Biotech

Eye Drops Could Dissolve Cataracts 68 68

An anonymous reader writes: As Slashdot readers age, more and more will be facing surgery for cataracts. The lack of cataract surgery in much of the world is a major cause of blindness. Researchers at University of California San Diego have identified lanosterol as a key molecule in the prevention of cataract formation that points to a novel strategy for cataract prevention and non-surgical treatment. The abstract is freely available from Nature. If you have cataracts, you might want to purchase a full reprint while you can still read it.
Medicine

Giving Doctors Grades Has Backfired 245 245

HughPickens.com writes: Beginning in the early 1990s a quality-improvement program began in New York State and has since spread to many other states where report cards were issued to improve cardiac surgery by tracking surgical outcomes, sharing the results with hospitals and the public, and when necessary, placing surgeons or surgical programs on probation. But Sandeep Jauhar writes in the NYT that the report cards have backfired. "They often penalized surgeons, like the senior surgeon at my hospital, who were aggressive about treating very sick patients and thus incurred higher mortality rates," says Jauhar. "When the statistics were publicized, some talented surgeons with higher-than-expected mortality statistics lost their operating privileges, while others, whose risk aversion had earned them lower-than-predicted rates, used the report cards to promote their services in advertisements."

Surveys of cardiac surgeons in The New England Journal of Medicine have confirmed that reports like the Consumer Guide to Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery have limited credibility among cardiovascular specialists, little influence on referral recommendations and may introduce a barrier to care for severely ill patients. According to Jauhar, there is little evidence that the public — as opposed to state agencies and hospitals — pays much attention to surgical report cards anyway. A recent survey found that only 6 percent of patients used such information in making medical decisions. "Surgical report cards are a classic example of how a well-meaning program in medicine can have unintended consequences," concludes Jauhar. "It would appear that doctors, not patients, are the ones focused on doctors' grades — and their focus is distorted and blurry at best."
Medicine

Tallying the Mistakes and Malfunctions of Robot Surgeons 64 64

An anonymous reader writes: El Reg reports on a new study (PDF) that looked into malfunction and injury reports for medical procedures that used robot surgeons. From 2007 to 2013, 1.74 million such procedures were carried out, 86% of which were related to urology and gynecology. Of those, the study looked at reports of "adverse events," which were sent to the FDA. In that time period, there were 144 deaths, 1,391 patient injuries, and 8,061 device malfunctions. The malfunctions included "falling of burnt/broken pieces of instruments into the patient (14.7%), electrical arcing of instruments (10.5%), unintended operation of instruments (8.6%), system errors (5%), and video/imaging problems (2.6%)."

The more complicated surgeries involving vital organs were naturally the most dangerous. Head and neck surgeries accounted for 19.7% of all adverse results, and cardiothoracic procedures accounted for 6.4%. The much more common urology and gynecology procedures had adverse event rates of 1.4% and 1.9%. The researchers are quick to note that despite the high number of malfunctions, a vastly higher number of robotic procedures went off without a hitch. They say increased adoption of these techniques will go a long way toward resolving bugs and device failures.
Medicine

The Mystery of Acupuncture Partly Explained In Rat Study 159 159

hackingbear writes: A biological mechanism explaining part of the mystery of acupuncture has been pinpointed by scientists studying rats. The research showed that applying electroacupuncture to an especially powerful acupuncture point known as stomach meridian point 36 (St36) affected a complex interaction between hormones known as the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. In stressed rats exposed to unpleasant cold stimulation, HPA activity was reduced (abstract). The findings provide the strongest evidence yet that the ancient Chinese therapy has more than a placebo effect when used to treat chronic stress, it is claimed. "Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs exert their therapeutic effects on these same mechanisms," said lead investigator Dr Ladan Eshkevari, from Georgetown University medical center in Washington DC.
Government

Scientology Group Urged Veto of Mental Health Bill 265 265

An anonymous reader writes: According to records obtained by The Texas Tribune, Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed a bill that would have given doctors more power to detain mentally ill and potentially dangerous patients, after a Church of Scientology-backed group helped organize a campaign against it. "Medical staff should work closely with law enforcement to help protect mentally ill patients and the public," he said. "But just as law enforcement should not be asked to practice medicine, medical staff should not be asked to engage in law enforcement, especially when that means depriving a person of the liberty protected by the Constitution." The bill would have allowed doctors to put mentally ill patients on a four-hour hold if they were suspected of being a danger to themselves or others. The bill had the support of two of the nation's largest medical associations.
China

Chinese Girl Receives Full Skull Reconstruction Via 3D Printing 94 94

ErnieKey writes: Doctors in China have just successfully performed a groundbreaking surgery on a 3-year-old little girl named Han Han. Han Han was suffering from congenital hydrocephalus which caused her head to grow to four times the normal size. If something wasn't done, she probably wouldn't have lived much longer. This is when surgeons at the Second People's Hospital of Hunan Province elected to remove a large portion of her skull and replace it with a 3d printed titanium mesh skull. The results were truly amazing, and Han Han is expected to make a full recovery.
Medicine

What Happens When Your Own Limb Is Almost Good Enough? 34 34

derekmead writes: While the media might focus on prosthetics, the technology and techniques involved in limb salvage have advanced tremendously, too, spurred in large part by America's recent military conflicts. Now, when a soldier or civilian faces a brutal limb injury, they have choices—save the limb, or amputate. Be a limb salvage patient, or an amputee. Reconstruct the limb you were born with, out of the pieces you have left over, or lose that limb altogether. And that choice is, increasingly, a really difficult one.
Medicine

The Cure Culture: Our Obsession With Cures That Are 'Just Around the Corner' 204 204

citadrianne writes: Cures for major disease always seem just a few short years away. We constantly read about promising new treatments for cancer, diabetes, HIV, ALS, and more. While the prognosis for these diseases has improved over the years — sometimes greatly — we still focus doggedly on the cure. "The idea of a cure is simpler, it's more appealing as a fantasy." This article takes a look at so-called "Cure Culture" — the focus on reaching for a cure when our scientific efforts may be better expended attacking a disease in other ways. It asks, "Why are we telling our children, our friends, and our family members that we are going to cure them? ... What does it mean to be cured of a disease that is encoded within your DNA from the moment you become a zygote until the moment you are dead? ... And why are we eschewing or overlooking treatments—real, honest-to-god treatments—that can let patients lead longer, more normal lives?
Advertising

Twitter Yanks Ads UK Activists Say Could Trigger Seizures 63 63

After complaints from UK charity Epilepsy Action, Twitter pulled after less than a day two ads that the group said might cause epileptic seizures. The in-house ads, in the 6-second format of Twitter-owned Vine, consisted of flashing video which the Epilepsy Action said "was dangerous, as it could potentially produce seizures in people who have photo-sensitive epilepsy."
Medicine

Robot Performs Prostate Surgery Inside an MRI 64 64

the_newsbeagle writes: Researchers have developed a non-metallic robot with ceramic piezoelectric motors that functions inside an MRI machine, allowing surgeons to perform procedures guided by real-time imaging. It's now being tested in prostate biopsies. Doctors say this system will let them aim their needles more precisely and reduce the number of times they stick them in. The NIH thinks such systems could come in handy for neurosurgery too. Gregory Fischer, a professor of mechanical engineering at WPI whose Automation and Interventional Medicine Robotics Lab led the research says: "You can bring it into any MRI room and have it up and running in an hour. It can locate the target, track the needle, and if it deflects during insertion, it can steer the needle to hit the target. We’re taking baby steps to get the robot into clinical use."
Medicine

Most Doctors Work While Sick, Despite Knowing It's Bad For Patients 191 191

An anonymous reader writes: A new survey published in JAMA Pediatrics found that 95% of doctors believe patients are put at risk when doctors work while sick. Despite that, 83% of respondents said they had "come to work with symptoms like diarrhea, fever and respiratory complaints during the previous year." The researchers doing the survey dug into the reasons for this: first of all, given the heavy workload of most doctors, it's very difficult to find others who can take up the slack when one is recovering from an illness. Beyond that, the profession is pervaded by a culture of working through the discomfort and pain of minor maladies. According to a commentary on the research, hospital policies don't help matters — they often incentivize long hours and don't encourage ill workers to leave the premises.
The Internet

How Bad User Interfaces Can Ruin Lives 288 288

Lauren Weinstein writes: A couple of months ago, in "Seeking Anecdotes Regarding 'Older' Persons' Use of Web Services," I asked for stories and comments regarding experiences that older users have had with modern Web systems, with an emphasis on possible problems and frustrations. I purposely did not define "older" — with the result that responses arrived from users (or regarding users) self-identifying as ages ranging from their 30s to well into their 90s (suggesting that "older" is largely a point of view rather than an absolute). Before I began the survey I had some preconceived notions of how the results would appear. Some of these were proven correct, but overall the responses also contained many surprises, often both depressing and tragic in scope. The frustration of caregivers in these contexts was palpable. They'd teach an older user how to use a key service like Web-based mail to communicate with their loved ones, only to discover that a sudden UI change caused them to give up in frustration and not want to try again. When the caregiver isn't local the situation is even worse. While remote access software has proven a great boon in such situations, they're often too complex for the user to set up or fix by themselves when something goes wrong, remaining cut off until the caregiver is back in their physical presence.
Medicine

Ask Slashdot: Have You Tried a Standing Desk? 340 340

An anonymous reader writes: Evidence is piling up that sitting down all day is really bad for you. I work primarily from home, and as I grow older, I'm starting to worry about long term consequences to riding a desk full-time. We talked about this a few years ago, but the science has come a long way since then, and so have the options for standing desks. My questions: do you use a standing desk? What kind of setup do you have? There are a lot of options, and a lot of manufacturers. Further studies have questioned the wisdom of standing all day, so I've been thinking about a standing/sitting combo, and just switching every so often. If you do this, do you have time limits or a particular frequency with which you change from sitting to standing?

I'm also curious about under-desk treadmills — I could manage slowly walking during parts of my work, and the health benefits are easy to measure. Also, any ergonomic tips? A lot of places seem to recommend: forearms parallel to the ground, top of monitor at eye level, and a pad for under your feet. Has your experience been the same? Those of you who have gone all-out on a motorized setup, was it worth the cost? The desks are dropping in price, but I can still see myself dropping upward of $1k on this, easily.
Medicine

Common Medications Sway Moral Judgment 132 132

sciencehabit sends news that two commonly-prescribed drugs have been shown to influence how the human brain makes moral decisions. Citalopram is an SSRI used to treat depression, and levodopa is often used to combat Parkinson's disease. A new study (abstract) asked subjects to set a monetary value on receiving painful electric shocks — for themselves and for others (e.g. "Would you rather endure seven shocks to earn $10 or 10 shocks to earn $15?"). The study found that subjects on citalopram (which affects serotonin levels) were willing to give up more money to reduce shocks, both for themselves and others. Those on levodopa (which affects dopamine levels) made people just as willing to shock others as they were to shock themselves, when those on a placebo tended to be more reluctant to shock others. [Neuroscientist Molly] Crockett says those effects could suggests multiple underlying mechanisms. For example, excess dopamine might make our brain's reward system more responsive to the prospect of avoiding personal harm. Or it could tamp down our sense of uncertainty about what another person is experiencing, making us less hesitant to dole out pain. Serotonin, meanwhile, appeared to have a more general effect on aversion to harm, not just a heightened concern for another person. Such knowledge could eventually develop drugs that address disorders of social behavior, she says.
Medicine

The Epidemic May be Over, But Liberia Has New Ebola Cases 11 11

Three new cases of Ebola have been reported in Liberia. Reuters reports that despite the declared end to the Ebola outbreak in that country in May, the medical community is speculating that a cluster of infectious carriers somehow survived longer than was previously believed possible, or that there is a previously unknown means of transmission. Health officials "were monitoring 175 people believed to have come into contact with the three cases, though none had yet exhibited symptoms of the disease." The report notes that "A U.S. military operation aimed at helping Liberia's government counter the outbreak has mostly withdrawn. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a U.S. health body, said it was working with local authorities to study the origin of the cases and stop the virus spreading."
Businesses

Depression: The Secret Struggle Startup Founders Won't Talk About 184 184

mattydread23 writes: In May, Cambrian Genomics CEO Austen Heinz committed suicide. The news stunned friends and family, and sparked a conversation about the growing problem of depression among startup founders. Some estimates say 30% of startup founders suffer from depression, but many are reluctant to talk about their struggle for fear of alienating investors and employees. This feature by Business Insider includes conversations with a friend of Heinz, plus many investors and other startup founders who are starting to talk about the problem and figure out how to make things better.
Medicine

Pass the Doritos, Scientists Develop Computer Game Targeted At Healthy Choices 81 81

MojoKid writes: Psychologists at the University of Exeter and Cardiff University have published a study that demonstrates how a simple computer game can help people lose weight. Participants in the study who played the specialized game lost and average of 1.5 pounds in the first seven days, and 4.5 pounds after six months. They also reduced their daily caloric consumption by 220 calories. Dr. Natalia Lawrence led the team of researchers that developed the computer game for the study. It was designed to train people to resist unhealthy food snack foods through a "stop versus go" process. Participants sat in front of a Pentium 3 PC running Matlab software on a 17-inch monitor. They were then instructed to press certain keys when images of things like fruits and clothes would appear, indicating a "go." But for images of calorie-dense foods (chips and cake, for example) they were instructed not to do anything, indicating a "stop" action.
Government

Despite Regulatory Nod, Cheap Ebola Test Still Undeployed 25 25

According to an article in Nature, the researchers who developed an inexpensive, reliable field test for the Ebola virus are frustrated by the delay they've seen in actually having that test deployed. Known as the Corgenix test after the company which developed it, this diagnostic tool "could not replace lab confirmation, but it would allow workers to identify infected people and isolate them faster, greatly reducing the spread of disease," according to infectious-diseases physician Nahid Bhadelia. However, though it's been approved both by the US FDA (for emergency use) and the World Health Organization, its practical use has been hampered by country-level regulations. Just why is unclear; the test seems to be at least as effective as other typical tests, and in some ways better. One concern was that the test might fail to detect the virus in some cases of Ebola. But the independent field-validation1 (in Sierra Leone) shows that the kit was as sensitive at catching cases as the gold-standard comparison — a real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test that amplifies and detects genetic sequences that are specific to Ebola in blood and other bodily fluids.
Government

Is the End of Government Acceptance of Homeopathy In Sight? 668 668

cold fjord writes: It looks like homeopathy is in for a rough stretch ahead as shown in a chart and noted by Steven Novella at NEUROLoOGICAblog, "Homeopathy is perhaps the most obviously absurd medical pseudoscience. It is also widely studied, and has been clearly shown to not work. Further, there is a huge gap in the public understanding of what homeopathy is; it therefore seems plausible that the popularity of homeopathy can take a huge hit just by telling the public what it actually is. ... In 2010 the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee completed a full report on homeopathy in which they concluded it is witchcraft – that it cannot work, it does not work, and support for homeopathy in the national health service should be completely eliminated. In 2015 the Australian government completed its own review, concluding that there is no evidence that homeopathy works for anything. Homeopathy is a placebo. ... The FDA and the FTC in the United States are now both receiving testimony, questioning their current regulation of homeopathy. ... There is even a possibility that the FDA will decide to do their actual job – require testing of homeopathic products to demonstrate efficacy before allowing them on the market. If they do this simple and obvious thing, the homeopathic industry in the US will vanish over night, because there is no evidence to support any homeopathic product for any indication." — More on the FDA hearings at Science-Based Medicine.
Medicine

Triggering a Mouse's Happy Memories With Lasers Gives It the Will To Struggle On 66 66

the_newsbeagle writes: With optogenetics, scientists can tag neurons with light-responsive proteins, and then trigger those neurons to "turn on" with the pulse of a light. In the latest application, MIT researchers used light to turn on certain neurons in male mice's hippocampi that were associated with a happy memory (coming into contact with female mice!), and then tested whether that artificially activated memory changed the mice's reactions to a stressful situation (being hung by their tails). Mice who got jolted with the happy memory struggled to get free for longer than the control mice. This tail-suspension test was developed to screen potential antidepressant drugs: If a rodent struggles longer before giving up, it's considered less depressed.