WBEZ | Science http://www.wbez.org/news/science Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en First Black NASA Administrator Charles Bolden 'Pleaded' To Get Into Naval Academy http://www.wbez.org/news/science/first-black-nasa-administrator-charles-bolden-pleaded-get-naval-academy-114846 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Joel Kowsky:NASA.jpg" title="NASA Administrator Charles Bolden speaks at a panel discussion on the search for life beyond Earth at NASA headquarters in 2014. (Joel Kowsky/NASA)" /></div><p>It was Nov. 23, 1963, the night after President John F. Kennedy&#39;s assassination. Charles Bolden was a high school senior, playing in the South Carolina state football championship game. He was mourning Kennedy&#39;s death along with the rest of the country, but he was mourning something else as well.</p><p>&quot;I saw my chances of going to the Naval Academy kind of evaporating,&quot; he said in an interview with NPR&#39;s&nbsp;Morning Edition,&nbsp;more than 50 years later.</p><p>But&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nasa.gov/about/highlights/bolden_bio.html">Bolden did make it</a>&nbsp;to the Naval Academy. He went on to serve in the Marine Corps as an aviator, flying more than 100 combat missions in North and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the early 1970s. Bolden later became a NASA astronaut and traveled to orbit four times aboard the space shuttle. After his last space flight, he returned to the Marine Corps and achieved the rank of major general. Then in 2009, he was appointed the administrator of NASA, the first African-American to hold the office.</p><p>But that first critical step of attending the Naval Academy almost didn&#39;t happen, Bolden says, when his state representatives would not nominate him for consideration because he was black. One of South Carolina&#39;s senators at the time, Strom Thurmond, flatly rejected Bolden&#39;s request.</p><p>&quot;[He] told me, &#39;No way are you going to get an appointment from me to go to the Naval Academy,&#39;&quot; Bolden says. &quot;It was clear why they were not supporting me and it was because of the times. They were just not about to appoint a black to the Naval Academy or to any Academy.&quot;</p><p>But Bolden had a backup plan.</p><p>He had been in correspondence with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson during his junior year of high school, and Bolden was banking on this connection resulting in a vice presidential appointment to the academy. Bolden explains that everyone is eligible for a nomination from the vice president, but that only the children of armed forces personnel are eligible for a presidential nomination.</p><p>So when Kennedy was killed and Johnson took over as president, Bolden saw his chance of securing a vice presidential appointment fading. He wrote Johnson a letter, which NPR obtained from the National Archives. Addressed to President Johnson, it reads:</p><blockquote><div><p>&quot;It was indeed an honor for me to hear from you last Spring, while you were serving as Vice President, in regards to my request for consideration for appointment to the entering class of &#39;64 of the U.S. Naval Academy.</p><p>&quot;Then you requested that I write to you after July 1, when you would know if you had any vacancies at the Academy.</p><p>&quot;I am still very interested in becoming a Midshipman and possibly making the Navy a career. Would you, therefore, refer me to someone who will be able to consider my application, since I am not eligible for a Presidential appointment.</p><p>&quot;I would appreciate very much your help in this matter.&quot;</p></div></blockquote><p>See the letter&nbsp;<a href="https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2708096-FrankBoldenLtr.html">here</a>.</p><p>&quot;I pleaded for help,&quot; Bolden said. &quot;A recruiter came to my house in a few weeks and said &#39;Hey, I understand you want to go to the Naval Academy.&#39;&quot;</p><p>Then, he says, Johnson sent out a retired federal judge all over the country looking for qualified young men of color to go to the service academies. The judge came to Bolden&#39;s school and, in the end, he was able to secure an appointment from Rep. William Dawson of Chicago.</p><p>The rest is history.</p><p>Bolden hasn&#39;t forgotten the discrimination he faced as a young man, but from his current vantage point, built by years of hard-earned success, he takes a reflective look at those who wronged him.</p><p>&quot;My mother went to her grave believing that Strom Thurmond probably helped. Because every milestone in my life after I got to the Naval Academy, as long as he lived, I got a handwritten note from him, you know, saying congratulations,&quot; Bolden says, his voice cracking with emotion.</p><p>He says he took this to mean that people are capable of changing.</p><p>&quot;Even people who seem to be evil or seem to be bad, deep down inside they know what&#39;s right and they want to do it and they will try to find a way to make good things happen,&quot; Bolden said. &quot;I am the eternal optimist and I am an idealist.&quot;</p><p>&mdash;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/09/466191748/first-black-nasa-administrator-charles-bolden-pleaded-to-get-into-naval-academy?ft=nprml&amp;f=466191748"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Fri, 12 Feb 2016 17:46:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/first-black-nasa-administrator-charles-bolden-pleaded-get-naval-academy-114846 Information Overload and the Tricky Art of Single-Tasking http://www.wbez.org/news/information-overload-and-tricky-art-single-tasking-114840 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/infomagical_aa2_magicphone-41ba9cca38a6771ea763b8fef119b78f06f265cf-s800-c85.png" alt="" /><p><p>Multitasking is a myth, says Daniel Levitin.</p><p>This was the premise underlying the first of the tasks posed by WNYC&#39;s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/shows/notetoself/">Note to Self podcast</a>. I had signed up for their&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/01/25/463232382/get-a-grip-on-your-information-overload-with-infomagical">five-day set of challenges</a>&nbsp;in hopes of decluttering my brain of the uselessly consumed Internet detritus to get a boost of creative energy. And now my first elimination target was multitasking.</p><p>Levitin is a neuroscientist. He should know. But it&#39;s 8:30 a.m., and I&#39;ve got 16 Internet tabs on my computer, three more tabs on my phone, two opened emails, a pending phone call and a scrolling Twitter timeline. And I&#39;m doing perfectly well. I&#39;m clearly an exception.</p><p>Of course, I am not. As Levitin put it to&nbsp;Note&nbsp;to&nbsp;Self, &quot;You&#39;re not actually doing four or five things at once, because the brain doesn&#39;t work that way.&quot; Instead, &quot;you&#39;re rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural resources as you go.&quot;</p><p>In fact, the onslaught of online content has us shifting among online and offline activities a lot &mdash; really a lot. Our attention switches&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/infomagical-challenge-1/">every 45 seconds</a>, according to Gloria Mark, an informatics professor at the University of California, Irvine. By 9 a.m., I had more tabs, emails, calls, plans, lists &mdash; while also listening to a story and taking a survey. I was caught up in the&nbsp;process&nbsp;of consuming.</p><p>&quot;Information overload is not something new,&quot;&nbsp;Note&nbsp;to&nbsp;Self&nbsp;host Manoush Zomorodi&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2016/02/08/466047471/infomagical-wnycs-note-to-self-tries-to-make-information-overload-disappear">tells NPR</a>. &quot;It has been dated to the 13th century. But what is new is the pace. And what we&#39;re finding is loss of focus.&quot;</p><p>To get a grip on that focus, All Tech invited you to participate in the&nbsp;Note&nbsp;to&nbsp;Self<a href="http://project.wnyc.org/infomagical/">&quot;Infomagical&quot; challenge</a>. It involved five daily challenges: spend a day focused on one task at a time, tidy up your app collection, avoid meaningless memes and trending topics, discuss something for at least seven minutes and set a longer-term resolution or &quot;mantra.&quot;</p><p>Several of us at NPR tried the challenge &mdash; <a href="https://twitter.com/alinaselyukh/status/694167334345428993?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">and a challenge it really was</a>.</p><p>For starters, most of us chose the goal of &quot;being more creative&quot; (the challenge begins with a choice of an information goal) and then struggled to evaluate ourselves against hard-to-define thresholds for improvements in creativity. Secondly, unplugging and avoiding memes or trends in many instances cut contrary to the requirements of our jobs. But we had our takeaways.</p><p>The day of single-tasking proved the most powerful for me and Malaka Gharib, editor over at&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/">Goats and Soda</a>.</p><p>Malaka reported feeling more mindful of her distractions (&quot;I had to repeat the word &#39;focus&#39; in my head to keep going with the task,&quot; she says), more appreciative of her analog experiences (eating without looking at her phone helped her better appreciate the work and care her husband put into making her lunch). She also felt more aware and thereby more victorious about finishing tasks.</p><p>&quot;Single-tasking made me feel like I had more time to complete tasks and I didn&#39;t feel so rushed,&quot; she writes. &quot;My greatest creative victory of the week went into doing some nail art I wanted to try out (three stripes of different shades of purple nail polish). I felt like I could do it because I didn&#39;t feel so frantic.&quot;</p><p><img alt="Carol Ritchie's Zen iPhone home screen." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/02/09/carol_ritchie_custom-d0d81c252d5eaf3e4cd4c3eb3a46b197727268ec-s400-c85.png" style="height: 553px; width: 310px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="Carol Ritchie's Zen iPhone home screen. (Carol Ritchie/NPR)" /></p><p>I didn&#39;t fare so well. I struggled to prioritize my tasks and then, like Malaka, had to remind myself to focus. With the short attention span of an expert digital consumer, I launched into things with curiosity and optimism only to move on, with false satisfaction of busy-ness, before finishing. (For context, it took me overcoming more than a dozen distractions today to get to this line of the story.)</p><div id="res466195474"><div><div><p>Malaka and editor Carol Ritchie also found gratification in the process of clearing their phones from unused or, by<a href="http://www.npr.org/2016/01/07/462230434/japanese-organizing-consultant-marie-kondo-takes-america-by-storm">tidying guru Marie Kondo&#39;s standards</a>, less joy-eliciting apps. Carol organized her apps into eight folders on the second screen and found the difference stunning.</p></div></div></div><p>&quot;No more scanning around for something that just might need doing or checking,&quot; she says. &quot;I go where I intend, do what I want, and then I click off. Now I can&#39;t believe I put up with all that clutter on the one device that is most important to me.&quot;</p><p>Carol also recounts her experience going social media-free at a concert: &quot;As it started, I saw screens light up all around me, but by sheer force of will resisted the pull of my phone. After the first minute, I forgot about it. Maybe &mdash; who knows? &mdash; enjoyed the performance a little bit more for it.&quot;</p><p>Over several similar challenges (like&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/11/26/457368210/this-thanksgiving-struggling-to-skip-the-instagram-obsession">this failed ambition to disconnect</a>&nbsp;over last Thanksgiving) I know that phone-free is not for me. Wasteful clicking is part of the habit, sure, but like Matthew Malady over at<em>&nbsp;The&nbsp;New Yorker, </em>I love the thrill of constant learning (though he goes as far as&nbsp;<a href="http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-useless-agony-of-going-offline">calling it the &quot;useless agony&quot;</a>&nbsp;of going offline).</p><p>&quot;Infomagical&quot;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/infomagical-results/">results</a>&nbsp;show that by the end of the challenge, 71 percent of participants felt less overloaded by information. And I realized that maybe I wasn&#39;t overloaded to begin with, but not selective enough, getting enthralled with the process of opening, starting, thinking up and launching. Now it&#39;s time to focus on seeing things through &mdash; like this article.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/02/11/466177618/information-overload-and-the-tricky-art-of-single-tasking"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Fri, 12 Feb 2016 16:02:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/information-overload-and-tricky-art-single-tasking-114840 Colonialism Comment Puts Facebook Under Scrutiny http://www.wbez.org/news/colonialism-comment-puts-facebook-under-scrutiny-114839 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/fbcolon.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>In India, Facebook has a program to give people <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/02/11/466298459/should-indias-internet-be-free-of-charge-or-free-of-control">free Internet access</a> &mdash; just to use Facebook and handful of other services. Earlier this week, regulators in that country ruled that the program is discriminatory to other websites and is illegal. A Facebook board member took to Twitter to criticize the ruling. And in so doing, he sparked a global controversy.</p><p>It got ugly.</p><p>Marc Andreessen &mdash; Facebook board member and celebrated venture capitalist &mdash; started by tweeting: it is &quot;<a href="https://twitter.com/pmarca/status/697226616812900352">morally wrong&quot;</a> to deny the &quot;world&#39;s poorest free partial Internet connectivity.&quot;</p><p>He then called India&#39;s decision &quot;another in a long line of economically suicidal decisions made by the Indian government against its own citizens.&quot; And then came this tweet: &quot;Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?&quot;</p><p>His tweetstorm quickly drew fire from across the Web, including the tech community in India. The country is Facebook&#39;s second-largest market and could rise to be the largest by next year, according to eMarketer. Andreessen soon withdrew his controversial tweets and apologized, but the colonialism remarks left many people scrutinizing Facebook&#39;s intentions for India.</p><p>&quot;Does he really think this way? Does he really believe that colonialism is a good thing for a lot of countries in the emerging markets?&quot; asks Mukund Mohan, director of strategy at Microsoft. &quot;Or did he just say that as a comment that was uninformed and off the cuff on Twitter?&quot;</p><p>Mohan, who splits his time between Seattle and Bangalore, says these are questions he was getting from his investor friends in India.</p><p>Members of Indian Youth Congress &mdash; a wing of the National Congress party &mdash; and National Students Union of India protest for Internet freedom in April 2015 in New Delhi.<br /><br />He says that as U.S. companies seek to appeal to the everyday consumer abroad, they need perspective: &quot;Most people, I would say the world over, don&#39;t think that colonialism was a good thing.&quot;</p><p>Political correctness varies country by country. According to Mohan, Indians can be more racist and open to jokes about skin color than Americans, but Indians are far more sensitive to being depicted as backward &mdash; a land of snake charmers and child brides.</p><p>Mohan believes Andreessen has never visited India, and that could be why he under-estimated the sensitivity of the topic. &quot;I don&#39;t necessarily think he thinks that, but there are enough people asking that question,&quot; Mohan says.</p><p>Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm that Andreessen co-founded, declined to comment on whether Andreessen has traveled to India or on the Twitter maelstrom.</p><p><a href="https://twitter.com/pmarca/status/697613266382626816">Andreessen has now tweeted:</a> &quot;To be clear, I am 100% opposed to colonialism, and 100% in favor of independence and freedom, in every country, including India.&quot;</p><p>Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has chastised his board member in a Facebook post.</p><p>For months, Zuckerberg has been trying his hand at diplomacy: hosting India&#39;s prime minister at Facebook headquarters, lobbying in India for the free Facebook plan, writing an op-ed and placing ads in newspapers (not just on his platform).</p><p>Facebook presents its restricted free Internet program, called Free Basics, as connecting the poor. The company will not disclose how many new Internet users have joined Free Basics. Its telecommunications partner, Reliance Communications, has told The Times of India that 1 million people signed up.</p><p>But another news report says, of those new subscribers, only 20 percent had not been previously active on mobile phones, meaning 800,000 were not new to the Internet. Sumanth Raghavendra, a startup founder in India, says they&#39;re people who &quot;were just looking to sort of scrimp on their data plan and get to surf a bit without having to pay for it.&quot;</p><p>Facebook doesn&#39;t pay for the data plan either. The company has convinced telecom providers to give it away. And Raghavendra worries the American tech giant is sending the wrong signal to Asian telecom companies &mdash; saying it&#39;s OK for them to pick and choose what content they&#39;re willing to stream online.</p><p>&quot;Everybody who comes in through a particular telco basically gets to see a different part of the Internet and that&#39;s all he gets to see when he first comes on board,&quot; Raghavendra says.</p><p>And Mohan notes, Facebook isn&#39;t the only game in town. Other companies, including Google, are also launching programs to expand Internet access, most recently in Indian train stations. But they don&#39;t limit users to Google or other preferred parts of the Web.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;m still shocked and I&#39;m not able to understand why Facebook didn&#39;t follow that same plan,&quot; Mohan says.</p><p>To Raghavendra, setting aside the drama of Andreessen&#39;s ill-advised tweets, what really deserves scrutiny are the facts about Facebook&#39;s plans for India.</p><p>&quot;It is about control, and it&#39;s especially about controlling it on their terms.&quot;</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/02/12/466506966/colonialism-comment-puts-facebook-under-scrutiny?ft=nprml&amp;f=466506966">via NPR</a></p></p> Fri, 12 Feb 2016 15:08:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/colonialism-comment-puts-facebook-under-scrutiny-114839 Science Seeks Clues to Human Health in Neanderthal DNA http://www.wbez.org/news/science-seeks-clues-human-health-neanderthal-dna-114830 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/neander.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res466304750" previewtitle="A reconstruction of a Neanderthal man (right) based on skull found at the La Ferrassie rock shelter in Dordogne Valley, France. He's face to face with a male Homo sapien."><div data-crop-type=""><a href="http://www.sciencesource.com/" target="_blank"><img alt="A reconstruction of a Neanderthal man (right) based on skull found at the La Ferrassie rock shelter in Dordogne Valley, France. He's face to face with a male Homo sapien." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/02/10/neandertal_custom-fdc1a983353d000c96f8e53d5065a055e7cf4e4c-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 415px; width: 620px;" title="A reconstruction of a Neanderthal man, right, based on skull found at the La Ferrassie rock shelter in Dordogne Valley, France. He's face to face with a male (Philippe Plailly &amp; Atelier Daynes/Science Source)" /></a></div><div><p>If you&#39;ve ever seen what a Neanderthal is supposed to have looked like, it might be hard to imagine mating with one. But modern humans did. We know because, a few years ago, scientists found stretches of Neanderthal DNA in living humans.</p><p>And now there&#39;s evidence, from a&nbsp;<a href="http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6274/737">study</a>&nbsp;published Thursday in&nbsp;Science,&nbsp;that some of that DNA might help shape our health.</p><p>If you look at a Neanderthal skeleton next to a modern human skeleton, the Neanderthal looks stocky, barrel-chested, and rather brutish. Neanderthals were genetically different but, nonetheless, the closest relative to modern humans &mdash;&nbsp;<em>Homo sapiens</em>. The Neanderthals lived in Europe and western Asia. Modern humans initially lived in Africa.</p><p>Then, about 60,000 years ago, some of those modern humans got restless and traveled to Eurasia. They met the Neanderthals there, and apparently some liked what they saw. They had kids.</p><p>Those kids got genes from both groups, and some of those genes were passed down to many of us. Genetic researcher&nbsp;<a href="http://as.vanderbilt.edu/biosci/bio/tony-capra">Tony Capra</a>, of Vanderbilt University, has found some intriguing Neanderthal genes among modern Americans.</p><p>&quot;For example,&quot; says Capra, &quot;we found a specific bit of Neanderthal DNA that was associated with increased amounts of blood clotting.&quot;</p><p>Capra found the stretch of genetic material linked to blood clotting by comparing DNA from Neanderthal fossils to DNA from the electronic health records of about 28,000 adults. (The records, which were all anonymous, were drawn from the&nbsp;<a href="https://emerge.mc.vanderbilt.edu/about-emerge/">Electronic Medical Records and Genomics Network</a>, a research database of genetic data and health records drawn from a number of universities and medical institutions across the U.S.)</p><p>Capra says his colleagues also found Neanderthal DNA that&#39;s associated with things like an increased risk of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/actinic-keratosis">actinic keratosis</a>, a condition that causes growths on the skin. And they found another bit of Neanderthal DNA that was unusually common among people with depression.</p><p>But Capra notes that these are just associations &mdash; the study couldn&#39;t say whether the preserved bits of Neanderthal DNA are direct contributors to these conditions.</p><p>&quot;This Neanderthal DNA influences [a] general bodily system in humans,&quot; he says, meaning the circulatory system, for example, or the skin or the brain. &quot;But it doesn&#39;t mean it was bad for us or bad for them.&quot;</p><p>And even if some of the Neanderthal DNA we carry around did contribute to our propensity for one or another illness, many inherited medical conditions are influenced by the environment and/or numerous genes. Having one piece of Neanderthal in the mix isn&#39;t likely to have much effect.</p><p>Still, Capra says it could be that some bits of Neanderthal DNA stuck with us because at some point it helped&nbsp;<em>H. sapiens&nbsp;</em>adapt as they spread across the planet.</p><p>For example, Capra says, the Neanderthal version of a blood-clotting gene might show up more often than expected among modern humans because quicker blood clotting promotes quicker healing and can help prevent pathogenic microbes from gaining a foothold. It could be that the Neanderthal version of the gene or genes worked better at fighting the microbes found in Eurasia. So whoever had&nbsp;that&nbsp;version had a better chance of surviving and passing that stretch of DNA along through the next generations.</p><p><a href="http://bio.psu.edu/directory/kmw4">Kenneth Weiss</a>, a geneticist at Penn State, says the closer scientists look for these bits of shared DNA, the more they&#39;ll find. &quot;It&#39;s interesting but it&#39;s not a surprise anymore,&quot; Weiss says.</p><p>The genetic mashup between Neanderthals and humans from Africa, he says, isn&#39;t that different from the way we all exchange genes now.</p><p>For example, &quot;you&#39;re going to find evidence for things in Mexican-Americans that came from Europe and that came from Native Americans,&quot; he says.</p><p>It&#39;s just that Neanderthals and the first modern humans weren&#39;t as different from each other as people once thought, Weiss says.</p><p>In a way, the research shows that our species evolved much the way languages do &mdash; made up of bits and pieces of whomever we met and lived with along the way.</p></div></div><p><em><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/11/466224456/science-hunts-for-clues-to-human-health-in-neanderthal-dna?ft=nprml&amp;f=466224456">&mdash;via NPR</a></em></p></p> Fri, 12 Feb 2016 12:11:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/science-seeks-clues-human-health-neanderthal-dna-114830 Can Dementia be Prevented? Education May Bolster Brain Against Risk http://www.wbez.org/news/can-dementia-be-prevented-education-may-bolster-brain-against-risk-114829 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/knowledge-tree_slide-231995ee55735ba2fb011e8ab30272470c8e9df7-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res466433587" previewtitle="Nanette Hoogslag/Getty Images/Ikon Images"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Nanette Hoogslag/Getty Images/Ikon Images" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/02/11/knowledge-tree_slide-231995ee55735ba2fb011e8ab30272470c8e9df7-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="(Nanette Hoogslag/Getty Images/Ikon Images)" /></div><div><div>&nbsp;</div></div></div><p>The odds of getting Alzheimer&#39;s disease or other forms of dementia are declining for people who are more educated and avoiding heart disease, a study finds. The results suggest that people may have some control over their risk of dementia as they age.</p><p>This isn&#39;t the first study to find that the incidence of dementia is waning, but it may be the best so far. Researchers looked at 30 years of records from more than 5,000 people in the famed Framingham Heart Study, which has closely tracked the health of volunteers in Framingham, Mass.</p><p>They found that the incidence of dementia declined about 20 percent per decade starting in the 1970s &mdash; but only in people who had at least a high school education. The decline in people diagnosed with Alzheimer&#39;s wasn&#39;t statistically significant, but there were fewer people with Alzheimer&#39;s, which could have affected that result.</p><p>The study, which was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1504327">published</a>&nbsp;Wednesday in the&nbsp;<em>New England Journal of Medicine</em>, also looked at risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. They found that the people who had better markers for cardiovascular health, such as normal blood pressure, were also less likely to develop dementia.</p><p>&quot;That&#39;s telling us that perhaps better management of cardiovascular disease could potentially help in the reduction of dementia,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://profiles.bu.edu/display/49141807">Claudia Satizabal</a>, an author of the study and an instructor in neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine.</p><p>To figure out what this all means, we called&nbsp;<a href="http://micda.psc.isr.umich.edu/people/profile/566/Kenneth_M_Langa">Dr. Kenneth Langa</a>, a professor at the University of Michigan who also studies trends in dementia. Here are highlights from the conversation edited for length and clarity.</p><p><strong>One of the very confusing things about this is that even though an individual may be less likely to get dementia than they were 40 years ago, the number of people with dementia is going up. Why is that?</strong></p><p>It&#39;s an interesting and sometimes complicated concept. The number of cases in the population could still be going up in the future because of the larger number of adults.</p><p>It&#39;s very easy to get your wires crossed when you think of &quot;what&#39;s my own individual risk&quot; versus the number of people in the population.</p><p>It&#39;s certain that we&#39;ll have significantly more older people in the United States and around the world, so now the big question is &mdash; on an individual level, what&#39;s going on with the risk? Does a 70-year-old today have the same risk as one 20 years ago?</p><p><strong>And you&#39;re finding a trend similar to what the researchers reported this week &mdash; a declining risk of dementia in the United States.</strong></p><p>We&#39;ve been looking at data from the&nbsp;<a href="http://hrsonline.isr.umich.edu/">Health and Retirement Study</a>, large study funded by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration. We&#39;ve been collecting data on older folks in the United States since 1992. We&#39;re finding a decline in the prevalence of dementia and cognitive decline very much in line with the Framingham Study report.</p><p><strong>You also are finding that a person&#39;s level of education is a key driver in dementia risk. Is that because education makes your brain stronger, or that educated people are healthier overall?</strong></p><p>That&#39;s a big question, and one I&#39;ll be focusing on for the rest of my career.</p><p>I&#39;ll give you my usual researcher on-the-fence answer: I think it&#39;s a bit of both. I do think there is a direct biological effect of using your brain and having it interact with the world. You may have heard the term cognitive reserve, which means your brain gets wired up differently if it&#39;s challenged.</p><p>I&#39;m a believer that there is a causal effect of education on how your brain is challenged. But I definitely would agree that that&#39;s not the only pathway.</p><p>Education sets you off on a different path in your life; it sends you into different occupations. You may live in different neighborhoods, have less stress, have more money. That gives you access to better health care and social networks.</p><p>But still, if I do my 12 years or 14 years or 16 years of school, I don&#39;t think that 100 percent determines your risk of dementia.</p><p><strong>You&#39;ve also found that our parents&#39; level of education may affect dementia risk.</strong></p><p>It&#39;s very intriguing; a mother&#39;s education may be more important than a father&#39;s education. Again there are lots of complicated pathways you can talk about, but one that we and other researchers are trying to follow up on is whether a more educated mom may interact with a child in ways that are more beneficial to the developing brain of a child.</p><p>How your brain is nurtured throughout life is a really fascinating part of this story.</p><p><strong>The study published this week didn&#39;t look explicitly at exercise, but that does affect cardiovascular health. Could it help prevent dementia?</strong></p><p>The evidence both from animals in the cage and epidemiological studies shows that physical activity seems quite important for keeping your blood vessels healthy, and probably some specific growth factors that help the neurons in the brain. The general point that was brought out in the Framingham study is that cardiovascular fitness is very important.</p><p><strong>You and other researchers have pointed out that the trend toward more obesity and diabetes in the United States could threaten this more hopeful trend toward lower risk of dementia. When might that happen?</strong></p><p>The short answer is I think we don&#39;t know. Again, there are so many complicated interacting pathways going on here we can&#39;t really be sure what will happen.</p><p>Even though the number of people with diabetes has really skyrocketed in the past 20 or 30 years, it also seems to be that having diabetes doesn&#39;t have as many bad complications as it did 20 or 30 years ago. There&#39;s been a decline in things like heart attacks and amputations due to vascular complications. More aggressive treatment of diabetes and high blood pressure and cholesterol is probably one of the factors that&#39;s caused this decline in complications.</p><p><strong>We&#39;re all terrified of getting Alzheimer&#39;s. Given that being heart healthy seems to reduce that risk, why aren&#39;t we all exercising like crazy?</strong></p><p>It&#39;s still complicated, I think. Part of it is that it&#39;s a benefit that&#39;s going to come to you 20 or 25 years later; it&#39;s not easy to motivate people even with something as feared as Alzheimer&#39;s disease. I&#39;m an internist. I see middle-aged people with diabetes and hypertension and tell them about these findings. But it can be tough to motivate people.</p><p><strong>What else can people do to reduce the risk?</strong></p><p>These findings are optimistic; it&#39;s not a done deal. But there do seem to be things we can do not only from an individual perspective but from a public policy perspective, for instance, making education as available as possible to people in the United States and other countries.</p><p>I tell my patients, &quot;You can do everything right and still get Alzheimer&#39;s disease and dementia.&quot; It&#39;s a question of trying to change your risk to make it as low as possible.</p><p>The research that is ongoing to find medical interventions to affect the trajectory of the disease are still important to do also.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/11/466403316/can-dementia-be-prevented-education-may-bolster-brain-against-risk?ft=nprml&amp;f=466403316"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Fri, 12 Feb 2016 11:58:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/can-dementia-be-prevented-education-may-bolster-brain-against-risk-114829 The Unfulfilled Promise of Carbon Capture http://www.wbez.org/programs/here-and-now/2016-02-12/unfulfilled-promise-carbon-capture-114826 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/carbon.jpg" style="height: 384px; width: 620px;" title="Many carbon-capture-and-sequestration, or CCS schemes aim to intercept carbon emissions and store them underground. (Vattenfall)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div>Renewable energy is reaching record levels around the country, but fossil fuels aren&rsquo;t going away anytime soon. As states look for ways to fight climate change, one idea is to capture the carbon pollution from power plants and store it underground.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Despite millions in taxpayer dollars invested, it still remains largely just an idea.&nbsp;Lauren Sommer&nbsp;from&nbsp;<a href="http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2016/02/11/carbon-capture-flops"><em>Here &amp; Now</em></a>&nbsp;contributor KQED reports.</div><div><br /><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/farming-less-fossil-fuels-114731" target="_blank"><strong>RELATED:&nbsp;<span style="font-family: inherit; font-size: 16px; font-style: inherit; font-variant: inherit; line-height: 21px;">Farming with Less Fossil Fuels</span></strong></a></div><div id="content-titles" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-stretch: inherit; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px; font-family: Georgia, serif; vertical-align: baseline;"><div>&nbsp;</div></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&mdash;<em><a href="http://ww2.kqed.org/science/2016/01/24/despite-millions-in-investment-carbon-capture-flops-in-california/" target="_blank">&nbsp;Read more via KQED</a></em></div><ul style="display: table; margin: 0px; padding: 0px 0px 0px 10px; list-style: none url(&quot;http://cdn.wbur.org/wordpress/hereandnow/images/da.gif&quot;); font-family: 'Droid Sans', arial, sans-serif; font-size: 16px; line-height: 19px;"></ul></p> Fri, 12 Feb 2016 11:02:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/here-and-now/2016-02-12/unfulfilled-promise-carbon-capture-114826 After Nearly 4 Months, Porter Ranch Gas Leak is Temporarily Plugged http://www.wbez.org/news/after-nearly-4-months-porter-ranch-gas-leak-temporarily-plugged-114825 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/porterrance.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A natural gas leak that has poured methane gas into the air since October has been &quot;temporarily controlled,&quot; according to a utility company in Southern California. Thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes in an upscale section of the San Fernando Valley.</p><p>&quot;Many residents of the Porter Ranch community complained of headaches, nosebleeds and other symptoms,&quot; Danielle Karson tells our Newscast unit from Los Angeles. &quot;State regulators need to inspect the broken pipe before cement is poured into the well to permanently seal it.&quot;</p><p>The leak was first reported in late October and has since spewed&nbsp;<a href="http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/aliso_canyon/aliso_canyon_natural_gas_leak_updates-sa_flights_thru_feb_4_2016.pdf">more than 5 billion cubic feet of natural gas</a>. Since then, the leak has forced more than 6,000 residents to evacuate the area northwest of downtown Los Angeles.</p><p><a href="http://www.scpr.org/news/2016/02/11/57424/porter-ranch-gas-leak-has-been-temporarily-stopped/">Member station KPCC</a>&nbsp;quotes LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich:</p><blockquote><div><p>&quot;Our residents, who have had to deal with this crisis since October 23rd and have had their holidays ruined and forced them out of their homes and schools, now have to bear the burden of rebuilding normal lives &mdash; still face uncertainty and fear of a repeated disaster from the remaining wells.&quot;</p></div></blockquote><p>The leak occurred at Southern California Gas Co.&#39;s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field, spewing more greenhouse gases than any other facility in California, according to<a href="http://www.latimes.com/science/la-me-porter-ranch-greenhouse-20160124-story.html">The Los Angeles Times</a>. In addition to allowing huge amounts of methane &mdash; a potent greenhouse gas &mdash; to escape, the utility is accused of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/15/463178568/gas-company-understated-benzene-exposure-from-california-leak">understating the levels of the cancer-causing chemical benzene</a>.</p><p>Paula Cracium, who lives in the area, says residents are eager to return home &mdash; and apprehensive about returning to normal.</p><p>&quot;There&#39;s going to be a version of PTSD as people move back into their homes,&quot; Cracium tells Karson in a report for NPR&#39;s Newscast. &quot;Every time they smell something, they&#39;re scared it&#39;s happening again.&quot;</p><p>Once the area is declared safe to inhabit, residents will be given eight days to get back into their houses. After that point, subsidies for temporary housing will expire. Some residents are pushing for a longer timeline &mdash; up to 30 days &mdash; to be sure the area is safe, KPCC reports.</p><p>News of the temporary plug comes weeks after&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/24/464195563/california-regulators-order-company-to-permanently-close-leaking-gas-well">state regulators told SoCalGas</a>&nbsp;that when it finally seals the leak, the utility, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, must also shut down the well permanently.</p><p>&quot;After the leak is permanently sealed, the company&#39;s troubles won&#39;t be over,&quot; Karson reports. &quot;It&#39;s getting slapped with almost a dozen lawsuits from families, businesses and regulators claiming negligence.&quot;</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/12/466527059/after-nearly-4-months-porter-ranch-gas-leak-is-temporarily-plugged?ft=nprml&amp;f=466527059"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Fri, 12 Feb 2016 10:51:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/after-nearly-4-months-porter-ranch-gas-leak-temporarily-plugged-114825 Computer as Driver? A 'Yes' From Feds Boosts Self-Driving Cars http://www.wbez.org/news/computer-driver-yes-feds-boosts-self-driving-cars-114807 <p><p>Computers that control cars of the future can be considered drivers just like humans, the federal government&#39;s highway safety agency has decided.</p><p>The redefinition of &quot;driver&quot; by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is an important break for Google, which is developing self-driving&nbsp;cars that get around without steering wheels, pedals &mdash; or even the need for a person to be inside.</p><p>Though treating a computer like a driver for regulatory purposes helps Google, its cars have miles to go before they get on the road in great numbers. While the safety agency agreed with Google&#39;s &quot;driver&quot; reinterpretation in a recent letter, it didn&#39;t allow other concessions and said numerous federal rules would have to be changed to permit the cars.</p><p>Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., is testing dozens of prototypes in California, Texas and Washington. The company has suggested they could be ready for the public in a few years.</p><p>In written requests over the past three months, Google asked the safety agency to interpret federal code in ways that would ease the path to market for its cars.</p><p>The agency agreed that the car can be a driver but, in a Feb. 4 response posted on its website, also rejected the company&#39;s claim that the cars comply with many related regulations including requirements for foot or hand brakes. Google said the requirement wasn&#39;t necessary because the electronic driver can stop the cars. The government said regulations are clear and would have to be changed to allow that.</p><p>&quot;In a number of instances, it may be possible for Google to show that certain (federal) standards are unnecessary for a particular vehicle design,&quot; Paul Hemmersbaugh, the highway traffic safety agency&#39;s chief counsel, wrote. &quot;To date, however, Google has not made such a showing.&quot;</p><p>To put their cars on the road, automakers must self-certify that they meet federal safety standards and get approval from the traffic safety agency. Hemmersbaugh&#39;s letter encouraged Google to apply for exemptions to the standards. It also said for some requests, the agency will have to go through the cumbersome federal rule-making process to approve the cars.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/kaNWNtJyK4w" width="560"></iframe></p><p>Adding a note of skepticism for Google&#39;s design, in which human control would be limited to a start and stop button, Hemmersbaugh wrote the company, might &quot;wish to reconsider its view that a pedal may never be needed in any circumstance, and that there is not a risk of harm associated with a pedal&#39;s absence.&quot;</p><p>Google spokesman Johnny Luu said the company had no comment beyond that it was reviewing the agency&#39;s response.</p><p>After several years of caution, federal regulators said last month that they wanted to help speed the widespread adoption of&nbsp;self-driving&nbsp;cars if they prove to be safe.</p><p>In January at the Detroit auto show, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said his department wants to get&nbsp;self-driving&nbsp;cars on the road quickly and will fast-track policies and possibly even waive regulations to do it.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/8612888280_c4066b4af6_z_0.jpg" style="height: 240px; width: 320px; float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="(Becky Stern/Flickr)" /></p><p>Self-driving&nbsp;vehicles could eventually cut traffic deaths, decrease highway congestion and improve the environment, Foxx said. He encouraged automakers to come to the government with ideas about how to speed their development. He also said the safety agency, which is part of his department, will oversee development of guidance for automakers on what&#39;s expected of&nbsp;self-driving&nbsp;car prototypes and what sort of tests should be used to make sure they are safe.</p><p>That policy could eventually lead to consistent national regulations for autonomous cars. Right now, individual states like California, Florida and Nevada have their own regulations.</p><p>Safety advocates worry the agency is getting too cozy with the auto industry when it comes to technology regulations.</p><p>On Wednesday, Foxx called the government&#39;s reinterpretation of driver &quot;significant,&quot; but added in a written statement that &quot;the burden remains on&nbsp;self-driving&nbsp;car manufacturers to prove that their vehicles meet rigorous federal safety standards.&quot;</p><p>The federal government isn&#39;t predicting when autonomous cars will be on public roads in big numbers, but some automakers have said they could be in use in limited areas by 2020 &mdash; and Google has been more bullish than that.</p><p><em>Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to this Associated Press report.</em></p></p> Thu, 11 Feb 2016 13:54:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/computer-driver-yes-feds-boosts-self-driving-cars-114807 Einstein was Right: Ripples in Space-Time Detected http://www.wbez.org/news/milestone-scientists-detect-gravitational-waves-black-holes-collide-114805 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/blackhole.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Far from our galaxy, in the vast darkness of space, two massive black holes merged into a single, larger hole.</p><p>And now researchers say they have detected rumblings from that cataclysmic collision as ripples in the very fabric of space-time itself. The discovery comes a century after Albert Einstein first predicted such ripples should exist.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s a really big event,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://astro.cornell.edu/members/saul-a-teukolsky.html">Saul Teukolsky</a>, a theoretical astrophysicist at Cornell University. &quot;This is probably the most exciting episode of my professional career.&quot;</p><p>Einstein predicted the existence of such ripples, known officially as gravitational waves, in 1916, as part of his general theory of relativity. General relativity re-imagines the gravitational pull between heavy objects like the Earth and sun as a &quot;warping&quot; of space and time. When very heavy objects such as black holes are involved, the theory predicts that gravitational waves will emerge and ripple across the entire universe.</p><div id="res466334941" previewtitle="The gravity-wave detector bounces lasers off of high-precision mirrors to measure tiny changes in length."><div data-crop-type="" style="text-align: center;"><a href="www.ligo.caltech.edu/" target="_blank"><img alt="The gravity-wave detector bounces lasers off of high-precision mirrors to measure tiny changes in length." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/02/10/dscf2525-f10cd82bdc40000edd2503d5187a3e69ec797c22-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="The gravity-wave detector bounces lasers off of high-precision mirrors to measure tiny changes in length. (Matt Heintze/Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab" /></a></div><div><p>That&#39;s the idea. But in practice, seeing such gravitational waves has been nearly impossible. To make detectable waves, massive objects must be moving quickly. Researchers predicted a collision between two black holes would do the trick. But nobody knew how often that might happen.</p></div></div><p>Nevertheless, scientists built two massive detectors to take a look. Known collectively as the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/">Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory</a>&nbsp;(LIGO), the detectors are located in Washington state and Louisiana. They are separated by thousands of miles in order to detect ripples coming in from deep space as they pass through the Earth.</p><p>Each detector looks like a big L, made up of two tunnels 2.5 miles long. It&#39;s designed so that if a gravitational wave passes by, it will stretch space along one direction of the tunnel and squish space along the direction of the other. The stretching and squishing changes the tunnels&#39; lengths by a tiny amount, and that change can be detected by lasers.</p><div id="res466335620" previewtitle="The Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory measures tiny changes in the lengths each of its 2.5 mile-long arms. The arms stretch and squeeze as gravity waves pass by."><div data-crop-type="" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="The Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory measures tiny changes in the lengths each of its 2.5 mile-long arms. The arms stretch and squeeze as gravity waves pass by." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/02/10/ligo-livingston-aerial-03-e14469228d18909c0e69efff2a76aa91ba4c7e2d-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="The Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory measures tiny changes in the lengths each of its 2.5 mile-long arms. The arms stretch and squeeze as gravity waves pass by. (Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)" /></div><div><p>Although LIGO was completed in 1999, it took more than a decade for it to see anything. The detectors had to be made incredibly sensitive to pick up the tiny waves. But they were so touchy, they were set off by everything from minute shifts in the earth&#39;s core, to traffic entering the parking lot. And even after researchers got rid of all the terrestrial jiggles, LIGO still wasn&#39;t quite good enough to see gravitational waves.</p></div></div><p>All that changed after a major upgrade in 2014. Better vibrational isolation and upgrades to lasers and mirrors dramatically boosted the instrument&#39;s power.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="338" scrolling="no" src="http://www.npr.org/templates/event/embeddedVideo.php?storyId=466286219&amp;mediaId=466340146" width="600"></iframe></p><p>And the black hole collision was seen almost as soon as the team began observing again in the fall of 2015. On September 14, at 5:51 AM the waves passed through both of the detectors.</p><p>According to a paper published in the journal&nbsp;<em>Physical Review Letters</em>,&nbsp;the two black holes were each roughly 30 times the mass of the sun. They merged some 1.3 billion light years from the Earth. The waves were generated in the final moments before the black holes merged. The signal was brief but definitive.</p><p>The measurements are dramatic proof that gravitational waves exist. The signal in the detector matches well with what&#39;s predicted by Einstein&#39;s original theory, according to Teukolsky, who was briefed on the results. It matches predictions of the ripples produced by two large black holes, in the final moments before they merge, swirling together at an enormous speed.</p><p>This is, arguably, the most direct observation of black holes ever made. Because black holes are (as their name implies) &quot;black&quot;, they can&#39;t be seen with ordinary telescopes. Up until now, their existence has been inferred by looking at the stars and gas swirling around them. This gravitational signal comes directly from the holes, and it is virtually incontrovertible proof that the holes are out there. &quot;If black holes didn&#39;t really exist, you couldn&#39;t explain these waves,&quot; he says.</p><p>Other researchers believe that the gravitational waves could tell us even more about our cosmos. &quot;It&#39;s like looking at the Universe with new eyes, the amount of information that&#39;s there is going to be amazing,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="https://www.perimeterinstitute.ca/people/asimina-arvanitaki">Mina Arvanitaki</a>, a theorist at the Perimeter Institute of Physics in Waterloo, Canada. Arvanitaki will use LIGO&#39;s data to probe for undiscovered fundamental particles that might only exist in the warped space around black holes.</p><p>Teukolsky says the discovery shows just how extraordinary the natural world can be. &quot;The Universe is stranger than any kind of fiction we could imagine,&quot; he says. &quot;I mean it&#39;s preposterous.&quot;</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/11/466286219/in-milestone-scientists-detect-waves-in-space-time-as-black-holes-collide?ft=nprml&amp;f=466286219"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Thu, 11 Feb 2016 10:57:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/milestone-scientists-detect-gravitational-waves-black-holes-collide-114805 A Fix for Gender-Bias in Animal Research Could Help Humans http://www.wbez.org/news/fix-gender-bias-animal-research-could-help-humans-114799 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/mouse_gender-15l_wide-42e8b5c91d29dbc7986bf3ef2d1fcc270e3cc534-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>There&#39;s been a male tilt to biomedical research for a long time.</p><p>The National Institutes of Health is trying to change that and is looking to bring gender balance all the way down to the earliest stages of research. As a condition of NIH funding, researchers will now have to include female and male animals in their biomedical studies.</p><p>As late as the 1990s, researchers worried that testing drugs in women who could be pregnant or become pregnant might lead to birth defects, so experimental drugs were mainly tested in men. Research in animals followed the same pattern.</p><p>&quot;There was not the understanding that it really isn&#39;t scientifically appropriate to study men and apply your findings to women. We just didn&#39;t know that back then,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://orwh.od.nih.gov/about/staff/clayton.asp">Dr. Janine Clayton</a>, director of the Office of Research on Women&#39;s Health at the NIH.</p><p>When the drugs this way finally went to market and women took them, sometimes things went wrong. To try to fix the problem, the NIH and Congress&nbsp;<a href="http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/women_min/guidelines_amended_10_2001.htm">required</a>&nbsp;that women and men be included in research involving human subjects.&nbsp;<br /><br />Now, there are&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-13">more women</a>&nbsp;than men participating in clinical trials, at least in studies funded by the NIH. But there&#39;s still a mystery: Why do women still&nbsp;<a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043661806002040">report many more</a>bad reactions to medications than men do?</p><p>&quot;Men and women respond to medications differently. In fact,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d01286r.pdf">one study</a>&nbsp;looked at the drugs that have been taken off the market and 8 of the 10 drugs taken off the market in that particular time period had more severe effects in women,&quot; says Clayton.</p><p>She thinks&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11770389">the problems</a>&nbsp;that women experience when they take medications could stem from how biomedical research is conducted at the earliest stages &ndash; in animals.</p><p>&quot;Eighty percent of drug studies that are done in mice are done in male mice,&quot; says Clayton.</p><p>Studies in mice are important because the results often inform what will be tested in humans.</p><p>It&#39;s not as if people are ignoring female animals because they&#39;re chauvinists. Some researchers say females have been excluded from studies because their hormone cycles can confound the experiments, though the actual variability that the estrus cycle introduces is&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24456941">debatable</a>.</p><p>And in some cases, research has been skewed the other way. Male animals are sometimes excluded from studies because they fight with each other, which can complicate results, and because the males sometimes have to be caged separately, which can drive up costs in cash-strapped labs.</p><p>In other cases, studies are done on both male and female animals, but the data on each sex don&#39;t get reported separately.</p><p>All in all, Clayton says, researchers are missing indicators early on about how different bodies would respond to medications. &quot;We&#39;re learning late,&quot; she says. &quot;That&#39;s not the best way to do this. We need to study both sexes throughout the entire research spectrum.&quot;</p><p>So, Clayton and her colleagues drew up&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nature.com/news/policy-nih-to-balance-sex-in-cell-and-animal-studies-1.15195#/b1">a policy</a>&nbsp;starting Jan. 25 that applies to NIH-funded biomedical research starting January 25 on out involving animals with spines. &quot;We&#39;re asking scientists to think about sex, to study both male and female animals in their preclinical research so that we can learn more about both male and female biology,&quot; says Clayton.</p><p>When the policy was first announced, people were pumped about it, says&nbsp;<a href="http://scholar.harvard.edu/srichard/home">Sarah Richardson</a>, a professor at Harvard who studies the history and philosophy of science. &quot;People were like &#39;Absolutely, that&#39;s terrible. Why aren&#39;t they studying female mice?&#39; That was my response, too,&quot; she says. &quot;It was seen as just a straightforward obvious corrective that we have to do.&quot;</p><p>But she and other researchers&nbsp;<a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/112/44/13419">maintain</a>&nbsp;that if the goal is to address women&#39;s health inequities, the policy on animal research isn&#39;t likely to be effective by itself. Mice aren&#39;t people. Richardson also says the focus on animals could distract scientists from the big picture: what happens in real living humans.</p><p>&quot;Women on average, in North America at least, take more prescription drugs than men do,&quot; she says. &quot;Women also go to the doctor more. We all know this &mdash; we cannot get the men in our lives to go to the doctor. They are also for whatever reason more likely to be sensitive to and prone to report feelings of discomfort,&quot; she says. &quot;So, what we thought when we reviewed this literature is, OK, if the NIH is really wanting to address this, we need tons more studies of just those kinds of factors,&quot; says Richardson.</p><p>The NIH put $10 million toward&nbsp;<a href="http://orwh.od.nih.gov/about/director/director_stepping_stones_future.asp">helping labs</a>&nbsp;add sex and gender to their projects. But if they want to figure out health differences between men and women, Richardson says, they need to also put money towards understanding what drives differences in human behavior.</p><p>It&#39;s not always simple to account for sex and gender in research projects, says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nosm.ca/about_us/organization/faculty_affairs/general.aspx?id=1164">Stacey Ritz</a>, an immunologist at McMaster University in Canada who wrote&nbsp;<a href="http://www.fasebj.org/content/early/2013/09/20/fj.13-233395.abstract">a guide</a>&nbsp;on how to do so. &quot;I&#39;ve really struggled with it for many years,&quot; she says.</p><p>She says in most cases it&#39;s pretty straightforward to do a male-female comparison. But there&#39;s a danger in assuming that a difference noticed between male and female animals stems from a difference in their basic biology, rather than because of something else, like how the male animals might have been housed alone while the female animals were housed in groups.</p><p>&quot;That&#39;s one of the things that concern me,&quot; says Ritz. &quot;A lot of times the questions around social dynamics and gender get glossed over and it&#39;s assumed &mdash; especially with animals &mdash; that differences you see between male and female are purely biologically driven,&quot; says Ritz.</p><p>Neurologist&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bri.ucla.edu/people/rhonda-r-voskuhl-md">Rhonda Voskuhl</a>, at UCLA, agrees that mice aren&#39;t going to reveal all the intricacies of why human men and women can have different health outcomes. &quot;There&#39;s no perfect model for the human except for the human,&quot; says Voskuhl.</p><p>But in many cases, she says, animal studies can uncover important findings that can make a difference for people.</p><p>Voskuhl has seen that firsthand. She directs UCLA&#39;s research program on multiple sclerosis. She says for quite a while, researchers didn&#39;t report the sex of animals they studied, though many studied mainly male rats. When they started looking more closely at female animals, they realized the disease progressed differently in them.</p><p>That knowledge has led to findings about how to treat multiple sclerosis in women, including the idea that a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(15)00322-1/abstract">pregnancy hormone</a>&nbsp;could relieve symptoms, an approach that&#39;s in&nbsp;<a href="https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=estriol+AND+%22multiple+sclerosis%22&amp;Search=Search">clinical trials</a>.</p><p>&quot;The point of the story is, you may not think there&#39;s anything there until you study it,&quot; says Voskuhl.</p><p>She says research on animals and humans goes hand in hand. If researchers study and report data for both sexes, that may well dredge up new treatment possibilities in people.</p><p>A similar case came up in&nbsp;<a href="http://www.psych.mcgill.ca/labs/mogillab/paingenetics/lab/">Jeff Mogil</a>&#39;s work studying pain at McGill University in Canada. He says a few decades ago, people primarily studied male animals, which they&#39;d order from a company. The lab he worked in studied both.</p><p>&quot;And because of that I&#39;ve been in a position to see sex differences where other people in my field haven&#39;t simply because they never had female mice lying around,&quot; says Mogil.<br /><br />By studying both sexes, Mogil and his colleagues&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v18/n8/full/nn.4053.html">found that</a>&nbsp;different cells communicate pain in female and male animals. &quot;They experienced pain in the exact same way and to exactly the same degree, but the pain is produced and modulated using different circuits,&quot; Mogil says.</p><p>If the same is true in people, that difference could have big implications for a class of painkillers meant to work by blocking the cells that are more active in men. &quot;The prediction would be those drugs simply won&#39;t work at all in women. It&#39;s not that they&#39;ll work better in women and worse in men. It&#39;s that they won&#39;t work in women period,&quot; he says.</p><p>And, he says, if people running clinical trials on that drug didn&#39;t know that it only worked in men, they might look at the trial data, see that it only worked in half the participants, and just ditch it entirely.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/10/464697905/a-fix-for-gender-bias-in-animal-research-could-help-humans?ft=nprml&amp;f=464697905"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Wed, 10 Feb 2016 16:33:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/fix-gender-bias-animal-research-could-help-humans-114799