Cataracts, Artificial Joints, Heart Attacks, Self-delusion, And Detecting Life

This entry was posted by Sunday, 2 August, 2009
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SCIENCE AIN’T SO BAD RATINGS (NEW)

I write about announcements, discoveries, and studies.

Since the point of this blog is science, and since the point of science is to weigh evidence and reach conclusions, I’ve introduced a ScienceAin’tSoBadRating which accompanies each of the studies.

I’m NOT trying to tell you what to think. That WOULD be ridiculous. As ridiculous as suggesting that I should be trusted to rank the work of contributors in areas as diverse as psychology, physics, entomology, and biochemistry.

But why not let you know my personal (though sometimes foolish) reaction to exciting new developments? If nothing else, it gives you another reason to comment on the blog and straighten me out.

Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 10. In extreme cases, a zero may creep in.

Ophthalmology: EYE DROPS FOR CATARACTS

Cataracts can be stopped. Maybe reversed. A fascinating and encouraging study led by Engric Rizzerlli. Side effects seem minimal. But the work hasn’t been replicated yet (an important part of science) and, so far, the medical community hasn’t embraced the idea. Obviously, you should check with your doctor and weigh what he/she says.

ScienceAin’tSoBadRating = 6.5

Orthopedics: ARTIFICIAL JOINTS THAT WON’T LET YOU DOWN

Imagine receiving an artificial hip. Surgery, recuperation, complications maybe. Then LOTS of physical therapy.

And then, the thing fails and has to be repaired. Yikes!

At Tel Aviv University. a new method of coating the surface of implants seems to have greatly improved the likelihood that implants won’t fail. Great news for patients receiving artificial joints.

This is only an animal study; you would never know from the article, would you? But the study involves sacrificing the test subject which, I am told, is considered very unprofessional where said test subject is a member of the human race.

When this technique hits the clinic, we will see if it is as good as it seems. But it sounds promising.

ScienceAin’tSoBadRating = 8

Cardiology: CURING A HEART ATTACK

Like lightening, a heart attack can come out of a clear blue sky and leave you dead. If you do survive, your heart is damaged for good. But it is now understood that heart tissue does regenerate at a very, very slow rate. And it’s possible, using stem cells, to increase the turnover rate and actually heal the damage. Course, you need a ready supply of stem cells – a big problem. But knowing that stem cell therapy CAN repair a flawed heart muscle offers a clue for new apporaches.

This effort, described in the journal “Cell“, uses a substance called “growth factor” to speed things up.

Another approach: bone marrow transplants. Also a long way to go.

This is “cool research” but it isn’t known if it is safe yet and much more work needs to be done. So..

ScienceAin’tSoBadRating = 4

Psychology: PEOPLE CAN BE RATIONAL. OCCASIONALLY.

Science Ain’t So Bad does its best to excite people about “critical thinking”, about evaluating evidence, about using our somewhat unreliable brains (Yes, I WILL speak for myself!) to sift through things and evaluate what people want us to believe.

According to a study in the Psychological Bulletin, I have my work cut out for me. Apparently people wanna believe what they believe and aren’t very open to ideas that would make them change their minds. Normally, they look for “like-minded views” which are much preferred over “the truth” which can be kinda upsetting.

This study is an analysis of 91 studies, 8000 study participants. That’s a lot.

ScienceAin’tSoBadRating = 9

Astrobiology: LIFE HAS A CERTAIN LOOK

We humans have been looking for company. In case you haven’t heard.

The search for alien life is slow and tedious. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been looking for a lost contact lens on the floor of a train station. After years on our knees, we’re losing hope.

But Thom Germer (and others at NIST) had a truly cool idea for a “life detector”. He thinks that life, if it is present on a planet, will reflect light in a certain way. The approach is based on “chirality” or handedness.

If you look at your left hand and compare it to your right hand, you get the idea. Chemical bonds have similar “handedness”. Germer realized that things that reproduce (living things, including us) tend to have a consistent chemical nature and, therefore, the otherwise random handedness of molecules would, on planets with life, have a greater consistency. And light from such a planet would be detectably different.

This is EXTREMELY provocative and brilliant. Unfortunately, it is also highly speculative.

ScienceAin’tSoBadRating = 2


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