Alzheimer’s could be catching

by Kate Taylor

New research raises the scary prospect that Alzheimer’s could be transmissible in a similar way to infectious prion diseases.

The brain damage seen with Alzheimer’s may originate in a form similar to that of diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy – mad cow disease – and Creutzfeldt-Jakob, says a team at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

“”The underlying mechanism of Alzheimer’s disease is very similar to the prion diseases,” says neurology professor Claudio Soto.

“It involves a normal protein that becomes misshapen and is able to spread by transforming good proteins to bad ones. The bad proteins accumulate in the brain, forming plaque deposits that are believed to kill neuron cells in Alzheimer’s.”

Alzheimer’s is a form of progressive dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior. There are around 5.4 million affected individuals in the US, of whom 90 percent suffer from a sporadic form. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the country, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The team injected the brain tissue of a confirmed Alzheimer’s patient into mice, and compared the results to those from injected tissue of a control without the disease.

None of the mice injected with the control showed signs of Alzheimer’s, whereas all of those injected with Alzheimer’s brain extracts developed plaques and other brain alterations typical of the disease.

“The mouse developed Alzheimer’s over time and it spread to other portions of the brain,” says Soto.

“We are currently working on whether disease transmission can happen in real life under more natural routes of exposure.”

Alzheimer’s could be catching

Addtional information from Science Daily


WHO: Cell Phones and Cancer: Assessment Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans

A new World Health Organization report classifies radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use. (Credit: © fderib / Fotolia)

The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer1, associated with wireless phone use.


Over the last few years, there has been mounting concern about the possibility of adverse health effects resulting from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by wireless communication devices. The number of mobile phone subscriptions is estimated at 5 billion globally.

From May 24-31 2011, a Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries has been meeting at IARC in Lyon, France, to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. These assessments will be published as Volume 102 of the IARC Monographs, which will be the fifth volume in this series to focus on physical agents, after Volume 55 (Solar Radiation), Volume 75 and Volume 78 on ionizing radiation (X‐rays, gamma‐rays, neutrons, radio‐nuclides), and Volume 80 on non‐ionizing radiation (extremely low‐frequency electromagnetic fields).

The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed the possibility that these exposures might induce long‐term health effects, in particular an increased risk for cancer. This has relevance for public health, particularly for users of mobile phones, as the number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children.

The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed and evaluated the available literature on the following exposure categories involving radiofrequency electromagnetic fields:

  • occupational exposures to radar and to microwaves;
  • environmental exposures associated with transmission of signals for radio, television and wireless telecommunication; and
  • personal exposures associated with the use of wireless telephones.

Story Continues -> WHO: Cell Phones and Cancer: Assessment Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans

Criminal-Profiling Trick Used to Combat Disease

By Rachel Ehrenberg, Science News

A technique that helps crime fighters zoom in on a serial killer’s whereabouts may help scientists prevent deaths of a different sort — those caused by infectious diseases.

The widely used criminology technique, called geographic profiling, helps investigators narrow a search by pinpointing high-priority targets among thousands of potential locations. In an upcoming International Journal of Health Geographics, researchers demonstrated the technique’s usefulness by identifying the sources of a recent malaria outbreak in Cairo and reconstructing an infamous cholera outbreak in Victorian London. Applying the technique to infectious diseases could help focus interventions, perhaps preventing the spread of disease while saving time and money.

“I think this has a lot of promise,” says disease ecologist Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. “It’s a very interesting application of a criminological tool to epidemiology.”

When hunting criminals, geographic profiling uses the sites of connected crimes to figure out where a criminal might live. Pioneered by criminologist Kim Rossmo, a former Vancouver police officer now at Texas State University-San Marcos, the method is based on a criminal’s tendency to take a Goldilocks-like approach when selecting where to commit a crime — a location that’s not too close to home, not too far, but just right.

Rossmo, a coauthor of the new study, developed an algorithm that incorporates this notion in two parts. The crime is less likely to be committed in the criminal’s buffer zone — the immediate vicinity of his or her home or work — because detection is riskier and opportunities may be few. And the likelihood of a crime site decays with distance, because travel requires time, effort and money.

“I’m based in London,” says study coauthor Steven Le Comber of Queen Mary, University of London. “So I’m not going to pop up to Inverness [in the far reaches of Scotland] to murder someone. But, equally, I don’t want to commit crimes on my own doorstep.”

The math behind geographic profiling also incorporates the idea that all distances are not created equal — highways are easier to traverse than a congested downtown. All these measures then generate a map of places the offender is likely to live, which is overlaid on a map of a search area. Unlike geospatial techniques that designate a central point from which a search radiates equally outward, geographic profiling pinpoints highly probable locations, even if they are at opposite ends of the search area.

Story Continues -> Criminal-Profiling Trick used to Combat Disease

All cancer is man-made, say scientists

Emma Woollacott

Cancer is a modern disease caused by factors such as pollution and diet, a study of ancient human remains has indicated.

The study of remains and literature from ancient Egypt, ancient Greece and earlier periods shows almost no evidence of the disease, says Professor Rosalie David of the University of Manchester.

Only one case has been discovered during the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, and there are few references to cancer in historical records. Cancer, and particularly child cancer, has become vastly more prevalent since the Industrial Revolution.

“In industrialised societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare,” says David. “It has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle.”

The data includes the first ever histological diagnosis of cancer in an Egyptian mummy by Professor Michael Zimmerman of Villanova University, who found rectal cancer in an unnamed mummy from the Ptolemaic period.

“In an ancient society lacking surgical intervention, evidence of cancer should remain in all cases,” says Zimmerman. “The virtual absence of malignancies in mummies must be interpreted as indicating their rarity in antiquity, indicating that cancer causing factors are limited to societies affected by modern industrialization”.

It”s not just that people didn”t live long enough to get cancer, says the team, as individuals in ancient Egypt and Greece did still develop such diseases as atherosclerosis, Paget”s disease of bone, and osteoporosis.

Nor do tumors simply fail to last. Zimmerman”s experiments indicate that mummification preserves the features of malignancy, and that tumours should actually be better preserved than normal tissues.

The first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours have only occurred in the past 200 years, such as scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps in 1775, nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761 and Hodgkin’s disease in 1832.

“Extensive ancient Egyptian data, along with other data from across the millennia, has given modern society a clear message – cancer is man-made and something that we can and should address,” says David.

App allows users to view electrocardiograms on smartphones

The new IMEC/Holst Center ECG app

By Bridget Borgobello

Gone are the days when we simply used our mobile phones for calling people – now, we can conduct our own ECGs. We’ve already seen iPhone and Android applications that can create ultrasound images and that measure air pollution. Now tech companies IMEC and the Holst Center, together with TASS software professionals, have released a new heart rate monitoring application. This application follows on the heels of a heart rate monitoring webcam and mirror recently developed by MIT students, but will offer more portability.

The IMEC/Holst Center application is designed for Android, and it uses small monitoring sensors which can be easily placed on the user’s body. The sensors are connected to a necklace that will wirelessly transmit the heart rate data to your Android phone.

Within minutes you will receive your ECG (electrocardiogram) heart rate monitoring report, that can easily be stored or emailed to your doctor. The sensors are unobtrusive and can remain on the user’s body all day if constant monitoring is required. The application would be suitable for athletes, patients wishing to be monitored from home, and heart disease sufferers.

The small Android interface uses low power and is based on the Linux kernel, and is thus easily compatible with other Linux-based devices, such as PDAs or laptops. It also has the ability to integrate with all the features available on Google’s operating system, such as SMS, e-mail and data transmission over the Internet.

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Gene''s Location on Chromosome Plays Big Role in Shaping How an Organism''s Traits Evolve

New research shows that a gene”s location on a chromosome plays a significant role in shaping how an organism”s traits vary and evolve. (Credit: iStockphoto/Liang Zhang)

gene”s location on a chromosome plays a significant role in shaping how an organism”s traits vary and evolve, according to findings by genome biologists at New York University”s Center for Genomic and Systems Biology and Princeton University”s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. Their research, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Science, suggests that evolution is less a function of what a physical trait is and more a result of where the genes that affect that trait reside in the genome.

Physical traits found in nature, such as height or eye color, vary genetically among individuals. While these traits may differ significantly across a population, only a few processes can explain what causes this variation — namely, mutation, natural selection, and chance.

In the Science study, the NYU and Princeton researchers sought to understand, in greater detail, why traits differ in their amount of variation. But they also wanted to determine the parts of the genome that vary and how this affects expression of these physical traits. To do this, they analyzed the genome of the worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). C. elegans is the first animal species whose genome was completely sequenced. It is therefore a model organism for studying genetics. In their analysis, the researchers measured approximately 16,000 traits in C. elegans. The traits were measures of how actively each gene was being expressed in the worms” cells.

The researchers began by asking if some traits were more likely than others to be susceptible to mutation, with some physical features thus more likely than others to vary. Different levels of mutation indeed explained some of their results. Their findings also revealed significant differences in the range of variation due to natural selection — those traits that are vital to the health of the organism, such as the activity of genes required for the embryo to develop, were much less likely to vary than were those of less significance to its survival, such as the activity of genes required to smell specific odors.

However, these results left most of the pattern of variation in physical traits unexplained — some important factor was missing.

To search for the missing explanation, the researchers considered the make-up of C. elegans” chromosomes — specifically, where along its chromosomes its various genes resided.

Chromosomes hold thousands of genes, with some situated in the middle of their linear structure and others at either end. In their analysis, the NYU and Princeton researchers found that genes located in the middle of a chromosome were less likely to contribute to genetic variation of traits than were genes found at the ends. In other words, a gene”s location on a chromosome influenced the range of physical differences among different traits.

The biologists also considered why location was a factor in the variation of physical traits. Using a mathematical model, they were able to show that genes located near lots of other genes are evolutionarily tied to their genomic neighbors. Specifically, natural selection, in which variation among vital genes is eliminated, also removes the differences in neighboring genes, regardless of their significance. In C. elegans, genes in the centers of chromosomes are tied to more neighbors than are genes near the ends of the chromosomes. As a result, the genes in the center are less able to harbor genetic variation.

The research was conducted by Matthew V. Rockman, an assistant professor at New York University”s Department of Biology and Center for Genomics and Systems Biology as well as Sonja S. Skrovanek and Leonid Kruglyak, researchers at Princeton University”s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by New York University.

Journal Reference:

  1. M. V. Rockman, S. S. Skrovanek, L. Kruglyak. Selection at Linked Sites Shapes Heritable Phenotypic Variation in C. elegans. Science, 2010; 330 (6002): 372 DOI: 10.1126/science.1194208

Reform of Toxic Chemicals Law Collapses as Industry Flexes Its Muscles

By Sheila Kaplan

This article by investigative journalist Sheila Kaplan is the first in a series supported by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University”s School of Communication. Politics Daily will publish the remaining installments in the weeks to come.

Fire retardants in baby blankets, nano-particles in cosmetics, plastics in water bottles and anti-bacterial agents in soaps.

Experts call these and other chemicals emerging contaminants — compounds that were once thought to be safe, but which scientists now believe may pose a danger to human health.

How those chemicals get into your house — and your bloodstream — is no surprise: Loopholes in the federal law that regulates toxic chemicals have allowed manufacturers to sell them without first proving they are safe.
In recent years, however, dozens of studies — many funded by the federal government — have shown that chemicals that are ubiquitous in the environment and in consumer goods can cause cancer, wreak havoc on hormones, damage the developing brain, depress the immune system and alter gene expression-among other problems. Earlier this year, the President”s Cancer Panel reported, “The true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated.” And Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which funded many of the top studies, told Congress, “Research has revealed the heightened vulnerability of fetal, infant and child development processes to disruption from relatively low doses of certain chemicals.” Birnbaum, like EPA chief Lisa Jackson, urged Congress to revamp the federal law that regulates toxic chemicals, giving the agency greater authority to protect the public.
Last fall, a group of congressional Democrats vowed to overhaul the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to make it easier for EPA to take dangerous chemicals off the market and ensure that the substitutes are safe. But one year, six congressional hearings and 10 “stakeholder sessions” later, the bills are dead, a testament to the combined clout of $674 billion chemical industry, the companies that process their compounds into air fresheners, detergents, perfumes, cosmetics, toys, medical devices and other consumer goods, and the stores that sell them. Their campaign to block reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act won out over EPA”s support, an unprecedented campaign by public health advocates fueled by the industry”s own admissions that the current law does not fully protect public health.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Reps. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who introduced reform bills, say they”ll reintroduce them next year. But industry lobbyists will also be back, making it likely that the stalemate will continue — even if the Republicans don”t gain any additional seats in Congress.