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Just the Facts

mouse and scientistAn Inconvenient Number of Thymus Glands
Researchers have now identified a second thymus gland in mice—that’s one more than you probably have. A second, or “ectopic,” thymus is rarely present in humans after birth, and when it is, it’s usually considered abnormal. In this study, however, an ectopic thymus was regularly found in adult mice and is considered part of their normal development. The discovery of yet another difference between mouse and human physiology threatens the validity of immunological research done in mice.

Terszowski G, Muller SM, Bleul CC, et al. Evidence for a functional second thymus in mice. Science. 2006 March 2; [Epub ahead of print].

It Does a Body Good
In spite of the dairy industry’s best efforts, milk consumption in the United States declined for the 15th straight year. Per capita fluid milk sales fell from 25.4 gallons in 1990 to 21.1 gallons in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

french couch potatoAdieu, la Difference! 
Obesity and diabetes epidemics that began in the United States 20 years ago are now emerging in France, traditionally home to one of the lowest obesity rates among westernized countries. The Kaiser Permanente study followed 3,770 normal-weight French men and women for six years. Twenty-one percent of participants gained 19.8 pounds or more and developed metabolic syndrome, a combination of conditions, including abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, and insulin resistance. The blame lies with the adoption of the American lifestyle—fast foods, processed foods, soft drinks, and little or no exercise.

Hillier TA, Fagot-Campagna A, Eschwege E, Vol S, Cailleau M, Balkau B; the D.E.S.I.R. Study group.  Weight change and changes in the metabolic syndrome as the French population moves towards overweight: the D.E.S.I.R. cohort. Int J Epidemiol. 2006 Feb;35(1):190-196.

french friesStill Searching for an Honest Fry
In February, Nadia Sugich, a Los Angeles resident who follows a vegan diet, filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald’s for flavoring its french fries with dairy ingredients. The suit came days after the company acknowledged the presence of wheat and dairy products, in spite of earlier claims that the fries were free of such potential allergens. Historically, McDonald’s seems to have trouble keeping its french fry facts straight. The company paid $10 million in 2002 and $8.5 million in 2005 to settle consumer suits over misleading public statements about cooking oil contents.

EU’s ECVAM KOs Rabbit Tests
The Scientific Advisory Committee of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) has validated six new cell culture tests. The new tests establish the toxicity of cancer drugs and identify bacteria-contaminated drugs with greater accuracy than current animal-based test methods. By themselves, the cell culture tests for contaminated drugs could save up to 200,000 rabbits a year. Tests validated by ECVAM are subject to approval by the Scientific Advisory Committee, after which they can be used in laboratories in 25 European nations.

European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC) 23.03.2006.

Hand Me That Tape Measure
Waist circumference in children and adolescents predicts insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes, independent of body mass index (BMI). Abdominal obesity poses a health risk even when BMI is not very high.

Lee S, Bacha F, Gungor N, Arslanian SA. Waist circumference is an independent predictor of insulin resistance in black and white youths. J Pediatr. 2006 Feb;148(2):188-194.

pigHeart-Friendly Bacon Not on Horizon
A Harvard Medical School researcher recently announced the creation of cloned, genetically engineered pigs with significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids—believed by some to stave off heart disease (often brought on by foods like, um, pork). The omega-3-producing gene comes from a microscopic roundworm.
Food and Drug Administration approval—never yet granted to food derived from a genetically engineered animal—is only one obstacle facing the project.  A new British Medical Journal study found no health benefit from omega-3.

Hooper L, Thompson RL, Harrison RA, et al. Risks and benefits of omega 3 fats for mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systemic review. BMJ. 2006. Available at, accessed Mar. 24, 2006.

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