Archive for the Health & Disease Category

Links: Dinosaurs for sale, wildlife photography, robotic surgery and devilish predators

Posted in Health & Disease, Humour, Images & Videos, Nature Attacks! on September 14, 2009 by Gustav

Samson the T. rex

You want a T. rex? What am I saying, of course you do. Wired reports that dinosaur fossils are up for auction. Take a look at Wired’s gallery of the skeletons for sale.

New Scientist have a gallery of the science-fictiony future of robotic surgery.

Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science have a gallery of photos of the furry woodland creatures of British wildlife.

Humour site Cracked lists, “Nature’s Most Diabolical Predators“. Two word: assassin bug.

A few more words:The assassin bug cloaks itself with debris from the surroundings to  infiltrate the nests of its prey. When it has killed its prey it suck out its innards so it can use the lifeless husk to lure more prey to it.


Scientists find antibodies that fight HIV

Posted in Health & Disease on September 8, 2009 by Gustav

A team of scientists based at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla reports today in Science that antibodies that block the activity of HIV have been found in an African patient.

Crucial to the discovery is the fact that the antibodies target a portion of HIV that researchers had not considered in their search for a vaccine.

Moreover, the target is a relatively stable portion of the virus that does not participate in the extensive mutations that have made HIV able to escape from antiviral drugs and previous experimental vaccines.


To find the neutralizing antibodies, researchers collected blood samples from more than 1,800 people in Thailand, Australia and Africa who had been infected with HIV for at least three years without the infection proceeding to severe disease.

Such individuals are most likely to produce antibodies that interfere with the replication of the virus. [LA Times]

Potentially, the antibodies themselves could be used to treat infected patients. However, the long-term goal is to find or synthesize a molecule that can stimulate the body to produce these antibodies on its own. Molecules that could be the basis for a vaccine.

The researchers are not there yet of, course, but general directions have been provided now for where a vaccine might be found.

Via 80beats.

Three-legged elephant turns cyborg

Posted in Health & Disease, Nature Attacks!, Robots & Cyborgs on August 17, 2009 by Gustav

Three-legged Thai elephant Motola hobbles in to the elephant hospital on Saturday, leaves with a shiny new prosthetic leg on Sunday.

BBC News reports:

The elephant had been walking with the help of a temporary artificial leg made of canvas.


Motola was injured in 1999 while working at a logging camp along the Thai-Burmese border. Her front left foot was so badly damaged it had to be amputated.

Her permanent leg was made by the Prostheses Foundation.

If the artificial leg had been made from wood, she could have traveled the seven seas looking for booty and wenches, as the world’s first cyborg pirate pachyderm.

Via io9.

Electric lollipop allows the blind to see with their tongues

Posted in Health & Disease, Robots & Cyborgs, Technology Attacks! on August 16, 2009 by Gustav

BrainPort is a device developed by the neuroscientists at Wicab, inc. that allows blind or visually impaired people to see again. This is accomplished by sending visual data from camera glasses to the brain via the nerves of your tongue using an electric lollipop. No invasive brain surgery required.

With BrainPort […] visual data are collected through a small digital video camera about 1.5 centimeters in diameter that sits in the center of a pair of sunglasses worn by the user.

Bypassing the eyes, the data are transmitted to a handheld base unit, which is a little larger than a cell phone. This unit houses such features as zoom control, light settings and shock intensity levels as well as a central processing unit (CPU), which converts the digital signal into electrical pulses—replacing the function of the retina.

From the CPU, the signals are sent to the tongue via a “lollipop,” an electrode array about nine square centimeters that sits directly on the tongue. Each electrode corresponds to a set of pixels. White pixels yield a strong electrical pulse, whereas black pixels translate into no signal.

Densely packed nerves at the tongue surface receive the incoming electrical signals, which feel a little like Pop Rocks or champagne bubbles to the user. [Scientific American]

The major disadvantage to the BrainPort is that you can’t see and and speak at the same time with the electric lollipop in your mouth. Whatever you do, don’t drive and speak on the phone while using this device at the same time!

Via io9.

Wood is the new high-tech material used as artificial bone

Posted in Health & Disease, Technology Attacks! on August 13, 2009 by Gustav

Scientists in Italy have been thinking outside the box and started making bone implants out of wood. They don’t just insert a plank in to your body, of course, the wood first require some processing, including burning it to charcoal, spraying it with calcium and other chemical and physical treatments.

Discovery News writes:

Wood-based implants would have several advantages over traditional titanium or ceramic implants, says [Anna Tampieri, a scientist at the Instituto Di Scienza E Techologia Dei Materiali Ceramici in Italy]. Since their physical structure is more spongy than solid, like many metal or ceramic implants, live bone should grow into wood-derived bone substitute quicker and more securely.

Presently, the wooden bone grafts have only been tested on sheep so far, but until they’ve been cleared for use in humans, there are other potential uses for wood-based materials:

“Materials able to maintain adequate properties at extremely high temperatures and mechanical stress are highly sought after for use in several different applications, ” said Tampieri. “Including, for example, catalytic silencers, space vehicles, turbine equipment for power generation plants and aircraft engines, like turbine blades, vanes, shrouds, and combustor components, and metal forming and glass blowing equipment.”

I’m trying to come up with a woody/boner joke to finish with, but I’m coming up short.

Psychos may all have an abnormality in the brain

Posted in Brain & Behaviour, Health & Disease on August 11, 2009 by Gustav

Psychos, Declan Murphy, professor at the Institute of Psychiatry of King’s College London, believes, have an abnormality in a part of the brain called uncinate fasciculus (UF). The UF connects the orbitofrontal cortex (involved in decision making) and the amygdala (involved with emotions) and a dysfunction in that connection may be what causes the pathological immorality of psychopaths. The Examiner:

Using a precise form of MRI, Murphy studied the brains of those labeled as psychopaths who had been convicted of crimes ranging from manslaughter to repeated rapes. The imaging found “a significant reduction in the integrity of the small particles that make up the structure of the UF of psychopaths, compared to control groups of people with the same age and IQ. Also, the degree of abnormality was significantly related to the degree of psychopathy.” [EurekAlert]

This is the first clear evidence of the biological basis of psychopathy, and if the results can be further verified by larger studies, the findings will have profound effects not just on the neurological studies, but also on criminal justice systems: brain scanning to reveal psycho killers, anyone?

A gallery of the agents of human sickness

Posted in Health & Disease, Images & Videos on August 10, 2009 by Gustav

Ebola virusNew Scientist has a gallery of some of the viruses that infect humans: “A spotters guide to human viruses“. Like the pretty picture above, colour-enhanced transmission electron micrograph of the virus that causes Ebola, the infamous disease that causes haemorrhagic fever.