Rare Progeria helps comprehend aging

One of the rarest disorders in medical history may now hold the key to our understanding of age-related heart disease in general populations. Progeria, also known as Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (HGPS), is characterized by rapid aging among children who often succumb to the disorder at around 13 years. Most deaths in HGPS cases occur due to heart attacks or strokes. Now scientists from The Progeria Research Foundation have discovered that the rare condition actually has correlations with common vascular disorders in aging populations.

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Should Basketball Players Wear Helmets?

America’s most loved sport has much to contribute to the sharp increase in Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) among children and adolescents, as analyzed from data from emergency departments in 100 hospitals in the United States. A national study conducted by researchers at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital unearths a 70% increase in TBIs from 1997-2007, from Basketball-related injuries alone. Over 4 million cases were analyzed in this study.

The study, which will appear in October 2010’s issue of Pediatrics, segregates the data obtained into their injury-types. While sprains and strains to lower extremities (especially the ankle) constituted the majority of cases at 30.3%, TBIs constituted 14.1% of the total number of cases. Gender-comparison studies revealed that boys were more susceptible to lacerations, fractures and dislocations while girls were more vulnerable to sprains, strains and TBIs.

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Her Business is Bees

Questions for Marla Spivak

Entomologist Marla Spivak from the Apiculture and Social Insects, Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota is one of the 23 MacArthur Fellows of 2010. In accordance with the mission of the fellowship, her work on bees is of exceptional merit and promise as it researches bee diseases to conserve these natural pollinators from decline. Honey bees are an integral component of the agricultural fabric of the United States. They have been on a sharp decline due to the cumulative impacts of parasitic mites, viral and bacterial disease and pesticides. Spivak’s team has furthered the understanding of the various threats faced by bees today and has worked on studying genetically influenced behaviours that raise immunity and cleanse colonies of disease. They have also cultured a variety of bees called the ‘Minnesota Hygienic’ which offer a sustainable alternative to pesticides in fighting disease-carrying pathogens, including the Varroa mite, a highly destructive parasite that spreads rapidly through Western honey bee colonies.

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I Love my Greens!

My first introduction to neem (pronounced nee-eem) was at age 8 when I lay in bed fiddling with my chicken pox sores, scratching them every time my mother turned her back to me.  She boiled those tiny pale green leaves, and washed me with the soup. She then pounded the boiled leaves into a paste and applied it to my sores. Then she would go back outside into our garden to collect the leaves she was drying in the sun and would place them under my bed sheet. They smelt bitter. Tasted bitter too. I was 8 so I tasted everything I was curious about. They also didn’t do anything to improve my pox-marked self-esteem.

After recovering from the pox, I noticed the ‘nee-eem’ leaves everywhere. They were in our closets in between layers of sheets and winter clothing. They were in my grandfather’s diabetic juice. They were drawn on stickers on my mother’s face mask tin. The milk man would climb up the nee-eem tree in the yard every morning and yank off twigs for us. After my mother was satisfied stripping them bare of leaves, he would scavenge through the twigs looking for the perfect one- “not too firm and not too slight. Not too dark and not too light” that’s how he described the perfect twig. When he found it, he would pop it into his mouth and chew erroneously on it. I remember wondering whether he learnt how to chew from the cow or was it the other way around.

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Hey Mama!

Allow me to profile you. Considering that this blog is actually never going to make it online, you belong to one of the following two categories: A- you’re part of BU’s Science Writing Programme, or B- you know someone who is. You’re white, brown, ebony or freckled. You have basic high school education to your credibility, own more than two pairs of shoes and like to smell nice. You were probably born in a hospital, bath tub or car seat and were raised in sterile and healthy conditions. And my assumption is that even if you did have an interesting birth story, it had nothing to do with elephant dung.

Upon trudging half way across Boston in search of a public health researcher who could give me a radio story, I happened to learn that half way across the world there are people whose lives are the story itself.

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A Very Special ‘Fat’

If you happened to stumble upon this piece expecting to find an online-dating forum now would be a good time to hit the back button.  I’m here to tell you what I learnt the other night, from a passionate Spanish chef who delivered a lecture at Harvard on the science of moulding beautifully crafted chocolate.

Enric Rovira, a master chocolate ninja from Barcelona, took to the stage with his Spanish translator and established the one universal truth about my favourite vice. It’s all in the butter! “Cocoa butter is a very special fat” he says, “cause it behaves in a particular way.” Derived from pressing away the fats from solids while grounding cocoa beans, this ‘very special fat’ is responsible for creating all the beautiful textures and glazes one sees in fancy silk-lined  boxed chocolate.

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Don’t Walk the Dog

Blackie- one of the best friends I have had

A hot spring evening in New Delhi, and I had just returned from a long and trying day at work. Traffic seemed to come to a halt on my way home and I got hit in the back of my car by a speeding lunatic. My fridge was empty, I was out of cigarettes and there were no new movies on cable. I thought I’d offer to walk my neighbour’s dog, Blackie, to get some air and also some downtime with the friendly 3-yr-old Labrador. I shouldn’t have.

After a good run around the park amid which we took turns to chase each other, Blackie and I strutted back home. Seemed like a good end to a boring Tuesday. We turned to climb the stairs to her apartment on the third level. She was lagging behind me staring at each step before climbing it as though she were asking permission to place her muddy paws on them. I dropped the leash and walked ahead to ring the doorbell. Five minutes later, she painfully walked through the door, went straight to her water bowl collapsing into it. Her body fell limply to the side and was bulging in the middle as though she had swallowed a football on the way up. As we rushed her to the vet’s she moaned and groaned and then died before we could turn off the ignition.

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Attention Single Mothers!

Among the many mysteries that surround the working of the human body is the awkward transition from childhood to adolescence aka puberty. Several years of population and laboratory-based research have revealed that body weight and social development have a significant role to play in the onset of puberty, particularly for girls. But who would have thought that family structure and income collectively determine this development? Now a research by the University of California, Berkeley, reveals that girls brought up without a biological father tend to attain puberty earlier, especially if they come from higher-income households.

Published in September’s issue of the Journal of Public Health, the study reveals that in the absence of a biological father, young girls showed signs of early breast development among higher income families.  Interestingly, this held true even when body weight was factored in. Dr Julieanna Deardorff and her team, from UCB, examined 444 girls, in the San Fransisco area from different ethnicities, ages 6-8 years over a period of time examining the onset of puberty. Their care-givers (96 percent of which were mothers) were interviewed about the family income and presence of a biological father or another male influence. The study took care to ensure that it did not mistake body fat for breast development.

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