Thermograms – a safe, accurate and reliable alternative to mammograms.


Various researchers and experts have highlighted several issues and limitations with using mammograms as the main method of breast cancer diagnosis. A viable alternative is thermography. Thermograms are safe, nontoxic, highly accurate and inexpensive.

What is thermography?

Thermography is carried out based on infrared heat emission by the body’s tissues. As bodily cells go about their usual metabolic processes, they give out heat. Cancerous tumors tend to emit more infrared heat than their healthy counterparts, i.e. they are hotter.

Using information on the varying heat emissions, thermography is able to produce images that provide insight into the functional status of a specific area of the human body, in this case the breasts.

Further, as compared to normal tissue, cancer growths are also regulated to a much lower extent by the autonomic nervous system. For example, when cool air is blown over the breasts, the autonomic nervous system lowers the amount of blood flow to normal breast tissue as a means of temperature regulation. The blood and blood vessels at the tumor site, however, are not under autonomic control and do not become cooler – thermography would thus show the abnormal tissues up as “hot spots”.

cancer

The process is simple

The woman to be screened stands bare-chested about 10 feet from the machine, and imaging lasts for only a few minutes. The results are available instantaneously on the monitor, and the information can usually be interpreted quickly with the relevant software.

The woman feels no pain, there is no physical compression of the breasts, and no rays or radiation enter the lady’s body.

Advantages and benefits of thermograms

Because neither ionizing radiation nor mechanical pressure are used, thermography does not increase cancer risk or promote cancer spread, making it a safer procedure. And because there is no pain, the process is more comfortable as well.

Unlike mammograms, which become less accurate with denser breast tissue, thermography’s accuracy is not affected by tissue density.

Significantly, in the case of breast cancer, thermograms can flag out cancer development five years before mammograms are able to do so. It does so by showing up the early stages of angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels which is a necessary precursor to tumor formation. Most breast tumors would have been slowly growing for up to two decades before conventional diagnostic methods can detect them. And at the earlier stages of development, cancer tumors are relatively easy to stop and reverse.

Thermograms can also detect breast cancer years earlier than physical examinations.

Problems with mammograms

Its radiation tends to increase breast cancer risk, possibly quite significantly, especially if undertaken annually, as radiation could have cumulative carcinogenic effects. Also, the physical compression and manipulation of the breasts can cause existent tumors to spread. The rates of false-positives and false-negatives are high. And it may not even be effective at lowering overall breast cancer death rates.

“Mammography is not an acceptable way of screening breasts; the only reason it’s tolerated is that it is a major source of steady income for radiologists. They have come to covet mammography and want no competition from other approaches,” said Philip Hoekstra, PhD, a pioneer in thermogram use.

Conclusion

Dr. Russell Blaylock, an oncologist, brain surgeon and neuroscientist, endorsed thermography. “Thermogram is also good because we know tumors are hot and benign lesions tend to be cool.” He, too, criticizedmammograms.

While thermography sounds rather new and unconventional, progressive physicians in Europe and the United States have actually already been using this technology since 1962. Once more women demand other screening protocols, the availability of techniques such as thermography should slowly increase.

Sources for this article include:

Bollinger, Ty. Cancer: Step Outside The Box. 5th ed. USA: Infinity 510 510 Partners, 2011. Print.

Somers, Suzanne. Knockout: Interviews With Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer And How To Prevent Getting It In The First Place. NY, USA: Three Rivers Press, 2009. Print.

Trivieri, Jr., Larry, and Anderson, John W. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. 2nd ed. New York, USA: Celestial Arts, 2002. Print.

Blaylock, Russell L, MD. Natural Strategies For Cancer Patients. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing, 2003. Print.

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Taking your brain for a walk: the secret to delaying dementia.


Regular brisk walking three times a week increases the size of brain regions linked to planning and memory, a study has shown.

 

London Bridge

Commuters boost their brains as they walk over London Bridge. Photograph: Alamy

Regular brisk walks can slow down the shrinking of the brain and the faltering mental skills that old age often brings, scientists say.

Studies on men and women aged 60 to 80 found that taking a short walk three times a week increased the size of brain regions linked to planning and memory over the course of a year.

The prefrontal cortex and hippocampus increased in size by only 2% or 3%, but that was enough to offset the steady shrinkage doctors expected to see over the same period.

“It may sound like a modest amount but that’s actually like reversing the age clock by about one to two years,” said Professor Kirk Erickson, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh.

“While the brain is shrinking, we actually saw not a levelling out but an increase in the size of these regions. It was better than before we started the study.”

People who took part in the study scored higher on spatial memory tests, and some reported feeling more mentally alert, according to Erickson. “They feel better, they feel as if the fog has lifted. Anecdotally, it seems to benefit these cognitive functions,” he said.

Erickson recruited more than 100 adults who confessed to doing little if any exercise in their daily lives. Half were randomly assigned to walk for 30 to 45 minutes three days a week. The rest spent a similar amount of time doing stretching exercises.

Medical scans showed minor increases in the two brain regions in both groups. But the effect was greater in the walkers, Erickson said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“With modest amounts of exercise, we were able to increase the size of these structures that typically deteriorate and precede the cognitive complaints that often come in late adulthood,” Erickson said.

“You don’t need highly vigorous physical activity to see these effects. People are misled to believe they need years of vigorous physical exercise. But it only needs to be moderate, and not even for that long.

“The results suggest that brain and cognitive function of the older adults remain plastic and highly malleable. There is not this inevitable decline that we used to think it was.”

Scientists are unsure what changes in the brain underpin the increases in size of the two regions, or how long the improvements last. Exercise is unlikely to stave off the brain’s decline for long, but it could delay the inevitable decline and slow the onset of dementia.

There is a desperate need for any approach that could slow the rising epidemic of dementia. An estimated 44.4 million people now have dementia worldwide, and that number is expected to reach 75.6 million in 2030, according to figures from Alzheimer’s Disease International.

Erickson said: “The prefrontal cortex is involved in a lot of higher-level cognitive functions and the hippocampus is involved in memory formation. And when it shrinks, it leads to Alzheimer’s disease and dementias.

“If we measured these people for a long period of time, we’d probably be slowing the decline rather than completely mitigating it. But it might slow it down for a long period of time. We cannot say it’s the magic-bullet cure for Alzheimer’s. There isn’t one.”

Talking Angela app: here’s what she’s really saying to your kids


Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook, although app may provide parents with some reasons for concern.

The Talking Angela app is used by children and adults alike.
The Talking Angela app is used by children and adults alike.

This week, a year-old hoax about the Talking Angela app being dangerous for children has been doing the rounds on Facebook again, despite having been debunked back then, and again now.

Parents can be forgiven for being spooked by the suggestion that a cutesy talking cat app is actually a front for a paedophile ring, as one of the hoax messages claimed. So what is Talking Angela really saying to your children, and is it inappropriate? The best way to find out is to actually use the app.

I’ve spent an hour in her company today doing just that. In short: yes, the hoax is a hoax. But the app’s developer Outfit7 could be doing more to ensure parents feel at ease with their children using the app.

Some facts first: Talking Angela is part of a wider series of apps called Talking Tom and Friends, which have been downloaded more than 1.5bn times since 2010, and are currently being used by 230m people every month – lots of children, but also lots of adults.

They’ve spawned a series of popular YouTube videos in partnership with Disney, as well as a range of physical toys. Outfit7 is a well-known apps company, not a shadowy network of child-catchers, in other words: I’ve interviewed the firm in March 2011, March 2012 and June 2013 tracking the rise of its apps.

Below, you can find out how Talking Angela really works – with screenshots – to help you make an informed decision about whether it’s suitable for your children.

Talking Angela has a child mode, but it's too easy to turn off.
Talking Angela has a child mode, but it’s too easy to turn off.

Turn Child Mode on

Talking Angela was released in December 2012 for iPhone and iPad, then in January 2013 for Android. It follows the pattern of previous Talking Tom and Friends apps: a virtual animal who’ll squeakily repeat anything you say into your device’s microphone, while interacting with her by tapping and swiping on the screen.

The most important thing for parents to understand is that Talking Angela has a child mode. You’re asked if you want to turn it on the first time you run the app, and at any other point you can toggle it on or off by tapping on the little smiley face at the top right of the screen.

This is important, because the feature at the centre of the scary Facebook messages – Angela’s ability to text-chat with users – is turned off when Child Mode is toggled on. If you’ve read about Angela asking kids for their names, ages or engaging in banter about clothes-swapping parties, none of this can happen if Child Mode is on.

The downside of this: it’s far too easy to toggle it on and off – there’s no Pin preventing a child from tapping on the smiley face and switching it back on. Given the current controversy, this would be an easy but important change for Outfit7 to make.

What can kids do when Child Mode is turned on, though? They can get Angela to repeat her words, stroke and poke her (in the non-inappropriate sense!) to see animated responses, and make birds fly onto the screen – don’t worry, she doesn’t eat them.

There is also a camera feature, which has been referenced in some of the Facebook messages about Talking Angela. It’s true that it encourages users to look into their device’s camera and make specific gestures: nod, shake head, smile, yawn or stick out their tongue, so Angela can copy it.

Chemicals leaching into food from packaging raise safety concerns.


Scientists, in BMJ paper, warn of potential long-term damage of exposure to synthetics, including formaldehyde in drinks bottles

 

Packaged burger and chips

Packaged burger and chips. Synthetic chemicals in packaging include phthalates, known to disrupt hormone production. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Synthetic chemicals which are used in the processing, packaging and storing of the food we eat could be doing long-term damage to our health, environmental scientists warn.

The concerns have been raised in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, part of the British Medical Journal group.

The scientists claim that tiny amounts of synthetic chemicals leach into food. While these minute quantities in themselves do no harm, no one knows how safe we are from a lifetime’s exposure to the chemicals, such as formaldehyde, through eating food previously wrapped or stored in plastics.

In a commentary piece in the journal the scientists note that some of the chemicals that could cause concern are regulated but this does not prevent their being used widely in food packaging. They say that people who eat packaged or processed foods are likely to be chronically exposed to low levels of these substances throughout their lives.

Far too little is known about the long-term impact and especially about our exposure to such chemicals at critical points in human development, such as in the womb and during early childhood.

The writers, who include Jane Muncke, from the Food Packaging Forum Foundation, in Zurich, say there is cause for concern on several grounds. Chemicals known to be toxic, such as formaldehyde, a cancer causing substance, are legally used in these materials. Formaldehyde is widely present, albeit at low levels, in plastic fizzy drinks bottles and melamine tableware.

Other chemicals known to disrupt hormone production and used in food and drink packaging, include bisphenol A, tributyltin, triclosan, and phthalates. Altogether, more than 400 chemicals are involved.

“Whereas the science for some of these substances is being debated and policy-makers struggle to satisfy the needs of stakeholders, consumers remain exposed to these chemicals daily, mostly unknowingly,” they write.

They warn that potential cellular changes caused by food contact materials, and in particular, those with the capacity to disrupt hormones, are not even being considered in routine toxicology analysis. They suggest this “casts serious doubts on the adequacy of chemical regulatory procedures”.

It will not be easy to monitor and assess the effects over decades of exposure to these chemicals, they say. There are no large groups of people who are not exposed to wrapped and processed and stored food.

Studies have shown that we all have traces of these chemicals in our bodies. That means it is not possible to carry out a study comparing people who have been exposed to them with people who have not.

But a population-based assessment is urgently needed as well as bio monitoring to establish any potential links between food-contact chemicals and chronic conditions such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, and neurological and inflammatory disorders, particularly given the known role of environmental pollutants, they argue.

“Since most foods are packaged, and the entire population is likely to be exposed, it is of utmost importance that gaps in knowledge are reliably and rapidly filled,” they say.

NHS in England delays sharing of medical records.


GP and patient groups hail decision to put launch of care.data back six months to give more patients more time to evaluate opt-outs.
NHS care.data

NHS England has delayed the launch of care.data, and the sharing of patient medical records. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

The NHS delayed for at least six months a controversial plan to share data from people’s medical records on Tuesday following concerns from doctors and patients’ groups, acknowledging there was insufficient public confidence in the scheme.

The postponement by NHS England was welcomed by critics who had complained too many people did not properly understand the planned new system and the reasons for its introduction, or how they could opt out. Under the original plan, the first medical records were to have been compiled by the care.data system from the start of April.

Supporters say that sharing data, which will include information from GPs‘ surgeries for the first time, as well as from hospitals, will make medical advances easier and ultimately save lives because it will allow researchers to investigate drug side-effects or the performance of hospital surgical units by tracking the impact on patients.

But privacy experts have warned there will be no way for the public to work out who has their medical records, or to what use their data will be put. There have been questions raised about commercial companies buying data.

Some doctors’ groups complained that the scheme, while valuable, was poorly understood and badly explained by NHS England, which has said the majority of the data would be anonymised or made impossible for patients to be identified. All 26 million households in England were sent leaflets about the plan but polls showed about two-thirds of people had not seen them.

In a statement, NHS England said the collection of data from GPs’ surgeries would now begin in the autumn – it did not give a more precise date – to permit “more time to build understanding of the benefits of using the information, what safeguards are in place, and how people can opt out if they choose to”.

A delay so close to the proposed start of a major scheme is a significant embarrassment for the NHS and its attempts to inform the public about the benefits of the database. Labour’s junior health minister, Jamie Reed, was quick to call the delay “another NHS shambles of this government’s own making”.

Tim Kelsey, national director for patients at NHS England, said: “We have been told very clearly that patients need more time to learn about the benefits of sharing information and their right to object to their information being shared. That is why we are extending the public awareness campaign by an extra six months.”

The extracted information will contain a person’s NHS number, date of birth, postcode, ethnicity and gender. Once live, organisations such as university research departments – but also insurers and drug companies – will be able to apply to the new Health and Social Care Information Centre to gain access to the database. Last year it emerged that the private health insurer Bupa was one of four firms that had been cleared to access sensitive patient data.

The British Medical Association said on Tuesday it had become increasingly plain that people did not know enough about care.data and even with a delay the database should only be implemented with proper public backing.

Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s general practitioner’s committee, said: “While the BMA is supportive of using anonymised data to plan and improve the quality of NHS care for patients, this must only be done with the support and consent of the public, and it is only right that they fully understand what the proposals mean to them and what their rights are if they do not wish their data to be extracted.”

The Royal College of GPs called on NHS England to use the extra time to clarify aspects of the system, for example whether amber data – anonymous but containing details that could potentially identify an individual – will be provided for commercial use, and that information to third parties would not be sold for a profit.

Professor Nigel Mathers, honorary secretary of the RCGP, has written to NHS England suggesting a more thorough public information campaign, including TV adverts and a letter to each patient affected.

He said: “We would like to thank NHS England for listening to the concerns of RCGP members and for acting so quickly to announce this pause. The extra time will provide it with the chance to redouble its efforts to inform every patient of their right to opt out, every GP of how the programme will work, and the nation of what robust safeguards will be in place to protect the security of people’s data.”

The scheme’s rollout has been beset by criticisms about the clarity of the information provided to the public. Earlier this month, the information commissioner’s office criticised the campaign for failing to adequately explain what data was involved and how patients could avoid their medical records being shared.

The delay came a day after the solicitors Leigh Day began a legal challenge on behalf of a campaign group, medConfidential, arguing the leaflet sent to households was misleading. The online campaign group 38 Degrees polled 150,000 people, of whom more than 90% said they would opt out.

Sharmila Nebhrajani, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said care.data was a good idea in principle that had been “stymied by its execution”. She said: “Charities and their supporting patient groups have always said that sharing data for research can be a really valuable opportunity to speed medical research but it must be done with care, competence and consent.”

Test ‘predicts’ teen depression risk.


By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News

Unhappy teenager
The findings identify risk of clinical depression among boys but not girls.

A tool for predicting the risk of clinical depression in teenage boys has been developed by researchers.

Looking for high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and reports of feeling miserable, lonely or unloved could find those at greatest risk.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge want to develop a way of screening for depression in the same way as heart problems can be predicted.

However, their method was far less useful in girls.

Teenage years and early adulthood are a critical time for mental health – 75% of disorders develop before the age of 24.

But there is no way to accurately say who will or will not develop depression.

Risky combination

Now researchers say they have taken the “first step” towards a screening tool.

Tests on 1,858 teenagers, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, combined hormone levels and mood questionnaires to assess risk.

They showed that having both high cortisol levels and depressive mood symptoms posed a higher risk of depression than either factor alone and presented a risk of clinical depression 14 times that of those with low cortisol and no depressive symptoms.

Around one in six boys was in the high-risk category and half of them were diagnosed with clinical depression during the three years of study.

One of the researchers, Prof Ian Goodyer, said: “Depression is a terrible illness that will affect as many as 10 million people in the UK at some point in their lives.

“Through our research, we now have a very real way of identifying those teenage boys most likely to develop clinical depression.

“This will help us strategically target preventions and interventions at these individuals and hopefully help reduce their risk of serious episodes of depression, and their consequences, in adult life.”

‘Many contributory factors’

Women are twice as likely as men to develop depression during their lifetimes, but the test was little help in determining risk.

One theory is that women naturally have higher cortisol levels, which affects their risk.

However, the test is not yet ready for clinical use.

Dr John Williams, from the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study, said: “Progress in identifying biological markers for depression has been frustratingly slow, but now we finally have a biomarker for clinical depression.”

Sam Challis, from mental health charity Mind, said: “This study claims there is a biomarker linked to depression, but it’s important to bear in mind that many factors play a part in depression, such as life events, genetic factors, side effects of medication and diet.

“However, this research could help identify those who may need extra support.

“We know that it is possible to recover from a mental health problem, and this is more likely for those who seek help straight away.”

Monkey’s brain moves sedated avatar.


 

Three monkeys

The brain of one monkey has been used to control the movements of another, “avatar”, monkey, US scientists report.

Brain scans read the master monkey’s mind and were used to electrically stimulate the avatar’s spinal cord, resulting in controlled movement.

The team hope the method can be refined to allow paralysed people to regain control of their own body.

The findings, published in Nature Communications, have been described as “a key step forward”.

Damage to the spinal cord can stop the flow of information from the brain to the body, leaving people unable to walk or feed themselves.

The researchers are aiming to bridge the damage with machinery.

Match electrical activity

The scientists at Harvard Medical School said they could not justify paralysing a monkey. Instead, two were used – a master monkey and a sedated avatar.

The master had a brain chip implanted that could monitor the activity of up to 100 neurons.

During training, the physical actions of the monkey were matched up with the patterns of electrical activity in the neurons.

The avatar had 36 electrodes implanted in the spinal cord and tests were performed to see how stimulating different combinations of electrodes affected movement.

The two monkeys were then hooked up so that the brain scans in one controlled movements in real time in the other.

The sedated avatar held a joystick, while the master had to think about moving a cursor up or down.

In 98% of tests, the master could correctly control the avatar’s arm.

One of the researchers, Dr Ziv Williams, told the BBC: “The goal is to take people with brain stem or spinal cord paralysis and bypass the injury.

“The hope is ultimately to get completely natural movement, I think it’s theoretically possible, but it will require an exponential additional effort to get to that point.”

He said that giving paralysed people even a small amount of movement could dramatically alter their quality of life.

Reality or science fiction?

The movie Avatar

The idea of one brain controlling an avatar body is the stuff of blockbuster Hollywood movies.

However, Prof Christopher James, of the University of Warwick, dismissed a future of controlling other people’s bodies by thought.

He said: “Some people may be concerned this might mean someone taking over control of someone else’s body, but the risk of this is a no-brainer.

“Whilst the control of limbs is sophisticated, it is still rather crude overall, plus of course in an able-bodied person their own control over their limbs remains anyway, so no-one is going to control anyone else’s body against their wishes any time soon.”

Instead, he said this was “very important research” with “profound” implications “especially for controlling limbs in spinal cord injury, or controlling prosthetic limbs with limb amputees”.

Realising that goal will face additional challenges. Moving a cursor up and down is a long way from the dextrous movement needed to drink from a cup.

There are also differences in the muscles of people after paralysis; they tend to become more rigid. And fluctuating blood pressure may make restoring control more challenging.

Prof Bernard Conway, head of biomedical engineering at the University of Strathclyde, said: “The work is a key step forward that demonstrates the potential of brain machine interfaces to be used in restoring purposeful movement to people affected by paralysis.

“However, significant work still remains to be done before this technology will be able to be offered to the people who need it.”

Pharmacy will not supply death drug.


A pharmacy in the US state of Oklahoma has agreed not to supply a powerful sedative to a neighbouring state for use in an execution, a court has heard.

Missouri officials had reportedly planned to buy pentobarbital from the Apothecary Shoppe in Tulsa to execute convicted murderer Michael Taylor.

The pharmacy’s move came after Taylor’s lawyer sued to block the sale.

US states are facing a shortage of execution drugs as a growing number of firms have refused to sell them.

Despite the development, revealed in court on Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has said prison officials are prepared to go forward with the execution, currently scheduled for 26 February.

‘Severe and inhumane’

Pentobarbital: Cruel or just?Recent pentobarbital executions in the US:

  • October 2012: In South Dakota, Eric Robert turns purplish-blue; takes 20 minutes before state can declare him dead
  • January 2014: Oklahoma death-row inmate Michael Lee Wilson cries out he feels his “whole body burning” within 20 seconds of injection
  • January 2014: In Missouri, Herbert Smulls’s execution takes nine minutes; he shows no outward signs of distress

Source: BBC reporting

In Taylor’s case, his lawyers said the state turned to the Apothecary Shoppe, a compounding pharmacist that makes bespoke drugs for individual clients, after the sole US licensed manufacturer of pentobarbital, Akorn Inc, refused to sell it for use in lethal injections.

Akorn agreed to that condition when it bought the exclusive rights to the drug in January 2012 from Danish company Lundbeck.

Taylor was sentenced to death for raping and killing a 15-year-old in 1989. Another man is also on death row for the crime.

The US Supreme Court stayed Taylor’s execution in 2006 at the last minute over concerns that Missouri’s execution method, which at the time used three drugs, violated the US constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

In recent months, Missouri has executed three men, all using pentobarbital instead of the three-drug combination. The state briefly used sedative propofol last year for executions until the European Union threatened to limit the export of the drug to the US if it was used for capital punishment.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court this month against the Apothecary Shoppe, Taylor’s lawyers said US drug regulations barred the pharmacy from supplying the drug for use in the execution, and asked the judge to block the sale.

Among other arguments, they said the pharmacy’s custom-made pentobarbital would cause him “severe, unnecessary, lingering, and ultimately inhumane pain” during the execution.

They argued the unregulated nature of compounding pharmacies in the US yielded “no evidence [the pharmacy] will or even has the capacity to test the pentobarbital… to ensure it will not cause unnecessary pain and suffering.”

In recent days, the Apothecary Shoppe notified Taylor’s lawyers it would not sell pentobarbital to Missouri for the execution – and had not already.

In return, Taylor’s lawyers filed a motion late on Monday to drop their suit.

While Mr Nixon would not confirm the state had enough of the drug on hand to go ahead with Taylor’s execution, he stressed twice the state’s corrections department was prepared in comments to reporters last week.

Cern mulls huge physics machine.


The possibility of building an underground “atom-smasher” four times the size of the Large Hadron Collider is to be explored by experts.

The decision follows a high level meeting of scientists this week in Geneva, near the European particle physics centre, Cern.

LHC

The proposal is for a 100-km tunnel which would encircle the Swiss city.

It would reach to the Alps in the east, the Jura mountains in the west and even go under Lake Geneva.

Maps showing the proposed route reveal that it dwarfs the existing LHC, which is itself a world record beater as a science facility.

Dr Rolf Heuer, director general of Cern, who opened the meeting, argues it is already time to start thinking about what will follow the LHC, even though that machine has only been running a few years.

“We have very long lead times,” he explained, “because our projects are ambitious, and they need a lot of research and development.

“Take as an example the LHC. It is just three years into full swing, but the real discussions on the LHC started in 1983; the first meeting on the physics in 1984. And the first data were taken in 2009. So we need a long lead time. And that’s why we start now to kick off this project.”

The 100km Cern tunnel is just one of several proposals to be considered following the “kick-off” meeting being held this week. Japan and China are also interested in hosting giant international colliders, though the European advocates argue Cern’s established infrastructure would deliver substantial savings, and greater certainty over its success.

As well as the size and location of the collider, the particles to be smashed in it are also hotly debated.

New approaches

Some experts favour colliding protons, as is done in the LHC: Far higher energies can be reached using these, meaning researchers can explore higher extremes of conditions, more closely mimicking the Big Bang.

Paul Collier, head of beams at Cern, says the size of the Geneva basin is fortuitously right for such a machine. The aim is to reach energies about eight times higher than the 27-km-long LHC, at which point cornering round the bends of the tunnel becomes much harder for the speeding protons.

The larger radius and gentler curvature of the 100km tunnel, which just fits between the troublesome limestone either side of the basin, helps somewhat; and steering magnets, under development at Cern now, with twice the power of the LHC’s would do the rest.

Other experts, however, prefer using electrons, as were fired through the LHC’s predecessor, the LEP (the Large Electron Positron collider). These can be steered more easily, and give a far cleaner physics signal, meaning the complexities of interpretation that dog the LHC experiments can be avoided.

As to the value of building any experiment to succeed the LHC, Dr Heuer dismisses any suggestion that the discovery of the Higgs boson marks an end point to particle physics.

“By no means. We’ve only just begun,” he said.

“It took nearly 50 years to complete the so-called Standard Model, which just describes barely 5% of the Universe – the visible Universe. Fifty years for 5%! We still need to explore 95%, and this is what I would call the dark Universe.

“We very much hope that with the LHC running at higher energy next year, we might get the first glimpse of what dark matter is, for example. And building on that I would assume that we then can build a physics case for a future circular collider.”

Open questions

For Guido Tonelli, spokesperson for the CMS detector at Cern, when the Higgs discovery was underway, the essence of a physics case already existed.

“In my view – this is different from other scientists – I consider it important to start digging the new collider now, independent of what might be found at the LHC in the next few years,” he explained.

“If nothing appears in the next phase of the LHC, we have to move to higher energies, because there we might find solutions to the big questions that are still open.

“If we do find something, we know that at the LHC, we might be able to see the ‘tail of the dinosaur’, and we would need a machine with much higher energy to see the ‘entire animal’. So I accept we don’t yet know the details of the next accelerator; but the need for one is clear now.”

Rolf Heuer, only half jokingly, suggests the 100km proposal is modest by comparison with the Gothard Base rail tunnel (to run through the Swiss Alps) which is currently nearing completion and has three tunnels each measuring 57km long.

Cern civil engineer John Osborne, agrees the tunnelling shouldn’t be complex – using tunnel-boring machines as was done with the Channel Tunnel, the full length could be excavated in five or six years, he estimates. Though he concedes it would produce a lot of material that would have to disposed of.

“For the LHC tunnel, which was 27 km, we dug up about 1.5 million cubic metres of rock. And for that we managed to find local quarries that we could fill with all the excavated material.

“But for this tunnel, for which we don’t know all the dimensions, it would be substantially more – maybe 10 million cubic metres? So we do need to think about the environmental impact, and what we can do with this rock.”

Money, money, money

As to the price, no-one was prepared to venture a number. Perhaps because Rolf Heuer sternly advised the 350 participants not to.

“Any number you mention will be wrong,” he explained, “and worse it will be remembered forever.” And give the proponents a lot of trouble, he implied.

But he hopes to make the proposal affordable, by making a partnership across the world.

To that end, the next phase of the pilot study will be governed by a handful of leading experts from every region, to identify the feasibility of each proposal, identify the technology gaps, and the physics requirements. By the time it reports back, in about 5 years, the next set of results from the LHC should help settle on a conceptual design for a machine that might be built anywhere.

From there another five years to complete a detailed design, choose a site, and secure international approval and financing. And with 10 years to build and install the equipment, it might just be feasible to have a new machine ready when the LHC retires in 2035. Though the mood at the meeting was that is an optimistic timeline.

Paul Collier, head of beams at Cern, concedes the proposal might seem headstrong, but argues it is the rational route ahead for particle physics.

“There’s no point in doing small leaps when you invest in such a facility. If you take little steps, you will not get the value for money,” he said.

Another participant, approaching retirement himself, pointed out that the tunnel that now houses the LHC, and previously housed LEP was first discussed 40 years ago, and will still be in use in 20.

Likewise, the future collider will probably go through many incarnations, and still be running in 60 years.

He recalled a proverb he had to translate from Latin as a schoolchild: “He plants the seeds of trees he’ll never see bearing fruit.”

Why does the brain remember dreams?


The reason for dreaming is still a mystery for the researchers who study the difference between “high dream recallers,” who recall dreams regularly, and “low dream recallers,” who recall dreams rarely. In January 2013 (work published in the journal Cerebral Cortex), the team led by Perrine Ruby, Inserm researcher at the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, made the following two observations: “high dream recallers” have twice as many time of wakefulness during sleep as “low dream recallers” and their brains are more reactive to auditory stimuli during sleep and wakefulness. This increased brain reactivity may promote awakenings during the night, and may thus facilitate memorization of dreams during brief periods of wakefulness.

In this new study, the research team sought to identify which areas of the brain differentiate high and low dream recallers. They used Positron Emission Tomography (PET) to measure the spontaneous brain activity of 41 volunteers during wakefulness and sleep. The volunteers were classified into 2 groups: 21 “high dream recallers” who recalled dreams 5.2 mornings per week in average, and 20 “low dream recallers,” who reported 2 dreams per month in average. High dream recallers, both while awake and while asleep, showed stronger spontaneous brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and in the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), an area of the brain involved in attention orienting toward external stimuli.

“This may explain why high dream recallers are more reactive to environmental stimuli, awaken more during sleep, and thus better encode dreams in memory than low dream recallers. Indeed the sleeping brain is not capable of memorizing new information; it needs to awaken to be able to do that,” explains Perrine Ruby, Inserm Research Fellow.

The South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms had observed in earlier studies that lesions in these two brain areas led to a cessation of dream recall. The originality of the French team’s results is to show brain activity differences between high and low dream recallers during sleep and also during wakefulness.

“Our results suggest that high and low dream recallers differ in dream memorization, but do not exclude that they also differ in dream production. Indeed, it is possible that high dream recallers produce a larger amount of dreaming than low dream recallers” concludes the research team.