Science

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RECENT POSTS

Scientists say using DDT against malaria could be fueling global obesity | 

Could the fight against malaria be making us fat?

That’s what one scientist who studies an increasingly important, if counterintuitive, branch of genetics thinks.

Spraying DDT in Italy, during World War II
Spraying DDT in Italy, during World War II
Flickr, otisarchives4

The pesticide DDT, though banned for use throughout much of the rich world because of its environmental persistence and potential for harm, is still widely used throughout the developing world to fight malaria. On balance, the World Health Organization thinks the health benefit from reducing malaria outweighs – in these countries anyway – the potential health and environmental safety risks of DDT.

Michael Skinner, a geneticist and founder of the Center for Reproductive Biology at Washington State University, thinks the potential harm of DDT needs to be looked at not just in terms of its immediate impact but across generations.

“The potential transgenerational actions of DDT need to be considered in the risk-benefit analysis of its use,” says Skinner.

You probably know that genes make proteins which do the work in living creatures. And that bad genes make bad proteins, which can cause disease or perhaps make us prone to mix plaids or drink red wine with fish … or some other kind of deleterious outcome. Scientists know this as the central dogma of molecular biology and it implies a simple, linear formula in which our genes operate in one deterministic direction.

But science, if it teaches you anything, teaches that what we don’t know is usually much greater than what we do. Continue reading

Measuring health progress in Afghanistan | 

Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

In an Atlantic article last week, Justin Sandefur, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, wrote about how US foreign aid for health to the government of Afghanistan is currently under threat due to scrutiny from auditors. Read Here’s the Best Thing the U.S. has Done in Afghanistan

Sandefur argues that US funds channeled to the Afghan government have played a major role in driving down child mortality in the country, and that these achievements could be jeopardized if the US cuts this funding as a result of auditors’ concerns.

How much progress has Afghanistan made in improving child health over time? According to estimates from the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) 2010, mortality rates in children under five in Afghanistan fell 48% between 1990 and 2010 (download the data here). Life expectancy at birth increased from 51.7 in 1990 to 57.3 in 2010 for females and 52.2 to 58.2 for males (below is the screen grab based on the data).

Chart: Healthy years lost to disability vs. life expectancy in Afghanistan, females, 1990-2010

Afghanistan Life Expectancy1
IHME

You can also view life expectancy estimates for Afghan females and males in our online tool and compare the country’s progress to that of other nations. Continue reading

Gates-backed test malaria vaccine is celebrated, half glass full | 

African child with cerebral malaria
African child with cerebral malaria
Mike Urban

An experimental malaria vaccine, made by GSK with backing and support on the research side from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Seattle-based PATH, has (again) been shown to protect half the children in the study were immunized against malaria.

The results, announced today in Durban, South Africa, are pretty much the same as earlier findings that continue to emerge from a long, ongoing study of GlaxoSmithKline’s RTS,S vaccine.

The scientific gist of the latest findings, as was reported back in 2008, is that the vaccine appears to protect about half the kids from getting sick, its ability to protect drops significantly following vaccination, it requires repeat doses and GSK estimates it will cost a few dollars at least.

Is that a glass half full or half empty? Continue reading

Visualizing progress on 3 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) | 

Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

MDGsProgress toward the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and establishing new goals after 2015 are a hot topic of discussion this week at the UN General Assembly in New York City.

In today’s post, we’ll use Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (GBD 2010) data to explore how much progress countries have made in three key health MDGs, 4, 5 and 6, the first two focused on reducing child mortality and maternal mortality while the latter is on halting the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.

MDG 6 is arguably the highest-profile goal and one that’s seen tremendous progress – halting or reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. By 2010, antiretroviral therapy financed by country governments and donors had succeeded in reversing the rise in HIV/AIDS deaths at the global level.

Below is a figure showing donor funding (also known at IHME as development assistance for health, or DAH) for HIV/AIDs from IHME’s report Financing Global Health 2012: The End of the Golden Age?

Funding HIV AIDS

Continue reading

Why to stop worrying about just MERS or H5N1 – and wonder about the 320,000 other potentially pandemic viruses | 

Viruses like the latest strain of bird flu (H5N1) or the newly discovered SARS-like coronavirus known as MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) get a lot of worrisome attention – in the media and by public health experts – because of their potential to mutate into a lethal human pandemic. But these are devils we know. According to this report, a team of scientists estimates that mammals harbor something like 320,000 unknown viruses with the same potential to ‘jump species’ – zoonosis - and become a devastating human disease.

Scary, yes. But perhaps it’s also comforting that Mother Nature tends, for the most part, to confine these bugs to their favored hosts and that the emergence of a truly dangerous new bug mutating out from a chicken or pig or civet appears fairly rare.


Ebola, HIV, influenza, MERS. Plenty of animal viruses cause devastating diseases in humans. But nature might have many more in store.

Read more at: news.sciencemag.org

SciAmerican: Dealing with the rise of insecticide-resistant malarial mosquitoes | 

The mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite are developing resistance to many of the chemicals used on bed nets and for residential spraying. Scientists are struggling to figure out new strategies (or how to better use the old one, DDT) for battling this trend.


Companies and public health agencies are trying to develop low-toxic and inexpensive-yet powerful and long-lasting-new insecticides KARATU, Tanzania – Dr. Frank Artress is loath to get into an arms race with mosquitoes. “You hate to drag out all the heavy poisons,” he says, standing in front of the medical clinic he and his wife built in this rural town.

Read more at: www.scientificamerican.com

Humans ‘hard-wired’ for empathy and friendship | 

Science says so.


06:03, Psychology & Psychiatry U.Va. psychologist James A. Coan conducted the study. “People close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real,” he said. Credit: Dan AddisonPerhaps one of the most defining features of humanity is our capacity for empathy – the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes.

Read more at: m.medicalxpress.com

SciDev: Why humanitarian groups label technology ‘nasty’ or ‘nice’ | 

It”s easy for either side in the techno-fix debate — the debate that almost always ensues when a particularly technological solution to poverty or inequity is proposed or launched — to simply dismiss the other as blindly stuck in an ideological rut. It’s also tempting for observers of the debate to dismiss the debate as so polarized as to be of little value since the truth of any matter is often located somewhere between the two warring camps.

Here’s an interesting analysis by Oxfam’s Duncan Green arguing that this highly polarized debate may deserve a closer look for what it reveals.


There’s real substance behind activists’ polarised views of new technology, says Oxfam adviser Duncan Green. NGOs and activists often seem to hold contradictory views about science and technology, dividing the world up into ‘nice’ and ‘nasty’ technologies. Anything to do with mobile phones, crowdsourcing, ‘small is beautiful’ technology, renewables or labour-saving wonders such as washing machines is typically met with approval.

Read more at: www.scidev.net