Mechanism that repairs brain after stroke discovered — ScienceDaily

From the desk of Zedie.

Decades-Old Fetus Caused Woman’s Side Pain

From the desk of Zedie.

Thyroid Cancer and Iodine.

From the desk of Zedie.

Lab-Grown Penis In Final Steps Of Testing: Why A Sense Of Normalcy Is More Than Just An Erection

Becoming a victim of dismemberment due to a car accident, time spent on the battlefield, or being born with a genital abnormality, can lead to grievous psychological complications throughout a man’s life. Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina recognized the mental and emotional hurdles a man without a penis would lead with the possibility of gender identity loss and a self-conscious romantic life. After nearly 25 years of laboratory grown penis experiments, researchers have reached the safety stage and will soon be testing on human men.

“The rabbit studies were very encouraging,” Dr. Anthony Atala, a pediatric urological surgeon and the director of the Institute, who oversaw the team’s successful engineering of penises for rabbits in 2002 and 2008, told The Guardian. “But to get approval for humans we need all the safety and quality assurance data, we need to show that the materials aren’t toxic, and we have to spell out the manufacturing process, step by step.”

Atala began his work in 1992, specializing in treating children born with genital abnormalities. After finding success in the earlier stages of Atala’s penis project in 2002, he said it was not only impressive that they were able to reconstruct a penis, but a real medical milestone in tissue and organ engineering because the penis is one of the most complex organs they’ve attempted to engineer. His team already successfully created fully functional bladders in 1999, but the penis has several functions to complicate the process, unlike the bladder.

The penis is still unable to achieve an erection, which limits them from penetration and ultimately our most fundamental instinct: reproduction. But the function of a penis goes beyond the physical aspect and enters an important realm in a male’s mental perspective. Without a penis, a man can experience castration anxiety, which Sigmund Freud discussed in one of his earliest psychoanalytic theories based on the overwhelming fear of damage or loss of one’s penis. It’s typically caused by already existing penile damage that haunts a man throughout his life, even if it hasn’t limited his sexual reproduction.

With the alarming rate of mutilation to the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, it is of utmost importance a man reinstates his identity by having a penis despite its inability to achieve an erection. The number of U.S. soldiers who experienced severe genital wounds tripled in 2011, and the loss of one limb doubled from 2008 to 2010 because of an increase in improvised explosive devices (IED) used on the battlefield, according to the Army Times. One Marine, and undoubtedly many more, reported if he lost his manhood he wouldn’t want to live through it. This isn’t about just being able to have sex; this is ensuring men have the ability to identify their gender and to reinstate strength and masculinity after such a devastating loss.

“Our target is to get the organs into patients with injuries or congenital abnormalities,” said Atala, whose research is currently funded by the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine with a long-term goal of providing penis regrowth procedures for soldiers sustaining battlefield injuries. However, his original passion stemmed from preventing newborn baby boys from being given a sex-change at birth due to being born with ambiguous genitalia. “Imagine being genetically male but living as a woman. It’s a firmly devastating problem that we hope to help with.”

Limitations Of Laboratory Penises

Currently, the method limits Atala’s team from providing female-to-male sex reassignment surgery because it requires a patient’s own penis-specific cells. These newly grown penises have only gone through testing with rabbits and are currently undergoing the safety, function, and durability testing to prepare them for human testing in the next five years. The penises are used with a donor penis and sanitized to expunge any donor cells and then the male patient’s own cells are grown in culture for four to six weeks and injected into the shaft — muscle and blood vessel cells and all. The trick is using a male’s own cells to dramatically decrease the risk of immunological rejection, which occurs when the body recognizes it as a foreign and dangerous invader.

“My concern is that they might struggle to recreate a natural erection,” Atala said. “Erectile function is a coordinated neurophysiological process starting in the brain, so I wonder if they can reproduce that function or whether this is just an aesthetic improvement. That will be their challenge.”

When first tested with genetically engineered penises in 2002, once the 18 rabbits recovered from their surgery, they attempted to have sex within 30 seconds of being placed in a cage with a female. Atala reported they were able to penetrate and produce sperm with their new generated penises, but at about the stamina and efficacy of a 60-year-old penis, versus their goal of a 30-year-old. Now with the advent of a nearly complete lab-generated penis, Atala and his team hope to achieve erections for sexual intercourse. What is the point of having a penis if you can’t fulfill the most fundamental and innate function of reproduction — arguably the reason for our existence?

“If we can engineer and replace this tissue, these men can have erections again,” said Dr. James Yoo, a collaborator of Atala’s at Wake Forest Institute, who is working on bioengineering and replacing parts of the penis to help treat erectile dysfunction. “As a scientist and clinician, it’s this possibility of pushing forward current treatment practice that really keeps you awake at night.”

Smartphones’ Blue Light May Lead To Weight Gain As A Result Of Poor Sleep

You already know the blue light that emits from your smartphone disrupts production of the sleep hormone melatonin. And as research continues to strengthen the association between sleep deprivation and obesity, it was only a matter of time before a studyfound smartphones might make people fat, too. Yes, that time is now.

Scientists at the University of Granada in Spain injected rats with melatonin and found regulating this hormone helped to combat obesity and diabetes. Their animal research is similar to research being done at Manchester University, where the effects of regular sleep patterns are being monitored in patients with diabetes. Dr. Simon Kyle, a sleep researcher at the University’s School of Psychological Sciences and on the team at MU, said that while the work is ongoing, they’ve found a link between circadian patterns (a person’s internal clock) and disease.

“We are interested in how an alteration in the sleep-wake pattern may be involved in the onset of diabetes and obesity and if, when you improve the timing of sleep you can also have a positive effect on conditions like diabetes and obesity,” Kyle said in a press release.

The timing of sleep doesn’t only mean a regular, healthy dose of melatonin; it also means a regular, healthy dose of ghrelin and leptin, the hunger hormones. Without sleep, these hormones can be altered, skewing a person’s appetite and encouraging them to overconsume high-calorie foods. Consuming more of these increases risk for belly fat, which then increases risk for diabetes. It’s all one viciously hungry cycle.

Though, this isn’t the first time off-balance hormones and circadian patterns, orrhythms, have posed a threat to our health. Disrupted patterns (a result from when we miss the external signals and clues the sun is up or down) increases riskfor metabolic syndrome and fatty liver. Our body being able to tell when the sun is rising and setting, or when it’s time to wake-up versus sleep, keeps it on an even, healthy keel.

Yet, most people are in the habit of charging their phones, tablets, any other gadget of choice in their bedrooms, be it physically in bed (hey, no shame in maximizing your space) or nearby on a nightstand. Even if you made a point to turn off all devices a while before bed, the light from a late-night message or notification can still disrupt melatonin secretion, “and that could contribute to alterations in metabolism,” Kyle said.

A better idea is to charge your phone in another room. And, as always, sleep with as little light as possible. Pitch-black conditions reset your internal clock, helping you get up and eat at the right times.

Hair Talk: 5 Secrets Your Hair Is Trying To Tell You About Your Health

A bad hair day or a few bad hair days can leave us in an unpleasant mood as we find no solution in taming our manes. Although these lousy hair days are usually the result of haircut regret, or a hair product gone wrong, our hair woes could also signify underlying health problems a hairstylist cannot fix. Our hair acts like an extension of our body and can by tell us the secrets about our overall health.

It is common as we age for our hair and nails to begin to change. Typically, a change in hair color is one of the clearest signs of aging as hair follicles produce less melanin. This means there is less pigmentation and more grays. In addition, hair thickness along with smaller strands are also common signs of aging since many hair follicles stop producing new hairs, according to Medline Plus. However, these changes can be unrelated to age and can actually be symptoms linked to these several health conditions.

Young woman running in summer field of grass

Hair Texture

1. Dry, Brittle Hair

If your hair feels as soft as a Brillo pad, and you wake up with hair litter on your pillow in the morning, this could be an indication of Cushing’s syndrome or hypothyroidism.These conditions occur when the thyroid glands do not produce enough thyroid hormones, according to Healthline. As a result, your metabolism begins to slow down leading to sudden weight gain, unexplained fatigue, and being cold all the time. A deficiency in iron, zinc and vitamin C can also lead hair to become often dry, brittle, and lusterless.

2. Thinning Hair

Thick locks that change into thin strands could also be a sign of hypothyroidism. The thyroid is the master gland that regulates the endocrine system and also impacts how hair is formed. However, thinner hair accompanied by hair loss could also be attributed to a hormonal imbalance relating to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This endocrine disorder affects how a woman’s ovaries work which leads to excessive hair shedding and hair thinning on the scalp, especially in those who have a genetic predisposition and follicle sensitivity, says the Mayo Clinic.

3. Hair Shedding

The average person loses about 100 hairs a day but this hair loss is normal and doesn’t not make your hair feel any less thin. However, if your hair starts to fall out in clumps, it could be a sign of anemia. This health condition is caused by low iron in the body which leads to brittle nails or hair loss. Iron Is necessary for maintaining many body functions, says the American Society of Hematology, and for maintaining healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails.

A protein deficiency could also indicate a protein deficiency. Protein is essential in building and growing your hair. About two to three months after a person does not eat enough protein, they will most likely see hair loss.

Hair Color

1. Gray Hair

The moment we spot gray hairs we begin to cringe and quickly rush to the pharmacy or our hairstylist for a quick hair dye job. While gray hair is dictated by our genes, it can also signify high levels of stress. Stress hormones are thought to believe to impact the survival and/or activity of melanocytes, follicle shrivels, which is the result of the production of free radicals produced by the stress hormones, Scientific American reported.

2. Brunette, Blonde, And Red Hair

Hair color has been associated with personality traits from “blondes have more fun” to “redheads being wild,” but your locks’ hues can reveal a lot about your health. Brunettes are known to have fewer hairs on their head than their blonde and redhead counterparts, which predisposes them to being at a higher risk for hair loss, Medical Daily reported. Unlike brown hair, blonde hair is caused by a lack of melanin in the body which can leave blondes more prone to skin and eye problems. According to a study, if you have blonde hair and blue yes, you are at a higher risk for developing age-related macular degeneration – the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in Americans aged 50 and over.

Compared to brunettes and blondes, redheads are found to have increased self-esteem. Unfortunately, when it comes to their physical health, people with red hair are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, the genetic mutation in redheads that gives them their bright and lustrous color also puts them at risk for developing the degenerative disease.

Remember, look in the mirror not just to style your hair but to learn the truth about your tresses.



The results of a four-year international study of 2060 cardiac arrest cases across 15 hospitals published and available now on ScienceDirect. The study concludes:

· The themes relating to the experience of death appear far broader than what has been understood so far, or what has been described as so called near-death experiences.

· In some cases of cardiac arrest, memories of visual awareness compatible with so called out-of-body experiences may correspond with actual events.

· A higher proportion of people may have vivid death experiences, but do not recall them due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory circuits.

· Widely used yet scientifically imprecise terms such as near-death and out-of-body experiences may not be sufficient to describe the actual experience of death. Future studies should focus on cardiac arrest, which is biologically synonymous with death, rather than ill-defined medical states sometimes referred to as ‘near-death’.

· The recalled experience surrounding death merits a genuine investigation without prejudice.

Recollections in relation to death, so-called out-of-body experiences (OBEs) or near-death experiences (NDEs), are an often spoken about phenomenon which have frequently been considered hallucinatory or illusory in nature; however, objective studies on these experiences are limited.

In 2008, a large-scale study involving 2060 patients from 15 hospitals in the United Kingdom, United States and Austria was launched. The AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study, sponsored by the University of Southampton in the UK, examined the broad range of mental experiences in relation to death. Researchers also tested the validity of conscious experiences using objective markers for the first time in a large study to determine whether claims of awareness compatible with out-of-body experiences correspond with real or hallucinatory events.

Results of the study have been published in the journal Resuscitation and are now available online.

Dr Sam Parnia, Assistant Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Director of Resuscitation Research at The State University of New York at Stony Brook, USA, and the study’s lead author, explained: “Contrary to perception, death is not a specific moment but a potentially reversible process that occurs after any severe illness or accident causes the heart, lungs and brain to cease functioning. If attempts are made to reverse this process, it is referred to as ‘cardiac arrest’; however, if these attempts do not succeed it is called ‘death’. In this study we wanted to go beyond the emotionally charged yet poorly defined term of NDEs to explore objectively what happens when we die.”

Thirty-nine per cent of patients who survived cardiac arrest and were able to undergo structured interviews described a perception of awareness, but interestingly did not have any explicit recall of events.

“This suggests more people may have mental activity initially but then lose their memories after recovery, either due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory recall,” explained Dr Parnia, who was an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Southampton when he started the AWARE study.

Among those who reported a perception of awareness and completed further interviews, 46 per cent experienced a broad range of mental recollections in relation to death that were not compatible with the commonly used term of NDE’s. These included fearful and persecutory experiences. Only 9 per cent had experiences compatible with NDEs and 2 per cent exhibited full awareness compatible with OBE’s with explicit recall of ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ events.

One case was validated and timed using auditory stimuli during cardiac arrest. Dr Parnia concluded: “This is significant, since it has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with ‘real’ events when the heart isn’t beating. In this case, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat. This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted. Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events.

“Thus, while it was not possible to absolutely prove the reality or meaning of patients’ experiences and claims of awareness, (due to the very low incidence (2 per cent) of explicit recall of visual awareness or so called OBE’s), it was impossible to disclaim them either and more work is needed in this area. Clearly, the recalled experience surrounding death now merits further genuine investigation without prejudice.”

Further studies are also needed to explore whether awareness (explicit or implicit) may lead to long term adverse psychological outcomes including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr Jerry Nolan, Editor-in-Chief of Resuscitation, stated: “The AWARE study researchers are to be congratulated on the completion of a fascinating study that will open the door to more extensive research into what happens when we die.”



For the first time, robotic prostheses controlled via implanted neuromuscular interfaces have become a clinical reality. A novel osseointegrated (bone-anchored) implant system gives patients new opportunities in their daily life and professional activities.

In January 2013 a Swedish arm amputee was the first person in the world to receive a prosthesis with a direct connection to bone, nerves and muscles. An article about this achievement and its long-term stability will now be published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.

“Going beyond the lab to allow the patient to face real-world challenges is the main contribution of this work,” says Max Ortiz Catalan, research scientist at Chalmers University of Technology and leading author of the publication.

“We have used osseointegration to create a long-term stable fusion between man and machine, where we have integrated them at different levels. The artificial arm is directly attached to the skeleton, thus providing mechanical stability. Then the human’s biological control system, that is nerves and muscles, is also interfaced to the machine’s control system via neuromuscular electrodes. This creates an intimate union between the body and the machine; between biology and mechatronics.”

The direct skeletal attachment is created by what is known as osseointegration, a technology in limb prostheses pioneered by associate professor Rickard Brånemark and his colleagues at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. Rickard Brånemark led the surgical implantation and collaborated closely with Max Ortiz Catalan and Professor Bo Håkansson at Chalmers University of Technology on this project.

The patient’s arm was amputated over ten years ago. Before the surgery, his prosthesis was controlled via electrodes placed over the skin. Robotic prostheses can be very advanced, but such a control system makes them unreliable and limits their functionality, and patients commonly reject them as a result.

Now, the patient has been given a control system that is directly connected to his own. He has a physically challenging job as a truck driver in northern Sweden, and since the surgery he has experienced that he can cope with all the situations he faces; everything from clamping his trailer load and operating machinery, to unpacking eggs and tying his children’s skates, regardless of the environmental conditions (read more about the benefits of the new technology below).

The patient is also one of the first in the world to take part in an effort to achieve long-term sensation via the prosthesis. Because the implant is a bidirectional interface, it can also be used to send signals in the opposite direction – from the prosthetic arm to the brain. This is the researchers’ next step, to clinically implement their findings on sensory feedback.

“Reliable communication between the prosthesis and the body has been the missing link for the clinical implementation of neural control and sensory feedback, and this is now in place,” says Max Ortiz Catalan. “So far we have shown that the patient has a long-term stable ability to perceive touch in different locations in the missing hand. Intuitive sensory feedback and control are crucial for interacting with the environment, for example to reliably hold an object despite disturbances or uncertainty. Today, no patient walks around with a prosthesis that provides such information, but we are working towards changing that in the very short term.”

The researchers plan to treat more patients with the novel technology later this year.

“We see this technology as an important step towards more natural control of artificial limbs,” says Max Ortiz Catalan. “It is the missing link for allowing sophisticated neural interfaces to control sophisticated prostheses. So far, this has only been possible in short experiments within controlled environments.”



Fusion energy almost sounds too good to be true – zero greenhouse gas emissions, no long-lived radioactive waste, a nearly unlimited fuel supply.

Perhaps the biggest roadblock to adopting fusion energy is that the economics haven’t penciled out. Fusion power designs aren’t cheap enough to outperform systems that use fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.

University of Washington engineers hope to change that. They have designed a concept for a fusion reactor that, when scaled up to the size of a large electrical power plant, would rival costs for a new coal-fired plant with similar electrical output.

The team published its reactor design and cost-analysis findings last spring and will present results Oct. 17 at the International Atomic Energy Agency’sFusion Energy Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“Right now, this design has the greatest potential of producing economical fusion power of any current concept,” said Thomas Jarboe, a UW professor of aeronautics and astronautics and an adjunct professor in physics.

The UW’s reactor, called the dynomak, started as a class project taught by Jarboe two years ago. After the class ended, Jarboe and doctoral student Derek Sutherland – who previously worked on a reactor design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – continued to develop and refine the concept.

The design builds on existing technology and creates a magnetic field within a closed space to hold plasma in place long enough for fusion to occur, allowing the hot plasma to react and burn. The reactor itself would be largely self-sustaining, meaning it would continuously heat the plasma to maintain thermonuclear conditions. Heat generated from the reactor would heat up a coolant that is used to spin a turbine and generate electricity, similar to how a typical power reactor works.

“This is a much more elegant solution because the medium in which you generate fusion is the medium in which you’re also driving all the current required to confine it,” Sutherland said.

There are several ways to create a magnetic field, which is crucial to keeping a fusion reactor going. The UW’s design is known as a spheromak, meaning it generates the majority of magnetic fields by driving electrical currents into the plasma itself. This reduces the amount of required materials and actually allows researchers to shrink the overall size of the reactor.

Other designs, such as the experimental fusion reactor project that’s currently being built in France – called Iter – have to be much larger than the UW’s because they rely on superconducting coils that circle around the outside of the device to provide a similar magnetic field. When compared with the fusion reactor concept in France, the UW’s is much less expensive – roughly one-tenth the cost of Iter – while producing five times the amount of energy.

The UW researchers factored the cost of building a fusion reactor power plant using their design and compared that with building a coal power plant. They used a metric called “overnight capital costs,” which includes all costs, particularly startup infrastructure fees. A fusion power plant producing 1 gigawatt (1 billion watts) of power would cost $2.7 billion, while a coal plant of the same output would cost $2.8 billion, according to their analysis.

“If we do invest in this type of fusion, we could be rewarded because the commercial reactor unit already looks economical,” Sutherland said. “It’s very exciting.”

Right now, the UW’s concept is about one-tenth the size and power output of a final product, which is still years away. The researchers have successfully tested the prototype’s ability to sustain a plasma efficiently, and as they further develop and expand the size of the device they can ramp up to higher-temperature plasma and get significant fusion power output.

The team has filed patents on the reactor concept with the UW’s Center for Commercialization and plans to continue developing and scaling up its prototypes.

Other members of the UW design team include Kyle Morgan of physics; Eric Lavine, Michal Hughes, George Marklin, Chris Hansen, Brian Victor, Michael Pfaff, and Aaron Hossack of aeronautics and astronautics; Brian Nelson of electrical engineering; and, Yu Kamikawa and Phillip Andrist formerly of the UW.

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Low Birth Rate Trends Suggest Americans Could Be Happier With Fewer Children

Many countries in Europe and Asia are experiencing zero, or even a negative, population growth. Although the birth rate in America isn’t going down, it’s also not increasing either. While at first this decline in population growth may seem unsettling, a recent study from the University of California, Berkeley suggests that a slight decline in population growth may actually lead to an increase in the overall standard of living.

Fundamentally, humans are meant to do only three things: breathe, eat, and reproduce. However, in modern times, man’s list of possibilities are nearly endless, and somehow reproduction has become increasingly less important. In order to maintain the current population, every person must leave one offspring behind in their place, putting the human “replacement rate” at 2.1 offspring per mother. However, researchers from Berkeley have suggested the key to happiness may be national birth figures slightly under the replacement rate.

While having far under the replacement rate is associated with a decline in a country’s living standard, why would women having slightly under the replacement rate actually lead to an overall increased standard of living? “Higher fertility imposes large costs on families because it is they, rather than governments, that bear most of the costs of raising children. Also, a growing labor force has to be provided with costly capital such as factories, office buildings, transportation, and housing,” explained lead researcher Ronald Lee in a press release.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, the U.S. population growth is slowly declining, and Time reported that last year’s birth record hit an all-time low. It’s believed that this decline is largely due to declines in immigration, more women in the workforce, and more millennials putting off childbirth until later in life. But based on this study, a falling birth rate is not something Americans need to be afraid of. It may, in fact, lead to greater happiness in the long run.

Even though lower fertility rates result in overall more happiness, many governments throughout the world are urging citizens to have more children. This is because population growth actually benefits governments in the long run. The report pointed out that high birth rates give governments a constant workforce, maintain the tax base needed to fund pensions, health care, and elderly benefits.

While the study does suggest that most countries would benefit from couples giving birth to fewer children, this does not exactly mean that families cannot grow through adoption. “An additional child, whether adopted or biological, would reduce the family ‘standard of living’ in a narrow economic sense, but could well make the family better off in the broader sense of including their pleasure from the additional child,” explained Lee to Medical Daily in an email. According toAdoptUSKids, more than half a million children enter U.S. foster care every year, and currently around 104,000 of these children are waiting to be adopted.

Source: Lee R, Mason A members of the NTA Network. Is low fertility really a problem? Population aging, dependency and consumption. Science. 2014.