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ALTERNATIVES TO ANIMAL EXPERIMENTATION
The Heartbeat of Technology
Digital animation is allowing heart surgeons to practice complex surgeries without risk to their human patients. The CyberHeart, produced by New York University Medical Center and the technology firm CyberFiber, is a computerized, three-dimensional heart that works just like the real thing, complete with artery blockages and heartbeat irregularities. The system uses medical animation software integrated into robotic systems to allow surgeons-in-training to practice operations in virtual reality. The invention took one and a half years to develop and marks the most precise and detailed beating “heart” ever created.
New Human Blood Test Reduces Animal Usage
German researchers at the University of Leipzig have developed a new method for testing whether certain substances will cause an inflammatory or anti-inflammatory reaction in humans. The technique relies on cultured human monocytes (a type of white blood cell) taken from human blood samples. The new system could potentially reduce the number of animals used in experiments by millions worldwide.
Dangerous germs are thriving despite medicine’s arsenal of antibiotics, including Cipro, a brand of flouroquinolones widely used during the 2001 anthrax scare. As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that Cipro’s effectiveness rate dropped from 86 percent to 76 percent from 1994 to 2000. Antibiotic resistance is growing from overusing and misusing the drugs for viruses.
An experiment at the University of Nebraska found that antibiotics used in farmed chickens, pigs, and cows pass from feces into soil and remain there longer and reach deeper soil levels than previously thought, perpetuating the spread of antibiotic resistance. The finding raises concerns over the development of bacteria that cannot be treated with available medicines.
Neuhauser MM, Weinstein RA, Rydman R, Danziger LH, Karam G, Quinn JP. Antibiotic resistance among gram-negative bacilli in U.S. intensive care units. JAMA. 2003;289:885-888.
More Evidence That Milk Does Not Prevent Osteoporosis
A new report from the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study of 72,000 postmenopausal women showed that neither milk nor a high-calcium diet reduce fracture rates at all in 18 years of follow-up. Adequate intake of vitamin D, on the other hand, was associated with a lower risk of osteoporatic hip fractures. Women consuming 12.5 micrograms of vitamin D from foods plus supplements had a 37 percent lower risk of hip fracture. Skin exposure to sunlight can also serve as a major source of vitamin D.
Meanwhile, a report from the World Health Organization has called for a daily minimal intake of just 400 to 500 mg of calcium, and that only applies to older adults in countries with high fracture rates. The panel cited “the calcium paradox”—that hip fracture rates are high in developed countries where calcium intake is also high. The reason seems to be protein. The panel reported that “accumulated data indicate the possibility that the adverse effect of protein, in particular animal (but not vegetable) protein, might outweigh the positive effect of calcium intake in calcium balance.”
Feskanich D, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77:504-511.
Diet and Parkinson’s Disease
The Harvard School of Public Health reports that Parkinson’s disease in men was linked to intake of certain dairy products. Men with the highest intakes of lactose, dairy calcium, dairy vitamin D, or dairy protein had a 50 to 80 percent increase in Parkinson’s disease risk, compared with men who consumed the least. Researchers hypothesize that possible contributors to the disease are tetrahydroisoquinolines, found in milk and cheese, or the pesticides and PCBs that commonly contaminate dairy products.
Chen H, Shumin ZM, Hernan MA, Willett W, Ascherio A. Diet and Parkinson’s disease: a potential role of dairy products in men. Ann Neurol. 2003;52:793-801.
Outsmarting Alzheimer’s Disease
Saturated and hydrogenated fats in the diet appear to increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging in Illinois studied 815 people over age 65, finding that fatty diets were a major predictor of who would develop dementia over the next four years. Those in the upper fifth of saturated fat intake had 2.2 times the risk of succumbing to the disease. Saturated fats are common in dairy products, meat, and tropical oils. In contrast, participants with higher intakes of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats had greater protection against Alzheimer’s disease. These healthy fats are found in flaxseeds, almonds, avocados, peanuts, olives, and oils such as canola, soybean, sunflower, and olive oil.
A second, four-year Archives of Neurology study of 980 elderly subjects looking at antioxidant vitamin intake found that neither dietary, supplemental, or total intake of carotenes and vitamins C and E offered any protection against Alzheimer’s. The journal also reported that estrogen hormones did not improve cognitive function in women with Alzheimer’s. One hundred and twenty women with Alzheimer’s were treated with Premarin for one year but had no improvements in general cognition, memory, attention, or other measurements.
Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, et al. Dietary fats and the risk of incident Alzheimer’s disease. Arch Neurol. 2003;60:194-200.
Luchsinger JA, Ming-Xin, T, Shea S, Mayeux R. Antioxidant vitamin intake and risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Arch Neurol. 2003;60:203-208.
Thal LJ, Thomas RG, Mulnard R, Sano M, Grundman M, Schneider L. Estrogen levels do not correlate with improvement in cognition. Arch Neurol. 2003;60:209-212.
Outweighing the Competition
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have proved that super-sizing is real. They analyzed nationwide food consumption surveys completed from 1977 to 1998 and found that portion sizes have indeed increased for salty snacks, desserts, soft drinks, fruit drinks, French fries, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and Mexican food, served inside and outside the home. For most food selections, fast food establishments served the largest portions. Since 1971, adult obesity in the United States has increased from 14.5 percent to more than 30 percent of the population.
Neilsen J, Popkin B. Patterns and trends in food portion sizes, 1977-1998. JAMA. 2003;289:450-453.