Thursday, June 28, 2018

Startling Statistics on American Children Suffering from Mental Illnesses

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Up to 20% of children in the United States suffer from a mental disorder, and the number of kids diagnosed with one has been rising for more than a decade, according to a report released by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (USCDCP).
In the USCDCP agency’s first-ever study of mental disorders among children aged 3 to 17, researchers found childhood mental illnesses affect up to one in five kids and cost $247 billion per year in medical bills, special education and juvenile justice.
Children with mental disorders – defined as “serious deviations from expected cognitive, social, and emotional development” – often have trouble learning in school, making friends, and building relationships later in life, the report said.
They are more likely to have other chronic health problems, such as asthma and diabetes, and are at risk for developing mental illnesses as adults.
The study cited data collected between 1994 and 2011 that showed the number of kids with mental disorders is growing.
The most prevalent mental health diagnosis, as reported by parents, was Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which affects 6.8% of children.
health

Also common were behavioral conduct problems (3.5%), anxiety, which consists mostly of fears and phobias (3%), depression (2.1%) and autism spectrum disorders (1.1%). Many of these disorders occur together, the report said.
Boys were found more likely to have most of the listed disorders except for depression and alcohol abuse, which affect more girls.
The study also noted that suicide, which can be precipitated by an untreated mental illness, was the second leading cause of death (after accidents) among children 12 to 17 years old.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

How your thoughts Change your Brain, Cells, and Genes

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We have much more power than ever believed to influence our physical and mental realities. Our mindsets are recognized by our bodies – right down to the genetic level, and the more we improve our mental habits, the more beneficial response we will get from our bodies.
Every minute of every day, your body is physically reacting, literally changing, in response to the thoughts that run through your mind.
It’s been proven over and over again that just thinking about something causes your brain to release neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that allow it to communicate with parts of itself and your nervous system. Neurotransmitters control virtually all of your body’s functions, from hormones to digestion to feeling happy, sad, or stressed.
Studies have shown that thoughts alone can improve vision, fitness, and strength. The placebo effect, as observed with fake operations and sham drugs for example, works because of the power of thought. Expectancies and learned associations have been shown to change brain chemistry and circuitry which results in real physiological and cognitive outcomes, such as less fatigue, lower immune system reaction, elevated hormone levels, and reduced anxiety.
In The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World, Lynne McTaggart writes:
“A sizable body of research exploring the nature of consciousness, carried on for more than thirty years in prestigious scientific institutions around the world, shows that thoughts are capable of affecting everything from the simplest machines to the most complex living beings. This evidence suggests that human thoughts and intentions are an actual physical ‘something’ with astonishing power to change our world. Every thought we have is tangible energy with the power to transform. A thought is not only a thing; a thought is a thing that influences other things.”
Your Thoughts Sculpt Your Brain
Every thought you have causes neurochemical changes, some temporary and some lasting. For instance, when people consciously practice gratitude, they get a surge of rewarding neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, probably correlated with more of the neurochemical norepinephrine.
In one study, college students deeply in love were shown pictures of their sweeties, and their brains become more active in the caudate nucleus, a reward center, giving them that in-love swoon. When they stopped looking at the pictures, their reward centers went back to sleep.
What flows through your mind also sculpts your brain in permanent ways. Think of your mind as the movement of information through your nervous system, which on a physical level is all the electrical signals running back and forth, most of which is happening below your conscious awareness. As a thought travels through your brain, neurons fire together in distinctive ways based on the specific information being handled, and those patterns of neural activity actually change your neural structure.
Busy regions of the brain start making new connections with each other, and existing synapses, the connections between neurons, that experience more activity get stronger, increasingly sensitive, and start building more receptors. New synapses are also formed.
One example of this is the well-known London cab driver studies which showed that the longer someone had been driving a taxi, the larger their hippo campus, a part of the brain involved in visual-spatial memory. Their brains literally expanded to accommodate the cognitive demands of navigating London’s tangle of streets. Research has also proven the numerous benefits of meditation for your brain and shown that meditation produces measurable results, from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions.
Your Thoughts Program Your Cells
A thought is an electrochemical event taking place in your nerve cells producing a cascade of physiological changes. The article, How Your Thoughts Program Your Cells, explains it this way:
“There are thousands upon thousands of receptors on each cell in our body. Each receptor is specific to one peptide, or protein. When we have feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, excitement, happiness or nervousness, each separate emotion releases its own flurry of neuropeptides. Those peptides surge through the body and connect with those receptors which change the structure of each cell as a whole. Where this gets interesting is when the cells actually divide. If a cell has been exposed to a certain peptide more than others, the new cell that is produced through its division will have more of the receptor that matches with that specific peptide. Likewise, the cell will also have less receptors for peptides that its mother/sister cell was not exposed to as often.”
So, if you have been bombarding your cells with peptides from negative thoughts, you are literally programming your cells to receive more of the same negative peptides in the future. What’s even worse is that you’re lessening the number of receptors of positive peptides on the cells, making yourself more inclined towards negativity.
Every cell in your body is replaced about every two months. So, the good news is, you can reprogram your pessimistic cells to be more optimistic by adopting positive thinking practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, for permanent results.
Your Thoughts Activate Your Genes
You are speaking to your genes with every thought you have. The fast-growing field of epigenetics is proving that who you are is the product of the things that happen to you in your life, which change the way your genes operate. Genes are actually switched on or off depending on your life experiences, and your genes and lifestyle form a feedback loop. Your life doesn’t alter the genes you were born with. What changes is your genetic activity, meaning the hundreds of proteins, enzymes, and other chemicals that regulate your cells.
Only about five percent of gene mutations are thought to be the direct cause of health issues. That leaves 95% of genes linked to disorders acting as influencers, which can be influenced one way or another, depending on life factors. Of course, many of these are beyond your control, like childhood events, but some are entirely within your control, such as diet, exercise, stress management, and emotional states. The last two factors are directly dependent on your thoughts.
Your biology doesn’t spell your destiny, and you aren’t controlled by your genetic makeup. Instead, your genetic activity is largely determined by your thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Epigenetics is proving that your perceptions and thoughts control your biology, which places you in the driver’s seat. By changing your thoughts, you can influence and shape your own genetic readout.
You have a choice in determining what input your genes receive. The more positive the input, the more positive the output of your genes. Epigenetics is allowing lifestyle choices to be directly traced to the genetic level and is proving the mind-body connection irrefutable. At the same time, research into epigenetics is also emphasizing how important positive mental self-care practices are because they directly impact our physical health.
Meditation and mindfulness put you in contact with the source of the mind-body system, giving your thoughts direct access to beneficial genetic activity which also affects how well your cells function, via the genetic activity inside the cells.
Use Your Thoughts for You
You have much more power than ever believed to influence your physical and mental realities. Your mindset is recognized by your body – right down to the genetic level, and the more you improve your mental habits, the more beneficial response you’ll get from your body. You can’t control what has happened in the past, which shaped the brain you have today, programmed your cells, and caused certain genes to switch on.
However, you do have the power in this moment and going forward to choose your perspective and behavior, which will change your brain, cells, and genes.
(http://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/how-your-thoughts-change-your-brain-cells-and-genes/)|
We have much more power than ever believed to influence our physical and mental realities. Our mindsets are recognized by our bodies – right down to the genetic level, and the more we improve our mental habits, the more beneficial response we will get from our bodies.
Every minute of every day, your body is physically reacting, literally changing, in response to the thoughts that run through your mind.
It’s been proven over and over again that just thinking about something causes your brain to release neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that allow it to communicate with parts of itself and your nervous system. Neurotransmitters control virtually all of your body’s functions, from hormones to digestion to feeling happy, sad, or stressed.
Studies have shown that thoughts alone can improve vision, fitness, and strength. The placebo effect, as observed with fake operations and sham drugs for example, works because of the power of thought. Expectancies and learned associations have been shown to change brain chemistry and circuitry which results in real physiological and cognitive outcomes, such as less fatigue, lower immune system reaction, elevated hormone levels, and reduced anxiety.
In The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World, Lynne McTaggart writes:
“A sizable body of research exploring the nature of consciousness, carried on for more than thirty years in prestigious scientific institutions around the world, shows that thoughts are capable of affecting everything from the simplest machines to the most complex living beings. This evidence suggests that human thoughts and intentions are an actual physical ‘something’ with astonishing power to change our world. Every thought we have is tangible energy with the power to transform. A thought is not only a thing; a thought is a thing that influences other things.”
Your Thoughts Sculpt Your Brain
Every thought you have causes neurochemical changes, some temporary and some lasting. For instance, when people consciously practice gratitude, they get a surge of rewarding neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, probably correlated with more of the neurochemical norepinephrine.
In one study, college students deeply in love were shown pictures of their sweeties, and their brains become more active in the caudate nucleus, a reward center, giving them that in-love swoon. When they stopped looking at the pictures, their reward centers went back to sleep.
What flows through your mind also sculpts your brain in permanent ways. Think of your mind as the movement of information through your nervous system, which on a physical level is all the electrical signals running back and forth, most of which is happening below your conscious awareness. As a thought travels through your brain, neurons fire together in distinctive ways based on the specific information being handled, and those patterns of neural activity actually change your neural structure.
Busy regions of the brain start making new connections with each other, and existing synapses, the connections between neurons, that experience more activity get stronger, increasingly sensitive, and start building more receptors. New synapses are also formed.
One example of this is the well-known London cab driver studies which showed that the longer someone had been driving a taxi, the larger their hippo campus, a part of the brain involved in visual-spatial memory. Their brains literally expanded to accommodate the cognitive demands of navigating London’s tangle of streets. Research has also proven the numerous benefits of meditation for your brain and shown that meditation produces measurable results, from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions.
Your Thoughts Program Your Cells
A thought is an electrochemical event taking place in your nerve cells producing a cascade of physiological changes. The article, How Your Thoughts Program Your Cells, explains it this way:
“There are thousands upon thousands of receptors on each cell in our body. Each receptor is specific to one peptide, or protein. When we have feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, excitement, happiness or nervousness, each separate emotion releases its own flurry of neuropeptides. Those peptides surge through the body and connect with those receptors which change the structure of each cell as a whole. Where this gets interesting is when the cells actually divide. If a cell has been exposed to a certain peptide more than others, the new cell that is produced through its division will have more of the receptor that matches with that specific peptide. Likewise, the cell will also have less receptors for peptides that its mother/sister cell was not exposed to as often.”
So, if you have been bombarding your cells with peptides from negative thoughts, you are literally programming your cells to receive more of the same negative peptides in the future. What’s even worse is that you’re lessening the number of receptors of positive peptides on the cells, making yourself more inclined towards negativity.
Every cell in your body is replaced about every two months. So, the good news is, you can reprogram your pessimistic cells to be more optimistic by adopting positive thinking practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, for permanent results.
Your Thoughts Activate Your Genes
You are speaking to your genes with every thought you have. The fast-growing field of epigenetics is proving that who you are is the product of the things that happen to you in your life, which change the way your genes operate. Genes are actually switched on or off depending on your life experiences, and your genes and lifestyle form a feedback loop. Your life doesn’t alter the genes you were born with. What changes is your genetic activity, meaning the hundreds of proteins, enzymes, and other chemicals that regulate your cells.
Only about five percent of gene mutations are thought to be the direct cause of health issues. That leaves 95% of genes linked to disorders acting as influencers, which can be influenced one way or another, depending on life factors. Of course, many of these are beyond your control, like childhood events, but some are entirely within your control, such as diet, exercise, stress management, and emotional states. The last two factors are directly dependent on your thoughts.
Your biology doesn’t spell your destiny, and you aren’t controlled by your genetic makeup. Instead, your genetic activity is largely determined by your thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Epigenetics is proving that your perceptions and thoughts control your biology, which places you in the driver’s seat. By changing your thoughts, you can influence and shape your own genetic readout.
You have a choice in determining what input your genes receive. The more positive the input, the more positive the output of your genes. Epigenetics is allowing lifestyle choices to be directly traced to the genetic level and is proving the mind-body connection irrefutable. At the same time, research into epigenetics is also emphasizing how important positive mental self-care practices are because they directly impact our physical health.
Meditation and mindfulness put you in contact with the source of the mind-body system, giving your thoughts direct access to beneficial genetic activity which also affects how well your cells function, via the genetic activity inside the cells.
Use Your Thoughts for You
You have much more power than ever believed to influence your physical and mental realities. Your mindset is recognized by your body – right down to the genetic level, and the more you improve your mental habits, the more beneficial response you’ll get from your body. You can’t control what has happened in the past, which shaped the brain you have today, programmed your cells, and caused certain genes to switch on.
However, you do have the power in this moment and going forward to choose your perspective and behavior, which will change your brain, cells, and genes.
(http://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/how-your-thoughts-change-your-brain-cells-and-genes/)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Faith and Science

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|The relationship of science and faith can be studied at various levels of thought. Philosophers have a tough time in this field. The most ‘fascinating and charming” facet of this relationship is the influence of beliefs held by scientists on science, writes ATHAR IDREES.
“In Physics, too, the proposition holds true that man cannot find salvation without faith; at least faith in a certain reality outside ourselves.” ~ Max Planck.
Faith can be defined as “unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence”. While as Science is defined as “knowledge about the structure and behaviour of the natural and physical world based on facts that you can prove” and hence the way of thinking i.e., to prove using the facts. How can the two antagonistic ways of perception synchronize?
Human is the practitioner of both these ways. It is very weird indeed to see the human boasting of reason and logic on one side and a follower of superstitious belief on the other side. When it comes to the question of his/ her personal necessities, he can become very dogmatic, irrational and unrealistic. Instead of using that gift of nature that has made him/ her superior to other creatures, he uses methods that are against the very basic of human psyche, physiology and human perception. The examples in this arena of life abound ranging from the drinking “sulphonated” water as a panacea for all physiological problems extracted near a religious place to those of seeking “aashirvad” of an idol for the flight of a space vehicle by placing a replica of the rocket at the feet of a popular deity prior to its launch.
The relationship of science and faith can be studied at various levels of thought. Philosophers have a tough time in this field. The most ‘fascinating and charming” facet of this relationship is the influence of beliefs held by scientists on science. Let us examine it a bit in detail.
Physicists devote their entire lives for understanding the nature and natural processes. They yearn to know “why is universe the way it is at the most fundamental level?” They have to think of problems – physical involving mathematics round the clock and this is what distinguishes them from the common lot. However this task is subject to human frailties and the onerous task involves a lot of emotional stress and isolation from the mundane chores of life. Under such circumstances a strong motivation force coupled with the basic beliefs has to be in the scientist’s and particularly physicist’s mind.
Opinion about one’s subject of investigation influences one’s work as “your point of view determines your reality – the crude gist of theory of relativity”. There could be different opinions about the universe in the physicist’s mind. It therefore should be kept in mind that universe does not imply the stars, galaxies etc. rather what is outside the human mind and is perceived by us. These beliefs are:
  1. In the mere existence of the Universe:
In this belief the physicist has a pure understanding of the experimental realities of universe. That is he believes only in those facts, which are proved by experiment at all times. It is essential to think that universe is not an illusion. Some futile philosophies believe that universe is the projection of mind. This could be detrimental to physicists thinking. Rather the laws of nature are independent of his mental state.
This thinking can lead to belief in the coincidences or chances happenings in the universe. The scientist does not believe in any purpose for universe to exist and hence it can lead to serious consequences. Under such conditions scientists look for “fame and fortune” and leads to the ethically, intellectually wrong practices. People can tamper with the scientific data to produce scientific sensations, which turn out to be hoaxes. The recent example of South Korean biologist Hwang Suu Wuk – a stem cell researcher, who forced his laboratory assistant to donate the human eggs and claimed to have produce stem cells through cloning and produced a sensation or the work of an Indo–American physicist who claimed to have produced fusion by ‘sono – luminescence’ although others failed to get the same results even in the same laboratory.
  1. The Universe has a purpose:
In this belief the physicist tries to seek out the “pre–established harmony”. The belief is that universe could be understood through logic and reason and the universe is there to be understood. Their belief leads to an unquenching thirst to understand the true purpose of universe. This belief has an attraction and calms the emotional turbulences of a physicist. Galileo Galilee – the revolutionary and courageous physicist had a firm faith that universe can be understood and it can be done mathematically. He wrote in Saggiatore (1623).
“Philosophy is written in this grand book – I mean the universe – which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric  figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it.”
Albert Einstein wrote: “The most beautiful feeling that we can have is that of mysterious. It is the cradle of all human art and science.’’
It was this feeling that universe has a purpose and there is symmetry in laws of nature that led intuitionally the father of modern physics – James Clerk Maxwell to the discovery of “displacement current” and hence to the discovery of elm waves and so on. The axiom that universe has a purpose is an invigorating stimulus to the scientist who toils to search for it and thus gives meaning to his life.
Advanced technologies are obtained through the application of basic laws of Science. The basic laws are found by scientists with a deep conviction and faith in the symmetry and harmony of the universe. Maxwell’s discovery was the precursor of all the electronics revolution. Economic prosperity and respect in the world community are achieved through the mastery of technology.
Where does the scientist get beliefs? Obviously the set up where they grow has a part. If the intellectual set up is irrational and contrary to what is found in the empirical world one has to shun the belief e.g., the role of Indian scientists in banning astrology-teaching in Indian universities when they found the evidence against it.
  1. Philosophy plays a crucial role in shaping up of beliefs:
The influence of Immanuel Kant and Spinoza on Albert Einstein can hardly be underestimated. However if the beliefs are false dogmas, the self–correcting mechanism of science corrects them.
Fourteen Centuries ago a Divine Revelation (the Holy Qur’an) clearly enunciated, “Not for Idle Sport did We create the heavens, earth and all that is between” (21: 16), and gave rise to a civilization, which produced people who shifted Physics from being a philosophical activity to that of an experimental science (Ibn Haitham – Alhazen); changed the static view of classical mathematics into dynamic enterprise which in turn would be a representation of dynamic universe (Al Khwarizmi).
All these people were driven by beliefs that were in consonance with both the rational as well as the empirical world. Why did this civilization lose the trajectory at a certain point of time?
Back of the envelope calculations on the ‘motion in a field” show that the particle moving in the field loses trajectory when either the field is removed or it breaks into several sub–fragments – the center of mass will move in that trajectory but alas that center of mass turns out to be only mathematical construction in my abstraction only.
May these broken fragments join again? May the glory of our ancestors rise again like a phoenix from the ashes?
Will my prayer be answered?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
Athar Idrees is a student of Physical Sciences. He can be mailed at aidrees29@rediffmail.com

Friday, June 15, 2018

God Particle: What Was Left Unsaid*


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|Everybody was wowed by the recent discovery of a Higgs-like particle, but how many people really understand what was discovered, asks QUENTIN COOPER. The reality is that science is often complex, collaborative and continuous. But with stories, we like beginnings and ends and strong lead characters, so when we take research down the rabbit hole and into the media, things tend to shrink and grow. It’s fitting then, that CERN made their announcement 150 years to the day after Carroll first came up with the story that became Alice in Wonderland.
So that’s it, search over, Higgs boson found. Almost 50 years after physicist Peter Higgs first theorised it was out there, public elementary number one has finally been captured in the data from two detectors at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Case closed. Champagne popped. Boson nova danced.
If only. That handily simplified and heavily fictionalised telling of the tale has helped transform a spectacular scientific success story into one that is also global front page news. Without it the 4th July announcement might not have generated such a frenzy of coverage and so many claims about it being a historic milestone for our species. One particle physicist only half jokingly told me that in future the date may come to be celebrated as Higgs Day, rather than anything to do with American independence.
Don’t get me wrong. What has happened at CERN represents a magnificent accomplishment; big science at its biggest and boldest. And it’s fantastic that it has been perceived, and received, as being of such importance. It’s just that there is more to the story from the very beginning right through to the, probably false, ending.
For starters, as Peter Higgs himself acknowledges, he was just one of several scientists who came up with the mechanism which predicted the particle which bears his name, but the others rarely get a mention**. As to the finish – well, as small children are fond of saying, are we there yet?
There is very strong evidence that the LHC teams have found a new elementary particle, but while this is exciting, it is far less clear that what they’ve detected is the fabled Higgs. If it is, it seems curiously lighter than expected and more work is needed to explain away the discrepancy. If it’s not, then the experimentalists and theorists are going to be even busier trying to see if it can be shoehorned into the current Standard Model of particle physics. Either way, it’s not exactly conclusive.
‘The real prize’
This might seem to be nit-picking – except on an infinitesimally smaller scale. “Higgs, Schmiggs”, some will say: the news isn’t that they’ve discovered a particular particle, but that it is (very probably) an elementary boson, one of fewer than 20 building blocks all matter as we know it is thought to be made from. That, they will argue, is why the find is hugely significant and the reason for all the headlines.
Nice try. But wrong. Do you remember all the media excitement the last time an elementary boson was found?  No? That’s because there wasn’t any. The same happened – or, rather, didn’t happen – the time before.
The vast majority of people remain at best only dimly aware of the W and Z bosons – not the most inspired names, admittedly – but they are arguably every bit as crucial to the Standard Model as the Higgs, and their discovery again at CERN in the 1980s was almost as much of a scientific triumph. The difference is that both finds barely registered in the media beyond dedicated science pages, publications and programmes. So it’s not that major breakthroughs in particle physics are of themselves automatically newsworthy, the intense immense coverage we’ve seen is something specific to the Higgs. Why?
Partly it’s a matter of increased media savviness – in recent years large research centres like CERN have become considerably cleverer at turning the often incremental nature of scientific progress into attention-grabbing events. Partly, it’s a matter of time – the particle was postulated almost half a century ago, and waiting decades to design and build powerful-enough particle-accelerators to stand a chance of finding it adds to the anticipation. Partly it’s a matter of expense – having spent billions of public money on a 17 mile (28km) underground proton smashing circuit, we all have a greater (in)vested interest in what happens there. And partly it’s a matter of divine intervention – the random rebranding of the Higgs as the “God particle” by some sections of the media may have irritated Peter Higgs and many other scientists, but it has only further fuelled the coverage.
But on top of all these, what amplifies our attraction to the Higgs boson is its elusiveness. Not just elusive as in hard to find, elusive as in hard to get our heads round what it does. That’s not down to all the myriad articles and analogies of recent days being poor or the boson being beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. It’s because the Higgs and its associated field convey mass….and mass is something we are most pretty comfortable with on a day to day basis, but which suddenly gets very complicated when you try to couch it in terms of particles and fields. So the net result is that instead of gaining illumination, we can end up feeling dimmer.
For a conventional story, even a science news story, not easily being able to get a handle on what it’s all about would be a problem. But not the Higgs. Instead, the slippery business of its involvement with mass is downplayed, or often simply not mentioned. And the fact that it is the Higgs associated field which is the “true prize”, as Naturejournal put it, is simply overlooked in most publications. Instead, the focus is on various permutations of how momentous it is.
If more of us were clear about why rather than the wow, the results from CERN would have had less impact as we’d have our own views on the significance of what they had found. Instead, we are expected to just accept that if enough Higgs bigwigs say it’s monumentally important, then it must be.
Or as Lewis Carroll put it, “what I tell you three times is true.” The reality is that science is often complex, collaborative and continuous. But with stories we like beginnings and ends and strong lead characters, so when we take research down the rabbit hole and into the media things tend to shrink and grow. It’s fitting then, that CERN made their announcement 150 years to the day after Carroll first came up with the story that became Alice in Wonderland. And that, with five sigma certainty, is far more fantastical than even the one about the Higgs being found.
[Courtesy: BBC-July 13th 2012]

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Quadruple Helix DNA Seen in Human Cells


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|quad_helix_dna

Cambridge University scientists say they have seen four-stranded DNA at work in human cells for the first time. The famous “molecule of life”, which carries our genetic code, is more familiar to us as a double helix.
But researchers tell the journal Nature Chemistry that the “quadruple helix” is also present in our cells, and in ways that might possibly relate to cancer.
They suggest that control of the structures could provide novel ways to fight the disease.
“The existence of these structures may be loaded when the cell has a certain genotype or a certain dysfunctional state,” said Prof Shankar Balasubramanian from Cambridge’s department of chemistry. “We need to prove that; but if that is the case, targeting them with synthetic molecules could be an interesting way of selectively targeting those cells that have this dysfunction,” he told BBC News.

Tag and track
It will be exactly 60 years ago in February that James Watson and Francis Crick famously burst into the pub next to their Cambridge laboratory to announce the discovery of the “secret of life”.
What they had actually done was describe the way in which two long chemical chains wound up around each other to encode the information cells need to build and maintain our bodies. Today, the pair’s modern counterparts in the university city continue to work on DNA’s complexities.
Balasubramanian’s group has been pursuing a four-stranded version of the molecule that scientists have produced in the test tube now for a number of years.
It is called the G-quadruplex. The “G” refers to guanine, one of the four chemical groups, or “bases”, that hold DNA together and which encode our genetic information (the others being adenine, cytosine, and thymine). The G-quadruplex seems to form in DNA where guanine exists in substantial quantities.
And although ciliates, relatively simple microscopic organisms, have displayed evidence for the incidence of such DNA, the new research is said to be the first to firmly pinpoint the quadruple helix in human cells.

Funny target
The team, led by Giulia Biffi, a researcher in Balasubramaninan’s lab, produced antibody proteins that were designed specifically to track down and bind to regions of human DNA that were rich in the quadruplex structure. The antibodies were tagged with a fluorescence marker so that the time and place of the structures’ emergence in the cell cycle could be noted and imaged.
This revealed the four-stranded DNA arose most frequently during the so-called “s-phase” when a cell copies its DNA just prior to dividing.
Prof Balasubramaninan said that was of key interest in the study of cancers, which were usually driven by genes, or oncogenes, that had mutated to increase DNA replication.
If the G-quadruplex could be implicated in the development of some cancers, it might be possible, he said, to make synthetic molecules that contained the structure and blocked the runaway cell proliferation at the root of tumours.
“We’ve come a long way in 10 years, from simple ideas to really seeing some substance in the existence and tractability of targeting these funny structures,” he told the BBC.
“I’m hoping now that the pharmaceutical companies will bring this on to their radar and we can perhaps take a more serious look at whether quadruplexes are indeed therapeutically viable targets.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Increased R&D Required to Fight ‘Antimicrobial Resistance’

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Governments and organizations across the world, including the World Health Organization, must take the threat of drug resistant infections seriously and work to encourage more innovation and investment into the development of antibiotics.
Antibiotic resistance poses a catastrophic threat to medicine and could mean patients having minor surgery risk dying from infections that can no longer be treated, Britain’s top health official said recently.
Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said global action is needed to fight antibiotic – or antimicrobial – resistance and fill a drug ‘discovery-void’ by researching and developing new medicines to treat emerging, mutating infections.
Only a handful of new antibiotics have been developed and brought to the market in the past few decades, and it is a race against time to find more, as bacterial infections increasingly evolve into ‘super-bugs’ resistant to existing drugs.
“Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics,” Davies told reporters as she published a report on infectious disease.
“And routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection.”
One of the best known superbugs, MRSA, is alone estimated to kill around 19,000 people every year in the United States – far more than HIV and AIDS – and a similar number in Europe.
And others are spreading. Cases of totally drug-resistant tuberculosis have appeared in recent years and a new wave of ‘super super-bugs’ with a mutation called NDM1, which first emerged in India, has now turned up all over the world, from Britain to New Zealand.
Last year the WHO said untreatable super-bug strains of Gonorrhoea were spreading across the world.
Laura Piddock, a professor of microbiology at Birmingham University and Director of the campaign group, Antibiotic Action, welcomed Davies’ efforts to raise awareness of the problem.
“There are an increasing number of infections for which there are virtually no therapeutic options, and we desperately need new discovery, research and development,” she said.
Davies called on governments and organizations across the world, including the World Health Organization and the G-8, to take the threat seriously and work to encourage more innovation and investment into the development of antibiotics.
“Over the past two decades, there has been a discovery-void around antibiotics, meaning diseases have evolved faster than the drugs to treat them,” she said.
Davies called for more cooperation between the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries to preserve the existing arsenal of antibiotics, and more focus on developing new ones.
Increasing surveillance to keep track of drug-resistant super-bugs, prescribing fewer antibiotics and making sure they are only prescribed when needed, and ensuring better hygiene to keep infections to a minimum were equally important, she said.
Nigel Brown, President of the Society for General Microbiology, agreed the issues demanded urgent action and said its members would work hard to better understand infectious diseases, reduce transmission of antibiotic resistance, and help develop new antibiotics.
“The techniques of microbiology and new developments such as synthetic biology will be crucial in achieving this,” he said.
(Courtesy: BBC, 11 March 2013; Editing by Jason Webb)

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