Archive | Ideas, Humanities, & Education

Doctor Who Isolated Measles Strain Dies

BOSTON, Aug. 3 (UPI) — Dr. Thomas Peebles, a Boston-area physician who as a young researcher made a major breakthrough in work on a measles vaccine, has died.

Peebles, 89, died at his home in Port Charlotte, Fla., on July 8, his family told The Boston Globe.

In 1954, Peebles, only three years after his graduation from Harvard Medical School, made a major discovery about the measles virus.

“I was most fortunate, neophyte that I was, to be the first individual to recognize the effects of the measles virus on living cells in tissue culture,” he wrote in a 1967 report to his Harvard class. “I am sure, as is often the case in scientific endeavor, that much of the successful recognition and isolation of this virus lay in perseverance, newness to the field, and failure to be bound by preconceived ideas that caused others in the laboratory to miss this new effect.”

Peebles went on to found a group practice in Weston, Mass., in 1970 and to join with other practices in a pioneering health maintenance organization. After a merger, he became president of what is now Harvard Health.

Friends and family say he was always modest about his achievements, which included serving as a bomber pilot in World War II and as chief of pediatrics at Massachusetts General.

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Historian Cracks Ancient Code

MANCHESTER, England, June 29 (UPI) — A British science historian says he’s cracked “The Plato Code,” secret messages said to be hidden in the classical Greek philosopher’s writings.

Dr. Jay Kennedy of the University of Manchester says Plato used a regular pattern of symbols to give his writing a “musical” structure, a university release said Monday.

“Plato’s books played a major role in founding Western culture but they are mysterious and end in riddles,” Kennedy said.

“In antiquity, many of his followers said the books contained hidden layers of meaning and secret codes, but this was rejected by modern scholars.”

Plato did not use secret patterns in his writing for pleasure, Kennedy said, but for his own safety.

In saying mathematical laws and not gods controlled the universe, Plato’s ideas were a threat to Greek religion, and Plato’s own teacher had been executed for heresy. Encoding his ideas in secret patterns was the only way for Plato to be safe, Kennedy said.

The importance of Plato’s writing cannot be overestimated, Kennedy says.

“He shifted humanity from a warrior society to a wisdom society,” Kennedy said. “Today our heroes are Einstein and Shakespeare — and not knights in shining armor — because of him.”

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Students Design Inflatable Space Habitats

WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) — The U.S. space agency says it’s challenging the nation’s college students to design concepts for inflatable habitat lofts to be used by space explorers.

“The X-Hab Academic Innovation Competition is a university-level challenge designed to encourage further studies in spaceflight-related engineering and architecture disciplines,” NASA said. “This design competition requires undergraduate students to explore NASA’s work to develop space habitats while also helping the agency gather new and innovative ideas to complement its current research and development. The winning concepts may be applied to the exploration habitats of the future.”

The space agency said students will design, manufacture and assemble an inflatable loft that will be integrated into NASA’s operational hard-shell prototype lab unit. The competition winner will participate in a demonstration of the submitted design during the 2011 Desert Research and Technology Studies, or a similar field test next summer.

Information about competition registration and requirements is available at http://www.spacegrant.org/xhab.

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Debate over Drugs May Really Be About Sex

PHILADELPHIA, June 17 (UPI) — The debate on whether recreational drug use is morally wrong may really be about sex, a U.S. researcher suggests.

Robert Kurzban, director of the Pennsylvania Laboratory for Experimental Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, says the study compared two competing theories — the conventional wisdom in political science that sees drug attitudes as primarily coming from people’s political ideology, level of religious commitment and personality, vs. a theory driven by ideas from evolutionary psychology that drug attitudes are really driven by people’s reproductive strategies, or views on sexual promiscuity.

The researchers questioned some 1,000 people in two subject populations, one undergraduate students and one Internet-based.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, finds people who say they are more religious and more politically conservative tend to oppose recreational drugs in both study samples, but the predictive power of these religious and ideological items was reduced nearly to zero after controlling for attitudes toward sexual promiscuity.

“This provides evidence that views on sex and views on drugs are very closely related,” Kurzban says in a statement. “If you were to measure people’s political ideology, religiosity and personality characteristics, you can predict to some degree how people feel about recreational drugs. But if, instead, you just measure how people feel about casual sex, the predictions about people’s views on drugs in fact become quite a bit better.”

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NASA Picks 18 Small-business Projects

WASHINGTON, June 9 (UPI) — NASA says it has selected 18 technology proposals for negotiation of Phase 2 contract awards in its Small Business Technology Transfer, or STTR, program.

Officials said the selected projects have a total value of approximately $11 million. The contracts will be awarded to 18 high technology firms that are partnering with 15 universities in 12 states.

“As an investment opportunity, STTR innovations address specific technology gaps in mission programs, provide a foundation for future technology needs, and are complementary to other NASA research investments,” the space agency said. “The program is a highly competitive, three-phase award system. It provides qualified small businesses — including women-owned and disadvantaged firms — with opportunities to propose innovative ideas that meet specific research and development needs of the federal government.”

Phase 1 is a feasibility study to evaluate the scientific and technical merit of an idea. Awards are for up to 12 months in amounts up to $100,000. Phase 2 expands on the results of the development in Phase 1. Awards are for up to two years in amounts up to $600,000. Phase 3 is for the commercialization of the results of Phase 2 and requires the use of private sector or non-STTR federal funding.

Wednesday’s NASA awards are for the second-phase in this competitive process.

A list of selected companies and their projects is available at http://sbir.nasa.gov.

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Government to Try Healthcare Initiatives

NEW YORK, June 9 (UPI) — It’s essential to change the way U.S. healthcare is funded to reward high-quality, efficient care, officials of a New York non-profit group say.

Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, says the new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation must be inclusive and flexible in developing payment initiatives, monitor their impact and — if they appear successful — distribute information about the findings among healthcare providers.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is required to develop by 2011 at least 18 reform models specified in the new healthcare reform law, including patient-centered medical homes; promotion of care coordination through salary-based payment; community-based health teams to support small-practice medical homes; use of health information technology and salary-based payment for physicians.

“If health reform is to succeed in improving care and curbing spending, this new center must function like a research and development laboratory for healthcare delivery, designed to discover, support and disseminate the best and most innovative ideas,” Davis says in a statement.

In an article in the journal Health Affairs, Commonwealth Fund researchers provide recommendations to develop innovative ways of providing and paying for healthcare that strives to reduce costs while preserving or enhancing healthcare quality.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Government to Try Healthcare Initiatives

NEW YORK, June 9 (UPI) — It’s essential to change the was U.S. healthcare is paid for to reward high-quality, efficient care, officials of a New York non-profit group say.

Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, says the new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation must be inclusive and flexible in developing payment initiatives, monitor their impact and — if they appear successful — distribute information about the findings among healthcare providers.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is required to develop by 2011 at least 18 reform models specified in the new healthcare reform law, including patient-centered medical homes; promotion of care coordination through salary-based payment; community-based health teams to support small-practice medical homes; use of health information technology and salary-based payment for physicians.

“If health reform is to succeed in improving care and curbing spending, this new center must function like a research and development laboratory for healthcare delivery, designed to discover, support and disseminate the best and most innovative ideas,” Davis says in a statement.

In an article in the journal Health Affairs, Commonwealth Fund researchers provide recommendations to develop innovative ways of providing and paying for healthcare that strives to reduce costs while preserving or enhancing healthcare quality.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Hair of Dog Helps, but Ups Dependency

SOUTHAMPTON, England, May 10 (UPI) — A study in worms found withdrawal symptoms of alcohol could be relieved by small doses of alcohol, but it increased dependency, British researchers said.

Study leader Lindy Holden-Dye, a neuroscientist of the University of Southampton’s School of Biological Sciences, said the findings showed evidence a class of brain-signaling molecule — the neuropeptide — is required for the chronic effect of alcohol on the worm’s nervous system.

The simple brain of C. elegans worms have 302 nerve cells, but exhibits similar alcohol-dependent behaviors as humans, Holden-Dye said.

“This research showed the worms displaying effects of the withdrawal of alcohol and enables us to define how alcohol affects signaling in nerve circuits which leads to changes in behavior,” Holden-Dye said in a statement.

“Neuropeptides are also involved in chronic alcohol effects in humans and this is leading to new ideas for the treatment of alcoholism, but their precise role is unclear. Our study provides a very effective experimental system to tackle this problem.”

The findings are published in the journal PLoS One.

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'Sally Centrifuge' Helps Diagnose Anemia

HOUSTON, May 5 (UPI) — Two U.S. students say they’ve turned a salad spinner into a centrifuge for use at medical clinics in developing countries where there’s no electricity.

Rice University undergraduates Lila Kerr and Lauren Theis named their creation “Sally Centrifuge” and they’ll take it abroad this summer as part of the university’s “Beyond Traditional Borders” health initiative that brings new ideas and technologies to underdeveloped countries.

“There was a whole range of projects to take on this year, and luckily we got one that wasn’t terribly engineering-intensive,” said Kerr, a sophomore from Dayton, Ohio.

“We were essentially told we needed to find a way to diagnose anemia without power, without it being very costly and with a portable device,” added Theis, a freshman from San Antonio.

The students modified the salad spinners to act as a centrifuge to separate blood into red blood cells and lighter plasma — a function involved in determining if a patient is anemic. That, they said, is critical in diagnosing malnutrition, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria.

“Many of the patients seen in developing world clinics are anemic, and it’s a severe health problem,” said Professor Maria Oden, the team’s co-advisor with Professor Rebecca Richards-Kortum. “Being able to diagnose it with no power, with a device that’s extremely lightweight, is very valuable.”

Oden said the centrifuge, assembled using plastic lids, cut-up combs, yogurt containers and a hot-glue gun, costs about $30, including the spinner.

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Study: MicroRNA Involved in Lung Fibrosis

PITTSBURGH, May 3 (UPI) — U.S. medical investigators say they’ve determined MicroRNAs appear to play a significant role in the development of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Researchers led by Associate Professor Naftali Kaminski at the the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said MicroRNAs are short strands of genetic material involved in regulating the expression, or activity, of genes. They are a new family of RNA molecules thought to be factors in embryonic development, multiple cancers and chronic heart failure.

“Our research now indicates that microRNA changes also contribute to IPF,” Kaminski said. “We have identified an entirely new molecular mechanism for the disease, which gives us new ideas about how to treat it.”

The study that included scientists in Greece, Mexico and Germany appears in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

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