Headlines: August 30, 2010
by Meg Larkin
First, in research news, a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health has concluded that nothing has been found to definitively prevent or slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The New York Times reported that the panel wrote; “Currently no evidence of even moderate scientific quality exists to support the association of any modifiable factor (such as nutritional supplements, herbal preparations, dietary factors, prescription or nonprescription drugs, social or economic factors, medical conditions, toxins or environmental exposures) with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.” Many of the problems with the research stemmed from the lack of reliable data. Most of the studies examined the habits of patients retrospectively after they had been diagnosed. Because Alzheimer’s may begin up to 10 years before symptoms are noticeable, a placebo-controlled trial would be extremely difficult to conduct and would have to continue for a number of years. The panel’s findings raise questions about what, if anything, doctors should advise patients and their caretakers to do in the face of concerns about Alzheimer’s.
In safety news, Johnson and Johnson had recalled a number of hip implants. The implants in question were of a metal-on-metal design, which was recently shown to cause inflammation and other problems which led to a high number of replacement surgeries. The implant recall is one of a number of issues plaguing Johnson & Johnson, which had a massive recall of children’s medication and other consumer health care products earlier this year. The latest recall of hip implants is raising questions about whether Johnson and Johnson’s safety problems are systemic and company wide. Patients with implants affected by the recall are being encouraged to undergo increased monitoring for potential problems.
In research news, it is increasingly possible that language shapes the way people think. While early theories that a person’s mother tongue limited the thoughts that they were capable of having have been widely discredited, new research indicates that a person’s native language may shape thought through what it naturally forces them to think about. Examples include gendered nouns in many romance languages, which have been shown to shape how native speakers of that language feel about the objects. Perhaps the most interesting way that language may shape people’s understanding of the world is found in the case of geographic languages. Unlike most western languages, geographic languages express direction objectively and geographically (i.e. north, south, east, west) instead of personally (left, right etc.) For example, a speaker of a geographic language may say that the door is to your east, instead of the door is on your left. It has been shown that people who are raised speaking a geographic language have an innate sense of direction that stays with them their entire lives and that is not dependent on pausing to consider elements like the position of the sun. Other areas where a person’s native language influences the way they think may include color, gender, and a sense of time.
Finally, in other research news, scientists believe they have pinpointed the genes that cause the common migrane. According to the Telegraph, “The international team found that patients with a particular DNA variant between two genes on Chromosome 8 – PGCP and MTDH/AEG-1 – have a significantly greater risk for developing migraine. The results suggest that an accumulation of a chemical known as glutamate in nerve cell connections in the brain may play a key role in the initiation of migraine attacks.” Researchers are hopeful that the new information will help develop treatments that could lessen the economic impact of migranes on workers productivity and help migran sufferers have an improved quality of life.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.