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South African Vet Pioneering Medicine for Africa’s Endangered Pangolins

Veterinarian Dr. Karin Lourens has become known as Africa’s “pangolin doctor” for leading medical efforts to help the scaly anteaters rescued from the illegal wildlife trade to recover. Her pioneering tube-feeding and blood testing is helping to improve her endangered patients’ survival rate. Marize de Klerk reports for VOA from Johannesburg.

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UK Study: E-Cigs can Double Success Rates of Quitting Smoking

People using e-cigarettes to quit smoking are about 95% more likely to report success than those trying to quit without help from any stop-smoking aids according to the results of a large study in England.

The research, funded by the charity Cancer Research UK and published in the journal Addiction on Thursday, analyzed success rates of several common stop-smoking methods – including e-cigarettes, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) patches and gum, and Pfizer’s varenicline, sold as Champix in the UK.

It also adjusted for a wide range of factors that might influence success rates for quitting – such as age, social level, degree of cigarette addiction, previous attempts to quit, and whether quitting was gradual or abrupt.

Latest World Health Organization data show that smoking and other tobacco use kills more than 7 million people a year globally. Of the 1.1 billion people worldwide who smoke, around 80 percent live in poor or middle-income countries.

E-cigarettes have no tobacco, but contain nicotine-laced liquids that the user inhales in a vapor. Many big tobacco companies, including British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands and Japan Tobacco, sell e-cigarettes.

This study involved almost 19,000 people in England who had tried to quit smoking in the preceding 12 months, collected over a 12-year period from 2006 to 2018. Successful quitters were defined as those who said they were still not smoking.

As well as the 95% increased success rate for e-cigarettes, the study found that people prescribed Champix were around 82% more likely to have succeeded in stopping smoking than those who tried to quit without any aids.

“Our study adds to growing evidence that use of e-cigarettes can help smokers to quit,” said Sarah Jackson, a professor at University College London who co-led the study.

Using e-cigarettes, or ‘vaping,’ is considered by many experts to be an effective way for smokers to give up tobacco, but some in the scientific community are skeptical of their public health benefits, fearing they might normalize the idea of smoking and lead young people into the habit.

Smokers who were prescribed NRT by a medical professional were 34% more likely to quit successfully, the study found. But those buying NRT from shops were no more likely to succeed that those trying to quit without any help at all.

Experts said the results were robust and important.

Peter Hajek, director of the tobacco dependence research unit at Britain’s Queen Mary University of London, said the study yielded two key findings about e-cigarettes:

“They help smokers quit at least as much as stop-smoking medications, and they are used by many more smokers. This means they generate many more quitters and do this at no cost to the NHS (National Health Service),” he said in an emailed comment.

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Study: Children of Opioid Users More Likely to Attempt Suicide

The U.S. opioid crisis is taking a toll on children of users as a study published on Wednesday showed they were more likely to attempt suicide.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry published by the American Medical Association found children whose parents were prescribed opioids were twice as likely to attempt suicide as the offspring of people who did not use those drugs.

The latest study from researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh is the first research attempting to tie rising suicides among U.S. children to the opioid crisis.

“I think that it’s obvious in many ways; it’s just that we were able to put it together and prove it,” said Dr. David Brent, one of the authors of the study.

Brent, of the University of Pittsburgh, said he believes some opioid users might display less care, monitoring and affection for their children, which would explain the higher suicide rate in those kids.

Suicide increased across all ages in the United States between 1999 and 2016, spiking by over 30% in half the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year.

Another study found that among girls age 10 to 14 the suicide rate rose by 12.7% per year after 2007.

In the latest study, researchers used medical insurance data from 2010 to 2016 for more than 300,000 children ages 10 to 19, and broke that group down into those whose parents were prescribed opioid drugs and those whose parents were not.

Among the children of parents who used opioids, 0.37% attempted suicide, compared to 0.14 % of the children of non-users, according to the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The parents were all legally prescribed opioids that they used for at least a year. The study did not identify which of those users may have been abusing painkillers, as opposed to using them in line with doctor recommendations.

Challenges for children of drug users

Children of opioid users still had a significantly higher risk of attempting suicide after researchers adjusted for factors such as depression and parental history of suicide.

Some researchers have suggested social media could harm children’s self esteem and increase their suicide risk.

But Brent and his co-authors noted social media is prevalent in countries that have not seen a rise in child suicide.

U.S. President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017 and has promised to hold drugmakers accountable for their part in the crisis.

Nearly 400,000 people died of overdoses between 1999 and 2017 in the United States, resulting in the lowering of overall life expectancy for the first in more than 60 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eric Rice, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s school of social work, said other research has found children of drug users face challenges.

“A doubling in the suicide rate is a pretty shocking manifestation of that, I’ve got to be honest,” Rice said. “But to hear that there are impacts on children which are negative is not a surprising thing,” said Rice, who was not involved with the study.

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Study: Ozone-Killing Chemicals Traced to China

Scientists say they have pinpointed the source of a globally banned chemical that damages the Earth’s protective ozone layer: China. 

In a report published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the scientists who monitor the planet’s atmosphere say the recent rise in the emission of the ozone-depleting chemical CFC-11 has been traced to two provinces in eastern China. 

Any production and use of CFC-11 is a violation of the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 agreement that phased out chlorofluorocarbons that cause damage to the ozone layer. 

Ozone is critical to life, limiting the amount of harmful ultraviolet solar radiation that reaches Earth’s surface. The recovery of the ozone had been touted as an environmental success story. But since 2012, air samples had shown a troubling amount of CFC-11 present in them. Because the chemical doesn’t occur in nature, it indicated an illegal use of the chemical.

Over the last two years, scientists have used air monitoring stations in Japan and Korea along with water studies to pinpoint the offenders as foam factories in the provinces of Shandong and Hebei in eastern China.

Scientists say the report will help Chinese authorities find the exact sources and stop the emissions before they deal a major setback to ozone hole recovery.

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Seeking Energy Independence, Palestinians Open Solar Plant

Palestinian officials say they have inaugurated their first solar panel plant as part of a plan to reduce their dependence on Israeli power sources.

Mohammed Mustafa, head of the government’s investment fund, says that Tuesday’s plant opening in the ancient West Bank city of Jericho is one of four planned plants. One has been donated from China.

He says the Palestinians rely almost entirely on power imported from Israel and the new plants are part of a long-term project to reduce that by 50% over the next decade. He says the four solar panel stations should cover about 30% of Palestinian power consumption. 

Mustafa says the West Bank consumes about $700 million a year in electricity.

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Research on Children’s Health Risks in Doubt Over EPA funds

Long-running research projects credited with pivotal discoveries about the harm that pesticides, air pollution and other hazards pose to children are in jeopardy or shutting down because the Environmental Protection Agency will not commit to their continued funding, researchers say.

The projects being targeted make up a more than $300 million, federally funded program that over the past two decades has exposed dangers to fetuses and children. Those findings have often led to increased pressure on the EPA for tighter regulations. 

Children’s health researchers and environmental groups accuse the EPA of trying to squelch scientific studies that the agency views as running counter to the Trump administration’s mission of easing regulations and promoting business.

“A lot of the centers, including mine, have identified a lot of chemicals that are associated with diseases in children,” said Catherine Metayer, an epidemiologist who directs research into children’s leukemia at University of California at Berkeley through the federal program. 

The EPA awarded smaller than average funding for the research grants for this year, asked Congress to cut funding for it from its budget, and has refused to commit to future funding for the program.

“The EPA anticipates future funding opportunities that support EPA’s high priority research topics, including children’s health research,” spokesman James Hewitt said, while declining to answer questions on the future for the national research projects.

Children’s centers at universities around the country typically get joint funding from the EPA and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in three- and five-year packages, with most packages running out in 2018 and 2019. With no word on future funding, researchers overall “have been kind of scrambling to find a way to continue that work which is so important,” said Tracey Woodruff, director of the children’s center at the University of California at San Francisco.

Woodruff’s federally funded work includes looking at how flame-retardant chemicals and PFAS compounds – a kind of stain-resistant, nonstick industrial compound – affect the placenta during pregnancy. The Trump EPA has come under increasing pressure from states to regulate PFAS as it shows up in more water supplies around the country.

With no news from the EPA on any more funding in the future, “we’ve been winding down for about a year” on work funded through those grants, Woodruff said.

On Tuesday, a banner across a website home page for the overall children’s research declared “EPA will no longer fund children’s health research.”

The EPA and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have jointly funded the children’s environmental health research since 1997, through grants to at least two dozen children’s environmental research centers around the country. The annual grants averaged $15 million through 2017. In the current fiscal year, the EPA contributed $1.6 million, agency spokeswoman Maggie Sauerhage said. 

​The research often involves enrolling women while they are still pregnant and then following their children for years, to study environmental exposures and their effects as children grow, said Barbara Morrissey, a toxicologist and chairwoman of the EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee.

The long-term projects often produce much stronger results overall than one-off studies do, Morrissey said.

Each children’s center funded by the grants also works to spread information about environmental threats to local health workers and to families.

The institute is under the National Institutes of Health, which has numerous other children’s environmental research studies underway but said with the EPA joint program left hanging, it was considering a new program to put lessons learned about pediatric risks into practice in communities.

EPA’s funding for the grants comes from the agency’s Science To Achieve Results, or STAR, program for research into environmental threats.

The Trump administration 2020 budget request sought to eliminate funding for the STAR grants, and sought a nearly one-third cut in the EPA’s budget overall.

A House Appropriations subcommittee released its own budget proposal Tuesday to restore funding for the STAR grants and boost the agency’s overall budget from last year by 8%, rejecting the administration’s requests for cuts.

EPA spokespeople did not respond when asked why the EPA had asked Congress to end funding for the grant program, and whether the agency would commit to continuing the children’s health research if Congress overrides the EPA and restores funding for the grants, as expected.

The science journal Nature first reported funding concerns for the program.

In a statement Tuesday, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group said “crippling research to protect children’s health, while bowing to the agenda of the chemical industry, is the calling card of the EPA in the Trump administration.”

Even if the administration restores funding to previous levels, for one year or several years, the time span of grant cycles and grant-funded work means that uncertainty over continued federal support is making the intended multiyear research untenable, researchers and program supporters said.

“The whole point of these children’s centers is to be following children over time,” Morrissey, the chairwoman of the advisory committee to the EPA, said. “That’s why it’s so high-quality.”

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On World Bee Day, Worrying Developments for the World’s Pollinators

As the world marks Bee Day this week (May 20), it’s a good opportunity to check in on these industrious insects that are responsible for about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide. But something is wrong with the world’s bees and our existence might depend on figuring out why. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Playing Music to Ease Pain, Nourish Social Connections

Music has long helped people express their emotions and connect with one another. Over the years, medical studies have proved that music has many health benefits, too. They range from facilitating regular breathing and lifting mood to improving emotional function and motor control in patients. Faiza Elmasry tells us more about music therapy. Faith Lapidus narrates.

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