GDF11protein rejueventates aged brains and muscles in mice

"Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers have shown that a protein (GDF11) they previously demonstrated can make the failing hearts in aging mice appear more like those of young health mice, similarly improves brain and skeletal muscle function in aging mice."

(Novus Biologicals sells GDF11 for $349 per 0.1 mg.)

Obesity driven by overconsumption of protein-mimicking carbs and fats


In an editorial for Nature, Stephen J. Simpson (academic director of University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre) and David Raubenheimer (Leonard P. Ullman chair in nutritional ecology and nutrition theme leader at the Charles Perkins Centre) argue that the obesity epidemic isn't caused by sedentary lifestyles, but by overconsumption, because our appetite control systems are "fooled or subverted" by carbohydrates and fats that mimic proteins.

The ersatz proteins are much cheaper than the real thing, and have also made their way into the feed of livestock and pets. The authors state that "the range of processed food becoming available is evolving faster than our appetite control systems," and argue that the historic shortage of sugars caused us to evolve appetite systems that are bad at judging when we've had enough of them.

These arguments echo many of those raised in The End of Overeating (recently featured in a This Day in Blogging History post), in which former FDA commissioner and MD David A Kessler tries to understand how industrial food science has produced food that is exquisitely engineered to cause overeating and constant cravings.

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Hacking the hospital: medical devices have terrible default security


Scott Erven is head of information security for a healthcare provider called Essentia Health, and his Friday presentation at Chicago's Thotcon, "Just What The Doctor Ordered?" is a terrifying tour through the disastrous state of medical device security.

Wired's Kim Zetter summarizes Erven's research, which ranges from the security of implanted insulin pumps and defibrillators to surgical robots and MRIs. Erven and his team discovered that hospitals are full of fundamentally insecure devices, and that these insecurities are not the result of obscure bugs buried deep in their codebase (as was the case with the disastrous Heartbleed vulnerability), but rather these are incredibly stupid, incredibly easy to discover mistakes, such as hardcoded easy default passwords. For example: surgical robots have their own internal firewall. If you run a vulnerability scanner against that firewall, it just crashes, and leaves the robot wide open.

The backups for image repositories for X-rays and other scanning equipment have no passwords. Drug-pumps can be reprogrammed over the Internet with ease. Defibrillators can be made to deliver shocks -- or to withhold them when needed. Doctors' instructions to administer therapies can be intercepted and replayed, adding them to other patients' records. You can turn off the blood fridge, crash life-support equipment and reset it to factory defaults. The devices themselves are all available on the whole hospital network, so once you compromise an employee's laptop with a trojan, you can roam free. You can change CT scanner parameters and cause them to over-irradiate patients.

The one bright spot is that anaesthesia and ventilators are not generally networked and are more secure.

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3D printed tumors improve surgical outcomes

A team at Kobe university is improving tumor removal by 3D printing cancerous organs with their tumors, modelled on CT scans. The team use the models to visualize and plan their surgeries.

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Hobby Lobby, IUDs, and the facts

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide later this year whether a corporation can have religious beliefs. Maggie Koerth-Baker looks at the science of birth control, and how it might inform the debate.

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How we are dying

Bloomberg Visual Data reports on the ways people die, and how they have changed over time. The most interesting part of the report is about dementia and Alzheimer's:

The downside to living so long is that it dramatically increases the odds of getting dementia or Alzheimer's. That's why total deaths in the 75+ category has stayed constant despite impressive reductions in the propensity to die of heart disease.

The rise of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia has had a big impact on healthcare costs because these diseases kill the victim slowly.

About 40% of the total increase in Medicare spending since 2011 can be attributed to greater spending on Alzheimer's treatment.

How Americans Die

Anti-vaccine campaigner Jenny McCarthy says "I'm not anti-vaccine"

"Jenny McCarthy is claiming she is not anti-vaccine," writes Phil Plait. "Here’s the problem with that claim: Yes, she is. That’s patently obvious due to essentially everything she’s been saying about vaccines for years. Yet in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times on April 12, 2014, she tries to ignore all that, and wipe the record clean."

The context of this change of heart? A lot of human suffering.

Celebrate World Homeopathy Awareness Week with homeopathyawarenessweek.org

It's World Homeopathy Awareness Week, so the Good Thinking Society (a nonprofit devoted to promoting rational thought) has put up a new site at homeopathyawarenessweek.org in which you will be made aware of a bunch of facts that homeopathy advocates are often slow to mention -- like adults and children who've died because they were treated with homeopathic sugar-pills, the tragic foolishness of Homeopaths Without Borders, who are memorably described as "well-meaning folk [who fly] into places of crisis in the developing world carrying suitcases full of homeopathic tablets that contain nothing but sugar. It is not so much Médecins Sans Frontières as Médecins Sans Medicine."

The more aware you are of homeopathy -- that is, the more you learn about all the ways in which homeopathy has been examined by independent, neutral researchers who've tested its claims and found them baseless -- the less there is to like about it. From ineffective homeopathy "vaccine alternatives" that leave your children -- and the children around them -- vulnerable to life-threatening illnesses that have been brought back from the brink of extinction by vaccine denial to the tragic story of Penelope Dingle, who suffered a horrific and lingering death due to treatable bowel-cancer because she followed her husband's homeopathic advice, being aware of homeopathy is a very good thing.

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Painting babies' medical helmets

Robbo sez, "Artist Paula Strawn paints the plain white medical helmets of babies and transforms them into super awesome designs. The flight helmets and droid designs are really cool - but so are the Van Gogh and Seurat paintings. And the wee tykes look like they love 'em too."

The kids have flat head syndrome and have to wear the helmets; Strawn's done 1,300 helmets in 12 years, through her business Lazardo Art.

Artist Turns Babies' Head-Shaping Helmets Into Impressive Works Of Art [Mandy Velez/Huffington Post]

(Thanks, Robbo!)

HOWTO make a chattering-teeth tooth-brushing timer

Here's a Make HOWTO for converting a set of wind-up novelty chattering teeth to an electronic tooth-brushing timer and toothbrush holder -- take your toothbrush out, start it running, and the teeth will chatter for two minutes (the recommended brushing time).

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Crowdfunding money to rebuild destroyed Montana family health clinic

Since 1976, Susan Cahill of All Families Healthcare has been in family practice in Montana, offering compassionate family/reproductive health services -- including abortion. It is for this reason that her clinic was all but destroyed by violent thugs, who even trashed her irreplaceable personal mementos. An Indiegogo fundraiser has brought in about $32K so far. Cory 14

It's tough being a cop

The life of a police officer is medically and pscyhologically ruinous, writes Erika Hayasaki: "Brian had been a healthy and fit ex-airborne infantry soldier when he began his policing career. But he eventually developed hypertension, anxiety, peripheral neuropathy, hearing loss, arthritis, and post-traumatic stress disorder." [Atlantic]

How Disney movies gave an autistic boy his voice


In Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism , Pulitzer-winning writer Ron Suskind tells the incredible story of how his son Owen disappeared into "regressive autism" at the age of three, losing the ability to speak or understand speech and developmentally degenerating across a variety of metrics, only to reemerge a few years later, able to communicate through references and dialog from the Disney movies he obsessively watches.

A long excerpt in the New York Times, generously illustrated with Owen's expressive fan-art, hints at a book that is wrenching and inspirational by turns. It reminds me of 3500, Ron Miles's memoir of raising a son with autism who was able to engage with the world through thousands of re-rides of Snow White's Scary Adventures at Walt Disney World.

Suskind is a brilliant writer, and the excerpt is deeply moving. I've pre-ordered my copy.

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Humana screws Brandon Boyer for $100K worth of cancer bills - help him pay them


Our good pal Brandon "Offworld" Boyer has cancer. Lucky for Brandon, he signed up for medical insurance with Humana not long before he was diagnosed. Unlucky for him, Humana has decided unilaterally not to cover his cancer treatments and has stuck him with with a $100,000 bill. He's raising money from the Internet to help pay for his life-saving treatments. I'm in for $100. If you're thinking of getting insured, be warned: Humana will screw you and screw you and screw you.

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Bee diarrhea conference underway

An amusing headline, but a serious problem for beleaguered beekeepers in England: "According to committee member David McLarin, nosema is becoming more prevalent in the South West and that is not good news as bees with the problem hardly produce any honey." [Exeter Express via Fortean Times]