How Has Stephen Hawking Lived Past 70 with ALS?

An expert on Lou Gehrig’s disease explains what we know about this debilitating condition and how Hawking has beaten the odds
stephen hawking
Stephen Hawking turns 70 on Sunday, beating the odds of a daunting diagnosis by nearly half a century.

The famous theoretical physicist has helped to bring his ideas about black holes and quantum gravity to a broad public audience. For much of his time in the public eye, though, he has been confined to a wheelchair by a form of the motor-neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). And since 1985 he has had to speak through his trademark computer system—which he operates with his cheek—and have around-the-clock care.

But his disease seems hardly to have slowed him down. Hawking spent 30 years as a full professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge. And he is currently the director of research at the school’s Center for Theoretical Cosmology.

But like his mind, Hawking’s illness seems to be singular. Most patients with ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the famous baseball player who succumbed to the disease—are diagnosed after the age of 50 and die within five years of their diagnosis. Hawking’s condition was first diagnosed when he was 21, and he was not expected to see his 25th birthday.

Why has Hawking lived so long with this malady when so many other people die so soon after diagnosis? We spoke with Leo McCluskey, an associate professor of neurology and medical director of the ALS Center at the University of Pennsylvania, to find out more about the disease and why it has spared Hawking and his amazing brain.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

What is ALS—and is there more than one form of it?
ALS, which is also known as a motor-neuron disease—and colloquially as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the U.S.—is a neurodegenerative disease. Each muscle is controlled by motor neurons that reside in the brain in the frontal lobe. These are controlled electrically and are synaptically connected to motor neurons that reside lower down in the brain—as well as motor neurons that reside in the spinal cord. The guys in the brain are called the upper motor neurons, and the guys in the spine are called the lower motor neurons. The disease causes weakness of either upper motor neurons or lower motor neurons or both.

It’s been known for quite some time that there are variants of ALS. One is referred to as progressive muscular atrophy, or PMA. It appears to be an isolated illness of the lower motor neurons. However, pathologically, if you do an autopsy of a patient, they will have evidence of deterioration of upper motor neurons.

There is also primary lateral sclerosis—PLS—and clinically it looks like an isolated upper motor-neuron disorder. However, pathologically they also have lower motor-neuron disorder.

The other classic syndrome is called progressive baldor palsy—or progressive supranuclear palsy—which is weakening of cranial muscles, like the tongue, face and swallowing muscles. But it pretty much always spreads to limb muscles.

Those are the four classic motor-neuron disorders that have been described. And it was thought for quite some time that these disorders were limited to motor neurons. It’s now clear that that’s not true. It’s now well recognized that 10 percent of these patients can develop degeneration in another part of the brain, such as other parts of the frontal lobe that don’t contain the motor neurons or the temporal lobe. So some ofthese patients can actually develop dementia, called frontal-temporal lobe dementia.

One of the misconceptions about ALS is that it’s only a motor-neuron disease, and that’s not true.

What has Stephen Hawking’s case shown about the disease?
One thing that is highlighted by this man’s course is that this is an incredibly variable disorder in many ways. On average people live two to three years after diagnosis. But that means that half the people live longer, and there are people who live for a long, long time.

Life expectancy turns on two things: the motor neurons running the diaphragm—the breathing muscles. So the common way people die is of respiratory failure. And the other thing is the deterioration of swallowing muscles, and that can lead to malnutrition and dehydration. If you don’t have these two things, you could potentially live for a long time—even though you’re getting worse. What’s happened to him is just astounding. He’s certainly an outlier.

Has he lived so long because he got the disease when he was young and had the juvenile-onset type?
Juvenile-onset is diagnosed in the teenage years, and I don’t know enough about his course to say. But it’s probably something similar to juvenile-onset disorder, which is something that progresses very, very, very slowly. I have patients in my clinic who were diagnosed in their teens and are still alive in their 40s, 50s or 60s. But not having ever examined him or taken a history, it’s a little hard for me to say.

He’s a very good example of the sparing of the non-motor parts of the brain that can occur.

How frequent are these cases of very slow-progressing forms of ALS?
I would say probably less than a few percent.

How much do you think Stephen Hawking’s longevity has been due to the excellent care that he has received versus the biology of his particular form of ALS?
It’s probably a little bit of both. I just know him from television, so I don’t know what kind of interventions he’s had. If he really isn’t on a ventilator, then it’s his biology—it’s the biology of his form of the neurodegenerative disease that determines how long he will live. For trouble swallowing you can elect to have a feeding tube placed, which basically takes malnutrition and dehydration off the table. But mostly it’s about the biology of the disease.

Hawking obviously has quite the active mind, and previous statements that he has made seem to indicate he has a pretty positive mental outlook, despite his condition. Is there any evidence that lifestyle and psychological well-being do much to help with patients’ outcomes? Or is the disease usually too quick for that to make a difference?
I don’t believe that adds to longevity.

ALS still doesn’t have a cure. What have we learned about the disease recently that might help us find one—or at least better treatments?
Beginning in 2006 it became clear that like a lot of other neurodegenerative diseases, ALS was determined by the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain. Ten percent of ALS is genetic and based on a gene mutation. I’m sure there are also at-risk genes for ALS, but there are now multiple genes that have been identified as potentially causing the disease. Each one of them are interesting in that they lead to the accumulation of different proteins in the brain. Knowing specific genes gives us particular mechanisms in the brain, and would potentially give us targets for therapies. But none of this has given us any robust therapies yet.

What does Stephen Hawking’s case mean for people who have the disease?
It’s just an incredible, incredible example of the variability of the disease—and the hope for patients who have it that they could also live a long life. Unfortunately, it’s a small percentage of people for whom that actually happens.

Is Apple Cider Vinegar That Powerful of a Health Tonic?

One of the most traditional cures for almost anything is apple cider vinegar. Over the centuries, the ancient folk remedy is touted to relieve just about any ailment you can think of including diabetes, obesity and even cancer. Here’s what science has found.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) became well known in the U.S. in the late 1950s, when it was promoted in the best-selling book Folk Medicine: A Vermont Doctor’s Guide to Good Health by D. C. Jarvis. During the alternative medicine boom of recent years, apple cider vinegar and apple cider vinegar pills have become a popular dietary supplement.

Unpasteurized or organic ACV contains mother of vinegar, which has a cobweb-like appearance and can make the vinegar look slightly congealed. It’s the only way apple cider vinegar should be consumed.

Is Apple Cider Vinegar That Powerful of a Health Tonic? Science Says Yes

ACV is used in salad dressings, marinades, vinaigrettes, food preservatives, and chutneys, among other things. It is made by crushing apples and squeezing out the liquid. Bacteria and Yeast are added to the liquid to start the alcoholic fermentation process, and the sugars are turned into alcohol. In a second fermentation process, the alcohol is converted into vinegar by acetic acid-forming bacteria (acetobacter). Acetic acid and malic acid give vinegar its sour taste.

Apple cider vinegar is purported to treat numerous diseases, health conditions, and annoyances. To name a few, it kills head lice, reverses aging, eases digestion, prevents flu, prevents acne, lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, kills fungus, regulate pH balance, dissolves kidney stones and helps relieve allergies, migraines, asthma, nausea, heart burn and wash toxins from the body. Can it really do all these things? You bet it can and more! But what does science say?

  • DiabetesThe effect of apple cider vinegar on blood sugar levels is perhaps the best researched and the most promising of APV’s health benefits. Several studies have found that vinegar may help lower glucose levels. For instance, a study (White, A. Diabetes Care, November 2007) of 11 people with type 2 diabetes found that taking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed lowered glucose levels in the morning by 4%-6%. In another study from Arizona State University, subjects took a drink of 20 grams of apple cider vinegar and 40 grams of water. Those with insulin resistance who drank the vinegar had 34% lower postprandial (after-meal) glucose compared to controls. Vinegar may be the most cost-effective medicine in history, but most people with diabetes still aren’t taking it.
  • High CholesterolA 2006 study reported in Medscape General Medicine, showed evidence that ACV could lower cholesterol. In a study published in a foreign medical journal, scientists found an apple cider vinegar-enhanced diet may increase in HDL (good cholesterol), and reduce levels of triglycerides. Research in rats suggests that apple-cider vinegar can help control triglycerides and cholesterol (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, June 22, 2011).
  • Blood Pressure and Heart Health. Another study in rats found that vinegar could lower high blood pressure. A large observational study also found that people who ate oil and vinegar dressing on salads five to six times a week had lower rates of heart disease than people who didn’t. Researchers have suggested that ‘this reduction in blood pressure may be caused by the significant reduction in renin activity and the subsequent decrease in angiotensin II’. Potassium in the vinegar ‘balances sodium levels in the body, which aids in maintaining blood pressure within healthy limits’ and ‘apple cider vinegar also contains magnesium, a mineral that works to relax blood vessel walls and thus lower high blood pressure’.
  • CancerA few laboratory studies have found that vinegar may be able to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. One study found that eating vinegar was associated with a decreased risk of esophageal cancer. Another associated it with an increased risk of bladder cancer. In recent trials, pectin, which can be found in ACV, has shown promise in helping to slow the growth of cancerous cells within the prostate . In addition, apple cider vinegar’s acidity aids in detoxifying and cleansing the digestive tract and cleaning out the colon, which supports the health of the prostate as well.
  • Weight LossFor thousands of years, vinegar has been used for weight loss. White vinegar (and perhaps other types) might help people feel full. A study (Ostman, E. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005) of 12 people found that those who ate a piece of bread along with small amounts of vinegar felt fuller and more satisfied than those who just ate the bread. A 2009 study on mice showed that consuming acetic acid (the active component in ACV), upregulates the expression of genes for fatty acid oxidation enzymes in the liver causing a suppression in body fat accumulation. In a double-blind experiment, obese Japanese were assigned to three different groups based on similar body weights, body mass indexes (BMI), and waist circumference. Each group drank a 500 ml drink containing either 30ml, 15ml, or 0ml of vinegar daily for 12 weeks. Those in the 30ml and 15ml groups had lower BMI, visceral fat area, waist circumference, serum triglyceride, and body weight to the control group of 0ml. The 12-week weight losses were modest: 1.2kg in the 15ml group and 1.7kg in the 30ml group. These two groups consumed a similar number of calories to the control group and also performed a similar amount of exercise, so the effect is not likely to have been due to an impact on appetite or other lifestyle changes. It was concluded that consumption of vinegar might reduce obesity.

Apple cider vinegar is chosen over white vinegar for many processes involving the elimination of fungus. Although they both have highly acidic properties; apple cider also contains detoxifying qualities that will clear up other skin allergies. No side effects have been found when treating the skin with apple cider vinegar, making it a cost effective and safe remedy.

Here are many other benefits of apple cider vinegar that can be applied to your lifestyle. Read the list below.

HairIt is widely known that apple cider vinegar can be used as a rinse for your hair after shampooing to add healthy body and shine. Recycle an old shampoo bottle and fill it with 1/2 a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a cup of cold water. Pour through your hair after shampooing several times a week.

Face: Did you know that apple cider vinegar can help regulate the pH of your skin? Dilute apple cider vinegar with two parts water, and spread the concoction over your face with a cotton ball as a toner. You can do this at night after washing, and in the morning before you apply your moisturizer. You can also dab apple cider vinegar directly onto age spots and leave them on overnight to lighten their color.

Hands and Feet: Are your hands and feet feeling tired and swollen after a long day? Treat yourself to a personal spa massage by rubbing apple cider vinegar onto them.

Sunburn: Suffering from a bad sunburn? Add a cup of apple cider vinegar to your bath and soak for 10 minutes.

TeethDid you know that apple cider vinegar can help remove stains from teeth? Rub teeth directly with apple cider vinegar and rinse out.

Aftershave: Fill a bottle with equal parts apple cider vinegar and water and shake to blend.

Detox: Add 2 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a 1 or 2 liter filtered water bottle. Drink this throughout the day to cleanse your body and kidneys all day long.

Drain Cleaner: Baking soda and apple cider vinegar is an amazing bubbly combination that has many uses. As a drain cleaner, sprinkle baking soda down the drain then add apple cider vinegar and let it bubble for 15 minutes, then rinse with hot water. This is a safer alternative to dangerous drain cleaners.

Digestion: A small amount of apple cider vinegar, taken just prior to a meal, will stimulate production of digestive juices.

DandruffA home remedy for dandruff is to mix 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar with 1/4 cup water. The vinegar solution is thought to restore the restore the pH balance of the scalp and discourage the overgrowth of malassezia furfur, the yeast-like fungus thought to trigger dandruff.

Mosquito and Insect Bites: Using as little as 1/4 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar will relieve insect bites instantly.

Stomach Aches: Mix 1 tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar with 12 ounces of warm water, and drink in the morning on empty stomach. Feel free to add a little honey or maple syrup.

Alkaline Acid Balance: Some alternative practitioners recommend using apple cider vinegar to restore alkaline acid balance. The theory behind the alkaline diet is that our blood is slightly alkaline (with a normal pH level of between 7.35 and 7.45) and that our diet should reflect this pH level. Proponents of the alkaline-acid theory believe that a diet high in acid-producing foods leads to lack of energy, excessive mucous production, infections, anxiety, irritability, headache, sore throat, nasal and sinus congestion, allergic reactions, and increased risk of conditions such as arthritis and gout.

Your Blood Type May Put You at Risk for Heart Disease

People whose blood type is A, B or AB have an increased risk of heart disease and shorter life spans than people who have type O blood, according to a new study.
But that doesn’t mean people with blood types other than O should be overly concerned, because heart disease risk and life span are influenced by multiple factors, including exercise and overall health, experts said.
In the study, researchers followed about 50,000 middle-age and elderly people in northeastern Iran for an average of seven years. They found that people with non-O blood types were 9 percent more likely to die during the study for any health-related reason, and 15 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, compared with people with blood type O.

“It was very interesting to me to find out that people with certain blood groups — non-O blood groups — have a higher risk of dying of certain diseases,” said the study’s lead investigator, Dr. Arash Etemadi, an epidemiologist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
The researchers also examined whether people’s blood type may be linked with their risk of gastric cancer, which has a relatively high incidence rate among the people living in northeastern Iran. They found that people with non-O blood types had a 55 percent increased risk of gastric cancer compared with people with type O blood, according to the study, published online today (Jan. 14) in the journal BMC Medicine.
The association between blood type and people’s disease risk and life span held even when the researchers accounted for other factors, including age, sex, smoking, socioeconomic status and ethnicity.
Previous studies have shown that people with non-O blood types may be at higher risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease, but it was less clear whether blood type is linked with life span, Etemadi told Live Science.
About 11,000 people in the study provided information about their blood’s biochemistry, including their cholesterol levels, glucose levels and blood pressure. But only certain metrics stood out — for example, the people with type A blood tended to have higher levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, also known as the “bad” cholesterol.
It’s possible that higher cholesterol levels could partly explain the increased mortality risk. People with non-O blood types also have an increased tendency to form blood clots, and this higher coagulation might lead to more heart problems, Etemadi said.
Moreover, the gene that is responsible for blood type is on the same chromosome as some of the genes responsible for controlling blood cholesterol, Etemadi said.
But it’s unlikely that the cholesterol link is solely responsible for the difference in people’s life span, he said. “We think that it’s a mixture of both causes that contribute to this increased mortality,” Etemadi said.
Although people with non-O blood types may have these increased risks, they should “absolutely not” be concerned that their blood type is the determining factor in their health, said Dr. Massimo Franchini, director of hematology and transfusion medicine at the Carlo Poma Hospital in Italy, who was not involved with the study.
“Belonging to a non-O blood type represents only a risk factor (among many others), and actually, there are many and many millions of people worldwide with non-O blood type that do not have, and will never develop, any of these diseases,” said Franchini, who wrote a commentary on the study that was also published in the journal. “Thus, in my opinion, a healthy lifestyle still remains the main factor able to influence the health status of an individual.”

ASD And Circumcision Linked, With Thoughts Of Brain Development As A Factor

A new study from the Statens Serum Institut, in Denmark, has found a link between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and circumcision in boys aged 0 to 9 years. Though no specific mechanism has been established, the team speculates that a malformed stress response, stemming from the procedure, may alter or delay brain development.

Just within the last decade, ASD rates have more than doubled in the U.S. Without a single cause to pin it to, science has seen a rush to draw links between the disorder and a range of environmental, social, and genetic factors. The best that ASD researchers can surmise at this point is it comes from some mix of the three, though in which proportions and at what time still remains unknown.

“Our investigation was prompted by the combination of recent animal findings linking a single painful injury to lifelong deficits in stress response and a study showing a strong, positive correlation between a country’s neonatal male circumcision rate and its prevalence of ASD in boys,” said Professor Morten Frisch of the Statens Serum Institut, who led the research.

The team tracked more than 340,000 boys between 1994 and 2013. Nearly 5,000 cases of ASD were diagnosed during that time. Regardless of background, the team explains, “circumcised boys were more likely than intact boys to develop ASD before age 10 years.” What’s more, “risk was particularly high for infantile autism before age 5 years.”

Controversies surrounding circumcision are as fraught with uncertainty as the science behind the practice. Much of the data on circumcision is conflicting, as one study last year found the benefits outweighed the risks 100 to one and was, as the researchers put it, “equivalent to childhood vaccination.” A separate investigation put the chances of newborn boys getting a urinary tract infection at 50/50 if they stayed uncircumcised.

But while the U.S. circumcision rates are largely declining as the decades pass, worldwide the story is much different. Without access to the same anesthetics and trusted procedures, circumcision in foreign countries tends to earn a less favorable opinion among the public. By the World Health Organization’s most recent estimate, approximately 33 percent of the world’s males aged 15 years or older are circumcised. That number may be so low due to overwhelming beliefs that the practice equates to genital mutilation, while stateside it may be considered more comparable to dental braces.

In the latest study, Frisch and his colleague Jacob Simonsen relied on past research that suggests early pain in neonates has been shown to have long-lasting effects in pain perception, which crop up at greater rates in kids with ASD. “Possible mechanisms linking early life pain and stress to an increased risk of neurodevelopmental, behavioral, or psychological problems in later life remain incompletely conceptualized.” Frisch said. The findings are slightly complicated by earlier work that found autism emerges in utero, which suggests circumcision could only intensify a preexisting deficiency.


At any rate, the findings may hold great promise for other countries to adopt formal anesthetic protocol to avoid, or at least minimize, the pain children experience. “Given the widespread practice of non-therapeutic circumcision in infancy and childhood around the world,” Frisch concluded, “our findings should prompt other researchers to examine the possibility that circumcision trauma in infancy or early childhood might carry an increased risk of serious neurodevelopmental and psychological consequences.”

Source: Frisch M, Simonsen J. Ritual circumcision and risk of autism spectrum disorder in 0- to 9-year-old boys: national cohort study in Denmark. JRSM. 2015.

Heart arrhythmias detected in deep-diving marine mammals .

A new study of dolphins and seals shows that despite their remarkable adaptations to aquatic life, exercising while holding their breath remains a physiological challenge for marine mammals. The study found a surprisingly high frequency of heart arrhythmias in bottlenose dolphins and Weddell seals during the deepest dives.

This is an image of a Weddell seal in Antarctica. Researchers studied the heart rates of seals during deep dives beneath the Antarctic sea ice.
A new study of dolphins and seals shows that despite their remarkable adaptations to aquatic life, exercising while holding their breath remains a physiological challenge for marine mammals. The study, published January 15 in Nature Communications, found a surprisingly high frequency of heart arrhythmias in bottlenose dolphins and Weddell seals during the deepest dives.

The normal dive response in marine mammals has long been understood to involve a marked reduction in heart rate (called bradycardia) and other physiological changes to conserve limited oxygen reserves while the air-breathing animals are underwater. How marine mammals cope with the exertion needed to pursue prey at depth has been unclear, however, since the normal physiological response to exercise is an increase in heart rate (called tachycardia). The new study shows that these conflicting signals to the heart can lead to cardiac arrhythmias, said lead author Terrie Williams, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz.

“This study changes our understanding of bradycardia in marine mammals,” Williams said. “The heart is receiving conflicting signals when the animals exercise intensely at depth, which often happens when they are starting their ascent. We’re not seeing lethal arrhythmias, but it is putting the heart in an unsteady state that could make it vulnerable to problems.”

Instead of a single level of reduced heart rate during dives, the researchers found that heart rates of diving animals varied with both depth and exercise intensity, sometimes alternating rapidly between periods of bradycardia and tachycardia. Cardiac arrhythmias occurred in more than 70 percent of deep dives.

“We tend to think of marine mammals as completely adapted to life in the water. However, in terms of the dive response and heart rate, it’s not a perfect system,” Williams said. “Even 50 million years of evolution hasn’t been able to make that basic mammalian response impervious to problems.”

The conflict between dive-induced bradycardia and exercise-induced tachycardia involves two different neural circuits that regulate heart rate, she said. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the heart during exercise, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system controls the slowing of the heart rate during the dive response.

The new findings have implications for efforts to understand stranding events involving deep-diving marine mammals such as beaked whales. The authors note that the behaviors associated with cardiac anomalies in this study (increased physical exertion, deep diving, and rapid ascent from depth) are the same as those involved in the flight response of beaked whales and blue whales exposed to shipping noise and mid-frequency sonars.

“This study is not saying that these deep-diving animals will die if they exercise hard at depth,” Williams said. “Rather, it raises questions about what happens physiologically when extreme divers are disturbed during a dive, and it needs further investigation.”

The study’s findings may also be relevant in humans, she said. The mammalian dive response or dive reflex, though most pronounced in marine mammals, also occurs in humans and other terrestrial animals and is triggered when the face contacts cold water. A 2010 study of triathlons found that the swimming segment of cold water triathlons accounts for over 90 percent of race day deaths. “It may be that the same conflicting signals we saw in dolphins and seals are causing arrhythmias in some triathletes,” Williams said. She is currently working with triathlon groups to help mitigate such problems during races.

To conduct the study, the researchers developed a monitoring device to record heart rate, swimming stroke frequency, depth, and time throughout the dives of trained bottlenose dolphins diving in pools or open water, as well as free-ranging Weddell seals swimming beneath the ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Williams said the animals typically used low-intensity swimming modes as much as possible during dives. When hunting fish beneath the ice, Weddell seals alternated between easy glides and short chases in pursuit of prey. This behavior appeared to enable the marine mammals to avoid cardiac conflicts and associated arrhythmias during hunting.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Santa Cruz. The original article was written by Tim Stephens. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Terrie M. Williams, Lee A. Fuiman, Traci Kendall, Patrick Berry, Beau Richter, Shawn R. Noren, Nicole Thometz, Michael J. Shattock, Edward Farrell, Andy M. Stamper, Randall W. Davis. Exercise at depth alters bradycardia and incidence of cardiac anomalies in deep-diving marine mammals. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 6055 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7055

How does a machine smell? Better than it did

Every odor has its own specific pattern which our noses are able to identify. Using a combination of proteins coupled to transistors, for the first time machines are able to differentiate smells that are mirror images of each other, so called chiral molecules, something that has not been possible before. The human nose can distinguish between some of these molecules and the different forms of the same molecule of carvone, for example, can smell either like spearmint or caraway. Previous machines would not have been able to distinguish between the two.

The development will allow the creation of a of biosensors with an acute ability to sniff out problems. These could have many industrial uses such as telling when food has gone off, and they could even be accurate enough to smell how much pollution is in the atmosphere.

A collaboration of academics from The University of Manchester and the University of Bari in Italy, have created a biosensor that utilizes an odorant binding protein. The team’s findings are published today in the journal Nature Communications.

Odorant binding proteins are found in the mucus of the nose, which work helping us to create our perception of smell. The team have found a method of manufacturing these proteins in quantities that would allow them to be used in biosensors.

They have developed methods to change the way the proteins react so that they can recognize different types of chemicals. Using a type of transistor incorporating these proteins the scientists were able to measure the unique changes in current as the proteins reacted to odors, and record them. This is in effect the machine smelling the odour and then sending the message, which can then be decoded.

The system is incredibly sensitive with a detection limit that approaches that of the .

Professor Krishna Persaud, lead author of the paper at The University of Manchester, said: “It has been challenging to get machines to be able to differentiate between smells that are of each other, which was a real barrier to creating machines which are able to smell as well or better than humans.

“Using the expertise of our colleagues at the University of Bari to couple these proteins to field effect transistors has allowed us to produce a new chemical sensor platform. Now we have done this it will allow much better sensors to be developed and these could have many uses in industry. We shall be able to create biosensors which are accurate enough to be able to tell when food has gone off, or even how much pollution is in the atmosphere.”

2014 Was Earth’s Hottest Year On Record

Global temperatures in 2014 shattered earlier records, making 2014 the hottest year since record-keeping began in 1880, U.S. scientists reported today .
Every continent set heat records last year, and the Pacific Ocean was unusually warm despite a no-show El Niño. The warmth on land and in the oceans broke previous temperature records set in 2005 and 2010, the scientists with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced.
In 2014, the global average temperature was 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit (0.69 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average of 57.1 F (14.0 C). Five months set new heat records: May, June, August, September and December. The last time the planet set a new monthly cold record was in 1916.

Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have come since 2000, continuing a relentless rise in global temperatures driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, NASA and NOAA scientists said at the news conference today.
“It’s greenhouse gases that are responsible for the majority of the long-term trend,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.
Last year, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million for the first time, the highest in human history.
This year’s temperature records are on track with warming trends since the 1970s, agency scientists said. While any year may see temperatures swing up and down from the long-term average, the overall trend reveals a steady upward rise.
“We should expect these kinds of patterns to occur,” said Tom Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. “There is considerable annual variability.”
Continued greenhouse gas emissions will bring more record-breaking warm years in the near future, Schmidt said. “It would not surprise me at all that the next year that started off with an El Niño would also have a record high,” he said.

The Pacific Ocean’s El Niño climate cycle radiates an enormous amount of heat and moisture into the atmosphere, similar to a warm humidifier chugging out steam. The 1997-1998 El Niño broke global temperature records in back-to-back years at the time; 1998 is still the fourth-warmest year on record. Yet 2014 toppled temperature records without a boost from El Niño, climate scientists noted. That’s because the world is simply warmer than it was a 10 or 100 years ago. “We’ve got a rising baseline, so we may anticipate further record highs in the years to come,” Schmidt said.
2014 has also been declared the warmest year on record by the Japan Meteorological Agency, one of the planet’s four leading weather-tracking organizations. The JMA’s global average temperature in 2014 was 1.1 F (0.63 C) hotter than its 20th century average, the agency announced on Jan. 6. The United Kingdom’s Hadley Center also tracks global temperatures but has not released its final numbers. (NASA and NOAA are the two remaining temperature watchers).

February 1985 was the last time global temperatures fell below the 20th century monthly average, meaning no one younger than 29 has ever lived through a month cooler than the average, noted meteorologist Marshall Shepherd, director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program.
There was one notable cold spot last year: central and eastern North America, driven by the brutally cold winter of 2013-2014. Though the central and eastern United States shivered through one of its coldest winters in a generation, in the West extreme heat drove California, Arizona, Alaska and Nevada to record warm years. Portions of eastern and central Australia, eastern Siberia, Europe and central South America also roasted under record heat in 2014, NOAA reported.

Can Your Cancer Treatment Be Hazardous to Others?

If you are undergoing treatment for cancer, you know the medicines and procedures have side effects.

You may worry that these lifesaving treatments could somehow be harmful to your loved ones. It’s a concern that we often hear from cancer patients or their family members who call the Cancer Answer Line.

The two most common types of cancer treatment that patients and their family members worry about arechemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Radiation and radioactivity

Some cancer patients who receive radiation therapy worry that their bodies will become “radioactive” after they receive radiation treatment. Their concern is that close physical contact with others could expose them to radiation.

The general answer to this concern is that physical contact is fine. However, there are some exceptions.

The exceptions usually have to do with whether a person is receiving external or internal radiation.

External radiation is when the radiation comes from a source outside the body. A special device sends strong beams of energy to cancer cells to kill them or keep them from growing and dividing. Small doses of radiation may be administered daily over a period ranging from several days to several weeks.  The treated tissue does not continue to hold the radiation after the therapy session ends. So patients receiving external beam radiation need not worry about transmitting radiation to their loved ones.

Internal radiation means that the radiation source is put into the body.  Some examples of internal radiation are; brachytherapy, in which doctors implant a seed, ribbon or wire that contains radiation in or around a tumor, the implant emits a dose of radiation to the surrounding area that kills cancer cells.  Another example of internal radiation is radioactive iodine that is swallowed for treatment of certain thyroid conditions.

When a patient is treated with internal radiation, the radiation source may be left in the body for a short time and then removed before the patient leaves the treatment facility.  If this is the case, the treated tissue does not hold the radiation, and so contact with others is not a problem.

The situation is slightly different with internal radiation. If you have implanted radiation, your health care team likely will give you advice about close physical contact for the next few months. Much depends on the type of cancer being treated.

If the radiation source is left in place, the amount of radiation lessens over time. However, the possibility of exposure to others is present.

The radiation oncology team will instruct patients who receive internal radiation about how long and in what situations it is OK for patients to be near others.

For example, there may be no problem with sitting next to the person who is driving you home from the treatment appointment during which radioactive seeds were implanted to treat prostate cancer. But you would not hold a child, puppy or kitten under a year old on your lap, or hug a pregnant woman for at least two months after the seeds have been implanted.

Your health care team will advise you on the specifics.  Be sure to ask your team if you have any particular concerns or are unsure.

Can Your Cancer Treatment Be Hazardous to Others?

Chemotherapy safety

Some of our patients wonder whether it’s safe to have close physical contact with another person while they are receiving chemotherapy.

When we talk about being safe with chemotherapy patients, we really are talking about exposure to the chemotherapy medication. For the most part, after a patient receives chemotherapy, the medications stay in the patient’s body for about 24 hours to 48 hours.

The body clears itself of the medications through body fluids such as urine or stool, so this means avoiding contact with these body fluids.  If you are cleaning up the body fluids of a chemotherapy patient, wear gloves and wash your hands afterward.

Kissing and more intimate physical contact is perfectly fine. Male chemo patients, however, should use a condom for the first 48 hours after a chemo treatment.

Need a Nerve Block? 4 Things You Should Know.

For many people who suffer with severe pain, nerve blocks have become part of their treatment. These injections of local anesthetic and steroid directly to the area of the affected nerve can help with pain control and improve function and quality of life. Often, the goal is to help people avoid surgery and to take an active role in physical therapy.

Pain management specialist Paul Shin, MD, offers insights for patients considering having a nerve block. He says your doctor will help you determine the best procedure for the pain you have, but in general, here are four things to expect if you have a nerve block.

1. Fear of the injection is almost always worse than the injection itself

Patients are often hesitant when it comes to needles. Some procedures for arthritic conditions may involve up to six needles, but most procedures are well tolerated and brief. Generally, they only last five to 15 minutes. A local anesthetic or even IV sedation are sometimes used.

A fluoroscope, or low powered x-ray, allows whoever administers the nerve block  to visualize the bony structures. This enables accurate placement of the needle and reduces complications. You’ll spend most of your time preparing and recovering from the procedure afterwards.

2. Everyone responds differently to a nerve block

For some people, a nerve block gives immediate relief. For others, it takes a series of injections before it helps the pain. It’s very unpredictable. This is because pain is a personal perception and everyone responds differently.

Also, if you have had chronic pain for 10 or more years, it could involve multiple pain generators. There are many anatomic structures and the pain could come from more than one joint or nerve. In the spine, it’s possible that your first injection will take away some of the pain but that other injections will offer more improvement.

This also means that the sooner you can get an injection before your pain becomes chronic, the better your result. In addition, injections are typically combined with other forms of treatment such as physical therapy to increase your chances of getting better.

3. You might have some post-procedure soreness

You can expect some post-procedure discomfort or soreness that will also improve within days of the injection. The local anesthetic doesn’t last long and for some people, it may take a while for the steroid to work and provide a long-term benefit.

The peak effect of the steroid will usually be between three and 10 days. It is slowly released into the body, and for some people, there is an interval before you start to feel the improvement. Your response to the first injection helps guide your doctor about future treatments as he or she works to pinpoint the nerve that is causing your pain.

4. Your injection frequency depends on your medical history

Based on your medical history and physician preferences, you can usually repeat this procedure from three to six times in a 12-month period. Medical conditions, such as diabetes, will mean that your doctor will need make injections less frequent. Your doctor will determine the exact number of injections that you can receive.

Ultimately, the goal of nerve block injections is to decrease pain, increase your function and, for some patients, allow more aggressive physical therapy. They work well for many patients.

How to write your first scientific paper

The year is young and the arxiv numbers are now a digit longer, so there is much space for you to submit your groundbreaking new work. If it wasn’t for the writing, I know.

I recently had to compile a publication list with citation counts for a grant proposal, and I was shocked when inspire informed me I have 67 papers, most of which got indeed published at some point. I’m getting old, but I’m still not wise, so to cheer me up I’ve decided at least I’m now qualified to give you some advice on how to do it.

First advice is to take it seriously. Science isn’t science unless you communicate your results to other people. You don’t just write papers because you need some items on your publication list or your project report, but to tell your colleagues what you have been doing and what are the results. You will have to convince them to spend some time of their life trying to retrace your thoughts, and you should make this as pleasant for them as possible.

Second advice: When in doubt, ask Google. There are many great advice pages online, for example this site from Writing@CSUexplains the most common paper structure and what each section should contain. The Nature Education covers the same, but also gives some advice if English is not your native language. Inside Higher ED has some general advice on how to organize your writing projects.

I’ll not even try to compete with these advice pages, I just want to add some things I’ve learned, some of which are specific to theoretical physics.

If you are a student, it is highly unlikely that you will write your first paper alone. Most likely you will write it together with your supervisor and possibly some other people. This is how most of us learn writing papers. Especially the structure and the general writing style is often handed down rather than created from scratch. Still, when the time comes to do it all on your own, questions crop up that previously didn’t even occur to you.

Before you start writing

Ask yourself who is your intended audience. Are you writing to a small and very specialized community, or do you want your paper to be accessible to as many people as possible? Trying to increase your intended audience is not always a good idea, because the more people you want to make the paper accessible to, the more you will have to explain, which is annoying for the specialists.

The audience for which your paper is interesting depends greatly on the content. I would suggest that you think about what previous knowledge you assume the reader brings, and what not. Once you’ve picked a level, stick with it. Do not try to mix a popular science description with a technical elaboration. If you want to do both, better do this separately.

Then, find a good order in which to present your work. This isn’t necessarily always the order in which you did it. I have an unfortunate habit of guessing solutions and only later justify these guesses, but I try to avoid doing this in my papers.

The Title

The title should tell the reader what the paper is about. Avoid phrases like “Some thoughts on” or “Selected topics in,” these just tell the reader that not even you know what the paper is about. Never use abbreviations in the title, unless you are referring to an acronym of, say, an experiment or a code. Yes, just spell it out. If you don’t see why, google that abbreviation. You will almost certainly find that it may mean five different things. Websearch is word-based, so be specific. Exceptions exist of course. AdS/CFT for example is so specific, you can use it without worries.

Keep in mind that you want to make this as easy for your readers as possible, so don’t be cryptic when it’s unnecessary.

There is some culture in theoretical physics to come up with witty titles (see my stupid title list), but if you’re still working on being taken seriously I recommend to stay clear of “witty” and instead go for “interesting”.

The Abstract

The abstract is your major selling point and the most difficult part of the paper. This is always the last part of the paper that I write. The abstract should explain which question you have addressed, why that is interesting, and what you have found, without going much into detail. Do not introduce new terminology or parameters in the abstract. Do not use citations in the abstract and do not use abbreviations. Instead, do make sure the most important keywords appear. Otherwise nobody will read your paper.

Time to decide which scientific writing style you find least awkward. Is it referring to yourself as “we” or “one”? I don’t mind reading papers in the first person singular, but this arguably isn’t presently the standard. If you’re not senior enough to be comfortable with sticking out, I suggest you go with “we”. It’s easier than “one” and almost everybody does it.

PACS, MSC, Keywords

Almost all journals ask for a PACS or MSC classification and for keywords, so you might as well look them up when you’re writing the paper. Be careful with the keywords. Do not tag your paper as what you wish it was, but as what it really is, otherwise you will annoy your readership, not to mention your referees who will be chosen based on your tagging. I frequently get papers submitted as “phenomenology” that have no phenomenology in them whatsoever. In some cases it has been pretty obvious that the authors didn’t even know what the word means.

The Introduction

The introduction is the place to put your work into context and to explain your motivation for doing the work. Do not abuse the introduction to write a review of the field and do not oversell what you are doing, keep this for the grant proposals. If there is a review, refer to the review. If not, list the works most relevant to understand your paper. Do not attempt to list all work on the subject, unless it’s a really small research area. Keep in mind what I told you about your audience. They weren’t looking for a review.

Yes, this is the place to cite all your friends and your own papers, but be smart about it and don’t overdo it, it doesn’t look good. Excessive self-cites are a hallmark of crackpottery and desperation. They can also be removed from your citation count with one click. The introduction often ends with a layout of the sections to come and notations or abbreviations used.

Try to avoid reusing introductions from yourself, and certainly from other people. It doesn’t look good if your paper gets marked as having a text overlap with some other paper. If it’s just too tempting, I suggest you read whatever introduction you like, then put it away, and rewrite the text roughly as you recall it. Do not try to copy the text and rearrange the sentences, it doesn’t work.

Methods, Technics, Background

The place to explain what you’re working with, and to remind the reader of the relevant equations. Make sure to introduce all parameters and variables. Never refer to an equation only by name if you can write it down. Make this easy for your readers and don’t expect them to go elsewhere to convert mentioned equation into your notation.

If your paper is heavy on equations, you will probably find yourself repeating phrases like “then we find”, “so we get”, “now we obtain”, etc. Don’t worry, nobody expects you to be lyrical here. In fact, I find myself often not even noticing these phrases anymore.

Main Part

Will probably contain your central analysis, whether analytical or numerical. If possible, try to include some simplified cases and discuss limits of your calculation, because this can greatly enhance the accessibility. If you have very long calculations that are not particularly insightful and that you do not need in other places, consider exporting them into an appendix or supplementary material (expansions of special functions and so on).


I find it helpful if the results are separate from the main part because then it’s easier at first reading to skip the details. But sometimes this doesn’t make sense because the results are basically a single number, or you have lead a proof and the main part is the result. So don’t worry if you don’t have a separate section for this. However, if the results of your study need much space to be represented, then this is the place to do it.

Be careful to compare your results to other results in the fields. The reader wants to know what is new about your work, or what is different, or what is better. Do you confirm earlier results? Do you improve them? Is your result in disagreement with other findings? If not, how is it different?


In most papers the discussion is a fluff part where the author can offer their interpretation of the results and tell the reader all that still has to be done. I also often use it to explicitly summarize all assumptions that I have made along the way, because that helps putting the results into context. You can also dump there all the friendly colleagues who will write to you after submission to “draw your attention to” some great work of theirs that you unfortunately seemed to have missed. Just add their reference with a sentence in the discussion and everybody is happy.


Repeat the most relevant part of the results, emphasize especially what is new. Write the conclusion so that it is possible to understand without having read the rest of the paper. Do not mash up the conclusion with the discussion, because you will lose those readers who are too impatient to make it through your interpretations to get to the main point.


Give credit where credit is due. You might have first read about some topic in a fairly recent paper, but you should try to find the original source and cite that too. Reference lists are very political. If this is one of your first papers in the field, I recommend you ask somebody who knows “the usual suspects” if you have forgotten somebody important. If you forget to cite many relevant references you will look like you don’t know the subject very well, regardless of how many textbooks or review articles you have read.

If you cite online resources, you should include the date at which you have last accessed the reference to your quotation.

Keep your reference lists in good order, it’s time well spent. You will probably be able to reuse them many times.


Include figures when they are useful, not just because you have them. Figures should always contain axis labels, and if you are using dimensionful units, they should include the units. Explain in the figure caption what’s shown in the image; explain it as if the reader has not read the text. It’s okay if it’s repetitive.

If anyhow possible avoid figures that can only be understood when printed in color. Use different line styles or widths in addition to different colors. Be very careful with 3d plots. They are often more confusing than illuminating. Try to break them down into a set of 2d plots if you can.


Try to use notation that is close to that of the existing literature, it will make it vastly easier for people to understand your paper. Make sure you don’t accidentally change notation throughout your calculations. If your equations get very long, try to condense them by breaking up expressions, or by introducing dimensionless variables, which can declutter expressions considerably.

SPELLCHECK (with caution)

I find it stunning that I still see papers full of avoidable typographical errors when one can spell check text online for free. Yes, I know it’s cumbersome with the LaTeX code between the paragraphs, but if you’re not spell checking your paper you’re basically telling your reader you didn’t think they’re worth the time. Be careful though and don’t let the cosmic ray become a comic ray.

… and sooner than you know you’ll have dozens of publications to look back at!