Giant telescopes pair up to image near-Earth asteroid .


NASA scientists using Earth-based radar have produced sharp views of a recently discovered asteroid as it slid silently past our planet. Captured on June 8, 2014, the new views of the object designated “2014 HQ124” are some of the most detailed radar images of a near-Earth asteroid ever obtained.

NASA scientists used Earth-based radar to produce these sharp views – an image montage and a movie sequence — of the asteroid designated ‘2014 HQ124’ on June 8, 2014.

An animation of the rotating asteroid and a collage of the images are available at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/index.php?id=1310

The radar observations were led by scientists Marina Brozovic and Lance Benner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. The JPL researchers worked closely with Michael Nolan, Patrick Taylor, Ellen Howell and Alessondra Springmann at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to plan and execute the observations.

According to Benner, 2014 HQ124 appears to be an elongated, irregular object that is at least 1,200 feet (370 meters) wide on its long axis. “This may be a double object, or ‘contact binary,’ consisting of two objects that form a single asteroid with a lobed shape,” he said. The images reveal a wealth of other features, including a puzzling pointy hill near the object’s middle, on top as seen in the images.

The 21 radar images were taken over a span of four-and-a-half hours. During that interval, the asteroid rotated a few degrees per frame, suggesting its rotation period is slightly less than 24 hours.

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At its closest approach to Earth on June 8, the asteroid came within 776,000 miles (1.25 million kilometers), or slightly more than three times the distance to the moon. Scientists began observations of 2014 HQ124 shortly after the closest approach, when the asteroid was between about 864,000 miles and 902,000 miles (1.39 million kilometers and 1.45 million kilometers) from Earth.

Each image in the collage and movie represents 10 minutes of data.

The new views show features as small as about 12 feet (3.75 meters) wide. This is the highest resolution currently possible using scientific radar antennas to produce images. Such sharp views for this asteroid were made possible by linking together two giant radio telescopes to enhance their capabilities.

To obtain the new views, researchers paired the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, with two other radio telescopes, one at a time. Using this technique, the Goldstone antenna beams a radar signal at an asteroid and the other antenna receives the reflections. The technique dramatically improves the amount of detail that can be seen in radar images.

To image 2014 HQ124, the researchers first paired the large Goldstone antenna with the 1,000-foot (305-meter) Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. They later paired the large Goldstone dish with a smaller companion, a 112-foot (34-meter) antenna, located about 20 miles (32 kilometers) away.

A recent equipment upgrade at Arecibo enabled the two facilities to work in tandem to obtain images with this fine level of detail for the first time.

“By itself, the Goldstone antenna can obtain images that show features as small as the width of a traffic lane on the highway,” said Benner. “With Arecibo now able to receive our highest-resolution Goldstone signals, we can create a single system that improves the overall quality of the images.”

The first five images in the new sequence — the top row in the collage — represent the data collected by Arecibo, and are 30 times brighter than what Goldstone can produce observing on its own.

Scientists were fortunate to be able to make these radar observations at all, as this particular asteroid was only recently discovered. NASA’s NEOWISE mission, a space telescope adapted for scouting the skies for the infrared light emitted by asteroids and comets, first spotted the space rock on April 23, 2014. Additional information about the asteroid’s discovery and its orbit was shared in a previous Web story online at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2014-178

For asteroids, as well as comets, radar is a powerful tool for studying the objects’ size, shape, rotation, surface features and orbits. Radar measurements of asteroid distances and velocities enable researchers to compute orbits much further into the future than if radar observations were not available.

NASA detects, tracks and characterizes asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground- and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Program, commonly called “Spaceguard,” discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them and identifies their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet. To date, U.S. assets have discovered more than 98 percent of the known near-Earth objects.

Along with the resources NASA puts into understanding asteroids, it also partners with other U.S. government agencies, university-based astronomers and space science institutes across the country that are working to find, track and understand these objects better, often with grants, interagency transfers and other contracts from NASA. In addition, NASA values the work of numerous highly skilled amateur astronomers, whose accurate observational data helps improve asteroid orbits after they are found.

The contributions of JPL engineers Jon Giorgini, Joseph Jao and Clement Lee were critical to the successful execution of these observations.

Through its Asteroid Initiative, NASA is developing a first-ever mission to identify, capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid to a stable orbit around the moon with a robotic spacecraft. Astronauts aboard an Orion spacecraft, launched by a Space Launch System rocket, will explore the asteroid in the 2020s, returning to Earth with samples. Experience in human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit through this Asteroid Redirect Mission will help NASA test new systems and capabilities needed to support future human missions to Mars. The Initiative also includes an Asteroid Grand Challenge, which is seeking the best ideas to find all asteroid threats to human populations and accelerate the work NASA already is doing for planetary defense.

JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Underground Reservoir Holds 3 Times Earth’s Oceans .


What’s the Latest?

A vast reservoir of water exists beneath the Earth’s surface, enough to fill the oceans three times over, say a team of American scientists who have produced the first direct evidence of the water. But rather than existing in liquid form like the oceans, this subterranean water is trapped in a mineral called ringwoodite. The mineral acts like a sponge due to a crystal structure that makes it attract hydrogen and trap water. “The study used data from the USArray, a network of seismometers across the US that measure the vibrations of earthquakes,” combined with lab experiments simulating conditions found nearly 400 miles underground.

Blue_crystal

What’s the Big Idea?

Based on a vast underground region extending across most of the interior of the US, the findings could overturn the long-held theory that ice-covered comets first brought water to Earth’s surface, slamming into the rocky planet before its atmosphere could develop. The lead scientist behind the data, geophysicist Steve Jacobson, explained that life as we know it may owe its existence to the ringwoodite buffer zone. “If [the stored water] wasn’t there, it would be on the surface of the Earth, and mountaintops would be the only land poking out,” he said.

How to Anonymize Everything You Do Online .


One year after the first revelations of Edward Snowden, cryptography has shifted from an obscure branch of computer science to an almost mainstream notion: It’s possible, user privacy groups and a growing industry of crypto-focused companies tell us, to encrypt everything from emails to IMs to a gif of a motorcycle jumping over a plane.

But it’s also possible to go a step closer toward true privacy online. Mere encryption hides the content of messages, but not who’s communicating. Use cryptographic anonymity tools to hide your identity, on the other hand, and network eavesdroppers may not even know where to find your communications, let alone snoop on them. “Hide in the network,” security guru Bruce Schneier made his first tip for evading the NSA. “The less obvious you are, the safer you are.”

Though it’s hardly the sole means of achieving online anonymity, the software known as Tor has become the most vouchsafed and developer-friendly method for using the Internet incognito. The free and open source program triple-encrypts your traffic and bounces it through computers around the globe, making tracing it vastly more difficult. Most Tor users know the program as a way to anonymously browse the Web. But it’s much more. In fact, Tor’s software runs in the background of your operating system and creates a proxy connection that links with the Tor network. A growing number of apps and even operating systems provide the option to route data over that connection, allowing you to obscure your identity for practically any kind of online service.

Some users are even experimenting with using Tor in almost all their communications. “It’s like being a vegetarian or a vegan,” says Runa Sandvik, a privacy activist and former developer for Tor. “You don’t eat certain types of food, and for me I choose to use Tor only. I like the idea that when I log onto a website, it doesn’t know where I’m located, and it can’t track me.”

Here’s how you can use the growing array of anonymity tools to protect more of your life online.

Web Browsing

The core application distributed for free by the non-profit Tor Project is the Tor Browser, a hardened, security-focused version of Firefox that pushes all of your Web traffic through Tor’s anonymizing network. Given the three encrypted jumps that traffic takes between computers around the world, it may be the closest thing to true anonymity on the Web. It’s also rather slow. But the Tor browser is getting faster, says Micah Lee, a privacy-focused technologist who has worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation—one of the organizations that funds the Tor Project—and First Look Media. For the past month or so, he’s tried to use it as his main browser and only switch back to traditional browsers occasionally, mostly for flash sites and others that require plugins.

After about a week, he says, the switch was hardly noticeable. “It may not be entirely necessary, but I haven’t found it that inconvenient either,” Lee says. “And it does have real privacy benefits. Everyone gets tracked everywhere they go on the Web. You can opt of out of that.”

Email

The simplest way to anonymously send email is to use a webmail service in the Tor Browser. Of course, that requires signing up for a new webmail account without revealing any personal information, a difficult task given that Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo! Mail all require a phone number.

Runa Sandvik suggests Guerrilla Mail, a temporary, disposable email service. Guerrilla Mail lets you set up a new, random email address with only a click. Using it in the Tor Browser ensures that no one, not even Guerrilla Mail, can connect your IP address with that ephemeral email address.

Encrypting messages with webmail can be tough, however. It often requires the user to copy and paste messages into text windows and then use PGP to scramble and unscramble them. To avoid that problem, Lee instead suggests a different email setup, using a privacy-focused email host like Riseup.net, the Mozilla email app Thunderbird, the encryption plugin Enigmail, and another plugin called TorBirdy that routes its messages through Tor.

Instant Messaging

Adium and Pidgin, the most popular Mac and Windows instant messaging clients that support the encryption protocol OTR, also support Tor. (See how to enable Tor in Adium here and in Pidgin here.) But the Tor Project  is working to create an IM program specifically designed to be more secure and anonymous. That Tor IM client, based on a program called Instant Bird, was slated for release in March but is behind schedule. Expect an early version in mid-July.

Large File Transfers

Google Drive and Dropbox don’t promise much in the way of privacy. So Lee created Onionshare, open-source software that lets anyone directly send big files via Tor. When you use it to share a file, the program creates what’s known as a Tor Hidden Service—a temporary, anonymous website—hosted on your computer. Give the recipient of the file the .onion address for that site, and they can securely and anonymously download it through their Tor Browser.

Mobile Devices

Anonymity tools for phones and tablets are far behind the desktop but catching up fast. The Guardian Project created an app called Orbot that runs Tor on Android. Web browsing, email and IM on the phone can all be set to use Orbot’s implementation of Tor as a proxy.

Apple users don’t yet have anything that compares. But a 99-cent app called Onion Browser in the iOS app store offers anonymous web access from iPhones and iPads. An audit by Tor developers in April revealed and helped fix some of the program’s vulnerabilities. But Sandvik suggests that prudent users should still wait for more testing. In fact, she argues that the most sensitive users should stick with better-tested desktop Tor implementations. “If I were in a situation where I needed anonymity, mobile is not a platform I’d rely on,” she says.

Everything Else

Even if you run Tor to anonymize every individual Internet application you use, your computer might still be leaking identifying info online. The NSA has even used unencrypted Windows error messages sent to Microsoft to finger users and track their identities. And an attacker can compromise a web page you visit and use it to deliver an exploit that breaks out of your browser and sends an unprotected message revealing your location.

anon

So for the truly paranoid, Lee and Sandvik recommend using entire operating systems designed to send every scrap of information they communicate over Tor. The most popular Tor OS is Tails, or The Amnesiac Incognito Live System. Tails can boot from a USB stick or DVD so no trace of the session remains on the machine, and anonymizes all information. Snowden associates have said the NSA whistleblower is himself a fan of the software.

For the even more paranoid, there is a lesser-known Tor-enabled OS called Whonix. Whonix creates multiple “virtual machines” on the user’s computer—software versions of full computer operating systems that are designed to be indistinguishable from a full computer. Any attacker trying to compromise the user’s computer will be confined to that virtual machine.

That virtualization trick underlines an important point for would-be anonymous Internet users, Lee says: If your computer gets hacked, the game is over. Creating a virtual sandbox around your online communications is one way to keep the rest of your system protected.

“Tor is awesome and can make you anonymous. But if your endpoint gets compromised, your anonymity is compromised too,” he says. “If you really need to be anonymous, you also need to be really secure.”

Mir Space Station: Testing Long-Term Stays in Space


Mir was a space station that operated for more than 15 years in low Earth orbit. The design was conceived under the Soviet Union, and the station continued work under Russia after the union fell apart in the early 1990s.

The space station served as an important precursor to today’s International Space Station. Aboard Mir, crews dealt for the first time with long-duration stays in space of more than 400 days. Health effects and psychological situations were observed and documented.

The Mir Space Station and Earth limb observed from the Orbiter Endeavour during NASA's STS-89 mission in 1998.
The Mir Space Station and Earth limb observed from the Orbiter Endeavour during NASA’s STS-89 mission in 1998.
Credit: NASA

In later years, NASA used Mir as a testbed for international co-operation. The agency was eager to move forward with ISS, but felt that it required experience working with Russia before continuing. As such, NASA signed an agreement to send its astronauts aboard Mir.

 

Results from the program were mixed, with some American astronauts comparing about feeling isolated and undersupported when training overseas. Worse, by the time NASA astronauts arrived, Mir was nearing the end of its operational lifetime and experienced frequent power failures and a near-fatal fire.

Astronauts generally, however, got a lot of microgravity research done during the program. Also, the experience aboard Mir gave NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) an education on how to best work together for ISS.

Extending long-term duration experience

According to Enyclopedia Astronautica, Mir was intended as a successor project to the Soviet Union’s Salyut series of space stations. While the United States was focused on the moon program in the 1960s and developing the shuttle in the 1970s, Russia went in another direction after the space race.

The country worked on developing expertise in long-duration spaceflight, and felt that a larger space station would allow for more research in that area. Mir was originally authorized in a February 1976, then evolved by 1978 to a station with several ports for crewed Soyuz spacecraft and cargo Progress spaceships.

NPO Energia began work in earnest on the station in 1979, reportedly subcontracting the responsibilities to KB Salyut because Energia was preoccupied with the Salyut, Soyuz, and Progress programs, among others. Work stalled somewhat as Russia developed a Buran space shuttle, but according to the encyclopedia, in 1984 the Soviet Union made it a priority to orbit the station in two years to coincide with the 27th Communist Party Congress in spring 1986.

It took some planning adjustments, but the first module of Mir launched successfully on Feb. 20, 1986. The next step would be bringing it alive for cosmonauts to occupy it.

“The decision was taken to launch Soyuz T-15 on a unique dual station mission,” the encyclopedia stated in an article about Mir’s construction.

“The Soyuz would first dock with Salyut 7, which was dead in space, and completely repair the station. They then would fly in their Soyuz to Mir, and put it into initial operation. This spectacular mission marked a new maturity in the Soviet space program.”

Construction and dissolution

Mir was a modular space station, meaning that there were different parts that were shipped up and put together to form the greater whole. The first module that launched was the Mir base block (or core module).

During the next decade, the Soviets launched several other modules. But political change was brewing amid the construction. The Soviet Union dissolved when one Soviet cosmonaut, Sergei Krikalev, was in space between 1991 and 1992. He is sometimes dubbed “the last Soviet citizen” because of this.

After construction was finished, Mir had a collection of facilities. At 43 feet (13.1 meters) long, the “core” module of the station was the main area where the cosmonauts and astronauts did their work. It also housed the main computer and vital space station parts, such as communications.

In addition to solar arrays and a docking port, the station had several facilities for orbital science. These included, but were not limited to, two Kvant modules (that did astronomy and other science research), Kristall (which had a facility for microgravity manufacturing) and Spektr (focused on Earth work).

Mir is most famous for hosting long-duration missions during its early years in space. For this reason, the Soviets and Russians dominate the list of the 10 longest spaceflights on record. Topping the list is Valeri Polyakov, who spent nearly 438 days aboard Mir and landed on March 22, 1995.

Astronaut Shannon Lucid on the Russian Mir space station.
During off-duty time in the Spacehab Module, astronaut Shannon W. Lucid uses the microgravity of space to fabricate her own kind of easy chair as the days of her lengthy Russian Mir Space Station stay as a cosmonaut guest researcher come to a close in September 1996.
Credit: NASA

Shuttle-Mir program

In 1993, NASA and Russia made a pact to bring space shuttles to Mir. This would benefit the respective programs in a couple of ways. It would give NASA astronauts, then confined to shuttle flights, some valuable long-term flight experience. And it would provide Russia with some badly needed cash as the young country struggled to keep its expensive spaceflight program afloat.

The program ran between 1994 and 1998, with several NASA astronauts spending months aboard the orbiting facility. They trained in Russia, working to learn the language and a new space program all at the same time. Some of the astronauts thrived in the new environment, while others struggled. (More details are provided in the book “Dragonfly,” which covers the history of the program.)

Meanwhile, mechanical problems aboard Mir mounted, particularly in 1996-97. Astronaut Jerry Linenger‘s mission in particular was marred by issues ranging from a fire that broke out on Mir, a resupply ship that nearly hit the station, and several failures of onboard systems.

The next shuttle astronaut on Mir, Michael Foale, was among a crew that experienced a collision with a resupply ship. Criticism of the program reached an apex during Linenger’s and Foale’s stays in space, with some arguing it was unsafe to keep the astronauts on board. Congress launched an inquiry. However, NASA deemed the situation safe enough and the program continued until 1998.

The International Space Station presented a new platform for Russia and the United States to work together. However, it also proved to be a drain on Russia’s finances. Private schemes were contemplated to keep Mir working, but they fell through. Russia thus decided to deorbit Mir to preserve money for ISS.

Mir broke up in Earth’s atmosphere on March 23, 2001, with some large fragments falling into the South Pacific Ocean – well away from inhabited areas. The station had a tumultuous history, but the lessons learned on board Mir are still used by NASA, Russia and their spacefaring partners today.

Threat Grows From Liver Illness Tied to Obesity .


Yubelkis Matias, 19, a student at Bronx Community College, lives with fatty liver disease.
Nancy Borowick / The New York Times
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR

Despite major gains in fighting hepatitis C and other chronic liver conditions, public health officials are now faced with a growing epidemic of liver disease that is tightly linked to the obesity crisis.

In the past two decades, the prevalence of the disease, known as nonalcoholic fatty liver, has more than doubled in teenagers and adolescents, and climbed at a similar rate in adults. Studies based on federal surveys and diagnostic testing have found that it occurs in about 10 percent of children and at least 20 percent of adults in the United States, eclipsing the rate of any other chronic liver condition.

There are no drugs approved to treat the disease, and it is quickly becoming a leading cause of liver transplants around the country.

Doctors say that the disease, which causes the liver to swell with fat, is particularly striking because it is nearly identical to the liver damage that is seen in heavy drinkers. But in this case the damage is done not by alcohol, but by poor diet and excess weight.

“The equivalent of this is foie gras,” said Dr. Joel E. Lavine, the chief of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “You have to force feed ducks to get fatty liver, but people seem to be able to develop it on their own.”

Gavin Owenby, a 13-year-old in Hiawassee, Ga., learned he had the disease two years ago after developing crippling abdominal pain. “It’s like you’re being stabbed in your stomach with a knife,” he said.

An ultrasound revealed that Gavin’s liver was enlarged and filled with fat. “His doctor said it was one of the worst cases she had seen,” said Gavin’s mother, Michele Owenby. “We had no idea anything was going on other than his stomach pain.”

With no drugs to offer him, Gavin’s doctor warned that the only way to reverse his fatty liver was to exercise and change his diet. “They told me to stay away from sugar and eat more fruits and vegetables,” Gavin said. “But it’s hard.”

Most patients have a less severe form of the disease, with no obvious symptoms. But having nonalcoholic fatty liver is a strong risk factor for developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. And in 10 to 20 percent of patients, the fat that infiltrates the liver leads to inflammation and scarring that can slowly shut down the organ, setting the stage for cirrhosis, liver cancer and ultimately liver failure. Studies show that 2 to 3 percent of American adults, or at least five million people, have this more progressive form of the disease, known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH.

“This is the face of liver disease in the United States,” said Dr. Shahid M. Malik of the Center for Liver Diseases at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “If you’re at any liver transplant center in the country, there’s no doubt that this is a big problem.”

Three decades ago, NASH was so rare that there was no medical name for it. Many doctors assumed that fat that accumulated in the liver was fairly harmless. But today, NASH is a growing strain on liver clinics and the fastest rising cause of liver transplants.

A study by the Mayo Clinic found that the percentage of all transplants performed nationwide because of NASH had reached 10 percent by 2009, up from 1 percent in 2001, even as the rates for hepatitis C, alcoholic liver disease and other conditions remained stable. NASH is projected to surpass hepatitis C as the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020, in part because of new drugs that can effectively cure hepatitis C, but also because of the rapid growth of fatty liver disease.

Fatty liver strikes people of all races and ethnicities. But it is particularly widespread among Hispanics because they frequently carry a variant of a gene, known as PNPLA3, that drives the liver to aggressively produce and store triglycerides, a type of fat. The variant is at least twice as common in Hispanic Americans compared with African-Americans and non-Hispanic whites.

In Los Angeles, liver disease is diagnosed in one out of two obese Hispanic children, and it is a leading cause of premature death in Hispanic adults.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, home to one of the largest liver transplant centers in the world, nearly 25 percent of all liver transplants are performed because of NASH, up from 3 percent in 2002. If the prevalence of NASH continues to increase at its current rate and effective treatments are not found, about 25 million Americans will have the disease by 2025, and five million will need new livers, said Dr. Ronald W. Busuttil, chief of the division of liver transplantation at the David Geffen School of Medicine at U.C.L.A.

“I’m really afraid that the explosion of this condition is going to overrun the resources available to the transplant centers around the country,” Dr. Busuttil said. “In the United States right now, we do about six to seven thousand liver transplants a year. Can you imagine if we have millions of people on the list? It’s unfathomable.”

With NASH rates rising rapidly, drug companies are racing to produce the first drug to treat it.

In January, Intercept Pharmaceuticals, a small biotechnology firm, announced that its clinical trial of obeticholic acid showed promise in treating NASH, causing its stock price to soar. The National Institutes of Health, which sponsored the trial, are expected to present results from it later this year.

Another company, Galectin Therapeutics, was granted a special fast-track designation by the Food and Drug Administration to speed its development of GR-MD-02, a drug that may help reverse some of the more advanced symptoms of the disease.

But it will be several years before any drugs for NASH reach the market, said Dr. Kathleen Corey, the director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Fatty Liver Clinic, which was founded four years ago.

“We see patients with undiagnosed cirrhosis in their teens and 20s,” she said. “That’s something we never would have thought was possible in the past.”

Yubelkis Matias, 19, an honors student at Bronx Community College, was told she has NASH several years ago. She is reminded of the trouble brewing in her liver by the sharp abdominal pains that come and go. Like Gavin, she has been told by her doctors that diet and exercise may be her only shot at reversing the disease. But at 5-foot-5 and 200 pounds, she finds every day a struggle.

“I’m on a roller coaster,” she said. “I eat healthy, then not healthy — pizza, McDonalds, the usual. My doctor told me I have to quit all of that. But it’s cheap, and it’s always there.”

Like many hepatologists, Dr. Corey helps her patients manage their high cholesterol, blood sugar and other metabolic problems that coincide with fatty liver. She counsels them to avoid sugar and alcohol, and she offers them high dosages of vitamin E, an antioxidant that studies show can relieve some symptoms of the disease. And she urges them to lose weight, the only proven way to reduce fat in the liver.

In adults, the rising prevalence of fatty liver has mirrored the increase in obesity. But in children, fatty liver is increasing at a rate “faster and above” the increase in childhood obesity, said Dr. Miriam Vos, the lead author of a study in The Journal of Pediatrics last year that estimated that one in 10 adolescents have the disease.

“That suggests that there’s something else going on,” said Dr. Vos, a pediatric hepatologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “We don’t know, but some of the research has shown there may be early exposures in pregnancy or diet exposures that could be helping to drive this.”

In studies, Dr. Vos and other researchers have found that when children with fatty liver consume sugar, they produce far more triglycerides than children without the disease, and this may be exacerbating fat accumulation in the liver. Cutting out sugary drinks often leads to “a big improvement” in her patients, Dr. Vos said. “But I don’t know if that improvement is specifically because of the sugar or because they cut back on a lot of calories” and have lost weight.

Some researchers believe that insulin resistance, a hallmark of Type 2 diabetes, may be an underlying cause of fatty liver. But not everyone who has the disease is insulin resistant. Nor is every fatty liver patient overweight. People of Asian descent, for example, develop the disease at a lower body mass index than others, said Dr. Rohit Loomba, a fatty liver specialist at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine.

Doctors are also trying to figure out why some people with fatty liver progress to NASH and cirrhosis, while others do not. Dr. Loomba said that continual weight gain seems to be one driving force behind the progression.

As a result, doctors who treat fatty liver stress the urgency of diet and exercise to their patients. But many find it too hard, especially those who are obese and in the late stages of the disease, said Dr. Malik at the University of Pittsburgh.

“A lot of times when I see a patient with fatty liver,” he said, “the first thing out of their mouth is, ‘Well, is there a pill for this?’ And there’s not. There just isn’t. You have to make lifestyle changes, and that’s a much more difficult pill for people to swallow.”

Scientists bend banana genome to help children overcome vitamin A deficiency .


Genetically modified Australian fruit could save the sight – and lives – of thousands of East African children

 

The goal is to stop thousands of children in Uganda and surrounding countries from going blind. Photograph: ABC
It’s the genetically modified fruit from Australia that could turn East African nations into life-saving banana republics.

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers have engineered bananas grown in far north Queensland to increase the levels of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body.

The goal, they say, is to stop thousands of children in Uganda and the surrounding countries from going blind and dying from vitamin A deficiency.

And now they’ve successfully bent the banana genome, it’s being tested on humans for the first time.

About 10 kilograms of the yellow fruit – with orange flesh – grown near Innisfail have just been shipped to Iowa State University, where the trials are being conducted.

Five Ugandan PhD students are working with leader Professor James Dale on the nine-year project, on which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent $10m.

Dale said that by 2020 vitamin A-enriched banana varieties would be grown by farmers in Uganda, where about 70% of the population survive on the fruit.

“The highland or East African cooking banana, which is chopped and steamed, is a staple food of many East African nations, but it has low levels of micronutrients, particularly pro-vitamin A and iron,” Dale said.

“We’re aiming to increase the level of pro-vitamin A to a minimum level of 20 micrograms per gram dry weight.”

Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and is an especially severe problem in Africa, where people are poorest, according the World Health Organisation.

Many children aged from birth to six simply don’t survive.

Dale said previous US trials using Mongolian gerbils had already proved successful on the bananas.

When field trials in Uganda were in place, he said, the same technology could be transferred to countries such as Rwanda, parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Tanzania.

On Cancer: Living and Coping with Advanced Cancer.


Having advanced cancer may mean that your disease is not responding to treatment and that long-term remission is no longer likely. It may be that your cancer has returned or spread after therapy, or that doctors have run out of standard treatment options.

“We are seeing a burgeoning population of people who will never be post-treatment survivors, but who instead are ‘on-treatment’ survivors living with their cancer as a chronic illness,” says social worker Roz Kleban, who co-leads Memorial Sloan Kettering’s support groups for women with metastatic breast cancer.

Learning You Have Advanced Cancer

People with advanced cancer can expect to live longer and maintain a better quality of lifethan ever before, thanks to advances in diagnostic techniques and cancer therapies. However, the news that a cure is no longer possible can be devastating. Managing symptoms and physical changes brought on by the disease and its treatment, navigating complex family dynamics, and contending with work and financial hardships are just some of the possible issues that can arise.

While learning that you have advanced cancer is difficult at any age, younger adults with metastatic disease may face additional challenges. Many are just beginning to form their professional identity, affirm themselves in relationships with intimate partners, or live independently apart from their parents. They may be deciding whether they want to become parents themselves or worrying about the future of the young children they already have.

“As you’re trying to define and deepen your own identity, you’re faced with a life-threatening illness and uncertainty,” says social worker and family therapist Carolyn Fulton. “When you realize that your illness is not going away, you have to allow yourself to grieve those losses, which can include not being able to work or have children.”

Addressing Your Emotions

“Get to know who you are, understand what you’re facing, and decide how you want to live in the midst of the physical changes that occur with advancing illness,” advises Ms. Fulton, who co-leads an online support group called Making Today Count for Memorial Sloan Kettering patients with advanced cancer.

“Experiencing a mix of emotions such as fear, anger, and grief is normal,” explains Ms. Kleban. “Being positive doesn’t affect your cancer. Don’t beat yourself up when those awful, dark thoughts creep in. Learn to control them rather than suppress them.”

Find a time when you can attend to those feelings, then try to set them aside. “The best coping strategy is distraction,” she suggests. “Keep your life busy with things that you deem important and pleasurable. The subject of your day should be, ‘What can I do today that will make me feel good?’”

Finding What Works for You

There is no right or wrong way to cope. Each person must come to terms with a diagnosis in his or her own way and at his or her own pace. “Find a way to work through this. Individual therapy with a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist or complementary therapies like meditation or guided imagery, particularly when faced with increased anxiety, are helpful avenues to consider,” recommends Ms. Fulton.

Connecting with someone else affected by advanced cancer in a support group or online community can offer perspective and validation and ease feelings of isolation. Faith and spirituality are also important sources of strength and comfort for many people.

“Work on keeping hope alive,” adds Ms. Kleban. “Hope does not mean in this instance hope for cure. But there’s hope for pain-free activity. Hope that you will get to that next vacation you planned with your friends. Hope that you can smooth over the problem you’ve had with your mother all these years. Hope to be present and live life as best as you can.”

Talking about Your Illness

Taking charge of the things you can do something about can be helpful at a time when you don’t have much control over many aspects of your health situation.

“One piece of control that you still have is how and when you choose to communicate information, and protecting your own feelings throughout that process,” says Ms. Fulton. “You may decide to designate a friend or family member to email your loved ones about your medical situation, mentioning that you are not interested in discussing it but want to make sure everyone knows what’s going on.”

“How you field questions about your health is up to you,” adds Ms. Kleban. “If you want to respond, you may choose to say that you have a chronic illness, or describe it as a type of cancer that demands constant attention. If you prefer not to talk about it, say so and change the subject by asking, ‘How are you doing?’”

Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room

It’s common for people living with advancing or terminal illness to think about death and have moments of anxiety because of it.

“Anxiety may intensify when left untreated, particularly at the end of life if you refuse to think or talk about your end-of-life wishes and define what quality of life means to you,” says Ms. Fulton. “But if you address this anxiety and allow yourself to sit with harder emotions like the sadness, anger, and frustration often connected to the realization that the cancer is not going away, then you can gain valuable insight.”

“Bringing your family together in therapy can help open the lines of communication so you can discuss the difficult topics — including fears about anticipated death — and bridge anything that might feel stressful within those relationships,” adds Ms. Fulton.

Managing Caregivers’ Expectations

People who care for loved ones with advanced cancer say that one of their biggest worries is witnessing the physical changes associated with disease progression, particularly toward the end of life.

“There are many misconceptions about the physical and emotional realities of cancer,” notes Ms. Fulton. “Caregivers are often quick to make assumptions and worry that their loved one is depressed when actually they are physically fatigued from the illness.”

Individual counseling and family therapy — such as programs offered through Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Counseling Center — help patients and family members come to terms with how advanced disease impacts your ability to live, especially as you move closer to physical decline.

Addressing Your Physical Symptoms

It can be difficult to decipher whether new symptoms such as aches and pains are associated with your cancer or with the normal aging process. “Everything becomes terrifying, but you can’t expect the doctor to take care of you unless you report what’s going on,” says Ms. Kleban. “The doctor prefers that you report these things, and at this stage you can’t be that arbiter.”

Complementary therapies such as acupuncture, exercise, and yoga can play an important role in helping to control symptoms such as pain, fatigue, anxiety, nausea, and difficulty sleeping.

Palliative medicine is another option. “The goal of palliation is to keep people comfortable throughout the disease, not just at the end of life,” says Ms. Fulton. “It can help alleviate pain and distress as much as possible as you move through your illness.”

Meeting the Needs of People with Advanced Cancer

There are resources available offering practical advice on work, finances, and preparing for the potential loss of physical mobility and independence; medical information about clinical trials and ways to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life; and emotional and psychological support to help you cope.

“We need to continue to find ways to meet the unique needs of this population, to acknowledge and advocate for them, and to give them a voice,” says Ms. Kleban, who was involved in the creation of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network — the first national nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to the issues faced by people with metastatic breast cancer.

Another resource, called the Advanced Cancer Initiative, was cre¬ated by Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Department of Social Work to help patients and their families deal with issues that may arise from advanced and often incurable cancer. It offers educational and support programs to address common concerns such as participation in clinical trials, coping through use of complementary therapies, talking with your children about cancer, and finding meaning in life while dealing with advanced disease.

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