Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Surgeon General Calls to Reduce Skin Cancer Rates

Skin cancer screening - SF0878
A report recently released by the surgeon general addresses the alarming rise of skin cancer with an immediate call to action against the most commonly diagnosed and preventable cancer in the country.  It is estimated that skin cancer treatments cost $8.1 billion annually, with almost 5 million Americans requiring treatment and nearly 9,000 deaths from melanoma every year.  The report outlines the increase of incidence rates, especially among young adults, due to outdoor sun exposure and increased popularity of indoor tanning.  The call to action identifies opportunities to reduce UV exposure through public awareness and community involvement, which may include wearing protective clothing and sunscreen, installing structures to provide shade in public areas, or even modifying school policies for the time of day children play outside.
Malignant melanoma - RA0777

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, but is also the most treatable.  Squamous cell carcinoma affects cells in the superficial layers of the skin, and can be treated with many of the same methods as basal cell carcinoma, including cutting out the affected area, freezing the cancer cells, or skin cream medications. Melanoma is the third most common type of skin cancer, and is responsible for the most skin cancer deaths if it becomes malignant and spreads to other systems in the body.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Extrasolar Planets and Planet Formation

Hot Jupiter, Extrasolar Planet BS1853
"Scientists searching for worlds outside of the Solar System say that three such planets — distant gas giants that resemble Jupiter — are surprisingly dry.
The atmospheres of these exoplanets, known as ‘hot Jupiters’, contain between one-tenth and one-thousandth water vapour than predicted, measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope show. The findings, published 24 July in Astrophysical Journal Letters, are at odds with theories of how planets form." - Mark Zastrow, July 24, 2014, 'Hot Jupiter' measurements throw water on theory, Nature International Weekly Journal of Science

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sandstone Arch Formation

Arch Canyon, Arizona 3C2636 
"The fantastical arch shapes of sandstone formations have long been thought to be sculpted by wind and rain. But a team of researchers has now found that the shapes are inherent to the rock itself.
'Erosion gets [excess] material out, but doesn’t make the shape,' says Jiri Bruthans, a hydrogeologist at Charles University in Prague, who led the research. Rather, erosion is merely a 'tool' that works in combination with more fundamental factors embedded in the rock.
These factors are stress fields created by the weight of overlying rock. Under low stress, Bruthans says, sandstone erodes easily. But as stress mounts — as parts of a cliff or pillar are eroded away, for example — the sand grains on the surface of the remaining rock lock together and become more resistant to further erosion." - Richard A. Lovett, July 20, 2014, Sandstone arches form under their own stress, Nature International Weekly Journal of Science

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Marijuana Abusers Less Responsive to Dopamine

Marijuana Leaf, SEM - JA5445
With the legalization of marijuana becoming increasingly prevalent (but no less controversial) in states like Colorado and Washington, research pertaining to the drug's chemical components and their long term effects on the human body remain scarce.  The challenge of studying the affects of marijuana can become quite difficult, as it involves approval from numerous federal agencies that become speed-bumps along the road to research.

However researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, M.D., were able to take a closer look at brain imaging scans of marijuana abusers to see how the dopamine system (the brain's "pleasure chemical") was affected by excessive, long-term use of the drug.  Their findings showed that while both the control group and marijuana abusers produced similar levels of dopamine, marijuana abusers exhibited almost none of the physical responses such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, restlessness, or feeling high.

Cocaine and alcohol abuse has been known to cause a decrease in dopamine production in the brain, though the same cannot be said for marijuana.  This latest research suggests that marijuana abusers can still produce normal amounts of dopamine, but may experience less reward or pleasure from their normal activities, fueling further dependence on the drug that can damage the brain's reward circuitry.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Oxygen and Evolution

Tiger Iron BU7005
"One of the biggest riddles in Earth's history is why animals did not evolve after a spike in oxygen levels approximately 2.3 billion years ago. Instead, despite what scientists had thought was a period of relatively high oxygen, the evolution of life on Earth stalled for what is dubbed the ‘boring billion’." - Jane Qiu, July 14, 2014, Oxygen fluctuations stalled life on Earth, Nature International Weekly Journal of Science

To read more click here.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Samples of Smallpox Found in Old NIH Lab

Smallpox Virus, TEM - BV2384
An old laboratory on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, MD., was in the process of being cleaned out in preparation for moving the lab to the main campus.  During that time, scientists uncovered six vials of the smallpox virus in a storage room, prompting an immediate response by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to transport the frozen samples to a secure facility.  Once there, the CDC will test the virus to see if it is still viable before destroying it.  There was no evidence of the samples being breached or lab workers being exposed to infection.

Smallpox is caused by the airborne variola virus, and results in flu-like symptoms which eventually develop into lesions appearing on the skin, which rapidly enlarge and rupture.  It is estimated that smallpox was responsible for 300-500 million deaths in the 20th century, until a vaccine was discovered and the disease eradicated in 1977.  Since then, only two facilities in the world are allowed to keep samples of the virus under tight security.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Evolution: Continuing Discoveries

Peking Man BD8800
"A trio of anthropologists has decided it's time to rewrite the story of human evolution.
That narrative has always been a work in progress, because almost every time scientists dig up a new fossil bone or a stone tool, it adds a new twist to the story. Discoveries lead to new arguments over the details of how we became who we are.
But anthropologists generally agree on this much: A little more than 2 million years ago in Africa, the human lineage emerged. Smithsonian anthropologist Rick Potts says the conventional wisdom is that much of Africa changed about then from forest to dry savanna. Our ape-like ancestors had to adapt or die, leave the forest and embrace the savanna — and in doing so, they evolved into something more like us." - Christopher Joyce, Dance Of Human Evolution Was Herky-Jerky, Fossils Suggest, NPR, July 4, 2014
To read more click here.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Battling the Ebola Outbreak

Ebola virus, molecular model - SP4493
The World Health Organization is attempting to contain an outbreak of Ebola which is "out of control" in regions of west Africa.  The outbreak, which experts believe may have started in February in southeast Guinea, has killed 468 of its 763 infected hosts.  The virus has since spread to neighboring parts of Liberia and Sierra Leone, mostly due to the high volume of commercial and social activity across the border.  WHO has begun gathering health officials from 11 countries in the region in an attempt to better educate the public about the virus and contain the outbreak as much as possible.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) is a disease caused by the Ebola virus after close contact with contaminated blood or body fluids.  Patients develop a fever, sore throat, muscle pains, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased liver and kidney function.  Eventually patients can develop severe internal bleeding, with an estimated 90% mortality rate.  There is no known cure or vaccine available to combat the virus, and the current situation in west Africa is seen as the largest outbreak in recorded history.

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