Category Archives: Physical Sciences

Grabbing hold of Alzheimer’s disease: A new treatment

By: David Sawatzky, Paula Samper, Moh Mehrabi, and Daniel Passaseo

There is a new drug that can target and block harmful metal ions in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. This drug developed by Dr. Chris Orvig from the University of British Columbia, is known as a chelating drug, which means it grabs hold of its target and makes it unable to do more damage. This is a massive breakthrough for treating Alzheimer’s disease, for which there is no cure.

This research is very important because you can only treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and the leading treatments do a very poor job and targeting the affected brain cells. Dr. Orvig’s model drug has a sugar molecule to help deliver it to the brain. It is a very innovative idea, and there have been no previous Alzheimer’s drugs that are effective at getting the drug into the brain.

One of the effects of Alzheimer’s is neurodegeneration, which means the brain cells die. As these brain cells die, the patients lose their memory and motor skills, making it hard for them to live on their own. These patients then require family members and or caregivers to help with daily activities like preparing food and bathing. This takes a large emotional and financial toll on the patient’s family.

Photo from Google images

The actual causes of the disease are not known very well, because there may be many factors that contribute to this disease. But it is known that Alzheimer’s is not genetically inherited, although some genes may contribute to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. For more information about what causes Alzheimer’s disease listen to our podcast!

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The following video does a great job summarizing Dr. Orvig’s research and what Alzheimer’s disease is all about.

There is hope that research like Dr. Orvig’s will eventually lead to a better understanding of this disease and eventually a cure.

Discovery of a New Particle may change Physics

A recent article on CBC reveals a shocking discovery that could change the world that we know today. Scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois found a new particle that is different from the ones that we are familiar with. This new particle was discovered through the help of the Tevatron particle accelerator. The accelerator data showed an unusually high peak, which after analysis, was determined to be a new particle.

The collision detector found at Fermilab

Particle accelerators try to discover or uncover particles by accelerating them in a chamber. The particles are accelerated near the speed of light, and through these high-speed collisions, scientists hope to gain data that might reveal new particles. The unusual high peak from the accelerator’s data led to the creation of a new particle, called the W boson, and two cones of particles, called hadronic jets.

The new particle created ripples in the scientific community due to the fact that they do not conform to the structure predicted by the Standard Model. Physicists are boggled by this, and this new particle could in fact lead to more research.  However, the scientists at Fermilab are cautious with their findings. They are still waiting for results from Large Hadron Collider and see if the scientists there could reproduce the peak using identical parameters. Also, they are trying to eliminate the fact that this peak could have been achieved by accident – that this wasn’t a ‘fluke.’

If the same results are achieved, the world as we know it might be a little bit more different.

Brain Structures May Predict Political Views

With the Canadian election race in full swing,  some people know exactly who they are going to vote for, and others are unsure. Each of us have our own biases and opinions about the big issues like healthcare, defense, and the economy.

Picture from Google Images

A group of scientists from the University College London just published a study in Current Biology that may show why “liberals are open to new experiences and can cope with conflicting information,” and why “conservatives are more sensitive to threat or anxiety in the face of uncertainty. ” (Quotes from Sciencedaily.com)

The team of researchers looked at the different sizes of these two structures called the anterior cingulate cortex and the amygdala (click the name to find out more information about each structure from Wikipedia). This team suspected that there might be a structural difference in the brain that accounts for these differences. And this is indeed what they found. People with larger anterior cingulate cortexes tended to have more liberal views. Whereas people with larger amygdalas tended to have conservative views.

But there is not enough evidence to conclude that only these structures account for the political differences. There were too many uncontrollable factors to take into account, such as life experience, family history, also what kind of environment the subject was raised in. And people also have the ability to change their views over time.

Ryota Kanai of the University College London concluded in the article that “It’s very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions,” and “more work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude.”

Side note:

Picture from Google Images

Vote Compass is a free online survey where just click the answers that are closest to your opinions and it will tell you which political party you are closest to. I think it’s pretty cool, to check it out click on Vote Compass to go there now.

DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!

High Altitude Reduces Risk of Dying from Heart Disease

When deciding which city to live in, most of us probably consider the neighborhood, convenience, livability, along with other related factors. However, most of us do not consider the elevation of the city. Ironically, this factor could be the most important because it could potentially affect one’s health.

Image: http://www.andes.org.uk/altitude.asp

In a recent article published by Science Daily (which can be found here), they reported a study that was conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado, School of Medicine, in partnership with Harvard School of Global Health. In this study, researchers claim that living in places with high elevation or altitude can lower the chance of dying from ischemic heart disease and increase one’s life expectancy as well.

The four-year study was conducted by analyzing death certificates from various parts of the U.S. The researchers examined cause-of-death, socio-economic factors and other issues in their research. They found that on average, people that lived in higher altitudes had higher life expectancies. Although, they also said that above 4,900 feet were detrimental.

At higher altitudes, oxygen is not as freely available, hence the body has to accommodate and adjust to this abnormality through a variety of ways. It appears that one of the key ways of coping is through the expression of certain genes. These genes are only expressed at high altitudes and they may influence or change the way heart muscles function. Hence, the heart is able to function more efficient and at the same time new blood vessels that can create increased blood flow into the heart are also produced. Furthermore, the researchers claim that increased solar radiation due to the high altitudes can help the body synthesize vitamin D more efficiently, which has also been shown to have beneficial effects on the heart and prevents certain types of cancers.

However, the researchers also mentioned that when socio-economic factors, solar radiation, smoking and pulmonary disease were taken into account, the net effect of altitude on overall life expectancy was negligible. This essentially means that the results of the study are inconclusive and altitude may or may not affect one’s health.

Image: http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/why-do-athletes-train-at-high-altitudes-1005/

Nevertheless, I know that some athletes purposely train at higher altitudes. They do this because it can increase their red blood cell volume. This way, when they travel to competitions at lower altitudes they will still have a higher concentration of red blood cells, which will give them a competitive advantage. Even though, the results may not be conclusive, it is still an interesting area to study, and perhaps it could lead to new discovers for rehabilitation medicine. In the mean time, if you ever decide to move to a new city, just keep the elevation in the back of your head, and remember that it could potentially affect your health.

Laser to zap space garbage

To get you started thinking about space junk:

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NASA space scientist James Mason and his team of NASA Ames Research Center and  the University of Space Research Association in California have recently proposed a new theory to deal with the pieces of debris in the low Earth orbit (LEO) that are colliding with each other to create more pieces. They discovered a possible method of using a laser beam to change the velocity of the junk’s orbit by focusing the beam on it to slow it down and change its orbit. This can stop the debris from colliding with communications satellites or the International Space Station.

Satellites and space junk in orbit around Earth CREDIT: ESA

The scientists mention that continual evaluation of the chances of a collision between two space debris of 5 cm or more in diameter would be needed using radar data from the US Space Surveillance Network. The junks on the path of collision would then be tracked by an optical telescope. One of them will be locked on and the release of the laser beam will occur. Just by using 5-10 kilowatts commercially available lasers mounted on 1.5 meter telescopes placed close to the poles, the risk of more than half of potential space junk collisions could be significantly reduced. The total cost of the scheme would be no more than $10m, making it a much cheaper alternative than other ideas such as direct removal of space debris.

The new paper could give insight into how we can avoid the Kessler syndrome, where if more and more space junk are be created and colliding with each other, the generations of debris could ultimately render space exploration and satellite launches impossible. This prediction was done by a NASA scientist in 1978 and new solutions have been presented since then a lot with multiple complications and high price tags. Moreover, other countries involved in space exploration saw the proposed methods as threats to their functional satellites.

Although a feasible theory, the scientists speculate whether this method could actually do the trick remains a topic of debate. Team member William Marshall points out that there are a lot of uncertainties in the model and space-debris models need to be run to be certain that the theory will be effective in the long term.