WBEZ | Science http://www.wbez.org/news/science Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en OK, Google, Where Did I Put My Thinking Cap? http://www.wbez.org/news/ok-google-where-did-i-put-my-thinking-cap-114745 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/gettytech.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Take a look at this question: How do modern novels represent the characteristics of humanity?</p><p>If you were tasked with answering it, what would your first step be? Would you scribble down your thoughts &mdash; or would you Google it?</p><p>Terry Heick, a former English teacher in Kentucky, had a surprising revelation when his eighth- and ninth-grade students quickly turned to Google.</p><p>&quot;What they would do is they would start Googling the question, &#39;How does a novel represent humanity?&#39; &quot; Heick says. &quot;That was a real eye-opener to me.&quot;</p><p>For those of us who grew up with search engines, especially Google, at our fingertips &mdash; looking at all of you millennials and post-millennials &mdash; this might seem intuitive. We grew up having our questions instantly answered as long as we had access to the Internet.</p><p>Now, with the advent of personal assistants like Siri and Google Now that aim to serve up information&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2014/03/17/290125070/computers-that-know-what-you-need-before-you-ask">before you even know you need it</a>, you don&#39;t even need to type the questions. Just say the words and you&#39;ll have your answer.</p><p>But with so much information easily available, does it make us smarter? Compared to the generations before who had to adapt to the Internet, how are those who grew up using the Internet &mdash; the so-called &quot;Google generation&quot; &mdash; different?</p><p>Heick had intended for his students to take a moment to think, figure out what type of information they needed, how to evaluate the data and how to reconcile conflicting viewpoints. He did not intend for them to immediately Google the question, word by word &mdash; eliminating the process of critical thinking.</p><h3><strong>More Space To&nbsp;Think Or Less&nbsp;Time To Think?</strong></h3><p>There is a relative lack of research available examining the effect of search engines on our brains even as the technology is rapidly dominating our lives. Of the studies available, the answers are sometimes unclear.</p><p>Some argue that with easy access to information, we have more space in our brain to engage in creative activities, as humans have in the past.</p><p>Whenever new technology emerges &mdash; including newspapers and television &mdash; discussions about how it will threaten our brainpower always crops up, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/opinion/11Pinker.html">wrote in a 2010 op-ed</a>&nbsp;in&nbsp;The New York Times.Instead of making us stupid, he wrote, the Internet and technology &quot;are the only things that will keep us smart.&quot;</p><div id="con465723825" previewtitle="Related Stories"><div id="res465722840"><div><div>&nbsp;</div></div></div></div><p><a href="http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?sid=c3559fa5-e2a8-4845-a422-fa7d9c02f21e%40sessionmgr113&amp;vid=0&amp;hid=124&amp;bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=57775611&amp;db=a9h">Daphne Bavelier</a>, a professor at the University of Geneva, wrote in 2011 that we may have lost the ability for oral memorization valued by the Greeks when writing was invented, but we gained additional skills of reading and text analysis.</p><p>Writer Nicholas Carr contends that the Internet will take away our ability for contemplation due to the plasticity of our brains. He wrote about the subject in a 2008 article for&nbsp;The Atlantic&nbsp;titled&nbsp;&quot;<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/">Is Google Making Us Stupid</a>.&quot;</p><p>&quot;... what the [Internet] seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation,&quot; Carr wrote.</p><p>The few studies available, however, do not seem to bode well for the Google generation.</p><p>A 2008 study commissioned by the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20140614113419/http:/www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/reppres/gg_final_keynote_11012008.pdf">British Library</a>&nbsp;found that young people go through information online very quickly without evaluating it for accuracy.</p><p>A&nbsp;<a href="http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/dwegner/files/sparrow_et_al._2011.pdf">2011 study</a>&nbsp;in the journal&nbsp;Science&nbsp;showed that when people know they have future access to information, they tend to have a better memory of how and where to find the information &mdash; instead of recalling the information itself.</p><p>That phenomenon is similar to not remembering your friend&#39;s birthday because you know you can find it on Facebook. When we know that we can access this information whenever we want, we are not motivated to remember it.</p><h3><strong>&#39;I&#39;m Always On My Computer&#39;</strong></h3><p>Michele Nelson, an art teacher at Estes Hills Elementary School in Chapel Hill, N.C., seems to share Carr&#39;s concerns. Nelson, who has been teaching for more than nine years, says it was obvious with her middle school students and even her 15-year-old daughter that they are unable to read long texts anymore.</p><p>&quot;They just had a really hard time comprehending if they went to a website that had a lot of information,&quot; Nelson says. &quot;They couldn&#39;t grasp it, they couldn&#39;t figure out what the important thing was.&quot;</p><p>Nelson says she struggles with the same problem.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;m always on my computer. ... I don&#39;t read books as much as I used to,&quot; she says. &quot;It&#39;s a lot harder for my brain to get to a place where I can follow and enjoy the reading, and I get distracted very easily.&quot;</p><div id="res465723132"><aside aria-label="pullquote" role="complementary"><div><p>Because we&#39;re so busy, we have this false security that we understand something because we Googled it. Now we&#39;re moving on to the next thing instead of really rolling around with this idea and trying to understand it.</p></div><p>Terry Heick, founder of TeachThought</p></aside></div><p>The bright side lies in a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/5230/136.pdf">2009 study</a>&nbsp;conducted by Gary Small, the director of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.semel.ucla.edu/longevity">University of California Los Angeles&#39; Longevity Center</a>, that explored brain activity when older adults used search engines. He found that among older people who have experience using the Internet, their brains are two times more active than those who don&#39;t when conducting Internet searches.</p><p>Internet searching, Small says, is like a brain exercise that can be good for our mental health.</p><p>&quot;If somebody has normal memory when they&#39;re older, I always encourage them to use the computer,&quot; he says. &quot;It enhances our lives.&quot;</p><p>For Small, the problem for younger people is the overuse of the technology that leads to distraction. Otherwise, he is excited for the new innovations in technology.</p><p>&quot;We tend to be economical in terms of how we use our brain, so if you know you don&#39;t have to memorize the directions to a certain place because you have a GPS in your car, you&#39;re not going to bother with that,&quot; Small says. &quot;You&#39;re going to use your mind to remember other kinds of information.&quot;</p><h3><strong>How To Teach Digital Natives?</strong></h3><p>Heick has since left teaching to start&nbsp;<a href="http://www.teachthought.com/about/">TeachThought</a>, a company that produces content to support teachers in &quot;innovation in teaching and learning for a 21st century audience.&quot;</p><p>To him, the Internet holds great potential for education &mdash; but curriculum must change accordingly. Since content is so readily available, teachers should not merely dole out information and instead focus on cultivating critical thinking, he says.</p><div id="res465722910"><div>&nbsp;</div></div><p>&quot;Classroom walls and school building walls are transparent, with technology essentially bringing the outside world to the classroom and vice versa,&quot; he says.</p><p>Heick says his company recently started working with schools and organizations in a few states, including North Carolina, Texas and New York, to develop lesson plans.</p><p>&quot;Google really lubricates that access to information and while that is fantastic, it makes us have to change a bit the way we think about things,&quot; Heick says. &quot;Because we&#39;re so busy, we have this false security that we understand something because we Googled it. Now we&#39;re moving on to the next thing instead of really rolling around with this idea and trying to understand it.&quot;</p><p>One of his recommendations is to make questions &quot;Google-proof.&quot;</p><p>&quot;Design it so that Google is crucial to creating a response rather than finding one,&quot;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/10-ways-teacher-planning-adjust-google-generation/">he writes in his company&#39;s blog</a>. &quot;If students can Google answers &mdash; stumble on (what) you want them to remember in a few clicks &mdash; there&#39;s a problem with the instructional design.&quot;</p><p>Meanwhile, teenagers are also aware of how the Internet is taking ahold of their lives. Caitlyn Nelson, teacher Michele Nelson&#39;s daughter, finds it hard to focus when she is forced to do readings or even exams online. Like most teenagers, sometimes she finds herself surfing the Web when she&#39;s supposed to be reading PowerPoint slides in class.</p><p>Caitlyn talks about a video they watched in English class about the impact of technology.</p><p>&quot;We talked about how technology is changing ... how most people are basically becoming zombies and slaves to the Internet because that&#39;s all we can do,&quot; she says.</p><p>&quot;I feel really bad that I&#39;m connected to my phone all the time instead of talking to my mom. But she&#39;s also addicted to her phone.&quot;</p><p>&mdash; via <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/02/05/465699380/ok-google-where-did-i-put-my-thinking-cap">NPR&#39;s <em>All Tech Considered</em></a></p></p> Sat, 06 Feb 2016 11:49:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/ok-google-where-did-i-put-my-thinking-cap-114745 Is It Time To Stop Using Race In Medical Research? http://www.wbez.org/news/it-time-stop-using-race-medical-research-114737 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/racemeds.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="storytext"><p><em>Genetics researchers often discover certain snips and pieces of the human genome that are important for health and development such as the genetic mutations that cause cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. And scientists noticed that genetic variants are more common in some races &ndash; which makes it seem like race is important in genetics research.</em></p><p><em>But some researchers say that we&#39;ve taken the concept too far. To find out what that means, we&#39;ve talked to two of the authors of an&nbsp;<a href="http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6273/564.full">article</a>&nbsp;published Thursday in the journal&nbsp;</em>Science<em>. </em></p><p><em>Sarah Tishkoff is a human population geneticist and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Dorothy Roberts is a legal scholar, sociologist, and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania&#39;s Africana Studies department.&nbsp;This interview has been edited for length and clarity.</em></p><hr /><p><strong>How do geneticists use race now, and how does </strong><strong>that cause problems</strong><strong> for science?</strong></p><p><strong>Sarah Tishkoff: </strong>We know people don&#39;t group according to so called races based purely on genetic data. Whenever the topic comes up, we have to address, how are we going to define race? I have never ever seen anybody come to a consensus at any of these human genetics meetings.</p><p><strong>Dorothy Roberts:</strong> That&#39;s because race is based on cultural, legal, social and political determinations, and those groupings have changed over time. As a social scientist, looking at biologists treating these groupings as if they were determined by innate genetic distinctions, I&#39;m dumbfounded. There&#39;s so much evidence that they&#39;re invented social categories. How you can say this is a biological race is just absurd. It&#39;s absurd. It violates the scientific evidence about human beings.</p><p><strong>ST: </strong>But I as a human geneticist wouldn&#39;t want to imply that there are no differences &mdash;but among different ethnic groups, not racial classifications. For example, I&#39;m Ashkenazi Jewish. I have a much higher risk of getting certain genetic diseases that are common in certain Ashkenazi Jewish populations. That was an important question when I was having children.</p><p>There was a drug, called BiDil, that somebody claimed is more effective with African Americans than other race &ndash; which was not true. But there are genes that play a role in drug metabolism. So if a doctor was prescribing drug treatment based on her identification of race she&#39;d say, &quot;You should use drug A because that&#39;s better for people of European descent.&quot; But the patient might not carry the right gene. That might have negative consequences. That might be the wrong treatment for her.</p><p><strong>DR:</strong> Race isn&#39;t a good category to use to understand those differences or the commonalities. It in many cases leads researchers down the wrong path and leads to harmful results for patients. For example black patients who have the symptoms of cystic fibrosis aren&#39;t diagnosed because doctors see it as a white disease.</p><p><strong>So part of the problem is that when we see a high frequency of a medically relevant gene in one racial population, we start to assume that all members of that race have that gene?</strong></p><p><strong>ST:</strong> Yeah, I think that&#39;s right.</p><p><strong>DR:</strong> People take what&#39;s a difference in [gene] frequency and turn it into a categorical difference that interprets it as if one race has one gene and another race doesn&#39;t have the gene. You can&#39;t reach the conclusion that because you know someone&#39;s race you know what their genes are. It&#39;s not the case that there are populations where 100 percent, everyone, has those genes&nbsp;and&nbsp;nobody in other populations have those genes. It&#39;s a crude way and unhelpful way of figuring out what the disease risk is.</p><p><strong>ST: </strong>That&#39;s not to say that genetic risk in disease isn&#39;t important. I do think geography is important, and I think that people historically during evolutionary history have adapted to different environments.</p><p><strong>Is it that the science of genetics and the science of human populations are racist? Or is it that the numbers are there and, as a society, we&#39;re interpreting these things in a racist way?</strong></p><p>DR: There is a long history of justifying the subordination of different groups and social groupings based on myths about their biologic or genetic predispositions. It&#39;s not only that there&#39;s scientific evidence that humans aren&#39;t divided into discrete biological categories we&#39;d call races. But there&#39;s also evidence of the harm these biological meanings of race have caused for centuries. It&#39;s one of the reasons why it&#39;s difficult for human geneticists today to grapple with the meaning of race. You can&#39;t talk about race without also considering the history of racism.</p><p><strong>ST:</strong> But modern human geneticists, we&#39;re not trying to say they have a racist agenda. It&#39;s a positive thing to try and increase studies of genetic diversity that may differ across different ethnicities or ancestries.</p><p><strong>DR:</strong> Yes. I&#39;m not trying to say anything about the motivations or what scientists are trying now to do. Our paper is a call for scientists to come up with better ways of understanding human genetic diversity without relying on this antiquated concept of race There is a failure of imagination for people to think, what is there something better that we can use? Let&#39;s develop that.</p><p><strong>Is it that difficult, though? What are the things holding scientists back from developing something better?</strong></p><p><strong>ST:</strong> If I want a grant from the National Institutes of Health, I am required to check off the racial classification according to the U.S. government&#39;s census categories. I study very diverse people from all over Africa, but I believe the classification is African American or Black. I always feel awkward.</p><p><strong>DR:</strong> The NIH guidelines require the use of race in recruiting research subjects. There&#39;s a history of advocating for that in order to increase the participation of minorities in clinical research. Then it gets confusing, because the researchers continue to use these categories in conducting the research. Scientists must conform their research to these admittedly social categories of race.</p><p>ST: One also has to take into account that you need a way to identify your study population. Ideally you want ethnically diverse populations, so obviously you have to have some way of identifying research subjects. And that&#39;s fine. But they don&#39;t need to say based on race. The language and terminology does matter.</p><p><strong>DR: </strong>Except if the research question has to do with investigating the effects of racism &ndash; race as a social category that does affect people&#39;s lives and health and future because of the impact of social inequality. I often get the justification from doctors that &#39;I know it&#39;s crude but it&#39;s the best we have given the limited resources.&#39;</p><p><strong>ST:</strong> To some extent I think that&#39;s true. If a doctor doesn&#39;t have a readily available genetic test to look at ancestry or to look at individual genotypes of that person, race will be their best proxy. But the language matters. We need to move away from racial terminology, particularly in the field of medical genetics. That should just be eliminated. It reinforces the notion that there&#39;s a genetic basis to this classification system. We as scientists have to set an example.</p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/05/465616472/is-it-time-to-stop-using-race-in-medical-research?ft=nprml&amp;f=465616472"><em>&mdash; via NPR</em></a></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 05 Feb 2016 15:18:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/it-time-stop-using-race-medical-research-114737 Farming with Less Fossil Fuels http://www.wbez.org/news/farming-less-fossil-fuels-114731 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/0204_greener-farming-624x416.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>By some estimates,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/136418/err94_1_.pdf" target="_blank">about a fifth</a>&nbsp;of the nation&rsquo;s energy supply is spent on producing food. Some farmers are trying to cut back on the coal and gas used in farming.&nbsp;Grant Gerlock from&nbsp;<em>Here &amp;&nbsp;Now</em>&nbsp;contributor Harvest Public Media looks at a couple of ways farms are getting greener.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><ul></ul><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Fri, 05 Feb 2016 14:35:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/farming-less-fossil-fuels-114731 Calif. Official Says Leaking Gas Well Might be Sealed as Soon as Next Week http://www.wbez.org/news/calif-official-says-leaking-gas-well-might-be-sealed-soon-next-week-114723 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/gasleak.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The leaking gas storage well near the Los Angeles neighborhood of Porter Ranch might be capped earlier than originally anticipated, a state official told residents on Thursday.</p><p>Wade Crowfoot, an adviser to California Gov. Jerry Brown, said the utility that owns the well is expected to begin the final phase of the fix on Monday, The Associated Press reports. The Southern California Gas Co. is currently drilling a relief well to intercept the leaking well &mdash; and once it reaches its destination, workers should be able to seal up the leak in about five days.</p><p>That would mean the leaking well would officially be killed by the end of next week, two weeks ahead of the SoCalGas target of the end of February.</p><p>But there are some caveats. First, an &quot;early&quot; fix to the leaking well is hardly a fast one; the well has been leaking since late October, so a fix by the end of next week would mean it was releasing uncontrolled quantities of methane gas for 16 weeks.</p><div id="res465716222"><div>&nbsp;</div></div><p>And declaring success next week is hardly certain. As&nbsp;<a href="http://www.latimes.com/science/la-me-0205-porter-ranch-leak-20160205-story.html">the Los Angeles Times puts it</a>, the timeline is &quot;fraught with variables.&quot;</p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/459824651/southern-california-gas-company">As we&#39;ve reported</a>, the leaking well, located at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, has been spewing large quantities of the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere since late October. The gas company has been&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/27/464570341/air-regulators-sue-calif-utility-over-massive-gas-leak-alleging-negligence">accused of negligence over the leak</a>, and faces&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/03/465398937/california-utility-faces-criminal-charges-over-ongoing-gas-leak">criminal charges and civil lawsuits</a>.</p><p>The leak also contains trace elements of other substances,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/15/463178568/gas-company-understated-benzene-exposure-from-california-leak">such as the carcinogen benzene</a>, as well as odorants that are added to help people detect gas leaks through smell. The odorants are known to cause headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and other ailments, but SoCalGas and state officials have said the leak shouldn&#39;t cause any long-term health issues.</p><p>That hasn&#39;t comforted many residents of the nearby neighborhood of Porter Ranch. Thousands of people have been relocated because of the leak &mdash; and many say they are deeply concerned about possible health impacts of their exposure to the leak.</p><p>On&nbsp;<em>All Things Considered</em>&nbsp;, NPR&#39;s Kelly McEvers talks to one Porter Ranch family who has left the neighborhood. They&#39;re so worried, they don&#39;t want to move back once the leak is capped.</p><p>&quot;Even though you can&#39;t see the gas, it&#39;s there. And that&#39;s the saddest part ... people don&#39;t understand it,&quot; says Christine Katz, who is concerned about her family&#39;s health after she says her 2-year-old daughter got sick and doctors couldn&#39;t figure out what was wrong. &quot;Because it&#39;s not a mudslide, it&#39;s not an earthquake &mdash; you just don&#39;t see the devastation, but it&#39;s there.&quot;</p><p>Another Porter Ranch resident, Dhruv Sareen, hasn&#39;t relocated his family at all. Sareen, a research scientist who studies stem cells at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says he looked at the data and wasn&#39;t alarmed.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/mobileapps">Tune </a></em><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/mobileapps">in to</a></em><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/mobileapps">&nbsp;</a></em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/mobileapps">All Things Considered </a><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/mobileapps">Friday afternoon</a> to hear the full story, as Kelly travels to Porter Ranch and talks to residents, a public health </em><em>expert</em><em> and a SoCalGas spokesman. And follow&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/">NPR&#39;s Shots blog</a>&nbsp;to see more </em><em>on</em><em> the public health questions around Porter Ranch.</em></p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/05/465705603/calif-official-says-leaking-gas-well-might-be-sealed-as-soon-as-next-week?ft=nprml&amp;f=465705603"><em>&mdash; via NPR</em></a></p></p> Fri, 05 Feb 2016 12:13:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/calif-official-says-leaking-gas-well-might-be-sealed-soon-next-week-114723 We Sampled the Gastronomic Frontier of Virtual Reality http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/we-sampled-gastronomic-frontier-virtual-reality-114701 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/flickrMladen Hanzek.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res464920170" previewtitle="Project Nourished's virtual eating gizmos. From left: An atomizer that releases the scents of a food; a virtual reality headset; a a device that mimics the chewing sounds transmitted from a diner's mouth to their ear drums; a cocktail glass with built-in sensors; a utensil that picks up on the diner's movements and integrates them into the virtual reality experience; and a 3-D printed food cube."><div><p>By now, you&#39;re probably tired of hearing about how virtual reality is the next big thing for movies and games. But here&#39;s one you may not have heard yet: that virtual reality could be the next big thing for culinary experiences.</p></div></div><p>Potentially, the technology could help us consume our favorite tastes while avoiding unwanted side effects &ndash; whether food allergens or just extra calories. As someone who has long had a fraught relationship with the rotation of wonders at my local doughnut shop (think seasonal confections like Pumpkin Fool), the idea holds an undeniable appeal.</p><p>&quot;Why is it that the good things are always bad for us?&quot; commiserates designer Jinsoo An. He just might have an unconventional solution to my doughnut problem. &quot;Maybe with virtual reality, that doesn&#39;t need to be the case,&quot; he says.</p><p>An is the brains behind&nbsp;<a href="http://www.projectnourished.com/">Project Nourished</a>, a virtual reality eating experience that aims to let people consume whatever they want, without the downside.</p><p>The idea is to use a variety of methods to trick your mind and palate into thinking you&#39;re eating something different than what&#39;s actually in your mouth. To find out what it&#39;s all about, I visited An&#39;s studio in downtown Los Angeles.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Project Nourished's virtual eating gizmos. From left: An atomizer that releases the scents of a food; a virtual reality headset; a a device that mimics the chewing sounds transmitted from a diner's mouth to their ear drums; a cocktail glass with built-in sensors; a utensil that picks up on the diner's movements and integrates them into the virtual reality experience; and a 3-D printed food cube." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/29/gizmos_wide-1c4e96c253fe8025e290204ce0f40e20878b3913-s800-c85.png" style="height: 348px; width: 620px;" title="Project Nourished's virtual eating gizmos. From left: An atomizer that releases the scents of a food; a virtual reality headset; a a device that mimics the chewing sounds transmitted from a diner's mouth to their ear drums; a cocktail glass with built-in sensors; a utensil that picks up on the diner's movements and integrates them into the virtual reality experience; and a 3-D printed food cube. (Courtesy of Project Nourished)" /></p><p>&quot;We were actually making some sushi last night,&quot; he tells me as we tour the studio&#39;s kitchen. &quot;I can show you some.&quot;</p><p>The &quot;sushi&quot; turns out to be a couple of semi-translucent cubes that have been molded to look like rice. They&#39;re made out of agar-agar &mdash; a vegan substitute for gelatin. Fun fact: Agar-agar is used both in Japanese deserts and by microbiologists in lab experiments. Which is what I was about to become.</p><p>&quot;You&#39;re actually one of the first ones to try this,&quot; An tells me as I sit down for my virtual meal. &quot;You might be the first person outside of our team to try this.&quot;</p><p>Before pulling on the Oculus Rift goggles &ndash; a head-mounted display which shows me a visually simulated environment, including the looks of my food &ndash; I confess to An that my guinea pig status makes me giddy. Then it is time to chow down &mdash; virtually.</p><div id="res464894604" previewtitle="Designer Jinsoo An of Kokiri Lab is the mastermind behind Project Nourished, a virtual reality eating experience. Around 30 engineers, food scientists, chefs and designers have worked with An on the project."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Designer Jinsoo An of Kokiri Lab is the mastermind behind Project Nourished, a virtual reality eating experience. Around 30 engineers, food scientists, chefs and designers have worked with An on the project." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/29/engineer_custom-a4f18954c20a5d5b9df8e50c89c25de9238bac8f-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 232px; width: 310px; float: right;" title="Designer Jinsoo An of Kokiri Lab is the mastermind behind Project Nourished, a virtual reality eating experience. Around 30 engineers, food scientists, chefs and designers have worked with An on the project. (Courtesy of Noah Nelson/Youth Radio)" /></div><div><div><p>&quot;Hello,&quot; says the most soothing computer voice imaginable. &quot;Welcome to Project Nourished. Momentarily, I will guide you through the culinary experience of a lifetime.&quot;</p></div></div></div><p>Inside the goggles I see a little table overlooking a Zen garden. On the table is a plate with a tiny cube of sushi rice that looks like the one An showed me back in the real world. And then, I actually smell sushi.</p><p>That smell is thanks to the blast of an atomizer, a device usually used to mist medicine. Here, it&#39;s repurposed to create a smell redolent of sushi restaurant. Finally, it is time to take a bite.</p><p>It tastes like fish.</p><p>Of course, it&#39;s all an illusion &mdash; one put together with the help of restaurateur Nguyen Tran.</p><p>&quot;We found that the two defining flavors of sushi&mdash; at least for the American palate &mdash; [are] ginger and wasabi,&quot; Tran says. &quot;And the minute we put those in there and layered on top of just the simple flavor of dashi, rice and seaweed, it was exactly like sushi for us.&quot;</p><p>Well, not <em>exactly&nbsp;</em>like eating sushi. The flavor is there, and at least at first, so is the texture. But past the first bite, the agar-agar starts crumbling into a sandy mush.</p><div id="res464895099" previewtitle="The Pumpkin Fool from Santa Monica, California's Sidecar Doughnuts &amp; Coffee is a ring of delicious evil, and reporter Noah Nelson's personal downfall. If only its gastronomic virtues could be bundled into a virtual, guilt-free version."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="The Pumpkin Fool from Santa Monica, California's Sidecar Doughnuts &amp; Coffee is a ring of delicious evil, and reporter Noah Nelson's personal downfall. If only its gastronomic virtues could be bundled into a virtual, guilt-free version." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/29/doughnut-a7f3b2e61bc80c7fab871e5e0ff54589a04ec53c-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 232px; width: 310px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="The Pumpkin Fool from Santa Monica, California's Sidecar Doughnuts &amp; Coffee is a ring of delicious evil, and reporter Noah Nelson's personal downfall. If only its gastronomic virtues could be bundled into a virtual, guilt-free version. (Courtesy of Noah Nelson/Youth Radio)" /></div><div><div><p>Right now, Project Nourished requires a touch of suspension of disbelief. But designer An sees it as an evolving &quot;open canvas&quot; for experimentation.</p></div></div></div><p>&quot;Which means we can insert nutrients and take away nutrients. You can change the behavior of the food however you want &mdash; that&#39;s what&#39;s so magical about this. It turns food into a piece of code,&quot; An says.</p><p>So maybe one day we could pack all the nutrition I need into a virtual, guilt-free Pumpkin Fool donut. Until then, I guess you know where you can find me.</p><div><hr /></div><p><em>Noah Nelson is a reporter for&nbsp;<a href="http://turnstylenews.com/">Turnstyle</a>&nbsp;News &mdash; tech and culture coverage from&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/29/464885833/www.youthradio.org">Youth Radio</a>.</em></p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/29/464885833/we-sampled-the-gastronomic-frontier-of-virtual-reality"><em>&mdash; via NPR</em></a></p></p> Thu, 04 Feb 2016 13:02:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/we-sampled-gastronomic-frontier-virtual-reality-114701 How Meditation, Placebos and Virtual Reality Help Power 'Mind Over Body' http://www.wbez.org/news/how-meditation-placebos-and-virtual-reality-help-power-mind-over-body-114700 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/mindoverbody.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="Science writer Jo Marchant investigated the healing power of the mind for her new book, Cure." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/26/mindoverbody_wide-15cab930b4f8d532f14c9788b8a5518f8c4ae86d-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 349px; width: 620px;" title="Science writer Jo Marchant investigated the healing power of the mind for her new book, 'Cure.' (Jutta Kuss/Getty Images)" /></p><div id="res464433643" previewtitle="Science writer Jo Marchant investigated the healing power of the mind for her new book, Cure."><div><div><p>While researching the book&nbsp;<em>Cure</em>,&nbsp;science writer Jo Marchant wanted to understand how distraction could be used to nullify pain, so she participated in a virtual reality experiment.</p></div></div></div><p>During the first part of the experiment, Marchant sat, without distraction, with her foot in a box of unbearably hot water. &quot;It felt like a very intense burning pain on my foot when I just experienced it on its own,&quot; Marchant tells&nbsp;<em>Fresh Air&#39;s </em>Terry Gross.</p><p><img alt="Jo Marchant holds a doctorate in genetics and medical microbiology and has written for New Scientist, Nature and Smithsonian." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/25/jo-marchant-photo-credit-garry-simpson-660471963acda3a8b4bf15db4cce8b6ba8bd6913-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 232px; width: 310px; float: right;" title="Jo Marchant holds a doctorate in genetics and medical microbiology and has written for New Scientist, Natureand Smithsonian. (Garry Simpson/Crown)" /></p><p>But then Marchant put on noise-canceling headphones and began to play a snow-and-ice-themed immersive video game that had been developed specifically for burn patients. This time, when the researcher applied the same burning pain to her foot, she barely noticed it.</p><div id="res464380431" previewtitle="Jo Marchant holds a doctorate in genetics and medical microbiology and has written for New Scientist, Nature and Smithsonian."><div><div><p>&quot;The researchers explained it as our brains only have a certain capacity for attention,&quot; Marchant says. &quot;If you&#39;ve got something that&#39;s really commanding your attention, there&#39;s less attention left over for experiencing the pain.&quot;</p></div></div></div><p>During the course of her research, Marchant also investigated the science behind the placebo effect, hypnosis, meditation, prayer and conditioning. She says that the healing power of the brain could offer a powerful complement to modern medicine. &quot;That&#39;s a whole different approach to pain that I think tells us that drugs aren&#39;t the only answer,&quot; she says.</p><div><hr /></div><p><strong><span style="font-size:20px;">Interview Highlights</span></strong></p><p><strong>On harnessing the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/149686653/placebo">placebo</a>&nbsp;effect to feel better</strong></p><div id="con464379860" previewtitle="Book Edition Information"><div id="res464379884" previewtitle="Cure"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Cure" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/c/cure/9780385348157_custom-a0580e6244ab04ce8a19c0b3b9780515ba7de09e-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 471px; width: 310px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant" /></div></div><div id="res464379793"><p>One thing that people often don&#39;t realize about the placebo effect is there isn&#39;t just one placebo effect. There are many, depending on what we think a treatment is going to do for us. So, for example, if you take a fake painkiller, that actually reduces pain-related activity in the brain and the spinal cord and it causes the release of natural painkillers in the brain called endorphins. And these are actually the painkillers that&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/141914251/opioids">opioid</a>&nbsp;painkillers are designed to mimic, so it&#39;s working through the same biochemical pathway that a painkiller would work through. But if a patient with<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/146603525/parkinson-s-disease">Parkinson&#39;s</a>&nbsp;takes a placebo that they think is their Parkinson&#39;s drug, they get a flood of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/203614793/dopamine">dopamine</a>&nbsp;in the brain, which is exactly what you would see with the real drug.</p></div></div><p>Even with&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/149067801/altitude-sickness">altitude sickness</a>, for example, if somebody at altitude takes fake oxygen, you see a reduction in ... prostaglandins. ... These actually work to dilate blood vessels and they cause many of the symptoms of altitude sickness.</p><p>So what you see in all these different conditions is that taking a placebo, or, to be more accurate about it, our response to that placebo, can cause biological changes in the brain that actually ease our symptoms, and that&#39;s not something that&#39;s imaginary; that&#39;s something that&#39;s underpinned by these biological changes that are very similar to the biological changes you get when we take drugs.</p><p><strong>On possible explanations for why the placebo effect sometimes works</strong></p><p>Some of it seems to have to do with stress and anxiety &mdash; if we feel that we are in danger or under threat, the brain raises its sensitivity to symptoms like pain. ... Whereas, on the other hand, if we feel that we are safe and cared for and things are going to get better soon, we can kind of relax, we don&#39;t need to be so alert to these symptoms. So that&#39;s one thing that might be at play.</p><p>There are also physiological mechanisms for example, conditioning. ... If listeners are familiar with Pavlov&#39;s dogs, so this is the idea that a physiologist called Ivan Pavlov conditions dogs so that whenever he gave them their food he would make a noise, like ring a bell for example, and eventually they came to associate the bell with their food and they would salivate just to the sound of the bell. He didn&#39;t need the food anymore. We can all be conditioned to have different physiological responses to a stimulus like that, and that works not just for salivation, but for things like immune responses. So, for example, if you take a pill that suppresses your&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/141004584/immune-system">immune system</a>, later on, if you take a similar looking placebo pill, even if there&#39;s no actual active drug in there, your body will mimic that same response. Your body has learned that response and that just happens automatically; it doesn&#39;t matter what you believe about the pill.</p><p><strong>On making sense of placebo responses</strong></p><p>I don&#39;t think we should be giving people fake pills. I think, first of all, there is some evidence that honest placebos still work, so there are studies in various conditions, for example &mdash; irritable bowel syndrome,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/150591011/headache">headaches</a>, hyperactivity disorder &mdash; where patients have received placebos but they knew they were placebos and still got a benefit from that. And that&#39;s probably all down to things like just being in a trial, the feeling that you&#39;re being helped can have those effects on the brain. So you don&#39;t necessarily have to lie to people, but beyond that, I think what we need to do is try and understand what are the active ingredients of placebo responses &mdash; whether that&#39;s expectation, which is then influenced by all different things, such as your previous experiences with treatment, what you&#39;re told about a treatment, how sympathetic your physician is. There&#39;s all sorts of things that are feeding into how you&#39;ll respond to that treatment. So I think we need to try and understand those things and think how we can incorporate those elements into medical care routinely, rather than, for example, relying on fake pills.</p><p><strong>On how&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/260549388/meditation">meditation</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/424952930/mindfulness">mindfulness</a>&nbsp;can affect health</strong></p><p>The basic idea [of mindful meditation] is that you try to focus on the present moment rather than worrying about the past or the future. ... There have been hundreds of studies on mindfulness now, and there&#39;s very good evidence that it reduces stress and anxiety, and that it reduces symptoms such as chronic pain and fatigue. So that&#39;s very well shown now in the analysis of lots of different studies, and that&#39;s in healthy people but also in people with depression or people with serious illness. What there&#39;s less research on is whether that feeds through into benefits for the immune system and sort of more physical health benefits, if you like.</p><p>There is some evidence suggesting that mindfulness meditation can make us more resistant to infection and that&#39;s everything from winter colds to slowing the progression of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/126936265/hiv">HIV</a>&nbsp;and that it gives people a better response, for example, than&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/125944732/flu-shot">flu vaccine</a>. There was another study suggesting that people with&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/tags/375920505/psoriasis">psoriasis</a>&nbsp;responded better to their medication when they also had mindfulness training. ... But the studies so far are quite small, so it would be great to see more research on that.</p><p><strong>On why slow, measured breathing helps with stress</strong></p><p>With a stress response, the brain and the body are influencing each other in both directions, so if we see a danger then that&#39;s going to make us feel stressed and one of the follow-ons from that is that our breathing is going to speed up. If you were to speed up your breathing on your own, you&#39;d probably start to feel a bit more aroused and on edge. And, equally, if you calm the breathing down, you&#39;re kind of forcing your body into a more relaxed state and you will then experience probably fewer negative thoughts as a result. When we&#39;re stressed, our brains almost come up with negative thoughts to try and explain why we&#39;re stressed, if you like, if you&#39;re kind of anxious or worried about something, all sorts of negative thoughts are going to pop into your head, but if you can just calm that down, then that&#39;s going to have a beneficial effect on your mental state as well.</p><p><strong>On how stress can rewire the brain &mdash; and creates more stress</strong></p><p>Your brain reflects the way that you think throughout your life. You kind of shape it by your thoughts and your behaviors. If you play violin for eight hours a day, then the parts of the brain responsible for helping you to play the violin will get larger. If you&#39;re thinking stressful thoughts for the whole day then those parts of the brain are going to get larger and other parts of the brain will deteriorate. It&#39;s kind of an irony because then the very brain circuits that we would need to try and counter that are no longer working as well as they should, so that&#39;s why something like meditation can be helpful because just simply saying, &quot;Oh, I&#39;m going to change how I think now. I&#39;m not going to be as stressed now,&quot; doesn&#39;t really work; you have to change your brain over a long period of time.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://www.npr.org/books/titles/464379778/cure-a-journey-into-the-science-of-mind-over-body#excerpt"><span style="font-size:18px;"><strong>Read an excerpt of&nbsp;<em>Cure</em></strong></span></a></p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/01/26/464372009/how-meditation-placebos-and-virtual-reality-help-power-mind-over-body?ft=nprml&amp;f=464372009">&mdash;via NPR</a></p></p> Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:33:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/how-meditation-placebos-and-virtual-reality-help-power-mind-over-body-114700 Babies with Genes from Three People Could be Ethical, Panel Says http://www.wbez.org/news/babies-genes-three-people-could-be-ethical-panel-says-114697 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/mito.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res465425864" previewtitle="Scientists have the ability to use DNA from three adults to make one embryo. But should they?"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Scientists have the ability to use DNA from three adults to make one embryo. But should they?" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/02/03/mitochondrial-dna_smaller_custom-fb176511e729ec1b8f5859b663af5ea602c4ab81-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 518px; width: 620px;" title="Scientists have the ability to use DNA from three adults to make one embryo. But should they? (A. Dudzinski/Science Source)" /></div><div><div><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This post was updated Feb. 3, 2016, at 12:25 pm to include a statement from the Food and Drug Administration and a comment from Mark Sauer.</em></p></div></div></div><p>Would it be ethical for scientists to try to create babies that have genetic material from three different people? An influential panel of experts has concluded the answer could be yes.</p><p>The 12-member panel, assembled by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, released a 164-page&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nap.edu/catalog/21871/mitochondrial-replacement-techniques-ethical-social-and-policy-considerations">report</a>&nbsp;Wednesday outlining a plan for how scientists could ethically pursue the controversial research.</p><p>&quot;The committee concludes that it is ethically permissible&quot; to conduct such experiments, the report says, but then goes on to detail a long list of conditions that would have to be met first.</p><p>For example, scientists would have to perform extensive preliminary research in the laboratory and with animals to try to make sure it is safe. And then researchers should initially try to make only male babies, because they would be incapable of passing their unusual amalgamation of DNA on to future generations.</p><p>&quot;Minimizing risk to future children should be of highest priority,&quot; the committee writes.</p><p>The report was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/10/09/229167219/proposed-treatment-to-fix-genetic-diseases-raising-ethics-issues">requested&nbsp;</a>by the Food and Drug Administration in response to applications by two groups of scientists in New York and Oregon to conduct the experiments. Their goal is to help women have healthy babies even though they come from families plagued by genetic disorders.</p><p>A statement issued by the FDA immediately after the report&#39;s release raised questions about whether the FDA would permit the research to move forward.</p><p>The FDA email praised the &quot;thoughtful work&quot; of the panel and said the agency would be &quot;reviewing&quot; the recommendations. But it noted that the latest federal budget &quot;prevents the FDA from using funds to review applications in which a human embryo is intentionally created or modified to include&quot; changes that could be passed down to future generations. As a result, the email says, any such research &quot;cannot be performed in the United States&quot; at this time.</p><p>The researchers pursuing these experiments welcomed the panel&#39;s conclusions.</p><p>&quot;I think it&#39;s a great step in the right direction,&quot;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.columbiaobgyn.org/doctor/mark-v-sauer#.VrFk2bIrLIU">Mark Sauer</a>, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University who is a member of one of the teams, said of the National Academies report in an interview before the FDA issued its statement</p><p>Sauer called the report more of a &quot;yellow light&quot; than a &quot;green light,&quot; because of the long list of caveats and cautions. But that is &quot;better than a red light,&quot; he says.</p><p>&quot;Most importantly to us is that it allows the work to continue to hopefully produce children without these disorders,&quot; Sauer says.</p><p>But Sauer said he was disappointed when he learned of the FDA&#39;s response.</p><p>&quot;Politics as usual often gets in way of progress,&quot; Sauer said in a subsequent email. While the FDA statement would cause &quot;undue delays&quot; in his research, he added that he hoped it wouldn&#39;t permanently &quot;necessarily halt the efforts.&quot;</p><p>Critics of the research, meanwhile, say the number of women who could benefit from the experiments is so small that it&#39;s not worth crossing a line that&#39;s long been considered off-limits &mdash; making genetic changes that could be passed down for generations.</p><p>&quot;The possibility of what you could call &#39;mission creep&#39; is very real,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.geneticsandsociety.org/article.php?id=2081">Marcy Darnovsky</a>, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a watchdog group based in Berkeley, Calif. &quot;People are talking about going forward not just with this but with the kind of genetic engineering that will produce outright genetically modified human beings.&quot;</p><p>Once that happens, Darnovsky says, &quot;I think you get into a situation of where some people are genetically enhanced and other people are the regular old variety of human being. And I don&#39;t think that&#39;s a world we want to live in.&quot;</p><p>The goal of the research is to help women carrying diseases known as&nbsp;<a href="http://mitochondrialdiseases.org/mitochondrial-disease/">mitochondrial disorders</a>, which are only passed down by women through defects in the genetic material in their eggs.</p><p>Specifically, the defects are in a type of genetic material known as&nbsp;<a href="http://www.umdf.org/site/pp.aspx?c=8qKOJ0MvF7LUG&amp;b=7934627">mitochondrial DNA</a>.</p><p>Unlike the DNA that most people are familiar with &mdash; the 23 pairs of human chromosomes that program most of our body processes and traits &mdash; mitochondrial DNA consists of just 37 genes inside mitochondria, which are structures inside cells that provide their energy.</p><p>Mitochondrial disorders range from mild to severe. In many cases there is no treatment, and the affected child dies early in life after suffering progressive, debilitating symptoms.</p><p>Scientists want to create eggs free of mitochondrial defects by removing the defective mitochondrial DNA. It would be replaced with healthy mitochondrial DNA from eggs donated by other women.</p><p>The British government recently&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/02/03/383578221/u-k-lawmakers-allow-scientists-to-attempt-dna-transplants">approved</a>&nbsp;such experiments in that country.</p><p>But this remains&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/11/10/360342623/combining-the-dna-of-three-people-raises-ethical-questions">controversial</a>, not only due to the fact that the resulting children would have DNA from three people. Because the transplanted DNA could be passed down for generations, critics fear it could accidentally introduce errors into the human gene pool that could create new diseases.</p><p>They also worry it would set a precedent that could open the door to creating designer babies, in which parents can pick and chose the traits of their children.</p><p>Because of such concerns, making any change in DNA that could be passed down for generations has long been considered off-limits.</p><p>The committee report acknowledged that making babies with DNA from three different people could have &quot;psychological and social effects&quot; on the offspring, including issues about their &quot;conception of identity.&quot;</p><p>In addition, the committee acknowledged the possibility that it could lead to attempts at genetic &quot;enhancements.&quot;</p><p>Such work would raise thorny regulatory issues, the committee noted. For example, the federal government is prohibited from funding research that involves destroying human embryos. As a result, &quot;even an agency request&quot; for data from such research in support of FDA approval &quot;could well be controversial,&quot; the report says.</p><p>Nevertheless, the committee says the potential benefits make the work worth pursuing with careful oversight.</p><p>Moreover, the FDA could at some point even consider letting experiments proceed to try to create female babies if certain criteria are met, the report said, including the production of &quot;clear evidence of safety and efficacy from male&quot; experiments and signs that it would be publicly acceptable.</p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/03/465319186/babies-with-genes-from-three-people-could-be-ethical-panel-says?ft=nprml&amp;f=465319186"><em>&mdash; via NPR</em></a></p></p> Thu, 04 Feb 2016 10:20:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/babies-genes-three-people-could-be-ethical-panel-says-114697 What We Know So Far About Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus http://www.wbez.org/news/what-we-know-so-far-about-sexual-transmission-zika-virus-114711 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/zika-sexual-transmission_wide-407a439f5f5dfd199fe8d76b5df26c7ed1e1b570-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A patient acquired Zika virus in the U.S. through sex with a person who had traveled to a place where the virus is circulating, Dallas County, Texas, health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention&nbsp;<a href="http://www.dallascounty.org/department/hhs/press/documents/PR2-2-16DCHHSReportsFirstCaseofZikaVirusThroughSexualTransmission.pdf">reported&nbsp;</a>Tuesday.</p><p>This is not the first time that the virus has been sexually transmitted, and it most likely isn&#39;t the first time it&#39;s been sexually transmitted in the U.S.</p><p>In 2008, two scientists returned to Colorado after months of field work in Senegal, where they&#39;d been bitten by&nbsp;Aedes aegypti, the species of mosquito that transmits Zika virus.</p><p>One of them ended up passing the virus to his wife, most likely during intercourse. The couple noticed that the husband&#39;s semen had been bloody for a few days before the wife felt sick. She later tested positive for Zika, even though she had not left the U.S. in years. The pair co-authored a paper on their case, which has&nbsp;<a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/04/sex-after-field-trip-yields-scientific-first">been called</a>&nbsp;the first documented case of sexual transmission of an insect-borne disease.</p><p>During a Zika virus outbreak in French Polynesia in 2013, the virus&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4313657/">was isolated&nbsp;</a>from the bloody semen of a man in Tahiti. This was a few weeks after he had symptoms, and while his blood no longer contained traces of the virus, his urine did, and his semen contained live virus capable of replicating. The authors speculate that the virus may have replicated in the man&#39;s genital tract.</p><p>Similarly, Japanese researchers studying boars infected with a virus in the same family as Zika&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/203101">isolated</a>&nbsp;virus from the urine and semen of boars that was capable of infecting a female through artificial insemination.</p><p>Is sexual transmission definitely possible? &quot;Well, it sounds like it,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="https://www.utmb.edu/pathology/faculty/bios/Tesh.asp">Dr. Robert Tesh</a>, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch who studies emerging infectious diseases. But if it is, it&#39;s probably quite rare.</p><p>&quot;I know it&#39;s sexy, talking about sexual transmission, but it&#39;s still the mosquito that&#39;s the important vector,&quot; says Tesh, who co-authored the case report from Colorado.</p><p>The silver lining is that both the Colorado case and the Texas case happened in the winter, when it&#39;s too cold out for the species of mosquito that transmits the virus to be out and about. So Zika couldn&#39;t have spread to other people by mosquito.</p><p>Though the virus has been connected with birth defects in Brazil, in adults the symptoms, if any appear, are often mild and short-lived: rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis and slight fever. The CDC is trying to figure out if an uptick in cases of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cdc.gov/zika/disease-qa.html">Guillain-Barre syndrome</a>, a neurological disorder, that was reported by the Brazil Ministry of Health is connected to Zika.</p><p>Research on a 2013 outbreak in French Polynesia, the largest known, has yielded the most information on which bodily fluids Zika hangs out in, and when.</p><p>One study found signs of the virus in the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.journalofclinicalvirology.com/article/S1386-6532(15)00133-X/abstract">saliva</a>&nbsp;of patients shortly after the onset of symptoms. A small&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4285245/">study&nbsp;</a>in New Caledonia detected it in patients&#39; urine more than 10 days after their first symptoms, and more than a week after it became undetectable in blood.</p><p>A third study found the virus in the breast milk of infected mothers, and concluded that two babies who&nbsp;<a href="http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20751">tested positive</a>&nbsp;for Zika virus within days of birth possibly acquired it from their mothers&#39; bodily fluids during pregnancy or birth.</p><p>Tesh says it&#39;s unclear how the virus remains in bodily fluids, but hypothesizes that the virus could hide in white blood cells.</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/03/465339603/what-we-know-so-far-about-sexual-transmission-of-zika-virus?ft=nprml&amp;f=465339603"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Wed, 03 Feb 2016 16:13:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what-we-know-so-far-about-sexual-transmission-zika-virus-114711 Why are So Few Teens Getting Tested for HIV? http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-so-few-teens-getting-tested-hiv-114676 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/5774694766_78ffdf8d5f_z.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Less than a quarter of teens have been tested for HIV,&nbsp;according to new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p><p><a href="http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/01/18/peds.2015-2700">The study,</a>&nbsp;published in the February edition of the journalPediatrics,&nbsp;shows that testing rates did not increase between 2005 and 2013, despite government recommendations and campaigns to get teens screened.&nbsp;About half of high school students have had sex at least once and about a third are sexually active.</p><p>Rates were also low among young adults aged 18 to 24: Only a third had been tested according to data from 2011 to 2013. And for young adult women, testing rates went down during that time.</p><p>Reaching people in these age groups is important in the fight against HIV, the researchers note. Teens and young people make up more than a quarter of new HIV cases today and of those living with HIV, it&#39;s estimated that less than half know their status.</p><p>Those young people who did get tested for HIV typically did so based on their doctor&rsquo;s recommendation. The CDC researchers say they plan to spread the word to doctors who work with young people, urging &nbsp;more of them to screen their patients for the disease.</p><p>Side Effects&rsquo;&nbsp;reporter, Michelle Faust spoke with the lead writer on the study, Michelle Van Handel.</p><hr /><p><a href="http://sideeffectspublicmedia.org/post/why-are-so-few-teens-getting-tested-hiv" target="_blank"><strong><em>This interview has been edited.&nbsp;Listen to the story.</em></strong></a></p><p><strong>Michelle Faust: Why is the CDC concerned about these testing rates?</strong></p><p>Michelle Van Handel: The concern here is that knowledge of HIV status&mdash;and therefore having to get an HIV test&mdash;is key to accessing effective HIV prevention and treatment. And the CDC recommends that all adolescents and adults get tested at least once for HIV as a routine part of medical care. Yet, 44 percent of young adults and adolescents living with HIV don&rsquo;t know it.</p><p>Until we can increase HIV testing, we&rsquo;re going to have a hard time getting young adults and adolescents into the HIV care and treatment that they need to improve their health, increase their life expectancy, and prevent transmission to others.</p><p><strong>MF: So the chances of spreading the disease could be higher because you may not necessarily be taking the precautions that you could take if you knew your status?</strong></p><p>MVH: Exactly. So, when people are aware of their HIV diagnosis, they&rsquo;re able to take different behavioral changes that can help protect their partners, and their also able to get on HIV care and treatment. And now, HIV treatment is recommended for all people living with HIV, regardless of some of their test levels related to HIV.</p><p>So, when you&rsquo;re able to get on treatment, it reduces the viral load in your blood. So then, you have a lower risk of transmitting [HIV]. And it&rsquo;s actually as high a reduction as 96 percent.</p><p><strong>MF: When we look at these numbers, you&rsquo;re talking about teenagers and young adults. Why are you targeting these populations?</strong></p><p>MVH: And I think they really are the population that we want to target. A report by the Division of Adolescent and School Health found that 47 percent of high school students had ever had sexual intercourse, and 34 percent were currently sexually active. By the time you&rsquo;re in the 18 to 24 age range, the majority of adults are sexually active. And so, this transition from young adolescence to adulthood is a really important time period to help increase the normalcy of HIV screening, so that we&rsquo;re reducing the stigma and making it a routine and standard part of care.</p><p><strong>MF: Part of what this study highlights is that young people are more likely to be tested if the doctor brings it up.</strong></p><p>MVH: Exactly. Particularly for adolescents, they&rsquo;re more likely to get tested if their provider recommends it. Unfortunately, other studies have shown that providers are either unaware of the recommendations or do not routinely offer it to their younger patients. So, we really want to focus on increasing awareness among providers for young adults and adolescents. And we have some activities through the CDC HIV screening standard care to help increase the tools that providers have available to them to help increase screening to their patients.</p><p><strong>MF: Another factor that comes up here is that some of the populations at greatest risk for HIV transmission are also the populations that are least likely to be tested, including people of color.</strong></p><p>MVH: Yes, as with other age groups, those in racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by HIV. In this study we found that there was no increase in testing among young males, and there was actually a decrease in testing among young adult females. And I do want to note that young adult black females actually have the higher testing rates. It&rsquo;s great that they&rsquo;ve had high rates historically, but we want to make sure that this decrease doesn&rsquo;t continue, and to increase testing overall.</p><p><strong>MF: What is the ultimate takeaway from this research?</strong></p><p>MVH: The ultimate takeaway is that testing remains low among high school students and young adults, and that we need to do more to increase testing in this population.</p><p>Some of the activities that CDC has underway is a new HIV testing campaign called &ldquo;Doing It&rdquo; that promotes the idea that HIV testing is a normal and routine part of life. The Division of Adolescent and School Health provides funding to help schools deliver high quality sex education and increase adolescent access to sexual health services. Comprehensive sex education that includes information on HIV prevention has a potential to increase testing since youth have a better understanding of their own risk for infection.</p><p>So really, coming across this so that we&rsquo;re dealing with in a multi-pronged approach. So, not only increasing provider education, but also increasing awareness of risk among young adults and adolescents.</p><p><strong>MF: Should all sexually active adults be getting tested and know their status?</strong></p><p>MVH: Yes. I think that is the key message is that knowledge of your status is key to accessing effective HIV prevention and treatment, and that we want HIV screening to be a routine and standard part of medical care.</p><p><a href="http://sideeffectspublicmedia.org/post/why-are-so-few-teens-getting-tested-hiv"><em>&mdash; via Side Effects Public Radio</em></a></p></p> Tue, 02 Feb 2016 14:25:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/why-are-so-few-teens-getting-tested-hiv-114676 Film Portrays a 'Perfect Storm' That Led to Unwanted Sterilizations for Many Latinas http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/film-portrays-perfect-storm-led-unwanted-sterilizations-many-latinas-114675 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/no_mas_bebes.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>About 40 years ago, when she was 24, Consuelo Hermosillo had an emergency caesarean section at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. In the new documentary<em>&nbsp;No Más Bebés, </em>she recalls asking her doctor what type of birth control she should use going forward.</p><p>&quot;He goes, &#39;You don&#39;t need anything. We cut your tubes,&#39;&quot; Hermosillo says in the film. &quot;And I said, &#39;Why?&#39; And he said, &#39;Well you signed for it.&#39; And I said, &#39;Me?&#39;&quot;</p><p><a href="http://www.nomasbebesmovie.com/"><em>No Más Bebés (No More Babies)</em>,</a>&nbsp;which airs on PBS on Feb. 1, tells the story of how 10 immigrant Mexican women, Hermosillo included, sued LA County doctors, the state and the U.S. government in 1975 for allegedly violating their civil rights. The women&#39;s cases were similar. Each had an emergency cesarean section and each said she was either unaware that she signed for a tubal ligation or was told by a medical professional that not signing for one could mean death for her and her unborn child.</p><p><em>No Más Bebés&nbsp;</em>examines how the lawsuit,&nbsp;<em>Madrigal v. Quilligan,</em> came to be, how questions of informed consent &mdash; or lack thereof &mdash; and coercion played into the case, and how the collision of various societal issues resulted in stories like Hermosillo&#39;s.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="435" scrolling="no" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/aseQlmKg25U" title="No Mas Bebés, which airs on PBS on Feb. 1, tells the story of how 10 immigrant Mexican women sued Los Angeles County doctors, the state and the U.S. government in 1975 for allegedly violating their civil rights." width="620"></iframe></p><div id="storytext"><p>&quot;When you&#39;re a filmmaker, the easiest thing to do is make a film about the good guys and the bad guys, the heroes and the villains,&quot; says&nbsp;No Más Bebés&nbsp;director&nbsp;<a href="http://www.asianam.ucla.edu/people/renee-tajima-pe%C3%B1a">Renee Tajima-Peña</a>. Tajima-Peña says she and co-producer&nbsp;<a href="http://itvs.org/films/no-mas-bebes/filmmaker">Virginia Espino</a>, a historian who wrote her dissertation on the case, wanted to tell a multilayered story, one that revealed how even the best intentions could do harm.</p><p>Tajima-Peña and Espino explore the roles played by federally funded family-planning programs; a growing popular movement to curb population growth that attracted both environmentalists and anti-immigration proponents; doctors fresh out of medical school working in under-resourced maternity wards; cultural misunderstandings; and the popular belief that poor women who need public assistance should abstain from having children.</p><p>Taken together, these factors created what Tajima-Peña calls a &quot;perfect storm&quot; resulting in the sterilization of thousands of vulnerable women across the country in the late &#39;60s and early 1970s. She and Espino say their goal was to document a history that continues to repeat itself &mdash; they point to&nbsp;<a href="http://cironline.org/reports/female-inmates-sterilized-california-prisons-without-approval-4917">nearly 150 women sterilized in California prisons between 2006 and 2010</a>&nbsp;as the most recent example.</p><p>In telling this history, the film highlights the role played by the Family Planning and Population Research Act, which Congress passed in 1970 allocating millions for family-planning purposes. That money went to fund contraceptives, education, research and training. &quot;You&#39;ve got money for family planning programs, which were good programs and provided contraceptives for women who couldn&#39;t afford it,&quot; says Tajima-Peña. Congress also lifted a ban on federal funding for sterilization, so hospitals that provided the indigent with medical care, like Los Angeles County General Hospital, could apply for government money to perform tubal ligations.</p><p>Meanwhile, lobbying efforts in Washington, fueled by a fear of overpopulation gripping the nation, led to yet more funding for family planning programs. Inspired by the popularity of biologist Paul Ehrlich&#39;s best-selling 1968 book,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/01/us/the-unrealized-horrors-of-population-explosion.html">The Population Bomb</a>, which predicted that at some point in the 1980s, overpopulation would make it impossible for the planet to support humanity, members of the &quot;zero population movement&quot; worked to convince the public that having children was a very bad idea. Some went so far as promoting the sterilization of women deemed to have had too many. (They also called for a dramatic reduction to immigration.)</p><p>Then, there were divisions within the feminist movement on how sterilization fit into the bigger picture of reproductive rights. Mainstream white feminists marched for &quot;the right to choose,&quot; including unfettered access to sterilizations, contraception and abortions. Feminists of color also called for abortion rights and easy access to contraception, but broke with white feminists on the issue of sterilization, arguing that for women of color, sterilization was not always a matter of choice. They called for waiting periods before tubal ligation procedures, and Latina activists called for Spanish-language consent forms.</p><p>In&nbsp;No Más Bebés, California politician&nbsp;<a href="http://www.latimes.com/la-oe-morrison-new29-2009aug29-column.html">Gloria Molina</a>, who was active in the Chicana feminist movement in the 1970s, says the idea of a waiting period was &quot;totally offensive&quot; to white feminists, who, she says, pushed for sterilization upon demand. &quot;They weren&#39;t taking into account that if you were Spanish-speaking, and if you don&#39;t speak English, you were being denied a right, totally,&quot; Molina says in the film.</p><p>And then there was the long-held stance, still popular today, that poor women should not have children they can&#39;t afford to support, especially poor women of color. For decades,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.uic.edu/orgs/cwluherstory/CWLUArchive/puertorico.html">Puerto Rican women had been subjected to sterilizations at various points</a>&nbsp;as a way to combat astronomical unemployment and poverty on the island; a 1965 survey found that a third of Puerto Rican mothers living on the island at the time had been sterilized.&nbsp;<a href="https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&amp;type=summary&amp;url=/journals/american_indian_quarterly/v024/24.3lawrence.html">Native American women</a>&nbsp;were sterilized at the hands of the Indian Health Service in the 1970s. Poor African-American women on government assistance were also sterilized across the country during that time period.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.splcenter.org/seeking-justice/case-docket/relf-v-weinberger">A particularly damning case</a>, brought two years before&nbsp;<em>Madrigal v. Quilligan</em>, involved two black sisters sterilized at ages 14 and 12 in Alabama.</p><p>So, to recap: You had a surge of federal money for sterilizations, mainstream feminists calling for easier access to them, a fear that overpopulation would soon destroy the planet and the fear that poor women were burdening the country with children whom taxpayers would need to feed, clothe and educate. This nexus of events &mdash; and the consequences, intended and unintended, that followed &mdash; is the knot that&nbsp;No Más Bebés&nbsp;tries to untie.</p><p>&quot;Why were they doing it?&quot; Consuelo Hermosillo, one of the 10 plaintiffs in&nbsp;<em>Madrigal v. Quilligan</em>, asks on camera at one point in the film, nearly 40 years after her sterilization at LA County General. &quot;I always keep these questions with me, and I never get those answers,&quot; she says.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/01/31/464596760/in-no-m-s-beb-s-a-perfect-storm-led-to-unwanted-sterilizations-for-many-latinas?ft=nprml&amp;f=464596760"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></div><div class="tags" style="box-sizing: border-box; margin: 0px 0px 44px 130px; padding: 0px 15px; border: 0px; font-stretch: inherit; font-size: 14px; line-height: 14px; font-family: 'Gotham SSm', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; vertical-align: baseline; overflow: hidden; max-width: 680px; position: relative; float: none; width: auto; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">&nbsp;</div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 02 Feb 2016 12:01:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/film-portrays-perfect-storm-led-unwanted-sterilizations-many-latinas-114675