamin D from sunlight on our skin, but it is also found in certain foods like oily fish, eggs and breakfast cereals.

However, taking too much vitamin D in the form of supplements can be harmful because calcium can build up and damage the kidneys.

Experts advise taking no more than 25 micrograms (0.025mg) a day.

The UK guidance is currently being reviewed.

Toddler brain scan language insight.

Regions of the brain that show leftward asymmetry of myelin
The left hand side of the brain has more myelin

The brain has a critical window for language development between the ages of two and four, brain scans suggest.

Environmental influences have their biggest impact before the age of four, as the brain’s wiring develops to process new words, say UK and US scientists.

The research in The Journal of Neuroscience suggests disorders causing language delay should be tackled early.

It also explains why young children are good at learning two languages.

The scientists, based at King’s College London, and Brown University, Rhode Island, studied 108 children with normal brain development between the ages of one and six.

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Our work seems to indicate that brain circuits associated with language are more flexible before the age of 4, early intervention for children with delayed language attainment should be initiated before this critical age”

Dr Jonathan O’Muircheartaigh King’s College London

They used brain scans to look at myelin – the insulation that develops from birth within the circuitry of the brain.

To their surprise, they found the distribution of myelin is fixed from the age of four, suggesting the brain is most plastic in very early life.

Any environmental influences on brain development will be strongest in infanthood, they predict.

This explains why immersing children in a bilingual environment before the age of four gives them the best chance of becoming fluent in both languages, the research suggests.

It also suggests that there is a critical time during development when environmental influence on cognitive skills may be greatest.

Dr Jonathan O’Muircheartaigh, from King’s College London, led the study.

He told the BBC: “Since our work seems to indicate that brain circuits associated with language are more flexible before the age of four, early intervention for children with delayed language attainment should be initiated before this critical age.

“This may be relevant to many developmental disorders, such as autism, since delayed language is a common early trait.”

Growing vocabulary

Early childhood is a time when language skills develop very rapidly.

Babies have a vocabulary of up to 50 words at 12 months but by the age of six this has expanded to about 5,000 words.

Language skills are localised in the frontal areas of the left-hand side of the brain.

The researchers therefore expected more myelin to develop in the left-hand side of the brain, as the children learned more language.

In fact, they found it remained constant, but had a stronger influence on language ability before the age of four, suggesting there is a crucial window for interventions in developmental disorders.

“This work is important as it is the first to investigate the relationship between brain structure and language across early childhood and demonstrate how this relationship changes with age,” said Dr Sean Deoni from Brown University, a co-researcher on the study.

“This is important since language is commonly altered or delayed in many developmental disorders, such as autism.”

Commenting on the study, Prof Dorothy Bishop of the department of Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Oxford said the research added important new information about early development of connections in brain regions important for cognitive functions.

“There is suggestive evidence of links with language development but it is too early to be confident about functional implications of the findings,” she said.

“Ideally we would need a longitudinal study following children over time to track how structural brain changes relate to language function.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes for Mental Health (US) and the Wellcome Trust (UK).

Plane noise ‘link’ to heart disease

Aircraft noise ‘link’ to stroke and heart disease deaths.



Aircraft flying over houses
The noise of low-flying aircraft can be stressful

The risks of stroke, heart and circulatory disease are higher in areas with a lot of aircraft noise, researchers say.

Their study of 3.6 million residents near Heathrow Airport suggested the risks were 10-20% higher in areas with the highest levels of aircraft noise.

The team’s findings are published in the British Medical Journal.

They agreed with other experts that noise was not necessarily to blame and more work was needed.

Their work suggests a higher risk for both hospital admissions and deaths from stroke, heart and circulatory disease for the 2% of the study – about 70,000 people – who lived where the aircraft noise was loudest.

The lead author, Dr Anna Hansell, from Imperial College London, said: “The exact role that noise exposure may play in ill health is not well established.

“However, it is plausible that it might be contributing – for example, by raising blood pressure or by disturbing people’s sleep.”

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These results imply that the siting of airports may have direct effects on the health of the surrounding population.”

Professor Stephen Stansfeld Queen Mary University of London

“There’s a ‘startle reaction’ to loud noise – if you’re suddenly exposed to it, the heart rate and blood pressure increase.

“And aircraft noise can be annoying for some people, which can also affect their blood pressure, leading to illness.

“The relative importance of daytime and night-time noise from aircraft also needs to be investigated further.”

The study used data about noise levels in 2001 from the Civil Aviation Authority, covering 12 London boroughs and nine districts outside of London where aircraft noise exceeds 50 decibels – about the volume of a normal conversation in a quiet room.

The authors say fewer people are now affected by the highest levels of noise (above 63 decibels) – despite more planes being in the skies – because of changes in aircraft design and flight plans.

The researchers – from Imperial and also King’s College London – adjusted their work in an effort to eliminate other factors that might have a relationship with stroke and heart disease, such as deprivation, South Asian ethnicity and smoking-related illness.

They stressed that the higher risk of illness related to aircraft noise remained much less significant than the risks from lifestyle factors – including smoking, a lack of exercise or poor diet.

In an accompanying editorial, Prof Stephen Stansfeld, from Queen Mary University of London, said: “These results imply that the siting of airports and consequent exposure to aircraft noise may have direct effects on the health of the surrounding population.

“Planners need to take this into account when expanding airports in heavily populated areas or planning new airports.”

Noise ‘has fallen’

The study covered 12 London boroughs in the centre and west of the capital – and nine council districts beyond London, including Windsor and Maidenhead, Slough and Wokingham.

Heathrow Airport’s director of sustainability, Matt Gorman, said: “We are already taking significant steps to tackle the issue of noise.

“We are charging airlines more for noisier aircraft, offering insulation and double glazing to local residents and are working with noise campaigners to give people predictable periods of respite from noise.

“Together these measures have meant that the number of people affected by noise has fallen by 90% since the 1970s, despite the number of flights almost doubling.”

A government spokesman said: “The number of people affected by high levels of noise around Heathrow has been falling for years due to improvements in aviation technology, better planning of flight paths and other factors. We would expect to see this trend continue.”

A separate study, also published on Wednesday in the BMJ, demonstrates a higher rate of admission to hospital with cardiovascular problems for people living near 89 airports in the US.

Prof Kevin McConway, from the Open University, said: “Both of these studies are thorough and well-conducted. But, even taken together, they don’t prove that aircraft noise actually causes heart disease and strokes.

“A major difficulty in interpreting what these studies tell us is that they are based on data for geographical areas, not for individual people.”

Over the coming months, Public Health England will recruit experts to further examine the public health issues around exposure to noise.

Study Shows How Infections in Newborns are Linked to Later Behavior Problems

In animal study, inflammation stops cells from accessing iron needed for brain development

Researchers exploring the link between newborn infections and later behavior and movement problems have found that inflammation in the brain keeps cells from accessing iron that they need to perform a critical role in brain development.

Specific cells in the brain need iron to produce the white matter that ensures efficient communication among cells in the central nervous system. White matter refers to white-colored bundles of myelin, a protective coating on the axons that project from the main body of a brain cell.

The scientists induced a mild E. coli infection in 3-day-old mice. This caused a transient inflammatory response in their brains that was resolved within 72 hours. This brain inflammation, though fleeting, interfered with storage and release of iron, temporarily resulting in reduced iron availability in the brain. When the iron was needed most, it was unavailable, researchers say.

What’s important is that the timing of the inflammation during brain development switches the brain’s gears from development to trying to deal with inflammation,” said Jonathan Godbout, associate professor of neuroscience at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study. “The consequence of that is this abnormal iron storage by neurons that limits access of iron to the rest of the brain.”

The cells that need iron during this critical period of development are called oligodendrocytes, which produce myelin and wrap it around axons. In the current study, neonatal infection caused neurons to increase their storage of iron, which deprived iron from oligodendrocytes.

In other mice, the scientists confirmed that neonatal E. coli infection was associated with motor coordination problems and hyperactivity two months later – the equivalent to young adulthood in humans. The brains of these same mice contained lower levels of myelin and fewer oligodendrocytes, suggesting that brief reductions in brain-iron availability during early development have long-lasting effects on brain myelination.

The timing of infection in newborn mice generally coincides with the late stages of the third trimester of pregnancy in humans. The myelination process begins during fetal development and continues after birth.

Though other researchers have observed links between newborn infections and effects on myelin and behavior, scientists had not figured out why those associations exist. Godbout’s group focuses on understanding how immune system activation can trigger unexpected interactions between the central nervous system and other parts of the body.

“We’re not the first to show early inflammatory events can change the brain and behavior, but we’re the first to propose a detailed mechanism connecting neonatal inflammation to physiological changes in the central nervous system,” said Daniel McKim, a lead author on the paper and a student in Ohio State’s Neuroscience Graduate Studies Program.

The neonatal infection caused several changes in brain physiology. For example, infected mice had increased inflammatory markers, altered neuronal iron storage, and reduced oligodendrocytes and myelin in their brains. Importantly, the impairments in brain myelination corresponded with behavioral and motor impairments two months after infection.

Though it’s unknown if these movement problems would last a lifetime, McKim noted that “since these impairments lasted into what would be young adulthood in humans, it seems likely to be relatively permanent.”

The reduced myelination linked to movement and behavior issues in this study has also been associated with schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders in previous work by other scientists, said Godbout, also an investigator in Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research (IBMR).


This current study did not identify potential interventions to prevent these effects of early-life infection. Godbout and colleagues theorize that maternal nutrition – a diet high in antioxidants, for example – might help lower the inflammation in the brain that follows a neonatal infection.

“The prenatal and neonatal period is such an active time of development,” Godbout said. “That’s really the key – these inflammatory challenges during critical points in development seem to have profound effects. We might just want to think more about that clinically.”

Exercise as Effective as Drugs for Heart Disease, Pre-diabetes, and Stroke – NaturalNews.tv


US Army plans ‘Iron Man’ armour for soldiers

The army wants soldiers of the future to be better equipped

The US Army is working to develop “revolutionary” smart armour that would give its troops “superhuman strength”.

It is calling on the technology industry, government labs and academia to help build the Iron Man-style suit.

Other exoskeletons that allow soldiers to carry large loads much further have already been tested by the army.

The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (Talos) would have such a frame but would also have layers of smart materials fitted with sensors.

The suit would also need to have wide-area networking and a wearable computer similar to Google Glass, the US Army said.

Increase strength

It should be made of smart material fitted with sensors to monitor body temperature, heart rate and hydration levels.

The exoskeleton, which could be attached to arms and legs, would be likely to use hydraulics to greatly increase strength.

“The requirement is a comprehensive family of systems in a combat armour suit where we bring together an exoskeleton with innovative armour, displays for power monitoring, health monitoring, and integrating a weapon into that,” said Lt Col Karl Borjes, a science adviser at the US Army’s research, development and engineering command.

“It’s advanced armour. It’s communications, antennas. It’s cognitive performance. It’s sensors, miniature-type circuits. That’s all going to fit in here, too,” he added.

Magnetic field

According to US Army Sgt Maj Chris Faris, “no one industry can build it”.

Instead the army is calling on research and development organisations, private industry as well as government labs and academia to support the project.

The US Army said it was likely that scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would be involved in the design.

An MIT team is currently developing liquid body armour – made from fluids that transform into a solid when a magnetic field or electrical current is applied.

Large robot

In an interview with US news site NPR, MIT professor Gareth McKinley compared the futuristic armour to that seen in Hollywood films.

“It sounds exactly like Iron Man,” he said.

“The other kind of things that you see in the movies… would be the kind of external suit that Sigourney Weaver wears in Aliens, where it’s a large robot that amplifies the motions and lifting capability of a human.”

The aim is the get the Talos armour out in the field within three years.

Is Hypothyroidism Overdiagnosed and Overtreated?

Over the past decade, doctors have become increasingly aggressive at initiating treatment for borderline hypothyroidism, possibly raising the risk for thyroid suppression as an unintended consequence, a new study suggests.

The American Thyroid Association recommends considering levothyroxine therapy at thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH; thyrotropin) levels of 10 mIU/L or lower if symptoms of hypothyroidism, positive thyroid autoantibodies, or evidence of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease or heart failure are present. But starting levothyroxine at or below 10 mIU/L in those without symptoms may do more harm than good, it cautions.

Yet in this new 9-year survey of more than 52,000 individuals in the United Kingdom, the number of individuals who received levothyroxine for a thyrotropin level of less than 10 mIU/L increased by 30% over the course of the study.

“This practice may be harmful, given the high risk of developing a suppressed thyrotropin level after treatment,” say the researchers, led by Peter N. Taylor, MRCP, from the Thyroid Research Group at the Institute of Molecular and Experimental Medicine, Cardiff University School of Medicine, United Kingdom, and colleagues, whose findings are published online October 7 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Asked to comment on the findings for Medscape Medical News, Leonard Wartofsky, MD, chair of the department of medicine, Washington Hospital Medical Center, Washington, DC, said the authors are “raising the red flag that there is potentially overdiagnosis and overtreatment that has some risks.”

Most healthy people have thyrotropin levels less than 2.5 mIU/L, he explained. “If you simply go by the numbers, it’s hard to reconcile a TSH level of 7.9 as being normal when the rest of the population has numbers of 2.5 or less.” However, he added, thyrotropin levels do rise with age, so higher levels are normal for people 70 years of age or more and do not necessarily indicate treatment is necessary.

“Part of the problem is that this is a mild abnormality, and in most published studies it’s been difficult to show a clear benefit of intervention, because the number of subjects participating has been small, the abnormalities are minor, and you can’t show a major clinical effect of intervention,” Dr. Wartofsky observed. “This is a controversial issue, and it’s still unsettled.”

Threshold Lowered After 2004

Using the General Practice Research Database (GPRD; now called the Clinical Practice Research Datalink), which contains the records of more than 5 million patients in 508 primary-care practices across the United Kingdom, Dr. Taylor and coauthors conducted a retrospective cohort study of 52,298 adults who initiated levothyroxine therapy between January 1, 2001, and October 30, 2009, at a median age of 59 years.

Excluded from the study were people with a history of hyperthyroidism, pituitary disease, or thyroid surgery; those who were taking medication that affected thyroid function or whose thyroid problems were related to pregnancy; and/or those whose thyrotropin had been measured more than 3 months prior to beginning treatment.

To gauge the effect of therapy on thyroid function, they also studied thyrotropin levels at 30 to 36 months and 54 to 60 months after treatment began. Female patients outnumbered males by almost 4 to 1.

Following multivariate adjustment, the odds ratio of a patient receiving a levothyroxine prescription for a presenting thyrotropin level of less than 10.0 mIU/L in 2009 compared with 2001 was 1.30 (P < .001), and the number of new levothyroxine prescriptions increased by 74% over the study period.

The median thyrotropin level for initiating treatment fell from 8.7 mIU/L in 2001 to 7.9 mIU/L in 2009.

Individuals prescribed levothyroxine with a thyrotropin level between 4.0 and 10.0 mIU/L instead of exceeding 10.0 mIU/L were more likely to be female, have cardiovascular risk factors, and be older than 70 years when prescribed levothyroxine after 2004, with trends also observed for tiredness and depression, the authors write.

They conclude that “large-scale, prospective studies are required to assess the risk/benefit ratio of current practice.”

Overtreatment Can Lead to Problems, but So Can Undertreatment

Dr. Wartofsky said the study was designed to address whether starting levothyroxine therapy too early may result in overtreatment

Follow-up data showed that the percentage of patients with thyrotropin levels less than 0.1 mIU/L increased from 2.7% to 5.8% and the percentage of those with levels between 0.1 and 0.5 mIU/L increased from 6.3% to 10.2%, suggesting the presence of thyroid suppression. This “could lead to cardiac problems, arrhythmias, and atrial fibrillation and over the long term could lead to loss of bone mineral, osteopenia, and osteoporosis,” he explained.

But, he added, “I’m not particularly overwhelmed by the fact that only 5.8% of the patients were so oversuppressed. I think that is not unusual, even in the hands of expert endocrinologists — sometimes you oversuppress inadvertently.”

And the study does not show what the benefits of earlier treatment might be, probably because it takes longer for them to become apparent, he said. “In my view, there are compelling data that treating these populations does have a salutary effect”: lower serum cholesterol, a lower risk of coronary artery disease, and general symptom relief, among other things.

Source: JAMA

Everything in moderation: excessive nerve cell pruning leads to disease.

Mechanism meant to maintain efficiency of brain network involved in neurodegenerative disease

Scientists at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital-The Neuro, McGill University, have made important discoveries about a cellular process that occurs during normal brain development and may play an important role in neurodegenerative diseases. The study’s findings, published in Cell Reports, a leading scientific journal, point to new pathways and targets for novel therapies for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases that affect millions of people world-wide.

Research into neurodegenerative disease has traditionally concentrated on the death of nerve cell bodies. However, it is now certain that in most cases that nerve cell body death represents the final event of an extended disease process. Studies have shown that protecting cell bodies from death has no impact on disease progression whereas blocking preceding axon breakdown has a significant benefit.  The new study by researchers at The Neuro shifts the focus to the loss or degeneration of axons, the nerve-cell ‘branches’ that receive and distribute neurochemical signals among neurons.

During early development, axons are pruned to ensure normal growth of the nervous system. Emerging evidence suggests that this pruning process becomes reactivated in neurodegenerative disease, leading to the aberrant loss of axons and dendrites. Axonal pruning in development is significantly influenced by proteins called caspases. “The idea that caspases are even involved in axonal degeneration during development is very recent” said Dr. Philip Barker, a principal investigator at The Neuro and senior author of the study.

Dr. Barker and his colleagues show that the activity of certain ’executioner’ caspases (caspase-3 and caspase-9) induce axonal degeneration and that their action is suppressed by a protein termed XIAP (X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis). “We found that caspase-3- and -9 play crucial roles in axonal degeneration and that their activities are regulated by XIAP. XIAP acts as a brake on caspase activity and must be removed for degeneration to proceed” added Dr. Barker.

This balancing act between caspases and XIAP ensure that caspases do not cause unnecessary or excessive destruction. However, this balance may shift during neurodegenerative disease. “If we understand the pathways that regulate XIAP levels, we may be able to develop therapies that reduce caspase-dependent degeneration during neurodegenerative disease”.