The continuing polio challenge

Polio has bounced back with a vengeance in Pakistan. Compared with 53 cases reported during the period January to September last year and 54 in 2012, there have been 174 cases during the corresponding period this year. As on November 5, all of 235 cases have been recorded, the highest-ever in the past 15 years; there were 558 cases in 1999. With a sharp spike in the numbers, Pakistan has turned into a bigger polio reservoir, accounting for 80 per cent of the world’s cases. The Taliban militants’ role in preventing nearly a quarter of a million children in North Waziristan from being vaccinated against polio over the last two years has marked a severe setback to the country. The repercussions of a fake Hepatitis B immunisation programme carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency in Abbottabad in 2011 are also there for everyone to see. If lack of trust in polio immunisation efforts already existed in the community, the militants exploited the fake programme to exacerbate distrust. The exodus of virus-carriers from the region to the rest of the country in June this year has greatly increased the risk of transmission. But the good news is that none of the regions remains inaccessible to health workers. Yet, there is a monumental task ahead for the polio programme in Pakistan as no province is free of the disease; even cities such as Karachi and Lahore have recorded a few cases this year. “The polio programme [in Pakistan] is a disaster. It continues to flounder hopelessly, as its virus flourishes,” notes a recent report of the Independent Monitoring Board.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has just set an ambitious goal of ridding the country of polio in six months. Aside from collective action by all actors, there has to be an immediate, transformative change in the polio programme for Pakistan to get anywhere near disease-elimination. As November to May is a low-transmission season — the virus is the least active and the vaccine most effective during this time — a great opportunity exists now to tame the virus. As the Type 1 virus spreads quickly, is tenacious and is the most difficult to get rid of epidemiologically, vaccination coverage should be 100 per cent; herd immunity is the least in India and Pakistan. It should also explore the option of giving at least two polio shots to children in addition to the oral polio drops. The double-vaccination strategy can greatly boost immunity and reduce the number of oral drops campaigns needed. With the Pakistan virus paralysing children in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, the possibility of it emerging in India is real. India, which has been polio-free for over three years, cannot lower its guard till such time as polio is eliminated from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, the three polio-endemic countries.


Gingivitis Bacteria Triggers a Tailspin in Your Mouth .

The vast majority of microbes that live in and on our bodies do not put our health at risk, but many can cause problems if their populations grow out of control. So the immune system keeps their numbers in check, culling resident bacteria here and there.

A few microbial species have found ways to sabotage the immune system and skew the balance of power in their favor. TakePorphyromonas gingivalis, a mouth-dwelling bacterium that has long been the prime suspect behind gum disease. Even in small numbers, P. gingivalis can stop white blood cells from producing certain chemicals that kill bacteria. Without these chemicals to restrict their growth, all the bacterial populations in the mouth—including those that had been contributing to a healthy ecosystem—grow explosively, causing tissue damage known as gingivitis.

In two recent studies, a team of University of Pennsylvania researchers led by dental microbiologist George Hajishengallis figured out the mechanism behind P. gingivalis’s subterfuge. Building on that knowledge, the scientists discovered that blocking a key chemical signal returned the microbial communities in the mouths of mice to normal.

The standard care for gingivitis is a professional tooth cleaning and more flossing, which temporarily reduce bacterial numbers but do not restore white blood cells’ ability to kill. As such, dentists cannot do much to treat recurring inflammation. The team says the finding may lead to future treatment options.

Keystone pathogens may be the culprits behind other chronic inflammatory diseases, too, Hajishengallis says. But to pin down links, scientists need to better understand how keystone bacteria manipulate the checks and balances that allow humans to live in harmony with trillions of microbes.

Is Turmeric The Fountain Of Youth?


Turmeric is used as a spice, food additive, and in herbal medicine throughout the world. Its amazing medicinal properties, which include anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory capacities, are touted often, but could turmeric be the long-sought fountain of youth?

It turns out that active research on turmeric has demonstrated that curcumin and its active metabolite, tetrahydrocurcumin (THC) significantly increases the lifespan of the three following organisms:
1. Roundworms.  
Roundworms grown on media containing a low-dose of curcumin demonstrated an increased mean lifespan of 39%. The researchers attributed this increased lifespan to the reduction of reactive oxygen species.
2. Fruit flies.
Fruit flies generally survive an average of 64 days, and in a study in which they consumed curcumin, their average lifespan increased to 80 days. In addition, the fruit flies exhibited higher levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), a powerful antioxidant that defends the cells when they are exposed to oxygen.
3. Mice.
Male mice fed diets with curcumin beginning at the age of 13 months, lived on average, 84 days longer than mice who were not fed curcumin.
What does this mean for us?
Well, this is certainly promising data! Turmeric is easy enough to add to your diet – I recommend that you try to consume turmeric on a daily basis. Make it part of your daily routine and reap the benefits.
Here’s an easy turmeric tea recipe:
  • Bring four cups of water to a boil.
  • Add one teaspoon of ground turmeric and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Strain the tea through a fine sieve into a cup, add honey and/or lemon to taste.

New ‘Stupidity Virus’ Discovered, Scientists Say .

PHOTO: Jim Carrey, left, and Jeff Daniels in a scene from "Dumb and Dumber To."

The next time you lose your keys or bomb a test, try blaming it on a virus. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Nebraska have discovered a virus that makes you just a little bit dumber.

The scientists stumbled upon the previously unknown “stupidity virus” in the throat cultures of healthy subjects during a completely unrelated experiment. The 44 percent of people who tested positive for the virus performed 7 to 9 points lower on IQ tests that measured attention span and how fast and accurately people process visual information.

When the Nebraska researchers injected the virus into the digestive systems of mice, same thing. The rodents blundered around mazes, appeared flummoxed by new toys and seemed oblivious to new entry ways in and out of their cages. In short, they acted a tiny bit stupider than the average mouse.

“This is a striking example showing that the ‘innocuous’ microorganisms we carry can affect behavior and cognition,” said lead investigator Dr. Robert Yolken, a virologist and pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore who led the study.

Yolken said this unintended study provides a good example of how behavior and psychology come down to more than the genes you inherit from your parents. Some of these traits may be shaped and influenced by the trillions of viruses, bacteria and fungi that colonize our bodies, he said.

Viruses are infectious agents that invade cells and replicate themselves within those cells, said Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, a spokesman for the Infectious Disease Society of America. Once they enter a host, they range from completely benign or, as is the case of the Ebola virus, they can be deadly.

Glatt said while he is skeptical of a virus can actually affect intelligence, he is keeping an open mind.

“We don’t completely understand the full implications of viruses yet but they, obviously, can impact the functioning of cells and entire organism with a myriad of outcomes,” he said.

Yolken said this particular virus may work by changing the way genes are expressed in an area of the brain responsible for memory and other higher brain functions. He also said he has suspected for some time that viruses have ways of messing with human intelligence.

In previous studies, for example, his team found small but definite decreases in cognitive function after exposure to the common herpes simplex virus.

The new research appears in the latest issue of the online journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Highly organised protein structure implicated in schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is associated with enormous personal, familial and societal cost. Exactly how genetic and environmental risk factors act together to lead to the development of schizophrenia is as yet unknown. As a result, current treatments target symptoms rather than underlying causes and do not achieve complete remission.

Researchers in UCD, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Beaumont Hospital have published findings in Molecular Psychiatry that implicate proteins and genes associated with the postsynaptic density (PSD) in schizophrenia. This improved characterisation may suggest novel treatments to target this structure in the future.

The PSD is a complex network of proteins with roles in cell scaffolding and signalling that are critical to the normal transmission of neural messages and to adaptive behaviours like learning and memory.

There is strong evidence to support the view that the synaptic neurotransmitter, N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor hypofunction contributes to the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. It has been proposed that the PSD may contribute to this through dysregulation of NMDA receptor recycling.

The team firstly enriched for the PSD in the in schizophrenia and control tissue obtained from the Stanley Medical Research Institute before using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to quantify differential .

“We combined proteomic and genomic methods to characterise postsynaptic density-associated protein expression in schizophrenia. We found more than 700 identifications and 143 differentially expressed proteins in the PSD. Our pathway analysis of these differentially expressed proteins implicated the cellular processes of endocytosis, long-term potentiation and calcium signalling”, said Conway Fellow, Dr Gerard Cagney.

The resulting data provides robust evidence implicating PSD- associated proteins and genes in schizophrenia and suggest that NMDA interacting and endocytosis related proteins within this multiprotein complex contribute to disease pathophysiology.

“Our study may provide the first evidence pointing towards pharmacological manipulation of (Clathrin-mediated) endocytosis as a novel treatment for “, outlined Dr Melanie Föcking, first author and postdoctoral researcher with Prof David Cotter in the Department of Psychiatry, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

9 Natural Alternatives To Ibuprofen and NSAIDs With No Side Effects

How many people do you know that turn to ibuprofen to relieve inflammation and pain? This nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), available both over the counter and by prescription, is commonly used a number of painful conditions such as arthritis, menstrual symptoms, headaches, and various inflammatory conditions. However it is also linked to anemia, DNA damage, hearing loss, hypertension, miscarriage and even influenza mortality. So why not use natural alternatives that have no side effects and are just as effective?


Many studies have been done on various natural pain killers and anti-inflammatories that can be used as alternatives to ibuprofen and NSAIDs. They generally have no side effects.

1) Boswellia: This anti-inflammatory remedy comes from the Boswellia serrata tree that grows in India. The anti-inflammatory properties of boswellia are attributed to the boswellic acids that it contains. These acids improve blood flow to the joints and prevent inflammatory white cells from entering damaged tissue. Also known as “Indian frankincense,” boswellia is available as a supplement and a topical cream. For pain and inflammation, a suggested dose is 450 to 750 mg daily for three to four weeks. In one study, this decreased arthritis pain by over 80%. Use 900-1,000 mg a day.

2) Devil’s Claw is a South African herb that has active in Europe for hundreds of years. It is very effective against inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and muscle pain.

Some evidence suggests that devil’s claw works about as well as pain relieving drugs for improving osteoarthritis pain in the hip and knee. Some people taking devil’s claw seem to be able to lower their dose of NSAIDs or eliminate them completely. This evidence comes from a study that used a specific powdered devil’s claw root product (Harpadol, Arkopharma) containing 2% of the devil’s claw ingredient harpagoside (9.5 mg/capsule) and 3% total iridoid glycosides (14.5 mg per capsule). Another specific devil’s claw extract (Doloteffin, Ardeypharm) 2400 mg/day providing 60 mg/day of the harpagoside ingredient has also been used.

3) Capsaicin: The active component of chili peppers, capsaicin is often used topically to nerve, muscle, and joint pain. It works by interfering with substance P, a chemical that helps transmit pain signals to the brain. It is available as a topical cream or gels in several different potencies (most often, 0.025% to 0.075%) and is usually applied three to four times daily. It can cause some stinging and burning initially, but it typically subsides with use.

4) Cat’s claw: Uncaria tomentosa, or cat’s claw, also known as una de gato, grows in South America. It contains an anti-inflammatory agent that blocks the production of the hormone prostaglandin, which contributes to inflammation and pain. Suggested doses are 250 to 1,000 mg capsules one to three times daily. Taking too high a dose may cause diarrhea.

5) DMSO and Sweet Relief cream combined is a completely natural way to deal with chronic pain. DMSO has many uses, but it is known mostly as a natural pain killer and transporter. First synthesized in 1866, DMSO is a sulfur-containing organic compound that is derived from MSM, and can be used internally or externally. DMSO can aid injuries such as sprained ankles, sore muscles and joints, and even fractures. It is very effective in treating joint pain when combined with capsaicin which dramatically increases effectiveness.

6) Curcumin: Curcumin is a component of the herb turmeric, and it is a potent painkiller that can block proteins in the body that cause inflammation and also stops the neurotransmitter called substance P from sending pain message to the brain. Studies show that curcumin is effective in easing the chronic pain of rheumatoid arthritis. A suggested dose is 400 to 600 mg of curcumin taken three times daily for pain and inflammation.

7) Omega-3 fatty acids: The omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that have proven beneficial for people who suffer with arthritis, other inflammatory joint conditions, and inflammatory bowel diseases. Omega-3s also reduce cardiovascular risk, which is especially helpful for people with rheumatoid arthritis, which carries an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. A suggested dose of omega-3 fatty acids as fish oil is 1,000 mg daily.

8) Cannabis: An investigational cannabinoid therapy helped provide effective analgesia when used as an adjuvant medication for cancer patients with pain that responded poorly to opioids, according to results of a multicenter trial reported in The Journal of Pain, published by the American Pain Society.

When patients begin to consume cannabis, there is a notable decline in the amount of prescribed medications taken, such as antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and pain relievers. These drugs have severe side effects. There is not one clinical study which examined the use of cannabis for pain relief where subjects were not able to reduce their drug intake.

9) White willow bark: This herb is the predecessor of aspirin. White willow bark contains salicin, which converts to salicylic acid in the stomach. White willow bark is much less irritating to the stomach than the synthetic drug, aspirin, while it works to relieve pain, inflammation, and fever. A suggested dose is 1 to 2 dropperfuls of white willow bark tincture daily.



Computers that use light instead of electricity will be here within 10 years.

Super-fast computers that process information using photons instead of electrons are a step closer, thanks to the creation of a material that can transmit data at the speed of light.

For the first time, scientists have created a material that allows computers to store and transfer information using light instead of electricity.

The research overcomes a major hurdle in the goal to develop optical computers capable of processing data at the speed of light.

Right now, computers process information via electrons. This data is moved around microprocessors and memory storage devices through nano-sized wires.

But although this technology seems tiny to us, it’s still alot bigger than we really need, and we’re at the pointy end of Moore’s Law where we physically can’t shrink the components much further, which means we can’t make computers much faster than they are now.

The next step that many physicists are pursuing is optical computers that process information via particles of light, known as photons, rather than relying on electrons.

This is the same way that the internet already transfers information, but we haven’t been able to do the same with computers because scientists haven’t been able to create a material that could carry this optical data around a computer – until now.

“The challenge is to find a single material that can effectively use and control light to carry information around a computer,” said project leader and physicist Richard Curry in a press release. “Much like how the web uses light to deliver information, we want to use light to both deliver and process computer data.”

Curry’s team has now managed to find a way to modify a type of glass known aschalcogenide – which is already used in optical devices such as CDs and DVDs – so that they can be used alongside our current systems.

Chalcogenides have some useful properties – they’re able to conduct light across a pretty wide range of bandwidths, for example. But unfortunately they traditionally can only conduct positive charge, something that’s referred to as p-type conductivity. This means that in the past they’ve been completely incompatible with any type of existing computing technology.

“This has eluded researchers for decades,” said Curry in the release, “but now we have now shown how a widely used glass can be manipulated to conduct negative electrons, as well as positive charges, creating what are known as ‘pn-junction’ devices.”

Pn-junction refers to the interaction of both positive and negative conductivity, and it means that scientists will now be able to use the material to speed up computers.

The researchers unlocked the potential of chalcogenides by doping the glass with an ion of the element bismuth. This meant that they were able to create the useful optical material without needing ridiculously high temperatures, and also without using a large amount of doping agents – something that has, in the past, rendered chalcogenies incompatible with current computing technology. Their results arepublished in Nature Communications.

“This should enable the material to act as a light source, a light guide and a light detector – something that can carry and interpret optical information. In doing so, this could transform the computers of tomorrow, allowing them to effectively process information at much faster speeds,” said Curry in the release.

They’re already using the glass to create next-generation computer memory technology, known as CRAM, and the next step will be to create completely optical computers with the material.

Excitingly, it’s something they believe they’ll achieve within the next 10 years.

While that may not sound that crazy to you, think about the fact that right now there’s information whizzing around the world that has to be ridiculously slowed down as soon as it hits our computers in order for us to be able to see it. But within a decade, we’ll have computers that are no longer held back by frustratingly slow electrons, and that are capable of transmitting information at the speed of light.

We honestly can’t wait.

Wireless devices used by casual pilots vulnerable to hacking, computer scientists find.

A new class of apps and wireless devices used by private pilots during flights for everything from GPS information to data about nearby aircraft is vulnerable to a wide range of security attacks, which in some scenarios could lead to catastrophic outcomes, according to computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego and Johns Hopkins University. They presented their findings Nov. 5 at the 21st ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Researchers examined three combinations of devices and apps most commonly used by private pilots: the Appareo Stratus 2 receiver with the ForeFlight app; the Garmin GDL 39 receiver with the Garmin Pilot app; and the SageTech Clarity CL01 with the WingX Pro7 app. The devices and apps allow casual pilots to access the same information available to the pilot of a private jet—at a fraction of the cost. All the instruments in a high-end cockpit can be valued at more than $20,000. By contrast, the systems the researchers examined are available for $1,000. All have to be paired with, most often an iPad, to display information.

The devices researchers examined receive information about the ‘s location, the weather, the location of nearby aircraft the and airspace restrictions, which they display on the tablet computers via an app. “When you attack these devices, you don’t have control over the aircraft, but you have control over the information the pilot sees,” said Kirill Levchenko, a computer scientist at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, who led the study.

ForeFlight, which pairs with the Appareo Stratus 2, is one of the top 50 grossing apps in the entire Apple App Store—ahead of Apple’s own Pages app, among others.

The team hoped that exposing the systems’ vulnerabilities would increase awareness among users and lead to demands for change. Researchers include several recommendations at the end of their study for safety improvements.

The FAA has the authority to regulate these systems but chooses not to because they are not an integral part of the aircraft, the researchers said. In commercial aircraft the FAA only allows static information, such as maps, to be displayed on tablet computers, cautioning pilots to rely on instruments to fly.

During testing, researchers found significant safety flaws in all three systems. Two of the systems allowed an attacker to replace completely the firmware, which is home to the programs controlling the devices. The Appareo Stratus 2 allowed the firmware to be downgraded to any older version. All three devices allowed an attacker to tamper with the communication between receiver and tablet. Both types of attacks give an attacker full control over safety-critical real-time information shown to the pilot.

The devices are paired with iPad apps, which also had some vulnerabilities. Credit: Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego

By tampering with the aircraft position, altitude, and direction indications, also known as heading, as well as weather data and positions of other aircraft displayed to the pilot, an attacker can deceive the pilot, leading them to take actions detrimental to flight safety. Factors such as visibility and pilot workload increase the likelihood of a catastrophic outcome. For example, misrepresenting aircraft position during final approach in poor weather could result in a collision with other aircraft or a crash into nearby terrain.

Researchers point to several secure design practices that can remedy the flaws they identified. Among them, cryptographically securing communication between receiver and tablet, pairing the receiver with the tablet (in the same way that Apple smart phones are paired with specific computers), signing firmware updates and requiring explicit user interaction before updating device firmware. Data such as maps and approach procedures should be downloaded to the tablet using HTTPS or digitally signed by the vendor.

Most of the systems are fairly new to the market, researchers point out. “It’s a great time to make them secure from the get-go,” Levchenko said.

Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet: Consensus

Temperature data from four international science institutions. All show rapid warming in the past few decades and that the last decade has been the warmest on record.
Temperature data from four international science institutions. All show rapid warming in the past few decades and that the last decade has been the warmest on record.

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities,1and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position. The following is a partial list of these organizations, along with links to their published statements and a selection of related resources