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Minerva is a great supporter of disease prevention strategies, but she was taken aback to learn from an employee at the World Health Organization that WHO has adopted a policy of not employing smokers in any capacity. Advertisements for jobs apparently now include a rider that smokers “need not apply.” Doubtless it's only a matter of time before obese people are sidelined too.
Alcohol absorption differs from person to person, and the type of “mixer” consumed with alcohol is one of the influencing factors. Volunteers participated in a study of vodka mixed with still water, carbonated water, or no mixer at all, consumed over five minutes and followed by an overnight fast. Alcohol concentrations in breath showed that 20 of the 21 participants absorbed the diluted vodka faster than the neat vodka, and that absorption was significantly quicker with a mixer of carbonated water (Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine 2007;14:398-405 doi: 10.1016/j.jflm.2006.12.010).
In the absence of any obvious task, the adult brain shows spontaneous and intrinsic resting state “networks” of activity on functional magnetic resonance imaging. Little is known about the development of these networks, but new research involving functional magnetic resonance images from 12 sleeping preterm infants has found that networks are present in the infant brain (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 2007 September 18, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0704380104). As in adult brains, some of these networks were found in regions usually associated with movement and visual and auditory processing.
Slí-na-Sláinte (path to health), the Irish project for heart health that uses signposted walking routes, turns out to be one of those things that was probably a good idea at the time, but in reality seems to have made little difference to public health (Journal of Public Health 2007;29:222-9 doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdm027). The findings of a qualitative focus group study suggest that the “path to health” initiative will have an impact only if it is embedded into a supportive environment. Neighbourhoods are unreceptive to public promotion initiatives if fundamental social and environmental issues have not been sorted out.
Another example of a public health initiative that promised great things but hasn't made much difference is described in Circulation (2007;116:1380-5 doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.710616). In Denmark 35000 manikins and DVDs were distributed to schoolchildren (aged 12-14) to help teach them to perform bystander cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The children then used these to teach the technique to family and friends in a CPR learning cascade. However, the incidence of bystander CPR did not increase in the months following the project, compared with the year before.
Peter Nowell's 1960 discovery of the Philadelphia chromosome as a hallmark of chronic myelogenous leukaemia was the first documentation of a genetic “signature” of cancer. For almost 50 years scientists have been trying to answer the questions thrown up by this discovery, but the number of questions exceeds the answers so far gleaned. What's clear is that the Philadelphia chromosome created the paradigm for how discoveries in basic science can lead to effective treatments for human disease (Journal of Clinical Investigation 2007;117:2030-2 doi: 10.1172/JCI33032).
Serendipity is defined as “accidental sagacity”—the sort of situation needed for discovering something you're not consciously seeking. The discovery of penicillin is an obvious example. Today's hectic world allows little time for pursuing serendipitous ideas, so the Dunhill Medical Trust has developed “serendipity awards.” The intention is that the awards should be used to obtain enough evidence to convince other funding bodies to take ideas forward. For more information go to www.dunhillmedical.org.uk. (In case you're wondering, the trust says it no longer has any connection with the tobacco industry.)
A novel microscopy technique has allowed researchers to watch the creation and journey of a generation of mouse platelets. Using still imaging techniques, they've watched the megakaryocytes in bone marrow extending immature, proplatelet-like protrusions into microvessels. Once they are in the blood vessels, these extensions seem to be sheared from their stems by flowing blood, leading to proplatelets appearing in the peripheral bloodstream (Science 2007;317:1767-70 doi: 10.1126/science.1146304). A better understanding of this developmental journey may benefit people with haemophilia and other blood clotting disorders.
Babies who wear the wrong type of sock can develop “sock line bands” when tight bands of elastic cause inflammation in the dermis or in the subcutaneous fat. Even when healed the bands can leave visible marks. According to dermatologists, sock line bands are benign and are different from other types of raised limb bands found in babies that are not linked to clothing. These “acquired raised bands of infancy” or “amniotic band syndrome” develop in utero and are not benign (British Journal of Dermatology 2007;156:578-9 doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2006.07673.x).
Mice that are housed alone rather than in groups are more likely to become obese and develop diabetes, and it's not just to do with how much they eat. Over time, the isolated mice reduced their energy expenditure and also started to eat more (Endocrinology 2007;148:4658-66 doi: 10.1210/en.2007-0296). A host of complex hormonal changes are involved, but social isolation seems to be an important environmental factor in the development of obesity and diabetes.