Archive for September, 2013


Posted by on Monday, 30 September, 2013
Strength Training For Eldeers



IF you’re ninety, lift weights.

It’s good for you.

Dr. Mikel Isquierdo did a study in the journal Age.  It showed that people over ninety who to took part in a weight training program did great. The nanogenarians worked on strength training, flexibility, and balance. At the end, they  walked faster, popped out of their chairs like 75 year old kids and  had less falls.

And they and looked sexier.

Well, obviously, they did better. They were working out, right? What do you expect?

Here’s the thing. We don’t need some huge study to prove the obvious. Exercise is good. Of course it’s good.What we need to know is how they got Mister and Ms Getlostsonny to sign up. If this idea spreads, there’s going to be a lot of empty nursing homes.

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My drawing.


Posted by on Thursday, 26 September, 2013


Sex compared to physics



Is physics hard?

Sex would be hard if you were held responsible for the kama sutra on the final. But, like sex, physics can be a rush if you just lay back and enjoy it. That’s what I suggest you do today. This video is hugely fun but it’s not simplistic. In fact, I learned a couple of things about back when the universe was was a pea pod – some of them quite surprising. I knew about the priest who came up with the big bang theory. But I didn’t really think of the first fraction of a second this way. It’s pretty cool. Really.

This is from “Minute Physics” and has been embedded from Youtube.

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The cartoon is mine


Posted by on Thursday, 26 September, 2013


Russia nationalizes science




The Russian Academy of Science is caught in Russia’s political tractor beam. It’s being drawn back, back, back into the yawning maw of the state.

The academy, which includes hundreds of institutions and over 50,000 researchers, was messed with in every  possible way  when Russia was the “Soviet Union”. That was to be expected, right?  But not even Stalin had the brass round ones to try to turn it into a branch of the state

Russian Acadamy


Quirin Schiermeier (NATURE International Journal Of Science) reports that  it’s all over for the 289 year old academy. The State Duma just voted to grab it.

The vote in the upper house is a done deal.  Soon enough, this venerable institution  of Russian science will be breathing the fetid air of bureaucracy and the suave Vladimir  Putin who leads modern Russia will be left wondering why his country’s science is lagging.

It  wouldn’t be right for MISTER ScienceAintSoBad to bite his tongue when a venerable institution of science is being attacked.

I hope you agree.

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Cartoon by me.Credits for the photo to the Russian Academy of Sciences: Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Posted by on Tuesday, 24 September, 2013
heart attack breakthrough



Don’t have a heart attack, okay?  All kinds of research has gone into this area of medicine but getting to the hospital and then walking out the door alive is still iffy.


Can you say a Dane has Chuztpah?

I’m just asking. Because Hans Botker has plenty. He went after a problem that nobody’s been able to solve – getting heart attack patients to the hospital alive and in decent shape – and he solved it with  a blood pressure cuff. It’s so clever it makes you go “Aw jeez! Why didn’t I think of that!”.

Here’s what he did – he and his team. Let’s not forget to give credit to everyone involved in this project at Aarhus University Hospital and Aarhus University in Denmark.

In a “heart attack”, the blood vessels supplying the heart have gotten so thickened with fatty plaque that the heart can’t get enough blood for its own use.

Most people who’s arteries are narrowing notice it’s harder to walk up a flight of stairs. Sometimes there’s pain (“angina”) that comes and goes. If a heart attack occurs, it may be accompanied by weakness and lightheadedness – probably chest pain and pressure too although not always. At that point, the heart is in trouble and, if fast action isn’t taken, the injury  will become permanent and it won’t be able to maintain a beat.

A non-beating heart is a bad thing.

So the Danish team started thinking about what simple things could be done to support a  “starving” heart  on the way to the hospital. The idea of cuffing the arms came up.

Your extremities – your harms and legs – can go for several minutes without blood. That’s the idea behind a tourniquet. If, on the ride to the hospital,   blood pressure cuffs were used to periodically reduce the circulation to the limbs, wouldn’t that leave a little more juice for the heart itself?

Blood pressure cuffs for heart attacks? It sure makes sense.

The four year study of 251 patients  is being published by the European Heart Journal on-line. The study, which was run by Astrid Sloth, showed a reduction in new heart symptoms by about 51% and very few fatalities.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10 (more or less).

The idea is great and the preliminary results are exciting. Because of the profound implications, even a well conducted four year study with 251 participants isn’t good enough. More will be needed. But, you know what? If Mister ScienceAintSoBad were in charge, he would place  extra cuffs in all ambulances. Why wait? I say let’s add this promising procedure when transporting suspected heart attacks.

It’s easy enough.

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Cartoon is by the author



Posted by on Sunday, 22 September, 2013
A crooked path




You’re sitting around a waiting room with other people who look even worse than you do. When you finally get called, the doctor says “Whatever this is, it seems to be going around. Would you like me to give you some antibiotics?”

You say “Why ask me? Aren’t you the doctor?”

She says “Yes. But in this case, your guess is as good as mine. If it’s a virus, we’re wasting your money. But if it’s an infection, an antibiotic might help.”

“But,” you say,” I don’t want my guess to be as good as yours.”

“Of course you don’t..” she says.” But what can I do?”


What if there were a way to tell if it’s a virus?

Geoffrey S. Ginsburg, and Christopher W. Woods, both from Duke University, created a blood test that shows whether it’s a virus or not. It works and  it’s accurate but it isn’t fast enough yet. It take about 12 hours to get a result. The team knows what it has to do to speed things up.  The goal is to get the answer for the doctor before you leave her office.

There’s more.

The test can also  help tell what kind of virus it is. If there happens to be a treatment for that specific virus, you’re  lucky. If all it does is keep us from overusing (and wasting money on) antibiotics , it’s still a good thing, right?.

When the test gets polished up, I think it’s going to a very popular little thing.


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The drawing is mine





Posted by on Thursday, 19 September, 2013
test tube




Sorry about that. I needed a headline.

However, life in a test tube is pretty close to the truth. M. Jewett, and G Church (Northwestern and Harvard Medical School) led a team of researchers which made a  ribosome.

Ribosomes make proteins and enzymes. And proteins are the worker bees of living systems. And enzymes (themselves usually made from proteins) slice up proteins into the many varieties that are needed to make something useful.

In other words, Jewett/Church make a “life kit”.

The ramifications are startling.

Delicate ground? Of course. This kind of thing  could ruffle  the feathers of a snake. Just remember, MisterScienceAintSoBad had   n-o-t-h-i-n-g – to do with this. Okay?

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The drawing is mine.

Red Grapes and Blueberries May Help You Live Forever

Posted by on Wednesday, 18 September, 2013
Immune system




Don’t get too excited, okay? This is ” in the lab”.

According to Adrian Gombart (OSU College of Science)  blueberries and red grapes have compounds –  resveratrol in the grapes  and pterostilbene in the blueberries  – called stilbenoids. This stuff,  they say, pops out from all the hundreds of compounds they studied for its ability to boost the immune system. It works in tandem with Vitamin D (don’t forget to take some this winter) to “increase CAMP gene expression”. The study is published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research

Mister ScienceAintSoBadRating = 3  because this is so, so preliminary and hasn’t been demonstrated in humans.

Why even write this article?

Here’s the thing.

This is the “Age Of Science”.  There’s an awful lot of research – a good thing. But you have to keep your head screwed on when you read about an exciting piece of biochemistry in the lab. There’s a long way to go for those observations to get connected to our lives.  This particular report is more interesting for the way it fits with other things we’ve been reading about resveratrol and pterostilbene.  There’s quite a bit. And a lot of it is exciting.

In spite of the stingy rating, I like this.

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The drawing is mine.



Posted by on Tuesday, 17 September, 2013

bad news




If you’re not one to take bad news lying down, you don’t have to.

Rheumatoid arthritis, cancer,diabetes, Alzheimers, or migraines. Whatever it is that can’t be fixed. You might be able to get into a clinical trial.

Here in the US, clinical trials  or (“human” trials) are conducted when a new drug or a new device or a new method has advanced to the point where it seems worth trying out on people. Usually, the whatever-it-is worked great on a bunch of animals and the investors are  congratulating themselves on their about-to-be-richness.

They should be so lucky.

Clinical trials are heart breakers.  The hopes and dreams of the developers are often dashed.

But you know what? It’s the subjects of these trials that MISTER ScienceAintSoBad feels for.  It’s their last shot. Nothing else worked. They knew it was just a chance. But still..


Would I succumb to my fate if there was a chance out there for me? No WAY!!!! I would figure out something! If it hurts, the heck with it. If I have to answer a thousand questions, fine by me. Just let’s get on with it.

If you’re willing to go another round, how do you proceed? Where are these trials? How do you get into them?

This should really be done with your doctor. I would like to think  your doctor would bring up appropriate trials at the right time.  (See below: Why Your Doc Isn’t Much Help With This Stuff).  In any case, a great resource for clinical trials is . It was started  by Kay Dickersin  and a group from The Center for Clinical Trials and Evidence-based Healthcare at Brown University.

A couple of things to remember.

First, be sure you get yourself a second opinion. Your doctor won’t be insulted and will  gladly make some recommendations. Doctors see this as a healthy double check on their work and gladly do it for others when they are called on. If you run out of options – if the second opinion is as pessimistic as the first one – ask your doctor about trials.

Seriously. You shouldn’t  feel you need to do this on your own.

Here’s the thing.

Clinical trials are labeled as phase I, phase II,  phase III or phase IV. Phase I’s where the big problems show up. They’re looking at side effects and what can be tolerated. Enroll in a Phase I test if you want to help the human race. Enroll in something else if you want to help yourself.

Phase II’s where thing’s get more interesting. This is where we’re starting to figure out “efficacy” and trying to figure out what’s the right dose.

Phase III trials are often the big expensive ones. This is where people are  recruited in various locations around the country. They’re the make/break tests for approval by the FDA.



If you’re looking for a “miracle” (the quotes aren’t there to make fun – just something you do when you’re Mister ScienceAintSoBad) you’re interested in Phase III trials. But. remember, even in a phase III trial there’s a good chance you may be placed in a control group, meaning that you don’t get the drug or its benefits. And trials are EXPERIMENTS. They’re risky. You might have a better (short) life if you just carry on.

Don’t  forget that you may be able to argue for “compassionate use” (single patient access) meaning, I’m not about proving anything just hand over the drug please.

Not EVERYONE wants to die for science. This might work best if the trial subjects are already enrolled.



Well most doctors  COULD get you hooked up with a clinical trial – one that offers some new hope. But they probably won’t. Denise Mann (Web MD) says most patients who could qualify for clinical trials, won’t even hear about them from their own doctors.

This doesn’t mean doctors don’t care. The ones I know and the one’s I’ve worked with are amazing. They work hard and they’re usually very smart. But they’re human, okay? Just so many hours in a day. Just so many dollars in a paycheck. They can’t be everywhere. Can’t do everything. Gotta go home sometime. And this has a lot to do with why they’re shy about introducing their patients to clinical trials. Keeping up with 8,000 trials is SLIGHTLY impossible. When would that “keeping up”  happen? Before 5 AM? Or after 2 PM? Medicine is intense. The hours are long and the stakes are high. And there’s a lot of required reading just to stay current in day-to-day practice.

Also, there’s the relationship with you.

Maybe a particular clinical study does offer  a shot (usually a long one).  It probably means the patient’s off to some distant place at a time that is emotional horrendous for him.her.  And the patient and the doctor have an established  relationship. Believe it or not, separating from the doctor  can be tough for both the patient and the physician.


People, naturally, do the regular stuff first. If things don’t work out, maybe they start looking around for something a little bit crazy. Most people see clinical trials as  extra innings  (a little baseball metaphor here).Well that could be too late. Some of these trials won’t let real sick patients into their programs. They need to get at them earlier.

Even though I don’t know you, I just want you to know that I sincerely hope you will get better and get your old and wonderful life back.


 MisterScienceAin’tSoBad would never, knowingly, give you any bad advice or misinformation but biomedical engineers don’t treat patients and shouldn’t give medical advice. This is the best information I have but but where your health’s at stake, please get a second opinion on my own words, okay?


The cartoon is mine


A New Space Craft: A Few Laptops To Do The Work Of “Mission Control”

Posted by on Sunday, 15 September, 2013



A few days ago, I wrote about a brainier dune buggy . It does a lot of the work that ground based scientists used to do.

Today I’ve got another one. A smarter rocket ship.

Why have a room full of humans  hunched over computers to control a space launch? Isn’t that from another era? If a dune buggy can be made smarter,  why not a space vehicle?


A rocket  should be able to do its own  instrument checks  asking for a “consult” only when necessary.

The Japanese  Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) read my mind. A few days ago, it launched a 3 stage rocket and, according to Science Recorder (Ellen Miller), the whole thing was controlled with just two  laptops. The rocket handled the nitty gritty, allowing the human controllers to concentrate on higher order decisions.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad was impressed.

Meanwhile, NASA’s beaming about its new “21st Century Control Center”.  It has replaced those bulky old workstations with newer “cleaner” computers But, you know what? I think NASA should have a look at what its Japanese counterpart is doing.  NASA launches more and bigger vehicles but isn’t this the direction that it should be headed?

What do you think?

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Drawing by me



Posted by on Saturday, 14 September, 2013

Don't know about guns



Writing about guns is scarier than writing about religion. You never know when you’ll hit a nerve.  But what’s a science writer to do? This study (American Journal of Public Health) is the first to show a strong relationship between the number of guns in a state and the number of homicides. The more guns, the more homicides.

Make of it what you will.


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Drawings are mine.