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Posts Tagged ‘health’

If Your Bandage is Glowing, That’s Bad…

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment
Polymer

A polymer and fluorescent dye work together to cause a bandage to glow in the presence of infection.

A team of researchers at the University of Sheffield has developed an interesting way of detecting bacteria in a wound (I know, gross).

The researchers found that a polymer attached to a fluorescent dye on bandage can detect when bacteria or other harmful organisms come into contact with the wound. The polymer changes shape when the bacteria are present, activating the dye and emitting ultraviolet light.

The technique was mainly developed with military applications in mind. Being able to easily and quickly identify infected wounds on the battlefield could help significantly reduce the severity of injuries.

“If you know you’ve got infection it’s going to change how you treat your soldiers, it’s going to change how you’re going to treat those patients in the home,” Sheffield researcher Sheila McNeil said. [UPI.com]

At the moment, the technique has only been applied to artificial tissues. However, it currently takes several days to confirm the presence of infection, so there is quite an interest in expanding the technique to human trials.

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And The Award For “Weirdest Headline of the Day” Goes To…

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

All I can say is:

Ewwwwwwwww!

Categories: News Tags: , , , , ,

Vaccines (once again) Found Safe. Not That Anti-Vaxxers Care…

August 26, 2011 1 comment

The Institute of Medicine has released a comprehensive report on the safety of vaccines. They looked at a wide range of vaccine types and various adverse affects known to be associated, and thought to be associated, with vaccines.

The report looked at claims which were submitted to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which was setup in 1986 to compensate those who were injured by vaccines.

They then looked for a causal relationship between the administration of the vaccine and the adverse effect reported in the claim.

In short, the committee found that most issues with vaccines were rare and mild.

Additionally, evidence favors rejection of five vaccine-adverse event relationships, including MMR vaccine and autism and inactivated influenza vaccine and asthma episodes.

A summary of the report very aptly states:

Despite much media attention and strong opinions from many quarters, vaccines remain one of the greatest tools in the public health arsenal. Certainly, some vaccines result in adverse effects that must be acknowledged. But the latest evidence shows that few adverse effects are caused by the vaccines reviewed in this report.

Of course, this doesn’t sway the staunch anti-vax supporters. Age of Autism, a group which is hell-bent on rejecting any scientific evidence showing that vaccines do not cause autism, had this to say about the study:

The IOM report took two years to produce, mostly behind closed doors, and was paid for by the Department of Health and Human Services, the government agency which is also a defendant against the vaccine-injured in the government’s vaccine court

Their arguments are as predictable as the sun rising in the east. It is a government agency, therefore they don’t accept the research.

If people want to keep their heads buried in the sand that is one thing, but the problem is that it is children who end up suffering when people don’t accept the science behind one of the greatest medical advances in history.

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Though that doesn’t mean I can’t be disappointed.

Does TV Watching Make You Sick? Not Exactly…

June 14, 2011 Leave a comment
File:Televison Hungarian ORION 1957.jpg

Beware! It might kill you! Photo Credit: Istvan Takacs

I’m a little annoyed with some headlines hitting a few news websites today:

TV Watching Raises Risk of Health problems, dying young

Excess TV time linked to early death

TV time tied to death, diabetes risk

The stories are talking about a study getting published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association

The study is a meta-analysis of 8 studies over the past 40 years which look at the correlation between watching television and risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The study found, unsurprisingly, that increased television watching was correlated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The pooled relative risks per 2 hours of TV viewing per day were 1.20 (95% CI, 1.14-1.27) for type 2 diabetes, 1.15 (95% CI, 1.06-1.23) for fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular disease, and 1.13 (95% CI, 1.07-1.18) for all-cause mortality.

In layman’s terms, this means that for each 2 hours of television watched per day, risk of type 2 diabetes increased by about 20%, risk of developing fatal or non-fatal heart disease increased by about 15%, and risk of dying of any cause increased by about 13%.

So does watching TV make you sick? Not exactly.

I’m not doubting the results of the study, though they should be taken with the usual grain of salt that should be taken with all epidemiological studies.

They are observational studies, not controlled studies in a lab. There are many variables which can influence the results.

That being said, the results of the study are not surprising and I have every confidence that there is truth in there.

But the media takes these types of studies, gives them a sensationalized headline and doesn’t put them in the proper context.

Watching TV does not make you sick; being lazy makes you sick. What this study is really showing is that watching TV correlates to a lazy lifestyle.

There’s nothing wrong with kicking back and watching some Star Trek reruns or even *groan* Dancing with the Stars. Just make sure you go out for a jog now and then. Or play some basketball. Or just do anything that isn’t sitting around and being lazy!

I’m sure snacking is a big factor in the results of this study as well. No doubt increased time in front of the TV leads to eating more unhealthy foods.

But if you sit in front of the tube and eat baby carrots or oatmeal, then you are probably not at a huge risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

So if you watch a lot of TV, you’re not necessarily going to die young because TV doesn’t make you sick.

But if you eat a lot of junk food and don’t exercise, then you might die young. But then again, THAT’S not exactly news, is it?

Think I’ll Bang My Head Against the Wall Now…

May 31, 2011 1 comment

File:Cell phone.jpgSo the news media is going nutso over the World Health Organization‘s decision to list cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

Let me be absolutely clear on this: No new studies have been released to spur this decision. The decision was reached by a team of 31 scientists who reviewed the existing scientific literature.

After reviewing the evidence they decided that even though there was no conclusive evidence that cell phones cause cancer, they are going to list it as a possible danger to humans.

They are playing it safe; erring on the side of caution; not counting their chickens before they’re hatched, whatever you want to call it.

[Update (11:57 AM): Here is an excellent explanation on the evidence the WHO used to make its decision, and what their decision actually means.]

This is a touchy subject. While I generally agree with playing it safe, in this case I disagree with the WHO’s decision.

Basically they are saying they need more long-term studies. However, since it is impossible to prove a negative, we will never be able to prove that cell phones don’t cause cancer. You would need an infinite number of studies to do that!

It’s just like on Glee when Kurt made the point that 

You can’t prove there isn’t a magic teapot floating around the dark side of the moon with a dwarf inside of it that reads romance novels and shoots lightning out of its boobs.

Same deal with cell phones. There is no plausible mechanism by which cell phones can cause cancer since the radiation is non-ionizing. There is also no dramatic increase in cancer rates coinciding with the dramatic increase in cell phone use in recent years.

Critics get around this point by saying that it takes decades for effects to really take hold. On average, yes that is true, but after 10-20 years of regular cell phone use by a large percentage of the population we should still expect to see some signs of adverse health effects.

So I disagree with the WHO. This little announcement is going to cause undo panic and fear.

But the “be afraid of microwaves” crowd has gotten much louder in the last few years, and I suspect this announcement by the WHO is largely due to public pressure rather than scientific evidence.

But who am I, right? I’m just a humble science blogger with a degree is physics who has looked at the scientific evidence and seen that there is no cause for alarm.

So I’m gonna go ahead and say “Don’t panic!”. But I have a sneaking suspicion people are going to anyway…

Please Don’t Build a Cellphone Tower Because We’re “Afraid of the Unknown”

May 23, 2011 3 comments
File:Cell Phone Tower.jpg

Photo by Joe Ravi

The CBC reports that residents of Surrey and Port Coquitlam, BC are petitioning against the construction of two new cell phone towers in the area.

There is a proposal on the table to build two cell phone towers in the area of Cloverdale, as people often complain of losing their cell phone signal in this area.

Some residents oppose the construction mainly due to fear of health effects from the radiation emitted by the towers.

The CBC interviewed a Coquitlam resident, Andrea Gretchev, and asked what she thought the tower construction would do and why she opposed its construction,

“I can’t say that this causes anything in particular, because I don’t know,” Gretchev said. “But because I don’t know, I don’t want to live next to a cell tower.”

Fear of the unknown is a natural human response and I can’t begrudge the residents this natural instinct.

But for comparison, lets look at the situation of me being afraid of the dark when I was a child.

I was afraid of the dark because I didn’t know what was out there. I was afraid of the unknown. As soon as my Dad turned the light off, there could be monsters, or aliens, or giant-ass bugs waiting to attack me.

Periodically, I would race to the light-switch and turn on the light, exposing everything in the room to electromagnetic radiation (in the visible range, of course).

At once, I realized nothing was there. I was safe. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.

Eventually, I learned that there really was nothing to fear when the lights went out. Just because I couldn’t see the rest of my room, didn’t mean I had to be afraid of it.

So is there a similar “light-switch” in this situation that we can flip on so the residents of southern British Columbia don’t have to be afraid of cell phone radiation anymore? Why yes there is. And its scientific data.

Seeing as I’ve written on this issue many, many times before, I won’t rehash all my past arguments. But the scientific data is quite clear that there is absolutely no credible evidence that cell phone radiation causes adverse health effects.

You would think that this information would be enough, but I’ve had enough experience debating this issue that I know this is not nearly enough.

“Science has been wrong before,” is the counter-argument I most often hear.

“Well,” I reply, ” should we then also be afraid of broccoli?”

“What do you mean?” my opponent asks.

“Science has shown that broccoli is quite healthy for us. But if science has been wrong before, should we therefore avoid broccoli completely? Just in case?”

So when debating the issues, lets stick to the facts and not logical fallacies.

I know its tough. There are a lot of quacks out there trying to convince us that cell phones and power lines and Wi-Fi are dangerous, in complete opposition to all of the credible scientific evidence.

Hell, if you do a Google search for any of these topics, no doubt you will find more fear-mongering websites talking about the “possible” dangers with electromagnetic fields than references to scientifically valid papers.

Scientists may not have the Search Engine Optimization teams that these fringe websites do, but they have the truth on their side. And the truth continues to indicate that we have no reason to fear our phones.

Still not convinced? Have a look at this map showing all the cell phone towers in the lower British Columbia area (also available as an iPhone app):

Map of all cellular phone towers in the lower British Columbia area.

In this sea of towers already in existence, and all those near your house that you have been living peacefully beside for the past several years, will two more really make a difference?

More than that, with the explosion of cell phone use and cell tower construction in the last decade, isn’t is odd that no increase in cancer rates have been seen?

We should have at least seen a small effect by now if there were any health risks associated with these towers or cell phone use.

But again, I’ve had this argument enough to know that data and common sense won’t convince anybody. Anything new and widespread will inevitably cause people to be afraid. Much like microwave ovens did in the 1950s and 60s.

By the way, no adverse health effects have ever been reported with the proper use of a microwave oven. I guess we will have to wait about 60 years before people will start chilling out about their cell phones.

What Do the Party Platforms Say About Science and Research?

April 19, 2011 4 comments

As with every Canadian election, the primary issues are healthcare, the deficit, and the “scandal” de jour (Conservatives being in contempt of Parliament is this year’s scandal).

But what about science and research? This is an issue which gets lost in the fray of other issues, but is vital to Canadians maintaining a strong image around the world, as well as strengthening the economy.

So I went through all the party platforms in an effort to summarize their views on science, technology, and research. As a first step, I counted the number of times each of the words “science”, “technology”, and “research” each appear in the party platforms.

The results certainly jump out at you. The Green Party seems to be most interested in funding research and technology. This mainly stems from their wish to increase funding to “green” technologies, in an effort to save the environment.

The Conservatives and Liberals are pretty similar. In the Conservative Party platform, their promises regarding scientific endeavours are:

  • Establish 10 additional Canada Excellence Research Chairs;
  • Support the outstanding work of the Institut national d’Optique in the fields of optics and photonics;
  • Invest in strengthening the Perimeter Institute’s position as a world-leading research centre for theoretical physics; and
  • leverage funding to support Brain Canada’s efforts to support new diagnostics, treatments, and cures for brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s Disease.

In addition to these measures, the Conservatives discuss their “Digital Economy Strategy”, which includes (I’m summarizing here)

  • Extend broadband coverage to 200,000 additional rural homes
  • Increase competition in the wireless market
  • Support projects between colleges and small businesses to accelerate the adoption of new technologies
  • Promote enrollment in science, technology, engineering and math post-secondary programs

These points sound very well and good, but are very vague and I wonder how they would actually get implemented.

The Conservative Platform also states the Liberals and NDP “opposed” these measures when they forced this election. However I believe this is misleading, because rejecting a budget does not mean they reject every expenditure in the budget.

So what about the Liberals? What are they up to? Here are a few key points pulled from the Liberal Party platform:

–  A Liberal government will work with provinces, territories and the research community to bolster innovation in the health and bioscience field, improve the health of      Canadians, and help bring Canadian products to global markets.

– A Liberal government will make digital technologies one of its Canadian Champion Sectors, boosting incentives for investment in innovators seeking to conquer world markets.

– A new Innovation and Productivity Tax Credit (IPTC) that will grant Canadian investors a 15 percent tax credit for investments in small, early-stage start-ups that don’t yet have the track record to seek financing from more traditional sources such as banks and the stock market.

– An extension of the popular “Flow-Through Shares” tax model to start-ups in the three Canadian Champion Sectors. This tax incentive would allow venture companies with little or no revenue to pass on tax deductions to investors, creating a significant incentive to invest in Canadian entrepreneurs from promising sectors where Canada can become a world leader.

– A Liberal government will launch a new Innovation Gateway providing a “single window” approach that consolidates government support for innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging fields as well as long-standing areas of strength like aerospace, manufacturing and natural resources.

The Liberals also take advantage of the Conservative government’s poor record of investing in “green” technologies and taking action on climate change, which he once called a “socialist scheme”.

The Liberals discuss investing in cleaner technologies for processing the oil sands and reducing carbon emissions, though details on their plans are sketchy. Indeed, they state that investment in these fields will occur “as the economy improves”, which certainly allows plenty of room for interpretation on timelines for implementing these strategies.

Let’s take on the NDP next. As you can see from the above graph, the NDP does not talk about science to the extent of the Liberals and Conservatives. Part of this has to do with the fact that the NDP’s platform is quite a bit shorter than the other parties, but it also deals with the fact that the NDP’s primary concern is healthcare, job creation in all sectors, and social programs.

When they do discuss scientific issues, it deals with climate change and renewable energy. Some points from their platform (again, I’m summarizing):

  • Reduce green-house gas emissions to 80 percent below that of 1990 by 2050.
  • Introduce a carbon emissions cap-and-trade system
  • Cut subsidies to non-renewable energy
  • Federal financial incentives for “clean” energy, such as solar, wind, tidal and biomass
  • Support for research of “made in Canada” green technologies
  • Establish “Green Bonds” so Canadians can invest in green technologies and energy

The NDP chooses to spend their money directly helping Canadians. Which is all well and good, but I feel they don’t do enough to help bolster the economy, which is increasingly dominated by the technology industry.

Ok, now as for the Bloc. Well they hardly mention science at all, and I feel this political cartoon summarized not only their debate strategy, but their platform too, so let’s not waste any time on them.

Cartoon by Brian Gable - The Globe and Mail

Ok, so now we come to the dear Green Party. As I mentioned earlier, their platform discusses science and research more than any other party.

Of course to be fair, the Greens have exactly zero chance of winning this election (and a very slim chance of even winning a seat), so they are free to talk about how much money they want to throw at “green” technology research, without worrying about where this money is actually going to come from.

[Aside: I’ve been writing this post over about a week. It would appear that the Green Party platform I used to generate the graph at the top of the page is no longer the “official” platform. The document is now called their Vision Green and they describe it as “a comprehensive statement of our policies and programmes”. I’m not sure why they aren’t using it as their official platform anymore, but I just wanted to make that clear so you guys don’t think I’m making stuff up.]

So when the Greens talk about science and technology is pretty much always has to do with the environment and climate change. Some of the major points include:

  • Retrofitting Canada’s buildings to a high level of energy efficiency by 2025
  • Upgrade all low-income housing by 2025
  • Provide grants to cover 50% of the cost of solar-powered roofs
  • Rapid deployment of wind turbines to generate 17 GW of power (enough to power ~14 DeLorean time machines, FYI)
  • All bikes and bicycle gear will be tax-deductible and GST free
  • Massively increase funding to public transportation systems
  • 85% reduction in vehicle emissions by 2040
  • By 2017, no landfill will be able to operate without methane capture

And the list goes on. And on, and on…

All these changes will require a huge investment in researching of new technologies, assuming they ever got put in place.

These policies are well-meaning, and many of them have been implemented in other countries. But to try and get them to work in Canada, and so many of them at once, seems unfeasible.

In addition “science”, “research” and “technology”, I also made a chart searching all the party platforms for the word “homeopath”,

Indeed, as Skeptic North pointed out, the Green party would put a greater emphasis on homeopathy and other alternative medicine in our health care plans.

It makes me wonder how a party that talks a big game about using science and research to better our planet, can so greatly miss the mark on science and research in healthcare. Something to consider.

Be sure to vote on May 2. Check Elections Canada for all pertinent information.