Category Archives: good news

Good News Monday: The Eyes Have It

Sharing a cool article today on a major scientic advance for the blind.

Doctors Are Preparing to Implant the World’s First Human Bionic Eye

Photo by Eternal Happiness on Pexels.com

The same implants could potentially treat paralysis as well.

by VICTOR TANGERMANN on Futurism.com

A team of researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has built a bionic device that they say can restore vision to the blind through a brain implant.

The team is now preparing for what they claim will be the world’s first human clinical trials of a bionic eye — and are asking for additional funding to eventually manufacture it on a global scale.

It’s essentially the guts of a smartphone combined with brain-implanted micro electrodes, as TechCrunch reports. The “Gennaris bionic vision system,” a project that’s more than ten years in the making, bypasses damaged optic nerves to allow signals to be transmitted from the retina to the vision center of the brain.

The system is made up of a custom-designed headgear, which includes a camera and a wireless transmitter. A processor unit takes care of data crunching, while a set of tiles implanted inside the brain deliver the signals.

“Our design creates a visual pattern from combinations of up to 172 spots of light (phosphenes) which provides information for the individual to navigate indoor and outdoor environments, and recognize the presence of people and objects around them,” Arthur Lowery, professor at Monash University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, said in a statement.

The researchers are also hoping to adapt the system to help those with untreatable neurological conditions, such as limb paralysis, to regain movement.

“If successful, the MVG [Monash Vision Group] team will look to create a new commercial enterprise focused on providing vision to people with untreatable blindness and movement to the arms of people paralyzed by quadriplegia, transforming their health care,” Lewis said.

trial in July showed that the Gennaris array was able to be transplanted safely into the brains of three sheep using a pneumatic insertor, with a cumulative 2,700 hours of stimulation not causing any adverse health effects.

It’s still unclear when the first human trials will take place.

“With extra investment, we’ll be able to manufacture these cortical implants here in Australia at the scale needed to progress to human trials,” Marcello Rosa, professor of physiology at Monash and MVG member, said in the statement.

The news comes after Elon Musk’s brain computer interface company Neuralink announced it’s testing its coin-sized interface prototype in live pigs. The end goals are similar: to treat brain issues including blindness and paralysis.

Whether the Monash device is technically the first bionic eye, though, may come down to semantics.

A separate brain implant, a “visual prosthetic” device, developed by scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, recently allowed both blind and sighted participants to “see” the shape of letters, as detailed in a paper published in May.

Good News Monday: Kitchen Magic

With all the cooking at home we’re doing, I was excited to pick up some great tips this week. It may not make sheltering in place any less stressful, but at least the kitchen will be cleaner!

First up, some dishwasher tricks:

  • For dishes that still look cloudy even after a full cycle, pour some white vinegar into a dishwasher-safe bowl and place it on the top rack. The vinegar cuts through hard water to help reduce stubborn residue.
  • Another dishwasher hint: To keep plastic containers from flipping over and filling with water, put them on the top rack and cover them with your plastic or metal dish drainer to weigh them down. (Odds are, it could use a good clean, too.)
  • The dishwasher’s also useful for cleaning your microwave’s turntable. Just put it in the bottom section with the plates and goodbye, anything sticky.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Finally — here’s my favorite hack to keep your eyes from tearing when you slice onions: Simply sprinkle some lemon juice on your cutting board as well as the onion. I have no idea why this works, but it’s kind of amazing!

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Writers, Think Pink!

Many of us remain isolated from friends and family during this pandemic. So imagine how difficult it would be to find yourself newly diagnosed with breast cancer — and with no support system to help you through the crisis.

An organization called Girls Love Mail has a novel way of boosting women’s spirits. Since 2011, it’s enlisted thousands of empathetic people to send words of encouragement to strangers; about 167,000 letters have been mailed to date.

Want to share a little hand-written optimism? Visit girlslovemail.com in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month in October.

Photo by Abstrakt Xxcellence Studios on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Statins, stat!

For us older folks with cholesterol concerns — mine’s hereditary; thanks, Dad — today’s NY Times article had some heartening info.

For Older People, Reassuring News in the Statin Debate

There is accumulating evidence that the benefits of statins far outweigh possible risks, and nearly all statins on the market are now available as inexpensive generics.

Credit…Gracia Lam
Jane E. Brody

By Jane E. Brody

  • Sept. 21, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, already one of the most popular medications worldwide, may become even more widely used as evidence grows of their safety and value to the elderly and their potential benefits beyond the heart and blood vessels.

Among the latest are reports of the ability of several leading statins to reduce deaths from common cancers and blunt the decline of memory with age. Perhaps such reports will persuade a reluctant 65-year-old friend who has diabetes, and others like him, that taking the statin his doctor strongly advised is a smart choice.

In addition to accumulating evidence that the benefits of statins far outweigh possible risks for the vast majority of people for whom they are now recommended, nearly all statins on the market are now available as inexpensive generics.

Full disclosure: I have a strong family history of heart disease and have been taking a statin — atorvastatin, originally marketed as Lipitor — for many years after dietary changes failed to control a steadily rising blood level of artery-damaging LDL-cholesterol. My prescription is now fully covered by my Medicare Part D insurance with no co-pay.

But cost of a medication is not the only consideration for a drug that can be lifesaving for many people. The primary indication for taking a statin is to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by lowering serum LDL-cholesterol and, in some cases, also triglycerides, both of which can damage coronary arteries when levels rise above normal.

Statins offer further cardiovascular protection by stabilizing the fatty deposits in arteries called plaque that can break loose, block a major artery and cause a heart attack or stroke.

Current guidelines typically recommend statin therapy for:

  • People with a history of heart disease, stroke or peripheral artery disease or risk factors that give them a 10 percent or greater chance of a heart attack within 10 years;
  • People over 40 with diabetes and an LDL-cholesterol level above 70 milligrams per deciliter;
  • People over 21 with an LDL-cholesterol level of 190 or higher (despite dietary changes to minimize saturated fats and achieve a normal body weight).

Currently, more than 60 percent of older people in the United States who, like me, have high cholesterol take a statin to help prevent a heart attack or stroke.

Still, there’s been a long-simmering debate as to whether statins are advisable for people over 75, even though the risk of suffering life-threatening cardiovascular disease rises precipitously with age. Concerns have been raised about side effects associated with statins, potential adverse effects of the drugs on other ailments common in the elderly and possible harmful interactions with the many other medications they often take.

Writing in the Harvard Health Blog last October, Dr. Dara K. Lee Lewis noted, “The paradox that we face is that as our patients age, they are at increased risk for heart attacks and strokes, and yet they also become more sensitive to medication side effects, so it is a tricky balance.”

Statins can sometimes cause blood sugar abnormalities, resulting in a diagnosis of pre-diabetes or diabetes, and possible toxic effects on the liver that necessitate periodic blood tests for liver enzymes. A very small percentage of people prescribed a statin develop debilitating muscle pain. An elderly friend developed statin-induced nightmares. There have also been reports suggesting statin-associated memory problems and cognitive decline, already a common concern as people age.

But likely the biggest deterrent was the existence of meager evidence for the role statins might play for older people at risk of cardiovascular disease. As is true in most drug trials on new medications, relatively few people over 75 were included in early studies that assessed the benefits and risks of statins.

The latest reports, however, are highly reassuring. One followed more than 120,000 French men and women ages 75 to 79 who had been taking statins for up to four years. Among the 10 percent who stopped taking the drug, the risk of being admitted to a hospital for a cardiovascular event was 25 to 30 percent greater than for those who continued taking a statin.

Another study in Israel, published last year in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, involved nearly 20,000 older adults followed for 10 years. Among those who stayed on statin therapy, the chance of dying from any cause was 34 percent lower than among those who failed to adhere to a prescribed statin. The benefits were not reduced for those older than 75 and applied to women and men alike.

This year a study published in JAMA by a team headed by Dr. Ariela R. Orkaby of the VA Boston Healthcare System found that among 326,981 United States veterans whose average age was 81, the initiation of statin use was associated with 25 percent fewer deaths over all and 20 percent fewer cardiovascular deaths during a follow-up of nearly seven years.

However, none of these studies represent “gold standard” research. The results of two such studies, the Staree trial and the Preventable trial, both randomized controlled clinical trials of statin therapy to prevent cardiovascular events in the elderly, have not yet been published. Both will also assess effects on cognition.

Meanwhile, a report last year from Australia published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found no difference over a six-year period in the rate of decline in memory or cognitive status between statin users and those who had never taken the drugs. In fact, among those who started a statin during the study, the rate of memory decline was blunted. Another observational study by a Swedish team published in Nature found beneficial effects on reaction time and fluid intelligence among statin takers over 65.

Finally, there are several reports that a major class of statins called lipophilic (including atorvastatin, simvastatin, lovastatin and fluvastatin) may have anticancer effects. One study of nearly 2,000 survivors of early-stage breast cancer found a decreased five-year recurrence rate in women who started a statin within three years of diagnosis.

In a report presented in June to a virtual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, Dr. Kala Visvanathan of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore described a 40 percent reduction in deaths from ovarian cancer among more than 10,000 patients who had used statins either before or after their diagnosis. The patients who benefited in this observational study had the most common and aggressive form of ovarian cancer.

Dr. Visvanathan explained that statins inhibit an enzyme in a chemical pathway involved in the growth and proliferation of tumors. At a press briefing, Dr. Antoni Ribas, president of the association, said that if the finding is confirmed in a randomized clinical trial, “this would be a great outcome.”

Good News Monday: Cooking During COVID

I can’t remember the last time we ate at a restaurant. By which I mean inside, not grabbing takeout. I’m all for cooking at home but it’s begun to feel a little, well, punitive.

So I was happy to read that being forced to cook more during lockdown has an upside: developing healthier eating habits, according to preliminary results from a worldwide Corona Cooking Survey.

11,000 people in 11 countries have weighed in, reporting fewer purchases of microwave foods and sweet or salty snacks. At the same time, consumers say they’re eating more fruits and veggies, wasting less food, and eating more leftovers.

“Consumption of salty, fat and sweet products usually goes up when people are under stress, but during the pandemic this heightened craving has been fulfilled in many countries with home-baked delicacies,” said Charlotte De Backer, chairman of FOOMS, a research group on food and media at U. Antwerp.

She probably didn’t mean this as a license to go crazy making endless batches of cookies but hey, the very act of baking is a terrific stress reliever. One takes solace where one finds it.

De Backer expects some of these new eating habits to outlast the pandemic, because the lockdowns have been longer than the six weeks it takes to form a new habit.

FOOMS posts updates on the Corona Cooking Survey research on their Facebook page, and anyone who’s interested in participating can take the survey on the U. Antwerp website.

If only I had a recipe for broccoli brownies.

Good News Monday: Fat Bear Week is Almost Here

While many of us have been gaining weight in hibernation, the brown bears in Alaska‘s Katmai National Park & Preserve have taken it to a whole new level. After all, they do this every year.

Beginning September 30, we can all vote for our favorite fatty — which is sure to be far more entertaining than the US elections we’re dreading in November.

brown bear

Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: COVID Immunity

Reprinted from today’s New York Times

Is herd immunity ahead of schedule?

Mumbai may be among the cities that have already achieved herd immunity, scientists say.Indranil Mukherjee/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Today, we’re turning this section over to our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli, who has been covering the pandemic for The Times’s Science desk.

The pandemic will end only when enough people are protected against the coronavirus, whether by a vaccine or by already having been infected. Reaching this threshold, known as herd immunity, doesn’t mean the virus will disappear. But with fewer hosts to infect, it will make its way through a community much more slowly.

In the early days of the crisis, scientists estimated that perhaps 70 percent of the population would need to be immune in this way to be free from large outbreaks. But over the past few weeks, more than a dozen scientists told me they now felt comfortable saying that herd immunity probably lies from 45 percent to 50 percent.

If they’re right, then we may be a lot closer to turning back this virus than we initially thought.

It may also mean that pockets of New York City, London, Mumbai and other cities may already have reached the threshold, and may be spared a devastating second wave.

The initial calculations into herd immunity assumed that everyone in a community was equally susceptible to the virus and mixed randomly with everyone else.

The new estimates are the product of more sophisticated statistical modeling. When scientists factor in variations in density, demographics and socialization patterns, the estimated threshold for herd immunity falls.

In some clinics in hard-hit Brooklyn neighborhoods, up to 80 percent of people who were tested at the beginning of the summer had antibodies for the virus. Over the past eight weeks, fewer than 1 percent of people tested at those same neighborhood clinics have had the virus.

Likewise in Mumbai, a randomized household survey found that about 57 percent of people who live in the poorest areas and share toilets had antibodies, compared with just 11 percent elsewhere in the city.

It’s too early to say with certainty that those communities have reached herd immunity. We don’t know, for example, how long someone who was infected stays protected from the coronavirus. But the data suggests that the virus may move more slowly in those areas the next time around.

Good News Monday: Boredom Buster

Guess who else is bored with COVID-19? Penguins!

It seems they’d been extra fidgety over at the Newquay Zoo in Cornwall, England until a donor came up with an ingenious solution: a bubble maker.

No mere entertainment, the CPC (chief penguin caretaker) explained that the bubbles also keep the penguins’ predatory reflexes sharp.

One wonders… could there be a tie-in between champagne and aggression in humans? Is this why some wedding celebrations turn into drunken brawls?

Anyway, the article and video are seriously cute.

cold nature cute ice

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Why Masks Work

Yes, it’s Tuesday. But, honestly, who can tell the difference between one day and the next?

This, from the Los Angeles Times, is interesting.  On the off chance that the link doesn’t work — because, mostly, they don’t since they want you to subscribe instead of reading for free — I’m pasting it here.

You’ll get the gist even if you don’t read the whole thing. (What’s a “gist”? Glad you asked. Extensive research indicates “early 18th century: from Old French, third person singular present tense of gesir ‘to lie’, from Latin jacere . The Anglo-French legal phrase c’est action gist [‘this action lies’ , e.g. occurs] denoted that there were sufficient grounds to proceed; gist was adopted into English denoting the grounds themselves.”  Now you know.

Masks offer much more protection against coronavirus than many think

RONG-GONG LIN II, MAURA DOLAN

There’s a common refrain that masks don’t protect you; they protect other people from your own germs, which is especially important to keep unknowingly infected people from spreading the coronavirus.

But now, there’s mounting evidence that masks also protect you.

If you’re unlucky enough to encounter an infectious person, wearing any kind of face covering will reduce the amount of virus that your body will take in.

As it turns out, that’s pretty important. Breathing in a small amount of virus may lead to no disease or far more mild infection. But inhaling a huge volume of virus particles can result in serious disease or death.

That’s the argument Dr. Monica Gandhi, UC San Francisco professor of medicine and medical director of the HIV Clinic at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, is making about why — if you are unlucky to get infected with the virus — masking can still protect you from more severe disease.

“There is this theory that facial masking reduces the [amount of virus you get exposed to] and disease severity,” said Gandhi, who is also director for the Center for AIDS Research at UC San Francisco.

The idea of requiring mask-wearing in public has become an increasingly pressing and politicized issue as California and the rest of the nation see a surge in new cases as the economy reopens.

California this week ordered a reclosure of many businesses, include a statewide halting of all indoor dining and a closure of bars. The state also ordered a closing down — in dozens of hard-hit counties, including L.A. County — of indoor gyms, houses of worship, hair salons, nail salons and offices for nonessential industries.

But experts say masks are essential for people to wear when they still go out in public, such as to shop or go to medical appointments, and to get exercise like heading to the beach or park.

California has mandated face coverings in public settings since June 18, and a growing number of communities said they will ticket people who disobey the rules. But there remains some resistance to the government mandating wearing masks in some corners of the state, including Orange County.

Some leaders in Orange County have pushed back against requiring students to wear masks should they return to classrooms in the fall.

In policy recommendations approved by the Orange County Board of Education on Monday, a document stated that “requiring children to wear masks during school is not only difficult — if not impossible to implement — but [is] not based on science. It may even be harmful.” Individual districts will have the final say on how schools open.

Some health experts were appalled by that language.

“This anti-mask rhetoric is mind-blowing, dangerous, deadly and polarizing,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, professor of medicine and an infectious diseases specialist at UC San Francisco. “There is no evidence that it is dangerous.”

In fact, wearing masks can help prevent children from being infected and suffering serious consequences of infection, such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare condition that has been seen in children who have been infected with the coronavirus. “Kids not only transmit, but they can get sick as well,” Chin-Hong said.

While children are less likely to develop severe illness from the coronavirus than adults, they can still be infected, be contagious and transmit the virus to other people, Gandhi said.

Wearing a mask at school would not only reduce their ability to transmit the virus to other classmates, teachers and administrators, but also protect the students from getting infected with a large dose of virus from infected people.

Transmission rates for coronavirus have been rising across the state. Nearly 1,000 of San Francisco’s nearly 4,600 cases have been diagnosed in just the last two weeks, said Dr. Grant Colfax, the city’s director of public health.

In San Francisco, nearly half of all those who have tested positive in the city are Latinos, he said, even though Latino residents make up just 15% of the city’s population. Overall, the city has seen 7.8 new infections per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, far above its goal of no more than 1.8 new infections per 100,000 people.

“This, again, indicates that the virus is spreading throughout the city, particularly … in the southeast part of the city,” Colfax said.

For every one person who contracts the virus, another 1.25 people on average are now infected, he said. “We really need to drive that down to 1 or below as quickly and as soon as possible.”

The transmission rate also rose above 1 in L.A. County in June, but has fallen back to 1. “The virus currently rages on in our community,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

The reason why masks are so important in controlling the spread of the coronavirus is that it can be widely spread by people who are not visibly sick — either because they haven’t yet shown signs of illness, or they will spend the entire course of their infections with little or no symptoms at all.

A key piece of evidence for this emerged earlier this year, on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that carried infected crew and passengers in Asia. A study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that of 712 people testing positive for the virus, nearly half were asymptomatic at the time of testing.

“We also know that viral load is highest early during disease,” said Dr. Chaz Langelier, an assistant professor at UC San Francisco, during the panel discussion. In fact, 44% of transmissions are believed to occur when the infected person has no symptoms, according to a study published in Nature Medicine.

That’s different from the seasonal flu, where peak infectiousness occurs about one day after the onset of symptoms, Langelier said.

Masks don’t filter out all viral particles, Gandhi said. But even cloth face masks filter out a majority of viral particles.

And even if a person wearing a mask gets infected, the mask — by filtering out most of the viral particles exhaled by the infected person — probably leads to less severe disease, Gandhi said.

The idea that a lower dose of virus when being infected brings less illness is a well-worn idea in medicine.

Even going back to 1938, there was a study showing that by giving mice a higher dose of a deadly virus, the mice are more likely to get severe disease and die, Gandhi said.

The same principle applies to humans. A study published in 2015 gave healthy volunteers varying doses of a flu virus; those who got higher doses got sicker, with more coughing and shortness of breath, Gandhi said.

And another study suggested that the reason why the second wave of the 1918-19 flu pandemic was the deadliest in the U.S. was because of the overcrowded conditions faced in army camps as World War I wound down.

Finally, a study published in May found that surgical mask partitions significantly reduced the transmission of the coronavirus among hamsters. And even if the hamsters protected by the mask partitions acquired the coronavirus, “they were more likely to get very mild disease,” Gandhi said.

So what happens if a city dramatically masks up while in public?

If Gandhi is right, it may mean that even if there’s a rise in coronavirus infections in a city, the masks may limit the dose people are getting of the virus and result in them more likely to show less severe symptoms of illness.

That’s what Gandhi said she suspects is happening in San Francisco, where mask wearing is relatively robust. Further observations are needed, Gandhi said.

There’s more evidence that masks can be protective — even when wearers do become infected. She cited an outbreak at a seafood plant in Oregon where employees were given masks, and 95% of those who were infected were asymptomatic.

Gandhi also cited the experience of a cruise ship that was traveling from Argentina to Antartica in March when the coronavirus infected people on board, as documented in a recent study. Passengers got surgical masks; the crew got N95 masks.

But instead of about 40% of those infected being asymptomatic — which is what would normally be expected — 81% of those testing positive were asymptomatic, and the masking may have helped reduce the severity of disease in people on board, Gandhi said.

The protective effects are also seen in countries where masks are universally accepted for years, such as Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore. “They have all seen cases as they opened … but not deaths,” Gandhi said.

The Czech Republic moved early to require masks, issuing an order in mid-March, Gandhi said; that’s about three months before Gov. Gavin Newsom did so statewide in California. But in the Czech Republic, “every time their cases would go up …their death rate was totally flat. So they didn’t get the severe illness with these cases going on.”

By May, the Czech Republic lifted its face mask rule. “And they’re doing great,” Gandhi said.

End of article, back to me.  If it’s good enough for hamsters, I’m definitely wearing a mask.

hamster

Photo by Juris Freidenfelds on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Bad and Good Women Get What They Deserve

First up, breaking news: Amy Cooper, the white woman in Central Park who called the police on a Black bird watcher, will be charged with filing a false report, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Ms. Cooper will be arraigned in October.  If convicted — which seems likely since the incident was captured on video and went viral — she could be given a conditional discharge or sentenced to community service or counseling rather than jail time. (Counseling seems like an excellent idea, regardless of any other punishment.)

On Memorial Day, Ms. Cooper who’d been walking with her dog, encountered Christian Cooper (no relation), a Harvard graduate and bird watching enthusiast, in the Ramble, a semi-wild part of the park where dogs must be leashed.

Mr. Cooper said that he asked Ms. Cooper to leash her dog, and when she refused, he attempted to lure the dog with treats, hoping to compel her to restrain her pet. (Pet owners don’t like strangers to offer treats and usually leash their dogs to avoid this.) The encounter then got ugly when Ms. Cooper decided to call 911 and tell them that an African-American man was threatening her life.

That’s the Bad Women part of this report. Now, let’s celebrate more illustrious women.

On a more positive note, this year marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the long-overdue right to vote. In honor, The National Trust for Historic Preservation is currently crowdsourcing locations where women made history.

Savingplaces.org directs visitors to a number of distinctive destinations, including the house where Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting in 1872, the First Ladies’ Museum, Frederick Douglass’ D.C. home, which Helen Douglass and the National League of Colored Women worked to save, the first secondary school for women, the home where the initial Girl Scouts meeting was held, and many others. They’re hoping to receive hundreds of suggestions.

[pixabay.com]