Archive for August, 2009


Posted by on Wednesday, 26 August, 2009

In the lab 2004

Dr. Mike Bodo in
his laboratory
(photo courtesy of Dr. Bodo)


As you can imagine, the war in Iraq resulted in lots of head trauma – the most since Vietnam. But changes in how major head wounds are treated, more attention to relieving internal pressure, and a tendency to remove debris only when it is truly necessary, have greatly reduced the death rate from these horrible wounds to about 5% which, considering the severity of many of these injuries is unbelievable.

This doesn’t mean that the victims get their lives back. Recovery from head trauma can be slow and difficult. However, the chances of a good recovery can go up with the use of a “new” technique I just learned about, called rheoencephalography (REG).

For wounded soldiers with blast injuries to the head, the presence of shrapnel often interferes with conventional instruments like CAT scans, MRI, and Doppler ultrasound. This is where rheoencephalography has been so incredibly helpful.

Measuring brain blood flow, REG makes it possible for medical personnel to noninvasively determine when the regulation of blood flow in the brain goes wrong – as it often does with the bleeding that’s typical of these blast injuries. Even WITHOUT bleeding, the effect of the blast can mess up the brain’s ability to effectively regulate the flow of blood. A breakdown of regulation (technically, autoregulation) can be, and often is, fatal.

I talked to Doctor Mike Bodo about the uses of REG. Dr. Bodo is a Senior Scientist who, through the American Registry of Pathology,works for the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research .

“Mike, is this a new instrument? I don’t believe I ever heard of it before.”

“Not at all. The technique was first developed in the 50’s. I first started working with REG in Hungary where I grew up.

“About twenty years ago, the Hungarian government financed a study to systematically look for individuals who were at risk for stroke. The instrument on which the study was based was called Cerberus, named for the multi-headed dog in Greek mythology that guards the gates of Hell. The metaphor refers to arteriosclerosis and its many risk factors such as hypertension, smoking, and high cholesterol. With so many possible causes, it is not enough to follow just one cause – thus, all those heads.

“At the time of the study, there was still some question about whether rheoencephalography, which actually measures the electrical resistance between the electrodes, was an accurate indication of cranial blood volume change. It turns out, however, that nothing else can detect brain arteriosclerosis so effectively and so early. Not even close.

“According to this large study, even Doppler ultrasound isn’t as effective in detecting brain arteriosclerosis as REG.”

I asked him where the greatest need for REG is.

“Without a doubt, the greatest need is as a screening tool for early indications of stroke. We call this ‘primary prevention’.

“I can tell you, from my own professional experiences, that stroke is an awful disability. It’s really frustrating to see the damage it can do, to know that a method of early detection exists, and to see this capability languishing because the focus is on more glamorous but less deadly diseases.

“And, by the way,” he said, “I’m not surprised that you haven’t heard of rheoencephalography. It’s virtually unknown to the public and even less so to the medical community. Ironically, medical procedures which are identical, in principal, to rheoencephalography ARE in use but they are known as venous phlebography and thoracic impedance measurement”

Mike, it turns out, along with his wife Janice, is a major advocate of this technique and has dedicated much of his life to making others aware of its potential. I asked him what other uses have been found for REG.

“You would be surprised how many there are. Because it is noninvasive and doesn’t require a tremendous amount of training to use, it has found uses in areas as varied as determining the degree of damage that alcohol causes to the brain’s blood vessels, to measuring the “neuroprotective” quality of new drugs. The main obstacle to its widespread use in medicine is that rheoencephalography has not yet evolved the degree of standardization that techniques such as EEG and ECG have. For that to happen, someone has to create an FDA approved medical instrument that integrates the components of the system into a smaller and more easily deployed medical instrument.”

ScienceAin’tSoBad will track keep an eye on this promising instrument. Stay posted.


According to the FDA, a Rheoencephalograph is a device used to estimate a patient’s cerebral circulation. For further details REG was the primary instrument used in this study. Also see Bodo M and REG .

Another Step In Hearing Research

Posted by on Saturday, 22 August, 2009


HearingResearch: Restoring Hair Cells

OK. It’s getting exciting.

John Brigande, of the Oregon Hearing Research Centre in Portland, (Centre? Isn’t that a little pretentious for Portland) has implanted a gene and demonstrated growth of hair cells in the inner ear.

Functional and quite normal hair cells.

In a mouse embryo.Mouse embryos are, no doubt, pleased.

The article has a trying-not-to-get-too-excited tone, emphasizing that there’s still a lot of work to do. While conceding that it is no longer a “pipe dream” to talk about medical solutions to hearing loss, Mark Downs of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People made it clear that he is not about to get drawn into a discussion of when human trials could begin.

Science Ain’t So Bad happens to agree with the cautionary words.

There would seem to be numerous ways that this can all go wrong – turning into tumors. failing after 6 months, and, obviously, something different about mouse ears.

Still, if only for the little frisson of excitement (and for, seemingly, careful work in the best traditions of science), ScienceAin’tSoBadRating = 8 .


Posted by on Wednesday, 12 August, 2009

Automotive Engineering: 230 Delusion Per Mile
General Motors just announced a remarkable fact about its new “Chevy Volt”. Fuel economy of two hundred thirty unbelievable miles per gallon.
As a Plug-in Hybrid, the Volt charges up overnight and then gives you a “free” ride of as much as 40 miles before it has to switch over to its gasoline engine. Factoring this in, General Motors appears to think that the typical owner of a Chevy Volt will get 230 mile per gallon (looking at it in terms of the “gas in the tank”).
..electricity isn’t free energy. It comes (mainly) from fossil fuels. And the diesel engine at the power plant has its own carnot cycle and the power lines have transmission losses. If you figure out the EQUIVALENT mpg including that of the fuel being burned up back at the powerplant (oh yeah!), you’re gonna get a lot more realistic number for fuel economy.
The Volt is, no doubt, a significant vehicle and an efficient one and ScienceAintSoBad wishes General Motors Corporation much luck with the venture.
Not even mad that it’s checking to see if we’re paying attention.
We are.
ScienceAin’tSoBadRating = 1

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

Posted by on Sunday, 2 August, 2009

Photography by me


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.


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


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


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


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


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