As I noted in my highway headline post, it’s been very busy around here. Still, I’ve collected a few articles of interest. This collection is all connected by being related to recent science and health discoveries:
- Detecting Gluten. One article I read recently led me to discover a handheld sensor about to hit the market: the Nima sensor. Nima, is a portable, handheld gluten detector. Users load a half-teaspoon sample of food into a test tube and pop that into a triangle-shaped sensor. (They’ll need to use a new disposable capsule for each test to avoid cross-contamination.) The sensor assesses the contents of the capsule—detecting trace elements of gluten down to 20 parts per million—and then spits out a “yes” or “no” within two minutes. “No” signals that the food is safe to eat; a “yes” indicates that gluten is present. We’ve added ourselves to the mailing list for more info.
- Generic Medicines. Recently, I was prescribed a blood pressure medicine that was almost $100 after insurance (I’ve since switched to a generic that is much cheaper). With that experience, the problem with the pricing of generics was on my mind — and so this article on the pricing of generic medicines caught my eye. Part of the problem is bioequivalence studies. Generic drugs don’t need the excruciatingly drawn-out safety and efficacy studies required of new brand-name medications, but they do need to pass a bioequivalency study proving that their drug is absorbed the same way as the original. According to Wikipedia, the most common type of bioequivalence study is to “measure the time it takes the generic drug to reach the bloodstream in 24 to 36 healthy volunteers; this gives them the rate of absorption, or bioavailability, of the generic drug, which they can then compare to that of the innovator drug”. Making the chemical is cheap. If you also want FDA approval, it costs $2 million and takes two years. There’s also the problem of how pharmacies and insurance companies price things. It’s an interesting read.
- Timing of Medicines. I mentioned blood pressure meds above. Here’s an interesting note related to that: taking your blood pressure meds before bed instead of in the morning lowers your diabetes risk. In one study, when adjusted for age, waist circumference, glucose, chronic kidney disease, and hypertension treatment the researchers found sleeping blood pressure was the most significant predictor of diabetes risk, while waking blood pressure was found to have no predictive value. A second study found, when accounting for age, waist circumference, glucose, chronic kidney disease and specific treatment, that taking the blood pressure medications at night resulted in a 57 percent decrease in the risk of developing diabetes.
- Male Birth Controls. A new approach has been found towards a possible male birth control pill. This approach doesn’t focus on hormones, but proteins. A study in mice focused on a protein called calcineurin, which is found in the sperm-producing cells of the testes as well as other cells in the body. The researchers genetically engineered mice so that they lacked a gene that makes part of the calcineurin protein but is activated only in sperm-producing cells. When these mice had sex, they were infertile, the researchers said. When the researchers tried to figure out why their genetically engineered mice were infertile, they found that the mice’s sperm cells did not swim well and were not able to fertilize eggs. Further experiments found that the midpieces of these sperm didn’t bend normally, which prevented the sperm from penetrating the membrane of an egg. Now to see if this works with humans.
- Ringing in the Ears. One side effect of my migraines is tinitus — what some call “ringing” in the ears, but which (for me) is a high-pitched squeal. For the longest time, we didn’t know what caused it…. but now we do. It turns out it shares a common source with chronic pain. Doctors compared tinnitus patients with those who did not have tinnitus and found volume loss in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area that plays a role in the limbic system and functions as a “gate” or control area for noise and pain signals that is also associated with depression. This is an area that also lights up when you play unpleasant noises, so it has to do with unpleasant sensations. They found the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens are part of a “gatekeeping” system that determines which sounds or other stimuli to admit. When the system is defective, affected patients can be subjected to constant stimuli and long-lasting disturbances. The area is also associated with depression and anxiety, conditions often arise “in lockstep” with chronic pain. Because of this, the researchers are now looking to drugs that regulate that system, like dopamine and serotonin, to restore the gatekeeping role and eliminate the chronic pain, but more research is needed.
- Eliminating Plastics. One of the scourges of the model world is plastic. Very useful, it is also not biodegradable and becomes the waste that will list forever. But then again… it turns out the mealworms and mealmoth larvae eat plastic and generate biodegradable poop from it. This explains how they get into food wrapped in plastic. Being serious: Larvae of the darkling beetle will not only feed on expanded polystyrene, but microorganisms in their guts biodegrade it internally. And then, they poop out a seemingly safe product that may be suitable as soil for crops. Another surprise is that the PS doesn’t seem to be toxic to the insects. This work is building on research initiated at the Beihang University in China, where researchers observed waxworms, the larvae of Indian mealmoths, break down polyethylene in the form of plastic bags thanks to microorganisms in their guts. So far, the excreted waste appears safe to use as soil.
- Picking a Boy/Girlfriend. Ever wonder why you don’t think your best friend’s partner is cute? Ever wonder why you think your love is beautiful, but no one else does? Science has figured out why. According to a new study, it’s our life experiences—not a perfectly chiseled jaw or sultry bedroom eyes—that make a person’s face appealing to us. Sure, symmetrical features are generally more attractive than non-symmetrical ones, but an even face only partially accounts for someone’s overall “attractiveness,” researchers find. Physical attraction is highly personal—even among relations who’ve had similar upbringings. Researchers chalked up the differences to our own distinct life experiences, which can vary widely thanks to co-workers, peers, past relationships, and media exposure. Essentially, if you’ve had good experiences with people who have certain facial characteristics, you’ll most likely find them attractive. As time passes, others who look like them will seem good-looking to you as well.