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Stem Cells to Cure Blindness?

Posted by jase on November 27, 2009

People suffering from a form of incurable blindness could soon become the first patients in the world to benefit from a new and controversial transplant operation using stem cells derived from spare human embryos left over from IVF treatment. 

 Scientists working for an American biotechnology company yesterday applied for a licence to carry out a clinical trial on patients in the US suffering from a type of macular degeneration, which causes gradual loss of vision. They expect the transplant operations to begin early in the new year. 

The development is highly controversial because many “pro-life” groups are opposed to using human embryos in any kind of medical research but scientists believe that the benefits could revolutionise the treatment of many incurable disorders ranging from Parkinson’s to heart disease.

The company has applied for a licence from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is confident of its application being granted. 

“We’ve seen absolutely no adverse effects whatsoever in any of the preclinical experiments and our cells are more than 99.9 per cent pure,” said Dr Robert Lanza, the chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Worcester, Massachusetts. 

“We certainly expect them [the FDA] to come back with comments and questions but our hope is that we will start sometime early next year. We’re optimistic and certainly confident in our own data. We’ve been in dialogue [with the FDA] and we know what was on their mind and what they wanted us to do,” he said. “We’re hoping, assuming no hitches, to begin early next year, perhaps March.” 

Stem cells derived from human embryos that are only a few days old have the ability to develop into any of the scores of specialised tissues of the body. The hope is that they could be used to repair the damaged organs and tissues of patients with a relatively simple transplant procedure. 

ACT has filed an “investigational new drug” application with the FDA to treat a form of progressive damage to the retina of the eye called Stargardt’s macular degeneration, which destroys the central part of the retina involved in recognising faces and reading words on a page. They also intend to follow this with an application to treat age-related macular degeneration, which affects more than 500,000 people in Britain and is the most common cause of blindness. 

“We hope to file a second application for age-related macular degeneration very soon within the next few months,” said Dr Lanza. “I think we’ve put together a pretty convincing case but the FDA has to be pretty careful. I’m sure they will come back to us in the next 30 days with more questions.” 

The treatment for eye disease uses stem cells to recreate a type of cell in the retina that supports the photoreceptors needed for vision. These cells form the retinal pigment epithelium – which keep the light-sensing cells of the retina alive – which are often the first to die off in macular degeneration, which in turn leads to loss of vision, he said. 

A single cell from a human embryo left over from IVF treatment was used in the creation of the stem cell “line” that Dr Lanza and his colleagues cultivated in the laboratory. By bathing the stem cells in a suite of chemical messengers, they were able to stimulate them to develop into fully mature retinal pigment epithelium cells. 

Tests on animals found that transplants of the human cells into rats with macular degeneration resulted in a “100 per cent improvement” in vision with no side-effects, Dr Lanza said. Transplants into the 12 human volunteers chosen as guinea pigs for the first clinical trial will involve giving them mild immuno-suppressant drugs to prevent tissue rejection. 

“We’re going to take a precautionary approach and use low-dose immuno-suppression after the operation and after six weeks we’ll taper it off. We don’t know whether we will really need it,” Dr Lanza said. 

He said the clinical trial could well be the first in the world because the only other company that had received a licence from the FDA had had to delay the start of its own clinical trial until the end of next year. 

Geron, which received its FDA licence earlier this year, has run into safety problems with experiments on animals involving the growth of cysts. It has had to provide further information to the FDA in order to satisfy nervous regulators that the new technique is as safe as possible. 

Meanwhile, ACT believes it has stolen a march on Geron because its own pre-clinical studies on animals have shown that its embryonic stem cells are extremely pure and safe with no signs of the cysts seen in the animals injected with the embryonic stem cells that Geron was hoping to use in patients suffering from spinal cord injuries. “They’ve been through this with Geron and the company has put out an announcement that they won’t start until the third quarter of next year, so ours may well be the first trial,” Dr Lanza said.

A similar proposal to treat age-related macular degeneration with embryonic stem cells is being developed by scientists in Britain led by Professor Pete Coffey of University College London, but this clinical trial is unlikely to start until early 2011. “It’s such a complex, wholly new process that nobody had done before and it has to be done properly,” he said. 

“It hasn’t been done before in humans and that is affecting the last stages of the plan to get into the clinic so it’s obvious that we don’t want anything to go wrong. But someone has to be the first take that step.” 

Dr Lanza said that extensive work had been done to ensure that the cells derived from embryonic stem cells were of high enough quality to be considered clinical grade. His company has submitted nine volumes of safety data to the FDA to address concerns over purity and the possibility that the stem cells may trigger the formation of cancerous tumours. 

“What we definitely have going for us is that the cells are so well purified, well characterised and there are no adverse effects. So there is nothing here to send up a flag of concern,” Dr Lanza said. “It has been over a decade since human embryonic stem cells were first discovered. The field desperately needs a big clinical success.”

“After years of research and political debate, we’re finally on the verge of showing the potential clinical value of embryonic stem cells. Our research clearly shows that stem cell-derived retinal cells can rescue visual function in animals that otherwise would have gone blind.

 “We are hopeful that the cells will be similarly efficacious in patients,” Dr Lanza added.

Posted in Biology, DNA, Medical, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

How Fast Can a Human Possibly Run?

Posted by jase on August 16, 2009

Amazing as Usain Bolt’s new world record 100-meter victory was, his time of 9.58 seconds is nowhere near what biostatisticians such as Peter Weyand of SMU thinks is the natural limit for the human body. Experts studying the steady progression of records over the past 50 years, see the limit of the world record, with a probable error of 0.17 seconds, namely, to lie between 9.26 to 9.60 seconds. Some see 5.0 seconds a possibility.

Because 6′ 5″ Usian Bolt broke the mathematical model that had fit 100-meter record data for almost a century, his incredible performance has reset the bar for how fast researchers believe humans ultimately can run. Will it be done by a 6′ 9″  or 7′ future version of Bolt?

 

How fast will man eventually run? Will he ever run the 100 meters in five seconds flat?

“Not impossible,” says one of the world’s best known authorities on physiology and biomechanics. Professor Peter Weyand, of Southern Methodist University, known for his expertise in terrestrial locomotion and human and animal performance. Weyand said that humans would soon have the ”ability to modify and greatly enhance muscle fibre strength.” This is would actually reduce the difference between the muscle properties of humans and the world’s fastest animal, the cheetah, to almost zero.

Usain Bolt has now brought up the question — will man get faster and faster? And based on what Weyand says, will he one day outrun the cheetah?

“Probably not,” said Weyand. “The same laws of physics apply to all runners. However, biologically speaking, speed is conferred by an ability of the limbs to hit the ground forcefully in relation to the body’s weight, an attribute conferred largely by the properties of the muscles of the runner. The fast four-legged runners or quadrupeds do seem to be advantaged versus bipeds in terms of the mechanics allowed by their anatomy. These mechanics help quadrupeds to get the most out of the muscles that they have in a way that bipedal runners probably cannot.

Scientists believe man can’t run faster than 30 mph, with the best at about 27mph. A cheetah, on the other hand, reaches speeds triple that. Weyand said he expected speed to continue to improve and faster runners to emerge.

Reza Noubary, a mathematician at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and author of a textbook on statistics and sports, had previously calculated an “ultimate record” of 9.44 seconds for the 100 meter.

Mathematicians don’t use the body’s physiology to assess human physical limits. They were merely working with data that suggested that human speed increases were decelerating and would eventually stop completely. Indeed, in some events, like the long jump, the pace of record-setting has slowed nearly to a stop. That record has only been broken twice since 1968.

Despite the success of Mureika’s model, Weyand, said that mathematical models could never predict how fast humans might eventually run.

“Predicting it is fine for the sake of kicks, but it’s not a scientifically valid approach,” Weyand said. “You have to assume that everything that has happened in the past will continue in the future.”

He suggested that it’s impossible for mathematicians to predict the magnitude of the “freakiness of athletic talent at the extreme margins of humanity. Bolt, it turns out, is a perfect example.”

Weyand, who has conducted research on the body types of the top 45 100-meter sprinters in the last 15 years, said that almost all elite runners conform to the body norms for their race length, except for the most-recent Olympic champion.

“Bolt is an outlier. He’s enormous,” Weyand said. “Typically when you get someone that big, they can’t start.”

That’s because muscle speed in animals is generally tied to their size. For example, rodents, being much smaller than elephants, can move their muscles much faster. The same holds true for human beings. Sprinters are short and have more fast-twitch muscle fibers, allowing them to accelerate quickly, but compromising their ability to run longer distances. Four hundred-meter runners, almost always taller, have the reverse composition of muscle fibers.

Bolt, though, combines the mechanical advantages of taller men’s bodies with the fast-twitch fibers of smaller men.

“We don’t really know what the best form is and maybe Bolt is redefining that and showing us we missed something,” said biomechanicist John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London, who studies how animals move.

Hutchinson also agreed with Weyand that the human speed limit will remain impossible to predict with any confidence.

For him, it’s the International Olympic Committee and other regulatory authorities that will determine how fast athletes will be able to run by limiting the amount of advanced biotechnologies sprinters can use.

“The limits will be largely set by the rules of the IOC,” Hutchinson said. “It’s kind of an arms race with the regulators of the sport and the people trying to push the technology to the limits. At some point here there must be a détente where technology can’t push us any further and the rules will restrict it.”

With techniques for gene therapy likely to become available at some point in the not-too-distant future, Weyand said that its use by athletes was “inevitable.”

“You could see really freakish things and we probably will,” he warned.

Source: Daily Galaxy

Posted in Biology, DNA, Healthy Living, Medical, Men, Science | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Can Easter Island Compound Extend Life?

Posted by jase on July 12, 2009

The giant monoliths of Easter Island are worn, but they have endured for centuries. New research suggests that a compound first discovered in the soil of the South Pacific island might help us stand the test of time, too.

Wednesday, July 8, in the journal Nature, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and two collaborating centers reported that the Easter Island compound – called “rapamycin” after the island’s Polynesian name, Rapa Nui – extended the expected lifespan of middle-aged mice by 28 percent to 38 percent. In human terms, this would be greater than the predicted increase in extra years of life if cancer and heart disease were both cured and prevented.

The rapamycin was given to the mice at an age equivalent to 60 years old in humans.

The studies are part of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) Interventions Testing Program, which seeks compounds that might help people remain active and disease-free throughout their lives. The other two centers involved are the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.

The Texas study was led by scientists at two institutes at the UT Health Science Center: the Institute of Biotechnology (IBT) and the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies.

“I’ve been in aging research for 35 years and there have been many so-called ‘anti-aging’ interventions over those years that were never successful,” said Arlan G. Richardson, Ph.D., director of the Barshop Institute. “I never thought we would find an anti-aging pill for people in my lifetime; however, rapamycin shows a great deal of promise to do just that.”

Discovered in the 1970s, rapamycin was first noted for its anti-fungal properties and later was used to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients. It also is used in stents, which are implanted in patients during angioplasty to keep coronary arteries open. It is in clinical trials for the treatment of cancer.

The new aging experiments found that adding rapamycin to the diet of older mice increased their lifespan. The results were the same in Texas, Michigan and Maine.

“We believe this is the first convincing evidence that the aging process can be slowed and lifespan can be extended by a drug therapy starting at an advanced age,” said Randy Strong, Ph.D., who directs the NIA-funded Aging Interventions Testing Center in San Antonio. He is a professor of pharmacology at the UT Health Science Center and a senior research career scientist with the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.

The findings have “interesting implications for our understanding of the aging process,” said Z. Dave Sharp, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Biotechnology and professor and chairman of the Health Science Center’s Department of Molecular Medicine.

“In addition,” Dr. Sharp said, “the findings have immediate implications for preventive medicine and human health, in that rapamycin is already in clinical usage.”

Source: PhysOrg.com

Posted in Aging, Biology, Life Expectancy, Medical, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Photographic Memory in Pill Form?

Posted by jase on July 8, 2009

The most interesting upgrades aren’t for your computer, your car, or even the internet – they’re for you.  We’ve always tinkered with our own thought processes (using crude equipment like “alcohol” and “regular exercise”) but now mankind has the tools and time to tune the system directly, and one team of scientists may make yellow sticky notes obsolete: they’ve found a way to boost visual memory.

A team of scientists at the Spanish University of Malaga were working with rat brains, because of the combination of ethics and wimpiness that prevents human trials.  They found that a particular protein (RGS-14) boosted a region of the brain known as the “V2 secondary visual cortex”, which makes rats sound significantly more like Terminators than you previously thought.  (Nightmares resulting from that image are not our responsibility).

Increasing the levels of this protein upgraded the rats visual memory allowing them to remember things for fifteen hundred times longer than normal (two months instead of an hour).  The interesting aspect is that this upgrade isn’t a new property, but a re-routing of existing processes – the protein seems to cause the formation of long term memories instead of short term, gifting the rat with what could be a photographic visual memory.  Which, considering that these are actual lab rats with needles being jabbed into their brains, probably sucks quite a lot.  The team also found that destruction of the V2 region utterly eliminated all visual memory of the past – which you can view as research, cruel, or gifting the the rats with a Zen state that takes decades of meditation to achieve.

The potential applications are obvious, and enormous, but beware the hidden downsides – the human brain is the most incredibly sophisticated system ever even conceived of and any tinkering can have huge side effects.  This doesn’t mean don’t do anything (we’d still be in caves otherwise), but be aware that you can’t say “IF this THEN that” where neural networks are concerned.  Intelligence-upgrades are an inevitable field, already in progress with prototype products like piracetam and caffeine, so it’s time to make up your mind if you’re going to make your own mind.

Source: Daily Galaxy

Posted in Biology, Medical, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Did You Know: The History of Toilet Paper

Posted by jase on July 7, 2009

The average American uses 57 squares a day and 50 pounds of toilet paper per year.Since the dawn of time, people have found nifty ways to clean up after the bathroom act. The most common solution was simply to grab what was at hand: coconuts, shells, snow, moss, hay, leaves, grass, corncobs, sheep’s wool — and, later, thanks to the printing press — newspapers, magazines, and pages of books.  

The ancient Greeks used clay and stone; the Romans, sponges and salt water. But the idea of a commercial product designed solely to wipe one’s bum? That started about 150 years ago, right here in the U.S.A. In less than a century, Uncle Sam’s marketing genius turned something disposable into something indispensable.

Toilet paper gets on a roll

The first products designed specifically to wipe one’s nethers were aloe-infused sheets of manila hemp dispensed from Kleenex-like boxes. They were invented in 1857 by a New York entrepreneur named Joseph Gayetty, who claimed his sheets prevented hemorrhoids.

Gayetty was so proud of his therapeutic bathroom paper that he had his name printed on each sheet. But his success was limited. Americans soon grew accustomed to wiping with the Sears Roebuck catalog, and they saw no need to spend money on something that came in the mail for free.

Toilet paper took its next leap forward in 1890, when two brothers named Clarence and E. Irvin Scott popularized the concept of toilet paper on a roll. The Scotts’ brand became more successful than Gayetty’s medicated wipes, in part because they built a steady trade selling toilet paper to hotels and drugstores.

But it was still an uphill battle to get the public to openly buy the product, largely because Americans remained embarrassed by bodily functions. In fact, the Scott brothers were so ashamed of the nature of their work that they didn’t take proper credit for their innovation until 1902.

“No one wanted to ask for it by name,” says Dave Praeger, author of “Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product.”

“It was so taboo that you couldn’t even talk about the product.” By 1930, the German paper company Hakle began using the tag line, “Ask for a roll of Hakle and you won’t have to say toilet paper!”

As time passed, toilet tissues slowly became an American staple. But widespread acceptance of the product didn’t officially occur until a new technology demanded it.

At the end of the 19th century, more and more homes were being built with sit-down flush toilets tied to indoor plumbing systems. And because people required a product that could be flushed away with minimal damage to the pipes, corncobs and moss no longer cut it. In no time, toilet paper ads boasted that the product was recommended by both doctors and plumbers.

Strength of going soft

In the early 1900s, toilet paper was still being marketed as a medicinal item. But in 1928, the Hoberg Paper Company tried a different tack. On the advice of its ad men, the company introduced a brand called Charmin and fitted the product with a feminine logo that depicted a beautiful woman.

The genius of the campaign was that by evincing softness and femininity, the company could avoid talking about toilet paper’s actual purpose. Charmin was enormously successful, and the tactic helped the brand survive the Great Depression. (It also helped that, in 1932, Charmin began marketing economy-size packs of four rolls.) Decades later, the dainty ladies were replaced with babies and bear cubs — advertising vehicles that still stock the aisles today.

By the 1970s, America could no longer conceive of life without toilet paper. Case in point: In December 1973, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson joked about a toilet paper shortage during his opening monologue. But America didn’t laugh. Instead, TV watchers across the country ran out to their local grocery stores and bought up as much of the stuff as they could.

Also telling was that, in 1978, a TV Guide poll named Mr. Whipple –the affable grocer who implored customers, “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” — the third best-known man in America, behind former President Richard Nixon and the Rev. Billy Graham.

Rolling the world

Currently, the United States spends more than $6 billion a year on toilet tissue — more than any other nation in the world. Americans, on average, use 57 squares a day and 50 pounds a year. Even still, the toilet paper market in the United States has largely plateaued.

The real growth in the industry is happening in developing countries. There, it’s booming. Toilet paper revenues in Brazil alone have more than doubled since 2004. The radical upswing in sales is believed to be driven by a combination of changing demographics, social expectations, and disposable income.

“The spread of globalization can kind of be measured by the spread of Western bathroom practices,” says Praeger. When average citizens in a country start buying toilet paper, wealth and consumerism have arrived. It signifies that people not only have extra cash to spend, but they’ve also come under the influence of Western marketing.

America without toilet paper?

Even as the markets boom in developing nations, toilet paper manufacturers find themselves needing to charge more per roll to make a profit. That’s because production costs are rising. During the past few years, pulp has become more expensive, energy costs are rising, and even water is becoming scarce. As the climate continues to change, toilet paper companies may need to keep hiking up their prices. The question is, if toilet paper becomes a luxury item, can Americans live without it?

The truth is that we did live without it, for a very long time. And even now, a lot of people do. In Japan, the Washlet — a toilet that comes equipped with a bidet and an air-blower — is growing increasingly popular. And all over the world, water remains one of the most common methods of self-cleaning. Many places in India, the Middle East, and Asia, for instance, still depend on a bucket and a spigot.

But as our economy continues to circle the drain, will Americans part with their beloved toilet paper in order to adopt more money-saving measures? Or will we keep flushing our cash away? Praeger, for one, believes a toilet-paper apocalypse is hardly likely. After all, the American marketing machine is a powerful thing.

Posted in History, Medical | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Self-Help Makes You Feel Worse

Posted by jase on July 5, 2009

Canadian researchers found in a new study that people with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements or mantras about themselves.

They said phrases such as “I am a lovable person” only helped people with high self-esteem.

The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

A UK psychologist said people based their feelings about themselves on real evidence from their lives.

The suggestion people should “help themselves” to feel better was first mooted by Victorian Samuel Smiles 150 years ago.

His book, called simply “Self Help”, sold a quarter of a million copies and included guidance such as: “Heaven helps those who help themselves”.

Self-help is now a multi-billion pound global industry.

‘Contradictory thoughts’

The researchers, from the University of Waterloo and the University of New Brunswick, asked people with high and low self-esteem to say “I am a lovable person.”

They then measured the participants’ moods and their feelings about themselves.

In the low self-esteem group, those who repeated the mantra felt worse afterwards compared with others who did not.

However people with high self-esteem felt better after repeating the positive self-statement – but only slightly.

The psychologists then asked the study participants to list negative and positive thoughts about themselves.

They found that, paradoxically, those with low self-esteem were in a better mood when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on affirmative thoughts.

Writing in the journal, the researchers suggest that, like overly positive praise, unreasonably positive self-statements, such as “I accept myself completely,” can provoke contradictory thoughts in individuals with low self-esteem.

Such negative thoughts can overwhelm the positive thoughts.

If people are instructed to focus exclusively on positive thoughts, negative thoughts might be especially discouraging.

Real life

The researchers, led by psychologist Joanne Wood, said: “Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”

However, they say positive thinking can help when it is part of a broader programme of therapy.

Simon Delsthorpe, a psychologist with Bradford District Care Trust and spokesman for the British Psychological Society, said self-esteem was based on a range of real life factors, and that counselling to build confidence – rather than telling yourself things are better than they are – was the solution.

“These are things like, do you have close family relationships, a wide network of friends, employment and appearance.

“If you’re not close to your parents, don’t have many friends, are unemployed and are unhappy with your appearance, it might be hard to have high self-esteem.

“But if your experience is the reverse of that it would be much easier to say ‘I’m OK’ and believe that.”

Posted in Depression, Healthy Living, Medical, Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is An Ugly Baby Harder to Love?

Posted by jase on June 24, 2009

Cher & Eric Stoltz in a scene from Mask

Cher & Eric Stoltz in a scene from 'Mask'

Moms might want to hang on to those Mother’s Day cards they got last month. There may not be much more familial goodwill forthcoming — at least not after kids get wind of a new study released by Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital and published in the online journal PloS One. Turns out that your mother’s feelings for you may not be the unconditional things you always assumed. It’s possible, researchers say, that the prettier you were when you were born, the more she loved you.

It’s never been a secret that beautiful people get more breaks than everyone else, nor that the bias may start in the nursery. An oft cited — and deeply disturbing — Israeli study once showed that 70% of abused or abandoned children had at least one apparent flaw in their appearance, which otherwise had no impact on their health or educability. McLean psychiatrist Dr. Igor Elman and postdoctoral student Rinah Yamamoto devised a study to explore that phenomenon more closely.

Elman and Yamamoto recruited 27 volunteers — 13 men and 14 women — and sat them at computer screens where they were randomly shown pictures of 50 healthy and attractive babies and 30 others with distinct facial irregularities such as a cleft palate or a skin condition. The volunteers were told that each picture would remain on the screen for four seconds but they could shorten that time by clicking one key or prolong it by clicking another. What the researchers wanted to learn, Elman explains, is how much effort people were willing to exert to look at pictures of pretty babies or avoid pictures of less pretty ones — and, importantly, what that implies.

Much of the answer, they found out, depends on the beholder’s sex. The men in the study were less likely than women to click off photos of unattractive babies — viewing them for the full four seconds — but clicked quite a bit to hold on to the images of the pretty ones. Their reactions were the same whether they had children of their own or not. Women, conversely, left the keyboard alone when they were looking at pretty babies but hurried away from the less attractive ones — with the results again not seeming to be influenced by whether or not they were mothers themselves.

“[Women] pressed the key 2.5 times as much to get rid of those pictures,” Elman says. “That’s highly statistically significant.”

Of all the things driving that response, the most primal one may be evolution. Parents devote a lot of resources to raising a child — food, time, money, love — and those assets are usually in finite supply. All animals, humans included, are hardwired to spend wisely, devoting the most energy to the offspring most likely to yield the highest genetic payoff; healthy, beautiful offspring are the best bet of all. Perhaps women, who still must do the lion’s share of childcare, are naturally more attuned to this trade-off than men are. “In general, men tend to be aesthetically oriented,” Elman says, “so they’ll press a lot to hold the beautiful babies on the screen. Women are more consequence-oriented.”

There are some potential holes in Elman’s work, all of which he acknowledges. For one thing, it’s possible women avoid the unattractive faces not because they’re less sensitive to them but because they’re more sensitive, simply finding the hardships endured by unhealthy babies too difficult to contemplate. Such highly tuned empathy can ultimately make them better caregivers, even if a four-second exposure to the idea is painful. “Everyone will try to get away from a stimulus that feels like a punishment and hold on to one that feels like a reward,” Elman says.

More important, the way people of either gender react to a picture of an anonymous child with physical abnormalities is likely to be radically different from the way they would react if that child were their own — something that is readily evident from all the disabled children on whom parents lavish love. Still, the fact that both parents and nonparents in Elman’s study reacted the same way to the pictures suggests that their responses are deeply ingrained and that they may be hard to mitigate simply by having children of their own.

The gender differences, by the way, don’t let fathers off the hook. Men may not have hurried to get the unattractive faces off the screen, but neither did they linger over them the way they did the attractive faces. In both cases, this suggests bias, and when the rubber hits the road of real childcare, parents of either sex may end up having similar instincts. More clarity should come when Elman conducts the next phase of his work: running the same experiment but hooking the subjects up to brain scans throughout it. This will make it far easier to see just which areas of the brain are activated when viewing the pictures and, by implication, which feelings and motivations are being evoked. Until then, both Mom and Dad — who already have enough to worry about — should probably get the benefit of the doubt.

Posted in Biology, Culture, Infants, Medical, Men, Society | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Darius Goes West: The Vehicle

Posted by jase on June 22, 2009

Film Synopsis

Where would you go if you’d never been away from home? What would you do if you didn’t have much time left? DARIUS WENT WEST! Meet 15-year-old Darius Weems from Athens, Georgia, who was born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), the most common fatal genetic disorder to affect children worldwide. In 1999, he watched his beloved older brother, Mario, pass away from the same disease at age 19. Soon after, Darius lost use of the muscles in his legs and had to begin using a wheelchair.

A group of Darius’ college-age friends decided there was no need for his quality of life to disintegrate along with his muscles. In the summer of 2005, they rented a wheelchair-accessible RV and took Darius, who had never seen mountains, the ocean or even crossed a state line, on the adventure of a lifetime. The ultimate goal of their 7,000-mile cross-country journey was to reach Los Angeles and convince MTV’s hit show “Pimp My Ride” to customize Darius’ wheelchair. Along the way, they evaluated wheelchair accessibility in America, celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and raised awareness of DMD—particularly among a generation not familiar with Jerry Lewis. They also found joy, brotherhood and the knowledge that life, even when imperfect, is always worth the ride.

The Philosophy Behind this Film

This documentary is designed to entertain as well as educate the masses about DMD by telling a story through the lens of friendship. In addition to hilarious footage from this all-male road trip, Darius Goes West features personal stories from two other families affected by DMD, as well as an in-depth interview with a medical expert discussing promising new research that offers hope for treatment and possibly even a cure.

This film focuses on ability, not disability. Darius Weems is no DMD poster child. He’s a typical teenager who wakes up grouchy and curses on occasion. But audiences love his sense of humor and his megawatt smile. And instead of feeling sorry for Darius because he is terminally ill, viewers share his excitement as he discovers America.

We know—and Darius knows—that DMD won’t be cured in his lifetime. Nevertheless, Darius took a road trip to raise awareness of his disease in hopes of benefiting those with DMD who follow in his foot- steps—and to prove that life has no limits, even for those in a wheelchair.

www.dariusgoeswest.org

Posted in Causes, Inspiring Stories, Medical, Society | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »