Afraid of Falling? For Older Adults, the Dutch Have a Cure


A course teaching older people how to fall, and not to fall, in Leusden, the Netherlands. 

LEUSDEN, Netherlands — The shouts of schoolchildren playing outside echoed through the gymnasium where an obstacle course was being set up.

There was the “Belgian sidewalk,” a wooden contraption designed to simulate loose tiles; a “sloping slope,” ramps angled at an ankle-unfriendly 45 degrees; and others like “the slalom” and “the pirouette.”

They were not for the children, though, but for a class where the students ranged in age from 65 to 94. The obstacle course was clinically devised to teach them how to navigate treacherous ground without having to worry about falling, and how to fall if they did.

“It’s not a bad thing to be afraid of falling, but it puts you at higher risk of falling,” said Diedeke van Wijk, a physiotherapist who runs WIJKfysio and teaches the course three times a year in Leusden, a bedroom community just outside Amersfoort, in the center of the country.

The Dutch, like many elsewhere, are living longer than in previous generations, often alone. As they do, courses that teach them not only how to avoid falling, but how to fall correctly, are gaining popularity.

From left, Riet van Velzen, 79, Ria Kocks, 78, Nanda Silkens, 79, Loes Bloemdal, 80, and Hans Kuhn, 85, learning a better way to stand up and sit down. 
Ben Koops, 82, navigating an obstacle called the “tilting shelf.” 

This one, called Vallen Verleden Tijd course, roughly translates as “Falling is in the past.” Hundreds of similar courses are taught by registered by physio- and occupational therapists across the Netherlands.

Yet falling courses — especially clinically tested ones — are a fairly recent phenomenon, according to Richard de Ruiter, of the Sint Maartenskliniek in Nijmegen, the foundation hospital that developed this particular course.

Virtually unheard-of just a decade ago, the courses are now common enough that the government rates them. Certain forms of Dutch health insurance even cover part of the costs.

While the students are older, not all of them seemed particularly frail. Herman van Lovink, 88, arrived on his bike. So did Annie Houtveen, 75. But some arrived with walkers and canes, and others were carefully guided by relatives.

Ms. Kuhn walking in the gym’s schoolyard. 

Falling can be a serious thing for older adults. Aging causes the bones to become brittle, and broken ones do not heal as readily.

Today, 18.5 percent of the Dutch population — roughly 3.2 million people — is 65 or older, according to official statistics. In 1950, about the time some of the younger course participants were born, people 65 or older made up just 7.7 percent of the population.

Across the Netherlands, 3,884 people 65 or older died as result of a fall in 2016, a 38 percent increase from two years earlier.

Experts say the rise in fatalities reflects the overall aging of the population, and also factors such as the growing use of certain medications or general inactivity.

“It’s same as with young children: More and more old people have an inactive lifestyle,” said Saskia Kloet, a program manager at VeiligheidNL, an institution that offers similar courses.

Even inactivity in one’s 30s or 40s could lead to problems later in life, she noted.

Like many people her age, Hans Kuhn, 85, worried that her daily routine — and the ability to live alone — would end if she ever lost her balance and fell.

She has lived in her house for decades, and alone since her partner died years ago. Its steeply winding staircase is equipped with a motorized chair on a rail to help reach upper floors. “I only use it when I have to bring lots of heavy things upstairs,” said Ms. Kuhn, herself a retired physiotherapist.

Ms. Kuhn’s entire house is a study in efficiency and simple modifications that can make all the difference for an older person. Hand grips are installed in just the right places, as well as ramps to accommodate her two walkers.

There is a stationary exercise bike to keep her moving, and a weight machine made from a big can of beans and string to maintain her upper body strength.

Even as she feels herself grow frailer and less flexible, she knows how to stay fit. “My main problem is I’m very afraid of falling,” she said.

Ms. Kuhn’s bedroom, right, and home trainer. The house is a study in simple modifications that can make all the difference for an older person.
Ms. Kuhn exercising at home with a self-made weight system made out of a rope and a can of beans. 

So she joined the course, which meets twice a week. On Tuesdays, the students build confidence by walking and re-walking the obstacle course. Thursdays are reserved for the actual falls.

In order to learn, the students start by approaching the mats slowly, lowering themselves down at first. Over the weeks, they learn to fall.

“Naturally, they are not interested in courses on falling at first, but once they see that they can do it, then it’s fun,” Ms. Kloet said. “But there is also a very important social aspect.”

Indeed, seeing one another helplessly sprawled across the gym mats gave way to giggling and plenty of dry comments, knowing jokes, general ribbing and hilarity.

“Stop your chattering,” Ms. van Wijk warned a group of well-dressed women who were supposed to be concentrating on the correct way to let themselves fall onto the foot-thick blue mat.

“I would,” said Loes Bloemdal, 80, laughing. “But I have no one to talk with all day.”

Ms. Silkens, right, and Frans Poss, 94, left, training on how to fall and get up.
The students start by lowering themselves down onto the mats slowly. Over the weeks, they learn to fall. 

In preparing their bodies for a possibly apocalyptic event, the students appeared to forget about their age.

Mr. van Lovink, the cyclist, asked if they would learn standing on one leg. “Why would you want to do that?” replied Ms. van Wijk.

“To be able to put on my pants,” Mr. van Lovink said seriously, but to the amusement of his classmates.

Ms. van Wijk advised them all to always sit when putting on their pants.

“That’s the power of physiotherapy with geriatrics,” she said. “You practice the things you know you can do, and not the things you can’t.”

The Netherlands Will Become the First Country to Pave Its Roads with Recycled Plastic


The Netherlands Will Become the First Country to Pave Its Roads with Recycled Plastic

Dutch engineers and designers have become known for their innovative ideas during the recent years. From the self-healing concrete to the world’s first solar bike path, their creations always offer us a unique combination of ingenuity and eco-friendliness. Now, Dutch construction company VolkerWessels plans to pave the roads with recycled plastic bottles instead of asphalt. If everything goes smoothly and the PlasticRoad project is finally implemented, the Dutch city of Rotterdam will see roads with the surface made of recycled plastic already in three years.

It’s a good way to replace asphalt with a more ‘green’ alternative, considering how harmful this material is to the environment. In fact, every ton of produced asphalt emits 27 kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere, which makes the total of 1.45 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide a year. Asphalt is also one of the main factors to cause urban heat island effect because of its property to absorb and retain heat. On the other hand, there is another critical problem with tons of plastic trash which are overloading both the land and the ocean.

Thus, using recycled plastic instead of asphalt to pave the roads could help lessen the environmental footprint. But it’s not the only benefit – it would also make the road surface more durable and, as a result, reduce road maintenance costs. According to VolkerWessels, this eco-friendly road surface is able to withstand a great range of temperatures – between -40C and 80C. At the same time, the plastic roads would be light and hollow, which means that there would be some extra space for pipes and cables.

Road construction would also become faster and less costly as there would be no need for on-site construction activities which require numerous staff and long-hour work. Instead, sections of the recycled plastic surface could be manufactured in a factory and then transported to the site. This would make it possible to prevent the pollution caused by roadworks and minimize the transportation of raw materials, which would contribute to reducing the environmental impacts as well.

Despite that the project is still on paper, the company is very optimistic about the future prospects. Rolf Mars of VolkerWessels said that the plastic roads could have a great potential for becoming a platform for the introduction of some other innovations, such as heated roads or ultra-quiet surfaces. In fact, Rotterdam is famous for supporting similar sustainable developments initiatives, so the city officials have already shown their interest in the implementation of the PlasticRoad project.

“Rotterdam is a very innovative city and has embraced the idea,” Mars told the Guardian. “It fits very well within its sustainability policy and it has said it is keen to work on a pilot.”

 

The Netherlands Will Become the First Country to Pave Its Roads with Recycled Plastic


The Netherlands Will Become the First Country to Pave Its Roads with Recycled Plastic

Dutch engineers and designers have become known for their innovative ideas during the recent years. From the self-healing concrete to the world’s first solar bike path, their creations always offer us a unique combination of ingenuity and eco-friendliness. Now, Dutch construction company VolkerWessels plans to pave the roads with recycled plastic bottles instead of asphalt. If everything goes smoothly and the PlasticRoad project is finally implemented, the Dutch city of Rotterdam will see roads with the surface made of recycled plastic already in three years.

It’s a good way to replace asphalt with a more ‘green’ alternative, considering how harmful this material is to the environment. In fact, every ton of produced asphalt emits 27 kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere, which makes the total of 1.45 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide a year. Asphalt is also one of the main factors to cause urban heat island effect because of its property to absorb and retain heat. On the other hand, there is another critical problem with tons of plastic trash which are overloading both the land and the ocean.

Thus, using recycled plastic instead of asphalt to pave the roads could help lessen the environmental footprint. But it’s not the only benefit – it would also make the road surface more durable and, as a result, reduce road maintenance costs. According to VolkerWessels, this eco-friendly road surface is able to withstand a great range of temperatures – between -40C and 80C. At the same time, the plastic roads would be light and hollow, which means that there would be some extra space for pipes and cables.

Road construction would also become faster and less costly as there would be no need for on-site construction activities which require numerous staff and long-hour work. Instead, sections of the recycled plastic surface could be manufactured in a factory and then transported to the site. This would make it possible to prevent the pollution caused by roadworks and minimize the transportation of raw materials, which would contribute to reducing the environmental impacts as well.

Despite that the project is still on paper, the company is very optimistic about the future prospects. Rolf Mars of VolkerWessels said that the plastic roads could have a great potential for becoming a platform for the introduction of some other innovations, such as heated roads or ultra-quiet surfaces. In fact, Rotterdam is famous for supporting similar sustainable developments initiatives, so the city officials have already shown their interest in the implementation of the PlasticRoad project.

“Rotterdam is a very innovative city and has embraced the idea,” Mars told the Guardian. “It fits very well within its sustainability policy and it has said it is keen to work on a pilot.”

 

Large Hadron Collider Created A Portal To Another Dimension?


As U.I.P stated recently, the bizarre UFO sighting in the sky above the Netherlands, looks VERY much like a Portal than anything else! Could it be that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has opened up a Portal in the sky to Another Dimension?

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Could it be that this image of a most bizarre looking object snapped up high above the Netherlands, could be the first ever picture of a portal to another dimension? Possibly opened up by the guys based in CERN

The Gentleman who caught this incredible sighting was Dutch snapper Harry Perton, who was photographing stormy evening skies at the tome over Groningen in his homeland, when all of a sudden there was a HUGE flash as he fired the shutter! Some people believe that this very well could be a wormhole to another Dimension.

Harry Perton's astonishing original picture

Harry Perton’s astonishing original picture

I am sure that a lot of you reading this will already know this, but Wormholes are a VERY mysterious scientific theory that there are openings in space-time to another part of the universe or even another dimension. It is very important to remember when discussing Portals/wormholes, that they are actually very real and even our silent friends in NASA not so long confirmed their existence

At the time he took the picture, Mr Perton actually did not realise anything out of the ordinary had just happened, and instead believing it must have been a flash of lightening instead. Little did he know that he may of taken one of the most important photos of all time…

It was only until a short while later after taking the photographs , when he reviewed the shots at home, he could actually see the strange semi-translucent object shaped like an upside down jellyfish or toadstool…..or Portal!

NASA's image or what a Portal could look like.

NASA’s image or what a Portal could look like.

The REAL thing!?

The REAL thing!?

You can clearly see that most of the object is a turquoise like colour, while there is a sunlight-esque jet or beam of light at the base…..Or an entrance to a portal to another Dimension!?

Not surprisingly, after this incredible photo was posted online, it led to a complete frenzy of speculation, which included whether it could be proof of wormholes, Project Blue Beam, alien visitations or even some kind of a religious warning to the people of this world. But the most popular theory was ‘could this be a portal to another Dimension?’

Has a new door for mankind been opened

Has a new door for mankind been opened

One commentator said about this whole strange event the:

“That’s a portal, it allows a craft to travel from one end of the universe to the other in a matter of secontnds. Someone made a mistake when entering our system and basically got caught. What you’re seeing is a craft entering not leaving.”

Many others immediately speculated that this could be the result of the Large Hadron Collider LHC being turned back on at twice its original power AND what with the confirmation off the guys at CERN that they are starting to look for other Universes/Dimensions!

Somebody else immediately posted: “It’s a wormhole.”

As we all know, the LHC is a massive atom smashing machine which scientists are now using to unlock secrets of the universe, which also includes whether parallel universes exist.

Many critics around the world now fear that CERN is tampering way too much with the laws of physics as they have already admitted that it could create a man made ‘mini’ black hole or even a wormhole – a mysterious theoretical portal through space-time to another part of the universe or even to another dimension….It really is like something from your wildest dreams and imagination as a child isn’t it!

Mr Perton officially responded to the amount of interest his image had gained around the world and said:

“I was taking photos and suddenly something flashed.

“I decided it must have been a strike of lightning ­ but back at home I saw something strange in one of the photos that I took ­what looked like a UFO.”

Quite a few other people online posted and decided that this could be a fighter jet sonic boom, or even a sign of the Second coming…or a sign of the End of days being not too far away! (well we did hear the sounds of the Trumpets in the sky across the world not so long ago).

One person in Malta has actually claimed that a whole football team saw it, and then adding:”We where playing a football game in Malta and all the 16 players saw it on 26th Tuesday around 8.05pm.”

Another claimed to have seen the same thing six years ago in Wales. Whilst others pointed out the Norway Spiral could be a similar oddity in the sky!?

However the bulk of people posting about this offered a more mundane explanation that it was an example of lens flare as the camera was being pointed towards the sun….but it doesn’t appear to be a particularly sunny day and I am no camera expert but surely you need a sun to cause ‘Lens flare’ The next thing we know it will start being called ‘The Netherlands Swamp gas’

However even though Mr Perton is getting an awful lot of attention for his photo, he still remains very sceptical, believing it is more likely a meteorological light trick.  But how can you explain the unexplainable!?

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U.I.P SUMMARY

As mentioned above us guys at U.I.P did suggest recently that this object in the sky was not a UFO but in fact had the look or a portal, and now many others are saying the exact same thing too!

You can clearly see that this object is definitely NOT a helicopter as some people have suggested and it is also most definitely not a camera lens flare which has also been mentioned…the fact the you would need the sun to be out to create a lens flare is quite an important fact too in this whole story.

We can obviously at this moment in time a 100% confirm what this is, but lets be honest with ourselves people, the Aliens have to come through somewhere and it has already been admitted by NASA that portals DO in fact exist….which quite possibly makes this photo one of the most famous captures to this date!

Could CERN of opened up a portal to another Dimension….quite possibly considering THIS is what they have confirmed that they are trying to do in their next phase of their project! But surely the risks are unknown of doing such a thing? Yep, and guess what the Scientists clearly have NO backup plan about what to do when they do open up the doors to another Dimension/Universe!?

We will keep you updated on this gripping and intriguing story….It is like the kind of thing we would once of only ever seen in the movies!

U.I.P

Other Dimensions About To Be Discovered?

Other Dimensions About To Be Discovered?

Coach crash eye tracker tested


Royal Beuk coach driver
The Dutch firm co-ordinating the trial says it does not believe the cameras are distracting

Coach drivers’ eye movements and blinks are to be tracked by computers as part of a test to see whether the tech could be used to prevent accidents on long distance trips.

Five firms have each fitted the product to two coaches as part of a trial taking place across continental Europe.

Seeing Machines’ Fatigue Monitoring System is already used by miners.

However, one expert cautioned it was unclear whether it would improve safety in the coach industry.

The Australian firm’s product uses special cameras installed inside a vehicle to monitor the driver’s gaze.

Royal Beuk coach
Royal Beuk hopes to install the safety system across its fleet of coaches

If it detects they are distracted or taking “microsleeps” – naps that can last less than a second and take place without the person’s knowledge – it activates a vibration motor built into their seat.

In addition it triggers an alarm in the co-driver’s sleeping compartment to alert them to the fact they should take over control of the vehicle.

The patented technology uses invisible infrared light to detect the driver’s eyes in the dark without distracting them, and can be used even if they are wearing glasses.

Seeing Machines’ chief executive suggested the system could detect the risk of an accident at an earlier point than alternative products such as lane detection cameras and steering wheel monitoring sensors.

Seeing Machines
Seeing Machines’ system can track driver’s eye movements in a dark coach cabin

“Coach accidents aren’t that frequent, but when they do happen they are so catastrophic that they make the [newspaper] front pages and in a lot of cases it is almost the end of the coach company involved as no-one wants to ride with them anymore,” Ken Kroeger told the BBC.

“The way the technology works is that it tracks your head position and your eye aperture.

“If you turn your head beyond a certain angle for a specified duration while moving over a certain speed, it will remind you your eyes should be on the road.

“Then for fatigue it looks at the frequency of blinking, the velocity of the eyelid when it’s opening and the duration of the eye closure to determine if it’s a microsleep.”

Seeing Machines has teamed up with the coach operator Royal Beuk to hold the trial.

The Dutch firm has installed the tech on two of its vehicles and has recruited a further four coach firms to do likewise.

Caterpillar truck
Caterpillar already distributes Seeing Machines tech to the mining industry

Over the winter months the vehicles will travel from the Netherlands to ski resorts in Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Then, in the summer, they will travel to southern parts of France, Italy and Spain.

“There are competitor products on the market and we evaluated a few of them,” Royal Beuk’s research manager Marc Beuk said.

“But all of the others required something from the driver. One system required them to wear a special hat, another involved special glasses hooked up to wires.

“This was the only device that we know of that didn’t give the driver something to do – once he turns the ignition key the system boots up and it starts monitoring him.”

He added that if the nine-month test was a success, his firm intended to install the kit across its 60-vehicle fleet and act as its European distributor.

Coach crashes

In recent years driver fatigue has been blamed for several accidents.

US investigators said it was a factor in a bus crash in which 15 passengers died in New York in 2011, as well as another similar incident which killed four people in Virginia last year.

In the UK, a coroner cited it as the reason a coach veered off the M25 motorway near Slough, Berkshire, in 2003, resulting in the deaths of six people.

Seeing Machines equipment
The system pairs its cameras with an industrial computer and location and motion sensors

However, one expert warned it was unclear exactly how common the problem was.

“Crashes are very rare when measured per kilometre, nevertheless they do occur and some of these may be related to fatigue, although very little is known about the precise numbers,” said Prof Pete Thomas, head of the Transport Safety Research Centre at Loughborough University.

“The trial of a driver-fatigue detection system for coach drivers will provide useful further information to help improve coach safety, although it is important the trials are properly scientifically controlled.

“Other factors such as speed and alcohol may also be important causes of coach crashes and bus operators should continue to reduce all types of risks.”

It currently costs the mining industry about £10,000 to install Seeing Machines’ equipment in each vehicle on top of a continuing licence fee.

But the firm said that if the trial was a success it intended to offer coach firms a “less rugged” version that would be about a quarter of the cost.

It added it was also in early-stage talks to introduce its products to the airline industry.

EU-approved ‘safe’ air pollution levels causing early deaths.


Published time: December 09, 2013 14:08
Edited time: December 10, 2013 08:37

General view of the Origny sugar factory in Sainte-Benoite near Saint-Quentin. (AFP Photo / Philippe Huguen)General view of the Origny sugar factory in Sainte-Benoite near Saint-Quentin. (AFP Photo / Philippe Huguen)

Air pollution in the European Union is causing premature deaths even when levels meet quality guidelines, a report has shown. Even in areas where pollution was much lower than the limit, scientists found there is a higher-than-normal risk of death.

The study, published the British Medical Association’s journal The Lancet, found that Europeans who have had prolonged exposure to pollution from industrial activities or road traffic have a higher chance of premature death. The increased risk to a person’s health is linked to tiny particles of soot and dust than can get lodged in the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses.

The study, carried out by Utrecht University in the Netherlands, found the particles measure 2.5 microns or 2.5 millionth of a meter. Exposure for “up to a few months” to particles of 2.5 microns can increase the risk of premature death.

“Although this does not seem to be much, you have to keep in mind that everybody is exposed to some level of air pollution and that it is not a voluntary exposure, in contrast to, for example, smoking,” scientist Rob Beelen, who led the study, told AFP.

The findings of the study echo the results of similar investigations carried out in North America and China.

“Our findings support health impact assessments of fine particles in Europe which were previously based almost entirely on North American studies,” Beelen said.

As part of the study the researchers drew on 22 previously published studies that documented the health of 367,000 people in 13 countries in Western Europe over 14 years. Beelen and his team then traveled to the areas where the participants lived and took traffic pollution readings that they used to calculate how much pollution local residents were exposed to.

 

AFP Photo / Frederick FlorinDuring the investigation, 29,000 of the 367,000 participants recruited in 1990 died. In order to increase accuracy, investigations also took into account such factors as physical exercise, body mass, education and smoking habits. 

European Union guidelines set the maximum exposure to particles of 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Beelen says the results of this study are evidence the EU needs to reset its safety limits to 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

“Despite major improvements in air quality in the past 50 years, the data from Beelen and his colleagues’ report draw attention to the continuing effects of air pollution on health,” Jeremy Langrish and Nicholas Mills, of the University of Edinburgh, told the Medical Press.

In China a red alert was issued for poor air quality was issued Thursday after pollution reached hazardous levels. The coastal city of Qingdao recorded PM2.5 Air Quality Index levels of over 300, while Nanjing saw a reading of 354 on Wednesday, according to local news portal news.longhoo.net.

In light of the dangerous levels of pollution the Chinese government is considering the practice of ‘cloud seeding’ to clear toxic fog in the country. According to a document released by the China Meteorological Administration, from 2015 local meteorological authorities will be permitted to use cloud seeding to disperse pollution.

The World Health Organization has classified outdoor pollution as one of the principal causes of cancer and estimates around 3.2 million people die every year globally as a result of prolonged exposure.

Depression ‘speeds ageing process’


Depression can make us physically older by speeding up the ageing process in our cells, according to a study.

Lab tests showed cells looked biologically older in people who were severely depressed or who had been in the past.

These visible differences in a measure of cell ageing called telomere length couldn’t be explained by other factors, such as whether a person smoked.

The findings, in more than 2,000 people, appear in Molecular Psychiatry.

Experts already know that people with major depression are at increased risk of age-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

This might be partly down to unhealthy lifestyle behaviours such as alcohol use and physical inactivity.

But scientists suspect depression takes its own toll on our cells.

Telomere shortening

To investigate, Josine Verhoeven from the VU University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, along with colleagues from the US, recruited 2,407 people to take part in the study.

More than one third of the volunteers were currently depressed, a third had experienced major depression in the past and the rest had never been depressed.

The volunteers were asked to give a blood sample for the researchers to analyse in the lab for signs of cellular ageing.

The researchers were looking for changes in structures deep inside cells called telomeres.

Telomeres cap the end of our chromosomes which house our DNA. Their job is to stop any unwanted loss of this vital genetic code. As cells divide, the telomeres get shorter and shorter. Measuring their length is a way of assessing cellular ageing.

People who were or had been depressed had much shorter telomeres than those who had never experienced depression. This difference was apparent even after lifestyle differences, such as heavy drinking and smoking, were taken into account.

Furthermore, the most severely and chronically depressed patients had the shortest telomeres.

Dr Verhoeven and colleagues speculate that shortened telomeres are a consequence of the body’s reaction to the distress depression causes.

telomere at the end of chromosomes

“This large-scale study provides convincing evidence that depression is associated with several years of biological ageing, especially among those with the most severe and chronic symptoms,” they say.

But it is unclear whether this ageing process is harmful and if it can be reversed.

UK expert Dr Anna Phillips, of the University of Birmingham, has researched the effects of stress on telomere length.

She says telomere length does not consistently predict other key outcomes such as death risk.

Further, it is likely that only a major depressive disorder, not experience of or even a lifetime of mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms, relates to telomere length, she said.

What Will It Take to Wipe Out Superbugs?


superbug

Superbugs are making public health experts very nervous. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control.

We have a drug problem.

Only this time we need drugs, specifically antibiotics. The problem is that more germs are becoming resistant to the antibiotics doctors have been using for a long time, resulting in “superbugs” from which even the National Institutes of Health couldn’t protect itself.

One reason, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warned yet again in a report last month, is that doctors continue to be overzealous in prescribing antibiotics. Case in point: A new study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that doctors prescribed antibiotics in 60 percent of the cases where people came in complaining of sore throats—this despite the fact that only 10 percent of those patients had strep throat, the only sore throat antibiotics can cure.

On top of that, Big Agriculture aggressively uses antibiotics both to keep healthy animals from getting sick and to help them grow faster. And while all this excessive use of antibiotics is making them less and less effective, the pharmaceutical industry has dramatically scaled back research into new infection-fighting drugs because it’s not a very profitable line of business.

Some public health experts fear that unless scientists are able to develop new antibiotics soon, we could regress into pre-penicillin days, when everyday infections killed people. Even the CDC, which points out that more than 23,000 people in America die from infections caused by resistant bacteria every year, says we could be facing “potentially catastrophic consequences.”

Turning drugs off

There’s the conventional strategy to dealing with the threat—earlier this year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services committed to pay the pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline as much as $200 million over the next five years to try to develop new antibiotics.

But more innovative approaches are also taking shape. Consider the research of a team of scientists in the Netherlands. They’re focusing on a way to deactivate antibiotics after they’ve been used, so that they no longer accumulate in the environment, which is what spurs the development of resistant superbugs. They’ve determined that if the molecules in antibiotics can be made to change their shape, they become ineffective. And the researchers have found they can use heat or light to do just that. In short, they’re developing ways to turn off antibiotics before they break bad.

Or take the researchers at McMaster University in Ontario who argue that the typical practice of growing bacteria in a nutrient-rich lab environment doesn’t really reflect what happens when we get an infection. Our bodies can be far less hospitable than that, forcing bacteria to grow their own nutrients. The researchers did an exhaustive search of 30,000 chemical compounds, with the goal of identifying some that block the ability of bacteria to create nutrients. They honed in on three. But they feel pretty good about those three. Now the trick is to see if they can be turned into effective antibiotics.

As one scientist put it, the McMaster researchers went “fishing in a new pond.” With luck, that might be what it takes.

Germ warfare

Here’s more recent research on the battle against bacteria:

  • That inner glow: It’s not unusual for bacteria to attach themselves to medical implants, such as bone screws, and develop into serious infections before anyone notices. A team of researchers in the Netherlands, however, may have developed an early warning system. By injecting fluorescent dye into an antibiotic, they were able to see where bacteria was growing. The process could lead to a far less invasive way to check for infections with surgery involving implants.
  • Thinking small: Scientists at Oregon State are taking yet another approach to attacking bacteria—they’ve narrowed their targeting down to the gene level. That’s seen as a much more precise way to battle infections, one that’s less likely to cause collateral damage. Said lead researcher Bruce Geller: “Molecular medicine is the way of the future.”
  • Say no to drugs: At Duke University, scientists say they’ve developed a blood test that can identify viral infections in people with serious respiratory problems. The test, they say, could significantly reduce the overuse of antibiotics. Since it can be hard to distinguish between viral sore throats, such as those that come with a cold, and bacterial infections, such as strep throat, a lot of doctors still prescribe antibiotics that end up not doing any good. The blood test could take the guessing—and pointless antibiotics—out of the treatment.
  • Now will you eat your yogurt?: It figures that one way to fight the bad side effects of some antibiotics would be by loading up on probiotics. Research published earlier this year found that probiotic supplements reduced the risk of antibiotic-related diarrhea by 64 percent.
  • All this and super lice, too?: Public health officials in the U.S. have told doctors to be on the lookout for a new strain of “super lice” that have become immune to shampoos and medications containing antibiotics.
  • Then again, they are termites: According to scientists at the University of Florida, the reason termites are so disease-resistant is that they use their own feces in building their nests. That promotes the growth of bacteria, which stifles pathogens. The researchers said that their findings could eventually result in new antibiotics for humans, but it might be better if they spare us the details.

Imaging Breast Cancer with Light.


Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer and cancer deaths among women worldwide. Routine screening can increase breast cancer survival by detecting the disease early and allowing doctors to address it at this critical stage. A team of researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have developed a prototype of a new imaging tool that may one day help to detect breast cancer early, when it is most treatable.

If effective, the new device, called a photoacoustic mammoscope, would represent an entirely new way of imaging the breast and detecting cancer. Instead of X-rays, which are used in traditional mammography, the photoacoustic breast mammoscope uses a combination of infrared light and ultrasound to create a 3-D map of the breast. The researchers describe their device in a paper published today in The Optical Society’s (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express.

A 3-D Map of the Breast

In the new technique, infrared light is delivered in billionth-of-a-second pulses to tissue, where it is scattered and absorbed. The high absorption of blood increases the temperature of blood vessels slightly, and this causes them to undergo a slight but rapid expansion. While imperceptible to the patient, this expansion generates detectable ultrasound waves that are used to form a 3-D map of the breast vasculature. Since cancer tumors have more blood vessels than the surrounding tissue, they are distinguishable in this image.

Currently the resolution of the images is not as fine as what can be obtained with existing breast imaging techniques like X-ray mammography and MRI. In future versions, Srirang Manohar, an assistant professor at the University of Twente who led the research, Wenfeng Xia, a graduate student at the University of Twente who is the first author on the new paper, and their colleagues expect to improve the resolution as well as add the capability to image using several different wavelengths of light at once, which is expected to improve detectability.

The Twente researchers, who belong to the Biomedical Photonic Imaging group run by Professor Wiendelt Steenbergen, have tested their prototype in the laboratory using phantoms – objects made of gels and other materials that mimic human tissue. Last year, in a small clinical trial they showed that an earlier version of the technology could successfully image breast cancer in women.

Manohar and his colleagues added that if the instrument were commercialized, it would likely cost less than MRI and X-ray mammography.

“We feel that the cost could be brought down to be not much more expensive than an ultrasound machine when it goes to industry,” said Xia.

The next step, they say, will be to prepare for larger clinical trials. Several existing technologies are already widely used for breast cancer screening and diagnosis, including mammography, MRI, and ultrasound. Before becoming routinely used, the photoacoustic mammoscope would have to prove at least as effective as those other techniques in large, multicenter clinical trials.

“We are developing a clinical prototype that improves various aspects of the current version of the device,” said Manohar. “The final prototype will be ready for first clinical testing next year.”

Two-state solution’ proposed for renaming PCOS.


New terminology is warranted for improved diagnosis and treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome phenotypes, according to researchers.

 “We would like to propose a nosological ‘two-state solution’ to the conflict. The endocrine syndrome of hyperandrogenism and chronic anovulation, eg, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) phenotype, should have a new name that acknowledges both its reproductive features as well as its long-term metabolic risks. The phenotypes diagnosed by ovarian morphology, eg, the remaining Rotterdam phenotypes, should continue to be known as PCOS,” wroteAndrea Dunaif, MD, vice chair for research in the department of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and Bart Fauser, MD, of the department of reproductive medicine and gynecology at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

 

The researchers cited recommendations from the NIH Office for Disease Prevention’s Evidence-based Methodology Workshop on PCOS held last year, which suggested clarifying benefits and drawbacks from diagnostic criteria; causes, predictors and long-term consequences; and treatment and prevention strategies. They added that the syndrome is often overlooked outside of obstetrics and gynecology visits.

Currently, the diagnostic criteria for PCOS by the NIH include hyperandrogenism and chronic anovulation; Rotterdam includes two of the following: hyperandrogenism, chronic anovulation and polycystic ovaries. Finally, the Androgen Excess Society criteria state that PCOS is marked by hyperandrogenism plus ovarian dysfunction indicated by oligo/amenorrhea and/or polycystic ovaries, according to the researchers.

“Specifically, we want to ensure that this recommendation does not lead to Balkanization of the field, which will clearly undermine the broad interdisciplinary efforts required for meaningful scientific advances in our understanding of PCOS,” they wrote.

Source: Endocrine Today