Science & Health

All sciences, health & medical news

Beau Gunderson's fascinated by what he might learn from his DNA.

"I'm curious about what makes me tick, essentially," says Gunderson, 29, who writes code for a Silicon Valley startup.

So Gunderson has signed up for every genetic test he's been able to afford. And he can't wait for the price of getting his entire genetic code — his genome — to drop to about $1,000, as many are predicting is imminent.

"Yeah, if the price does drop — to a thousand bucks for example — I might pay that. That's a good personal price point for me," Gunderson said.

The idea that milk may diminish the potential heart-health benefits of tea has been a topic of some debate. Lots of us can't imagine black tea without a little dairy to cut the bitterness. But, according to this research going back to 2007, we might want to at least consider trying, say, a nice cup of green tea sans sugar or cream.

NASA's Curiosity rover has found definitive proof that water once ran across the surface of Mars, the agency announced today. NASA scientists say new photos from the rover show rocks that were smoothed and rounded by water. The rocks are in a large canyon and nearby channels that were cut by flowing water, making up an alluvial fan.

"You had water transporting these gravels to the downslope of the fan," NASA researchers say. The gravel then formed into a conglomerate rock, which was in turn likely covered before being exposed again.

Medical Electronics Built To Last Only A Little While

Sep 27, 2012

Most engineers build things to last.

But a group of mechanical and electrical engineers are working on electronics that will break down in as little as a couple of days. On purpose!

The electronic circuits they're developing don't crash. It's more dramatic than that. They dissolve in liquid.

Sounds a little bit crazy, but circuits that work for a while then disappear could be pretty useful in medical devices implanted in the human body.

One night in 1984, British scientist Frances Ashcroft was studying electricity in the body and discovered the protein that causes neonatal diabetes. She says she felt so "over the moon" that she couldn't sleep.

By the next morning, she says, she thought it was a mistake.

But luckily, that feeling was wrong, and Ashcroft's revelation led to a medical breakthrough decades later, which now enables people born with diabetes to take pills instead of injecting insulin.

Scientists have known for a while that breast cancer is really four different diseases, with subtypes among them, an insight that has helped improve treatment for some women.

But experts haven't understood much about how these four types differ. A new report, published online in the journal Nature, provides a big leap in that understanding.

A large children's hospital in Durban, South Africa, is being rebuilt two decades after it closed owing to apartheid. It opened in 1931 as a facility for all races, but racial tensions in the 1980s forced its closure.

Now with Durban and the surrounding province of KwaZulu-Natal extremely hard hit by AIDS and tuberculosis, local leaders are hopeful they can begin reopening the hospital early in 2013.

The Food and Drug Administration approved two new medications this year to help obese and overweight individuals lose weight.

Diet drugs have been around in different forms for a while, but now researchers hope one of these two might actually help make a dent in the obesity epidemic.

Is CrossFit Training Good For Kids?

Sep 24, 2012

For thousands of people across the country, going to a regular gym just doesn't cut it. Instead, they prefer CrossFit routines: like swinging kettlebells, flipping tires, and doing squats and dead lifts until they drop. Now kids as young as 4 are taking part.

The idea behind CrossFit Kids, says co-founder Jeff Martin, is to pair fitness and fun. Since he started the program with his wife Mikki in 2004, it has taken off. There are hundreds of CrossFit Kids classes across the U.S., and more in cities across the world.

Johns Hopkins, Yale, Harvard, Columbia and Cornell. What do these medical schools have in common?

Beyond their first-rate reputations, they're also on the short list of top U.S. med schools that don't have departments of family medicine. Elite schools have long focused on training specialists and researchers, but with the federal health law's emphasis on primary care, some schools are looking harder at family medicine.

One in three children in the United States is overweight or obese. Significant numbers of those young people are grappling with health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Those conditions can be difficult for children to manage in any setting, but they can pose particular challenges for children during the school day.

Dr. Yolandra Hancock used to be an elementary school teacher, and it shows. She's patient, encouraging and has an endearing way of ending her sentences with "my love" and "my sweet."

Ben Raines/Press-Register / The Press-Register

A new chemical analysis shows that virtually all the tar balls now washing on to the Alabama coast are directly linked to the BP oil spill more than two years ago.

The report released Thursday by Auburn University says that tar balls caused by the spill are hundreds to thousands of times more common than another type of asphalt-like tar deposit that's been in the Gulf for years.

There's some big news out today about one of the most sensitive issues in medicine: Who's next in line for a transplant?

The United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, a nonprofit in charge of distributing organs, wants to revamp the system for distributing the most sought-after organ — kidneys — for the first time in 25 years.

The Affordable Care Act survived a near-death experience at the Supreme Court earlier this year. And the overhaul law's fate again hangs in the balance come Election Day. Mitt Romney has vowed to work for its repeal, if he's elected president.

Meanwhile, the law continues to take its hits.

Why would a billionaire energy trader-turned-philanthropist throw his foundation's dough behind a new think tank that wants to challenge scientific assumptions about obesity?

John Arnold, 38, whose move from Enron to a spectacularly successful hedge fund got him on the list of wealthiest Americans, isn't crazy about talking to the press. But certainly his decision with his wife Laura to back a newly launched operation called the Nutrition Science Initiative, or NuSI, is an intriguing one.

An experimental drug that helps people who have Fragile X syndrome is raising hopes of a treatment for autism.

The drug, called arbaclofen, made people with Fragile X less likely to avoid social interactions, according to a study in Science Translational Medicine. Researchers suspect it might do the same for people with autism.

David Herholz / Flickr

Alabama's infant mortality rate has reached an all-time low, but it's still high nationally.

Figures released by the state health agency on Thursday show Alabama's infant death rate was 8.1 infant deaths for every 1,000 births last year.

The figure is a record low, but it's high compared to the most recent national average. The U.S. rate was 6.1 deaths per 1,000 births in 2010, the latest year available.

So you're minding your own business when all of a sudden, a nuclear bomb goes off, there's a shock wave, fires all around, general destruction and you, having somehow survived, need a drink. What can you do? There is no running water, not where you are. But there is a convenience store. It's been crushed by the shock wave, but there are still bottles of beer, Coke and diet soda intact on the floor.

So you wonder: Can I grab one of those beers and gulp it down? Or is it too radioactive? And what about taste? If I drink it, will it taste OK?

A new survey by a group campaigning against obesity finds that Alabama is the sixth-fattest state in the nation.

A study by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 32 percent of Alabama's adult residents are obese. It says 63 percent of the state's residents will be obese by 2030.

The survey found that neighboring Mississippi is the fattest state in the nation, with a current obesity rate of 35 percent. The report predicts 67 percent of Mississippi's adult population would be obese by 2030.

BPA could be making kids fat. Or not.

That's the unsatisfying takeaway from the latest study on bisphenol A — the plastic additive that environmental groups have blamed for everything from ADHD to prostate disease.

Unfortunately, the science behind those allegations isn't so clear. And the new study on obesity in children and teens is no exception. / National Weather Service

Alabama's northern counties are under a flood watch as potentially heavy rains move into the state. The National Weather Service says storms crossing into the Tennessee Valley will bring rainfall totals from 1 to 3 inches by Tuesday, as some areas could receive as much as 5 inches of rain. The heaviest precipitation is expected to fall overnight Monday. Forecasters say northeastern Alabama should receive the heaviest rains. The weather service says streams along the Tennessee River will rise because of runoff from the storms. / Tennessee Valley Authority

The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to add around 100 jobs at its Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in the next year. The plan, announced Wednesday, is part of an effort to improve performance and safety. TVA chief nuclear officer Preston Swafford says officials will probably start the hiring process in a couple of months. Keith Polson, Browns Ferry site vice president, says the new jobs will involve various specialties such as engineering, maintenance, radiation protection, chemistry, work control and emergency planning.

Death Toll Climbs In Congo Ebola Outbreak

Sep 13, 2012

As health workers try to contain an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the death toll has increased to 31.

The deaths from the hemorrhagic fever outbreak doubled in the past week. World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic tells Shots that's because they have discovered more people who were originally infected.



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

Fast food giant McDonald's announced a big move yesterday to begin posting calories on menu boards. It's also making smaller changes designed to help Americans make healthier choices; smaller changes you might not even notice.

But NPR's Allison Aubrey reports they can make a real difference.

There's no ready euphemism for this, so be warned.

The New York City Board of Health voted unanimously today in favor of a new regulation that would require parents of young boys who undergo ritual circumcisions involving "direct oral suction" to sign a consent form first.

To protect children against whooping cough, doctors recommend five shots of vaccine before they turn 7.

But what happens after that? How long does the protection last?

Beginning next week, McDonald's plans to add calorie counts to its menu boards — both at drive-thrus and restaurant counters. Studies suggest that calorie boards alone don't change consumers' purchasing patterns. But consumers do seem to take note, and public health experts say it's one tangible step to helping consumers make healthier choices.

The numbers for West Nile virus cases continue to rise, up 35 percent in the last week. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is confident the nation has turned the corner on its worst-ever epidemic of West Nile virus disease.

Arctic sea ice has melted dramatically this summer, smashing the previous record. The Arctic has warmed dramatically compared with the rest of the planet, and scientists say that's what's driving this loss of ice.

To be sure, ice on the Arctic Ocean always melts in the summer. Historically, about half of it is gone by mid-September. But this year, three-fourths of the ice has melted away, setting a dramatic new benchmark.

Ben Raines/Press-Register / The Press-Register

Scientific testing has confirmed a link between oil from the massive BP spill and tar found on Alabama beaches after Hurricane Isaac. Auburn University researcher Joel Hayworth said Tuesday a chemical analysis showed that tar balls collected after Isaac were associated with the type of oil spilled after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010. Auburn researchers collected about 15 pounds of tar balls after the storm, and officials from Gulf Shores and Orange Beach picked up still more.