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UK government backs three-person IVF

The UK looks set to become the first country to allow the creation of babies using DNA from three people, after the government backed the IVF technique.

It will produce draft regulations later this year and the procedure could be offered within two years.

Experts say three-person IVF could eliminate debilitating and potentially fatal mitochondrial diseases that are passed on from mother to child.

Opponents say it is unethical and could set the UK on a "slippery slope".

They also argue that affected couples could adopt or use egg donors instead.

Mitochondria are the tiny, biological "power stations" that give the body energy. They are passed from a mother, through the egg, to her child.

Defective mitochondria affect one in every 6,500 babies. This can leave them starved of energy, resulting in muscle weakness, blindness, heart failure and death in the most extreme cases.

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A Swedish scientist is using CRISPR to genetically modify healthy human embryos

A Swedish scientist is using CRISPR to genetically modify healthy human embryos | The future of medicine and health |
For the first time, scientists have edited DNA in healthy and viable human embryos using genetic tool CRIPR/Cas9.

The researchers, led by developmental biologist Fredrik Lanner from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, hope the research will lead to new ways to treat infertility and prevent miscarriage.

"Having children is one of the major drives for a lot of people," Lanner told Rob Stein at NPR. "For people who do struggle with this, it can tend to become an extremely important part of your life."

Although Chinese scientists made headlines back in April for genetically modifying human embryos, those embryos were unusable for IVF, and would never have been able to develop into healthy infants.

But two-day-old embryos Lanner is using are still viable, and were all donated by couples at an IVF clinic in Sweden.

The researchers are attempting to edit genes in these embryos to regulate certain aspects of their development. If the genes are removed and the embryo no longer functions, it signals that a particular gene is essential for embryotic growth.

However, Lanner says these embryos are only being studied for the first seven days of growth, and will be destroyed after 14 days.
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Human neurons implanted in mice plug into spinal cord to help heal injury

Human neurons implanted in mice plug into spinal cord to help heal injury | The future of medicine and health |
Treatments for symptoms of spinal cord injuries may be a step closer, as researchers at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) have transplanted human neurons into mice with these injuries, and found that over time they made new connections in the spine, reducing chronic pain and helping the mice regain some bladder control.

Difficulties with walking may seem like the most obvious symptom of spinal cord injury, but according to a 2004 study, bladder control was ranked as the top priority for treatment by almost 20 percent of paraplegics, and 10 percent of quadriplegics. Like chronic pain, loss of bladder control is a symptom of inflammation following spinal injury, which damages inhibitory spinal circuits that use the neurotransmitter, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). When GABA is lessened, the spine's ability to inhibit pain and control bladder function decreases.

The UCSF team wanted to test whether implanting human cells that produce GABA into mice with spinal cord injuries could reroute the damaged circuits, and whether that could help address pain and improve bladder control. To do so, they transplanted immature human GABA-producing cells into mice two weeks after they sustained an injury to the thoracic spinal cord, with the injection site being below the inflamed area caused by the injury.

When they checked in after six months, they found the cells had migrated towards the injured area, matured into inhibitory neurons and had actually formed new connections with the spinal cord, effectively restoring some function below the injury site. The mice showed significantly less signs of neuropathic pain and had much better bladder control when compared to injured mice that didn't receive the treatment.
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More evidence backs transposon theory of aging - Futurity

More evidence backs transposon theory of aging - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
A new study increases and strengthens the links that have led scientists to propose the “transposon theory of aging.”

Transposons are rogue elements of DNA that break free in aging cells and rewrite themselves elsewhere in the genome, potentially creating lifespan-shortening chaos in the genetic makeups of tissues.

As cells get older, prior studies have shown, tightly wound heterochromatin wrapping that typically imprisons transposons becomes looser, allowing them to slip out of their positions in chromosomes and move to new ones, disrupting normal cell function. Meanwhile, scientists have shown that potentially related interventions, such as restricting calories or manipulating certain genes, can demonstrably lengthen lifespans in laboratory animals.

“In this report the big step forward is towards the possibility of a true causal relationship,” says Stephen Helfand, a professor of biology at Brown University and senior author of a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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This is a 3D model of a clitoris – and the start of a sexual revolution | Minna Salami

This is a 3D model of a clitoris – and the start of a sexual revolution | Minna Salami | The future of medicine and health |
This month, pupils across France will be able to use the first full-size anatomical model of a clitoris in their sex education classes. Considering all the technological, medical and scientific achievements humans have made, this seems to have taken a long time. The distribution of this model has been possible due to 3D printing technology; but even three-dimensional MRI scans, which previously produced the most accurate representations of the clitoris, only became available in 2009.

But it was worth the wait. The truth is, you might struggle to gain pleasure from a tool you don’t even know you have. In 2016, women finally know without speculation what the whole of their sexual organ looks like; and for many it won’t be quite what they imagined.

You may be wondering, what’s the big deal? Is the clitoris not the “small, sensitive, erectile part of the female genitals at the anterior end of the vulva”, as Oxford Dictionaries defines it? And isn’t the real issue simply whether it brings a woman sexual gratification?

Well, decide for yourself. The popular opinion seems to be that the 3D printed clitoris resembles a wishbone. To my eyes, it also (fittingly) resembles a fleur-de-lys, or, to use a more contemporary example, a tulip emoji.

But the important thing is that it debunks myths that have repressed female sexuality for centuries. For one, it refutes the dictionary/textbook education that wrongly asserts the clitoris is the size of “a fingertip”, a “pea” or that it is small. We can now clearly see that the clitoris includes two shafts (crura) which are actually about 10cm long. Not only can we visualise that the clitoris is more than what the eye perceives; with the visual model we can also now get a mental image of how it encircles the vagina, making penetrative sex potentially orgasmic. This means that a demystified discussion about the female orgasm is possible at long last.
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Eye drops may be about to get much more effective

Eye drops may be about to get much more effective | The future of medicine and health |
Our eyes are designed to flush out any contaminants that get into them. While this is generally a good thing, it's not so helpful when it comes to administering medication in the form of eye drops – up to 95 percent of the medicine is typically flushed out before it's able to work. Now, however, a Canadian scientist is developing what could be a solution to the problem.

Working with a team of graduate students, McMaster University's Prof. Heather Sheardown has created microscopic packets of medicine that are suspended in a carrier liquid.

She tells us that when applied in the form of eye drops, these "molecular packets" adhere to the mucus layer of the tear film that covers the eye. This causes them to remain on the cornea instead of being washed away. Over the next several days, they gradually dissolve and release their payload into the eye.

Conceivably, this means that people currently needing to use eye drops on a daily basis could instead apply them once a week. Additionally, of course, it would result in less wasted medication.

According to Sheardown, there has been interest in developing the technology commercially. She will be presenting her research to the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society in France, later this month.

Source: McMaster University via Newswise
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No clear link between gut bacteria and obesity - Futurity

No clear link between gut bacteria and obesity - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
A new study, done by pooling data from most of those studies, throws cold water on the idea that extra pounds may stem from an imbalance of the bacteria inside us.

In fact, the study published in the journal mBio finds, there’s no clear common characteristic of the microbe populations, or microbiomes, in the digestive systems of obese people that makes them different from the microbiomes of those with a healthy weight.

This lack of a clear “signature” across more than 1,000 volunteers in 10 of the largest studies done to date may not please overweight people. It may also disappoint the companies that sell them products aimed at altering the gut’s microscopic population through fiber, nutrients, and “good” bacteria.

Still, according to the researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School, this finding’s actually exciting. It means that there’s much more complexity—and therefore much more to learn—when it comes to the relationship between our microbiome and our health.

The researchers have created an open online site where other researchers can see how they did what they did, and add more data from gut microbiome studies in obese and non-obese people to continue the search for any links.

As more data gets added, the trustworthiness of the findings will only grow. And perhaps specific linkages and signatures will be found in future.
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It's no wonder women opt for caesareans over natural birth when they are not given a real choice

It's no wonder women opt for caesareans over natural birth when they are not given a real choice | The future of medicine and health |
The announcement that women may be routinely warned of the risks of “normal” vaginal birth, along with those of caesarean section, has sparked some fascinating debates, specifically about what “informed choice” means. A recent article on The Conversation argued that it may be worth informing at least those with particular risks from vaginal birth, such as older women, about the different options.

But there are different scenarios linked to having vaginal birth – and they each come with different risks and benefits. For example, there are risks associated with being exposed to unexpected interventions such as drugs to speed labour up, forceps or emergency cesarean section during labour. These may lead to a greater need for stitches, or to higher infection rates. However, these interventions are not inevitable.

An audit by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG) showed that rates of interventions in labour differed widely between hospitals. It suggested that on average only 44.9% of women have a normal birth without interventions, and that the rate varied between 39.5% and 51.8% across the UK. Many of these procedures may have been unnecessary – according to the World Health Organisation, up to 80% of all women should be able to give birth without them, and women who give birth in places where vaginal birth happens with lower levels of interventions have lower risks of negative outcomes.
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Next Big Future: Neuroprosthesis to mimic, repair and improve cognition

Next Big Future: Neuroprosthesis to mimic, repair and improve cognition | The future of medicine and health |
They have developed a ready-for-the-clinic brain prosthetic to help people with memory problems. The broad target market includes people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as well as those who have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Surgeons will one day implant Kernel’s tiny device in their patients’ brains—specifically in the brain region called the hippocampus. There, the device’s electrodes will electrically stimulate certain neurons to help them do their job—turning incoming information about the world into long-term memories.

In Berger’s approach, electrodes in the hippocampus first record electrical signals from certain neurons as they learn something new and encode the memory. These electrical signals are the result of neurons “firing” in specific patterns. Berger studied how electrical signals associated with learning are translated into signals associated with storing that information in long-term memory. Then his lab built mathematical models that take any input (learning) signal, and produce the proper output (memory) signal.
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Sugar has a stronger effect on our brains than we even realised, study finds

Sugar has a stronger effect on our brains than we even realised, study finds | The future of medicine and health |
German scientists have discovered that our brains are actively taking in sugar from the blood stream, overturning the long-held assumption that this was a purely passive process.

Even more surprising, they also found that it’s not our neurons that are responsible for absorbing all that sugar - it’s our glial cells, which make up 90 percent of the brain’s total cells, and until very recently, have been shrouded in mystery.

Not only does the find go against conventional wisdom on how our brains respond to sugar intake, it also shows how cells other than our neurons can actively play a role in controlling our behaviour.

Astrocytes - which are a specialised form of glial cell that outnumber neurons more than fivefold - have long been thought of as little more than ‘support cells’, helping to maintain the blood-brain barrier, carry nutrients to the nervous tissue, and play a role in brain and spinal cord repair.

But we now have evidence that they also play a role in human feeding behaviours, with researchers finding that their ability to sense and actively take in sugar is regulating the kinds of appetite-related signals that our neurons send out to the rest of the body.

And we’re not talking about a little bit of sugar here: the human brain experiences the highest level of sugar consumption out of every organ in the body.
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Rare genetic disorder opens window into the social brain

Rare genetic disorder opens window into the social brain | The future of medicine and health |
Researchers from the University of California San Diego have developed a neurodevelopmental model of a rare genetic disorder that could help shed light on the workings of the human social brain.

Williams syndrome (WS) is caused by the deletion of one copy of 25 genes located next to each other on chromosome 7 and affects 1 in 10,000 people worldwide. The disorder is associated with a range of medical problems such as cardiovascular disease, and individuals with WS typically have distinctive facial features consisting of a wide mouth, full lips and small chin.

WS is also linked to with neurological problems such as spatial deficits and developmental delays, but unlike autism, children with WS can have a highly social and trusting nature, as well as strong language and facial processing abilities and an affinity for music.

"I was fascinated on how a genetic defect, a tiny deletion in one of our chromosomes, could make us friendlier, more empathetic and more able to embrace our differences," says Alysson Muotri, an associate professor from UC San Diego and co-senior author of the study.

In previous research Muotri had used reprogrammed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from teeth to create cellular models of autism, a method that was applied to WS for the current study.
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400-year-old Greenland shark ‘longest-living vertebrate’ - BBC News

400-year-old Greenland shark ‘longest-living vertebrate’ - BBC News | The future of medicine and health |
Greenland sharks are now the longest-living vertebrates known on Earth, scientists say.

Researchers used radiocarbon dating to determine the ages of 28 of the animals, and estimated that one female was about 400 years old.

The team found that the sharks grow at just 1cm a year, and reach sexual maturity at about the age of 150.

The research is published in the journal Science.

Lead author Julius Nielsen, a marine biologist from the University of Copenhagen, said: "We had our expectations that we were dealing with an unusual animal, but I think everyone doing this research was very surprised to learn the sharks were as old as they were."

The former vertebrate record-holder was a bowhead whale estimated to be 211 years old.

But if invertebrates are brought into the longevity competition, a 507-year-old clam called Ming holds the title of most aged animal.
Slow swimmers

Greenland sharks are huge beasts, that can grow up to 5m in length.

They can be found, swimming slowly, throughout the cold, deep waters of the North Atlantic.

With this leisurely pace of life and sluggish growth rate, the sharks were thought to live for a long time. But until now, determining any ages was difficult.
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Why do we wake up stiff in the mornings? Scientists discover the answer 

Why do we wake up stiff in the mornings? Scientists discover the answer  | The future of medicine and health |
Scientists have discovered why we wake up stiff in the morning - because our body's natural ibuprofen has not kicked in yet.

Researchers revealed the reason our limbs can feel rigid and achy when we rise is because the body's biological clock suppresses anti-inflammatory proteins during sleep.

When we start moving around each morning our body is playing catch up as the effects of the proteins wear off.

The research by scientists at Manchester University could help develop drugs to treat inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.

Dr Julie Gibbs, a researcher at the Centre for Endocrinology and Diabetes at the University of Manchester's Institute of Human Development, said: "By understanding how the biological clock regulates inflammation, we can begin to develop new treatments, which might exploit this knowledge.

"Furthermore, by adapting the time of day at which current drug therapies are administered, we may be able to make them more effective."
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From medical treatment to diet and lifestyle choice: how to spot unreliable health research

From medical treatment to diet and lifestyle choice: how to spot unreliable health research | The future of medicine and health |
One day we’re told that coffee causes cancer, the next that it protects us from it. Does this sound familiar? We’re all bombarded by confusing and contradictory health information every day – supposedly based on scientific evidence. But most of us have a difficult time assessing the quality of this evidence, particularly if it’s online. Many people who use health information on a daily basis haven’t been trained to appraise research critically, and even those that have may struggle to maintain the skills over time.

We find this worrying, particularly given recent efforts to make research more open and accessible. To try to improve the situation, we have launched a free online tool called Understanding Health Research to help guide anybody who wants to understand a health research paper through the process of asking the right questions, so they can weigh up the evidence.

There are real benefits to health literacy, which is the ability to understand, assess and use health information. These skills have been linked to better health outcomes, better relationships with healthcare providers, and better decision making.

However, critically appraising research is not just “common sense”. And not knowing the right questions to ask means that anything that sounds “sciencey” can hold the same sway, regardless of its scientific merit. While many health and science journalists do great work filtering out flawed and poor quality evidence, unfortunately plenty of bad health reporting is out there, and it can cause real damage.

For example, it can result in skewed coverage of good quality research and can legitimise unjustified claims. One way this can happen is when journalists introduce “balance” to stories, presenting opposing views. If the vast majority of scientists support a piece of good quality research and one maverick opposes it, a quote from each camp incorrectly makes it look like scientists are divided on the issue – a phenomenon dubbed “false balance”.
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A zap to the right spot might 'reset' your brain - Futurity

A zap to the right spot might 'reset' your brain - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
Doctors use brain stimulation to treat epilepsy, depression, pain, and other conditions, but it’s not exactly clear how it works or even which areas to target.

New research suggests stimulating a single region of the brain can activate other regions and even alter global brain dynamics.

“We don’t have a good understanding of the effects of brain stimulation,” says Sarah Muldoon, an assistant professor of mathematics at the University at Buffalo. “When a clinician has a patient with a certain disorder, how can they decide which parts of the brain to stimulate? Our study is a step toward better understanding how brain connectivity can better inform these decisions.”

Danielle S. Bassett, associate professor of bioengineering in the University of Pennsylvania, says if you look at the architecture of the brain, “it appears to be a network of interconnected regions that interact with each other in complicated ways. The question we asked in this study was how much of the brain is activated by stimulating a single region.

“We found that some regions have the ability to steer the brain into a variety of states very easily when stimulated, while other regions have less of an effect.”
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'Knit' severed spinal cords with graphene ribbons - Futurity

'Knit' severed spinal cords with graphene ribbons - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
A new material made of graphene nanoribbons and a common polymer might help knit damaged or even severed spinal cords.

The nanoribbons are highly soluble in polyethylene glycol (PEG), a biocompatible polymer gel used in surgeries, pharmaceutical products, and in other biological applications. When the nanoribbons have their edges functionalized with PEG chains and are then further mixed with PEG, they form an electrically active network that helps the severed ends of a spinal cord reconnect.

“Neurons grow nicely on graphene because it’s a conductive surface and it stimulates neuronal growth,” says James Tour, a chemist at Rice University.

Earlier experiments have suggested that neurons will grow along graphene.

“We’re not the only lab that has demonstrated neurons growing on graphene in a petri dish,” he says. “The difference is other labs are commonly experimenting with water-soluble graphene oxide, which is far less conductive than graphene, or nonribbonized structures of graphene.

“We’ve developed a way to add water-solubilizing polymer chains to the edges of our nanoribbons that preserves their conductivity while rendering them soluble, and we’re just now starting to see the potential for this in biomedical applications,” Tour says.
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Motherless babies possible as scientists create live offspring without need for female egg

Motherless babies possible as scientists create live offspring without need for female egg | The future of medicine and health |
Motherless babies could be on the horizon after scientists discovered a method of creating offspring without the need for a female egg.

The landmark experiment by the University of Bath rewrites 200 years of biology teaching and could pave the way for a baby to be born from the DNA of two men.

It was always thought that only a female egg could spark the changes in a sperm required to make a baby, because an egg forms from a special kind of cell division in which just half the number of chromosomes are carried over.

Sperm cells form in the same way, so that when a sperm and egg meet they form a full genetic quota, with half our DNA coming from our mother and half from our father.

But now scientists have shown embryos could be created from cells which carry all their chromosomes which means that, in theory, any cell in the human body could be fertilised by a sperm.

Three generations of mice have already been created using the technique and are fit and healthy and now researchers are planning to test out the theory using skin cells.
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How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat

How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat | The future of medicine and health |
The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show.

The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.

“They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades,” said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of the JAMA Internal Medicine paper.

The documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.

Even though the influence-peddling revealed in the documents dates back nearly 50 years, more recent reports show that the food industry has continued to influence nutrition science.
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Are the health claims about apple cider vinegar true? - BBC News

Are the health claims about apple cider vinegar true? - BBC News | The future of medicine and health |
Apple cider vinegar is a traditional folk remedy that has been around for many centuries. But is it beneficial for our health, asks Michael Mosley.

Apple cider vinegar is made by mixing chopped-up apples with water and sugar, then allowing the mixture to ferment, turning some of it into acetic acid.

Despite being acidic and definitely something of an acquired taste, in recent years apple cider vinegar has become incredibly popular. At least a part of that is because of claims that it can help with everything from obesity to split ends and arthritis.

But which, if any, of the many different health claims made on its behalf stand up to scientific scrutiny? For Trust Me, I'm A Doctor we teamed up with Dr James Brown from Aston University to find out.
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Ginger-derived nanoparticles attack the roots of inflammatory bowel disease

Ginger-derived nanoparticles attack the roots of inflammatory bowel disease | The future of medicine and health |
Ginger has a long and rich history when it comes to improving our wellbeing. Its medical use can be traced back thousands of years as a natural remedy for things like diarrhea and upset stomachs, but still today the thick, knotted root continues to reveal some hidden talents. Researchers have taken fresh ginger and converted it into a nanoparticle that exhibits real potential to treat these kinds of symptoms in one of their more chronic forms, inflammatory bowel disease, and might even help fight cancer, too.

The discovery was the result of a collaboration between researchers at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Georgia State University. Based on previous research highlighting the anti-inflammatory properties of the plant, the team set out to further explore the potential for ginger to treat conditions relating to the digestive tract.

The research began with a fresh ginger root purchased at a farmer's market, which the team ground up in a typical kitchen blender. But the process was a little more complicated from that point, with the team using super-high-speed centrifugation and ultrasonic dispersion to break the ginger apart into tiny particles, each measuring around 230 nanometers across.
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Five myths about lower back pain

Five myths about lower back pain | The future of medicine and health |
Lower back pain is the greatest source of global disability, ahead of nearly 300 other conditions, leading to huge levels of healthcare costs and suffering. And the effects go far beyond pain, weakness and stiffness – they also have a huge impact the social and family lives of sufferers.

Many people with lower back pain don’t manage it well because of wrong advice – and a lot of unhelpful myths about what back pain is and what you should do about it. Healthcare professionals all over the world speak to patients who think, for example, that back pain can damage their backs. This is not always the case. The weight of evidence shows that many assumptions made about lower back pain are wrong and, what’s more, could be harmful. Below are some of the most common misconceptions.
1. Moving will make my back pain worse

Do not fear twisting and bending. It is essential to keep moving. Muscles that are in spasm, due to pain, relax when gently moved and stretched. Gradually increase how much you are doing, and stay on the move.
2. Avoid exercise (especially weight training)

Back pain should not stop you enjoying exercise or regular activities. In fact, studies have found that continuing with these can help you get better sooner – including weight training. All exercise is safe provided you gradually build up intensity and do not immediately return to previous levels of exercise after an acute episode of pain.
3. A scan will show exactly what is wrong

There is a poor correlation between findings on a scan and sources of pain. Most adults without back pain will have changes in the anatomy of their spine that are visible age-related adaptations that don’t cause any problems (they are the spinal equivalent of skin wrinkles, visible but not a source of pain). Finding a feature on a spine scan that is strongly related to pain or a serious threat to health is exceptionally rare (less than 1%).
4. Pain equals damage

This was an established view, but more recent research has changed our thinking. Level of pain has very little relationship to damage to the spine and more to do with your unconscious and conscious interpretation of the level of threat the pain represents to the sufferer. Cultural influences, work, stress, past experience and duration of symptoms have a stronger relationship with pain than the number of normal age-related changes you have on your scan.
5. Heavy school bags cause back pain

Heavy school bags are safe. There is no established link between heavy school bags and back pain, but interestingly there is a link with the development of back pain and the child or parent perceiving that the bag will cause problems.
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Green beans: why pulses are the eco-friendly option for feeding – and saving – the world

Green beans: why pulses are the eco-friendly option for feeding – and saving – the world | The future of medicine and health |
We all know the score: current trends predict there will be 9.7 billion mouths to feed by 2050. Producing enough food without using more land, exacerbating climate change or putting more pressure on water, soil and energy reserves will be challenging.

In the past, food security researchers have focused on production with less attention paid to consumer demand and how food is ultimately used in meals. However as developing nations aspire towards the “Western diet”, demand for meat and animal products is rapidly climbing.

This is bad news for the planet. Meat is a luxury item and comes at a huge environmental cost. Shuttling crops through animals to make protein is highly inefficient: in US beef, just 5% of the original protein survives the journey from animal feed to meat on the plate. Even milk, which has the best conversion efficiency, has just 40% of the original protein.

Consequently, livestock farming requires huge amounts of water and land for grazing and feed production, taking up an estimated 70% of all agricultural land and 27% of the human water footprint. Much of this land is becoming steadily degraded through overgrazing and erosion, prompting farmers to expand into new areas; 70% of cleared forest in the Amazon, for instance, is now pastureland. Livestock production is also one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, including 65% of man-made nitrous oxide emissions (which have a global warming potential 296 times greater than CO₂).

Nevertheless, millions of people in developing countries still suffer from protein malnutrition. The burden, therefore, must fall on people in richer nations to reduce their meat consumption and embrace other sources of protein.
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A new invisible film made from healthy corneal cells could restore vision to millions

A new invisible film made from healthy corneal cells could restore vision to millions | The future of medicine and health |
Scientists in Australia have developed a technique for growing corneal cells on a thin layer of film in the lab, which can then be implanted into the eye to restore vision lost to corneal damage.

The method, which has so far been successfully demonstrated in animal trials, could have the potential to dramatically increase access to corneal transplants – which could change the lives of some 10 million people worldwide.

"We believe that our new treatment performs better than a donated cornea, and we hope to eventually use the patient's own cells, reducing the risk of rejection," says biomedical engineer Berkay Ozcelik, who led the research while at the University of Melbourne. "Further trials are required but we hope to see the treatment trialled in patients next year."

The cornea is the eye's outermost layer. To keep healthy, it needs to stay moist and transparent, but ageing, disease, and trauma can all lead to corneal damage, such as swelling, which results in vision deterioration.
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Too much 'good' cholesterol linked to early death - Futurity

Too much 'good' cholesterol linked to early death - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
Commonly touted as “good cholesterol” for helping reduce risk of stroke and heart attack, both high and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol may increase a risk of premature death, a new study suggests.

Conversely, intermediate HDL cholesterol levels may increase longevity.

“The findings surprised us,” says Ziyad Al-Aly, assistant professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. “Previously it was thought that raised levels of the good cholesterol were beneficial. The relationship between increased levels of HDL cholesterol and early death is unexpected and not fully clear yet. This will require further study.”

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in blood that can narrow and block heart vessels, causing cardiovascular disease and stroke. For years, HDL cholesterol has been credited with helping to remove plaque-building “bad cholesterol” from arteries.

Researchers studied kidney function and HDL cholesterol levels in more than 1.7 million male veterans from October 2003 through September 2004. Researchers then followed participants until September 2013.

Patients with kidney disease frequently have lower levels of HDL cholesterol, which might explain their increased risk of early death; however, the association between elevated HDL cholesterol levels and premature death in these patients has been unclear.
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Sperm quality in dogs is rapidly declining, and it could be a big warning for human fertility

Sperm quality in dogs is rapidly declining, and it could be a big warning for human fertility | The future of medicine and health |
Scientists have assessed the fertility of male dogs in Britain over the past three decades to find that it’s declined by a whopping 30 percent across five common breeds.

While the researchers aren’t concerned that dogs will lose their ability to reproduce any time soon, they do say the find could have serious implications for human fertility, pointing to the possibility that industrial chemicals in our food packaging could be to blame.

"The dogs who share our homes are exposed to similar contaminants as we are, so the dog is a sentinel for human exposure," lead researcher Richard G. Lea, from the University of Nottingham in the UK, told The New York Times.

Back in 1988, Lea and his team decided to monitor changes in dog fertility by analysing a population of service animals at a centre for disabled people in England.

A total of 232 dogs from five different breeds - Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, curly coat retrievers, border collies and German shepherds - were included in the study, and the fertility has been tested every year up to 2014.

As Jan Hoffman explains for The Times, the benefit of working with these dogs in particular is that, not only do they come from an environment where systematic record-keeping is kept for their health and lineage, but they’re also being raised in one location with uniform conditions.
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Staying single might be even better for you than getting married

Staying single might be even better for you than getting married | The future of medicine and health |
Despite what society might try to tell us, being single doesn’t have to be a bad thing - in fact, for some people, it's even better than being paired up, with researchers finding that single life can impart a whole lot of benefits that marriage doesn’t.

In a recent presentation to the American Psychological Association, psychologist Bella DePaulo, pointed to evidence that single people can have richer, more meaningful lives than their married counterparts.

"The preoccupation with the perils of loneliness can obscure the profound benefits of solitude," said DePaulo, from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"It is time for a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life - one that recognises the real strengths and resilience of people who are single, and what makes their lives so meaningful."

One study cited by DePaulo showed that people who are single are often closer to their parents, siblings, friends, neighbours, and co-workers. Another study showed they had a heightened sense of self-determination, and demonstrated continued growth and development as an adult.

DePaulo is now conducting her own research into this topic in the hopes of breaking down “singlism” – the stereotype that single people are somehow less worthy than their married counterparts.
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