Tag Archives: health

New Material Stores Oxygen for Later Use

Oxygen is an important element required for metabolisms occurring in our body and without it we would be dead in a couple of seconds. This is the reason that we cannot survive under the water or any other place without oxygen. Scientists  at University of Southern Denmark found a new way to store oxygen for using in places that oxygen is not available. They made a substance based on cobalt which can absorb oxygen from its surrounding air or water and release it anytime it is needed.

By Kenneth Abbate , via Wikimedia Commons

Oxygen can bind many different materials but the result is not always useful. For instance, oxygen can spoil foods or can rust metals. Professor Christine McKenzie, one of the researchers, explains that this new material can reversibly react with oxygen which means it can be used to transport oxygen and release it in its initial form similar to what hemoglobin does in our body. Cobalt is responsible for determining the structure of this new material in a way that it has affinity for oxygen same as iron in our body. Professor McKenzie added that the rate of oxygen absorption can range from seconds to days because of several factors such as atmospheric oxygen content, temperature and pressure. Furthermore, the material releases oxygen when it is heated up or placed in a vacuum. This material can be used to make many useful devices. For example, a light weight device could be designed to provide oxygen for patients with lung diseases who have to carry heavy oxygen tanks with themselves all the time. In addition, divers can use this material to stay longer under the water since it can absorb oxygen from water if the diver breathes in all the available oxygen in the material.

By Stephan Borchert (Eigenes Werk.) via Wikimedia Commons

-Amir Jafarvand

The Benefits of Travelling

Last year I had the absolute privilege to spend a year abroad through the go global program at UBC.  I studied in Leiden, The Netherlands and spent much of my time exploring and travelling around continental Europe.  While travelling, I always thought about what I was doing and how it would compare if I were to stay at home.  I always wondered what the real point of travelling or being abroad was.  Turns out I’m not the only one who has been thinking about this and there is a wealth of research to suggest the benefits travel can provide.

The first benefit that may surprise most is ones overall health.  Many studies have compared those who travel often with those who do not finding that well travelled individuals are in an overall better health condition.  For example, a study by Chun-Chun Chen and James Petrick reviewed past literature on the overall health benefits of travel and found there to be a lower risk of diseases such as heart attacks.  They also found that stress levels were lower among those who travel which can help reduce many other complications.  It is also interesting to note that these health benefits were observed to gradually diminish after returning from a trip.

Video: TEDx Talks

The benefits of travel do not stop at ones health and wellbeing it can also extend to peoples work lives and overall career success.  This may seem counter intuitive since travel is often viewed as the opposite of work but many studies show that time off results in a more productive work ethic.  Lots of evidence points to the need to relax and clear your mind to be able to produce better work.  This is applied to many work offices at Google. Other studies also point to a correlation between university degree completion and higher incomes with those who travel more.

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Video: BBC

The last point I want to make is actually one I realized myself while being abroad.  I think it is one of the more important points.  Through my experiences in different countries and from simply reading the news its not hard to notice the many conflicts that exist between people around the world.  I noticed that those who remain isolated and out of touch from other countries and cultures have more negative thoughts and stereotypes towards others which often results in meaningless conflicts with big consequences.  Travel provides people with a real experience to which they can base their beliefs on and the ability to realize that we are all in the world together.  This can ultimately overcome many ideological differences and create a better understanding of one another pushing towards a more peaceful and meaningful population.

On immortality: a very human desire

If presented with the fountain of youth, would you drink?

People have entertained the idea of immortality across time. Greek mythology tells of the phoenix, a bird capable of rebirth. The prominence of comics as a publication medium early in the twentieth century gave rise to a slew of superheroes capable of super-regeneration and longevity, like Superman and Wolverine. Even Lord Voldemort [SPOILER: highlight to reveal] went through the trouble of creating seven horcruxes to secure a strong hold of the living realm. Why are we fascinated with the concept of immortality?

The motivation to discuss immortality is probably related to people’s natural aversion to death and aging. There are plenty of cosmetic products and procedures that generate a lot of revenue by reversing the effects of aging, such as Botox. But what if instead of merely combating the symptoms of aging, you could eliminate it completely?

Certain examples of non-aging exist in nature. Hydras have been observed to not age. While not quite immortal, lobsters have shown to not be strongly affected by age. What can we learn from these organisms?


In DNA replication, DNA polymerase takes up a short space on the sequence that it doesn’t copy, like painting itself into the corner of a room. Image from ClipartHeaven.

At the ends of our DNA strands are sections called telomeres – repeats of nucleotides that prevent degradation of the gene as it replicates over time. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. After many replications at a point called the Hayflick limit, the telomeres reach a critically short length and the cell stops dividing. In a way, telomere length is like a biological clock that can be used to determine lifespan.

Cells also produce an enzyme called telomerase, which adds nucleotide bases to the ends of telomeres. However, the rate of telomerases’ repair of the telomeres is overcome by the rate of cell division, so telomeres continue to grow shorter and the cell ages.


6_telomere_2 6_telomere_3 6_telomere_4
Telomerase. Here, “senescence” means “old age”. Images from the National Institutes of Health.

So does the answer to immortality lie in telomerases? Not quite. High telomerase activity is detectable in more than 90% of malignant tumours. The action of telomerase can provide cells with the capacity to infinitely replicate – a defining factor of tumour cells.

So where does this bring us? We aren’t any closer to living forever, but average life expectancy has risen over time, owing to advancing medicine and lower infant mortality rates. Still, it is just as interesting to ponder how one might spend lottery winnings as it is amusing to think about what one would do with unlimited time. Perhaps the search shouldn’t be for biological immortality, but to leave an immortal legacy. As A. A. Milne had said, “I suppose that every one of us hopes secretly for immortality; to leave… a name behind him which will live forever in this world.”


“Life Expectancy at Birth by Region 1950-2050” by Rcragun from Wikipedia.

– Trevor Tsang

How Harmful are Cancer-causing Meats?

You may think the title of this post is an oxymoron: if something is cancer-causing, it must be pretty harmful, there is no question! This is also what most people thought when they read the headline few days ago, about the fact that processed meat has been classified as a “definite” cause of cancer, and red meat a “probable” cause. But what many people didn’t realize is the difference between “evidence” and “risk”. Granted, the announcement on the consumption and effects of meat made by International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC) is based on more than 800 studies and is definitely backed up by scientific evidence, but the overall risks of processed and red meat are still much lower in comparison to other cancer-causing things such as smoking, thus much less harmful than what we perceived them to be.

Grilled and Smoked Meat | Copyright @ 2010 by DeusXFlorida, Flickr

To clear up some definitions, “processed” meat is meat that has been modified to extend its shelf life or change the taste using methods such as smoking, curing, or adding salt or preservatives, according to a BBC article, while “red” meat includes beef, lamb, and pork. There is now evidence that bowel (or colorectal, colon) cancer is more common among people who eat the most processed and red meats, with the most convincing evidence being a study by researchers at the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). The study showed that people who ate the most processed meat had a 17 % higher risk of developing bowel cancer compared to those who ate the least, which is equivalent to 10 more people developing bowel cancer among 1000 people.

The IARC classifies a particular cancer risk as one of five categories, representing how confident they are that it causes cancer. Processed meats have been given group 1 classification, which “definitely” causes cancer, while red meat is in group 2A and “probably” causes cancer. However, even though processed meats is now in the same category as alcoholic beverages and tobacco, it does not mean they are equally dangerous. To put things into perspective, Cancer Research UK estimated that about 19% of all cancers were caused by tobacco, and only 3% are caused by eating processed and red meat.

This video summarizes the news, the limitations, and some perspectives on this topic: YouTube Preview Image

-credit: PBS NewsHour

Now that it seems like there is no need to suddenly turn vegetarian if you didn’t intend on becoming one, it could also be wise to cut down on processed and red meat. Perhaps eating smaller and fewer portions of red meat, choosing chicken and fish over beef and lamb, or adding more vegetables and pulses is some thing to consider doing. After all, red meat does have its nutritional benefits too: high content of iron, vitamin B12, zinc, protein, all are important for our body. And with more and more food becoming carcinogenic, a moderate diet of any kind is always more beneficial.

-Even Zheng

I commented on Bowen Zhao’s post on “Benefits of Eating Insects”, Doris Stratoberdha’s post on “Who’s this stranger starring at me?”, and Sogand Goharpey’s post on “Smarter by playing a music”.

New AIDS vaccine trials to be performed on Humans for the first time in history

In 1984, Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was discovered by a team led by Dr. Roberto Gallo, which opened the gates for mankind in order to gain more knowledge about this deadly incurable disease which was the reason for the deaths of millions of people. As the director of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV), Dr. Roberto Gallo is now launching the institute’s first clinical trial of a vaccine for AIDS – a project that has been 15 years in the making.

HIV is one of a group of atypical viruses called retroviruses that maintain their genetic information in the form of ribonucleic acid (RNA). HIV virus has an enzyme known as reverse transcriptase, which makes it capable of producing deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from RNA, whereas most cells carry out the opposite process, transcribing RNA from DNA. The activity of the enzyme enables the genetic information of HIV to become integrated permanently into the genome (chromosomes) of a host cell. Since HIV virus controls the genetic information of the cell, it makes the cell produce more HIV virus using the host machinery, thus replicating at a fast rate. With HIV’s inherent ability to rapidly mutate and escape the immune system, conceiving an effective vaccine against it has been a seemingly difficult challenge.
Mechanism of HIV virus invading a human cell

Mechanism of HIV virus invading a human cell

It is found that when HIV infects a person, its surface protein called gp120 attached itself to another protein called the CD4 receptor, which is found in the white blood cells. When it binds to CD4 cell, it can change shape to avoid recognition from neutralizing antibodies which is the usual immune response form the body. This conformational change allows it to bind to a second receptor called a co-receptor, on CD4 cell surface. Once it has a grip on both HIV envelope protein fuses with the cell membrane, thus once within the cell, HIV is safe from attacks from antibodies. 
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The experimental AIDS vaccine, called as “Full length single chain” vaccine contains an HIV surface protein gp120, engineered to link to a few portions of the CD4 receptor. The main aim is to trigger antibodies against gp120 surface protein when it’s already attached to CD4 and the transitional state in which the protein envelope is present is vulnerable to be attacked, thus effectively stopping it from attaching to the second site of co-factor attachment.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), AIDS has been held responsible for over 1.2 million people in the year 2014, if this vaccine turns out to be effective, it could change the world.
-Rikul Thapar

Meditation, is it a waste of time?

For thousands of years’ people have practiced meditation for spiritual, emotional and physical well being, yet without much evidence of its effects. It is known that meditation can relieve stress, lower blood pressure and lift someone’s mood. But it is only in the last 15 years have neuroscientists taken a serious look at the changes in brain structure underlying some of meditations benefits.


Image from: bulletproofexec.com

Like during everything we do, meditation rewires our neural circuits, pruning away the least used connections and strengthening the ones we exercise the most. Studies looking for signs of these changes focus on ‘mindfulness meditation’, which challenges people to keep their attentions fixed on their thoughts and sensations in the present moment. Earlier on, scientists acknowledge that many of these studies are small and not ideally designed. But now, researches have gathered enough evidence to be confident that their findings are not just a fluke. Experiments suggest that Buddhist monks have more robust connection between scattered regions of their brains, which allows for more synchronized communication. Expert meditators also seem to develop an especially wrinkly cortex (the brains outer layer), which we depend on for abstract thought and introspection. Several studies have confirmed that meditation can increase the volume and density of the hippocampus, which is crucial for memory.

Studies show that 10-20 minutes of meditation a day sharpens the mind. When scientists compared the brains of the monks to those of new meditators, they found the region of the brain associated with empathy to be much more pronounced in the monks. These studies also show that prolonged meditation can alter your brainwave frequencies, exhibiting higher levels of Alpha waves that help reduce feelings of negative mood, tension and sadness.

In an 8-week study meditators showed increase in the density of grey matter in brain regions involved in learning, memory processing and emotion regulation. While in the amygdala, which deals with stress blood pressure and fear, grey matter decreased. In these studies, meditators scored higher on tests of attention and working memory, which is the ability to store and manipulate information in one’s mind. Although areas of the brain involved in sustaining attention deteriorate as we age, meditation counteracts this decay.

Meditation not only affects the mind but the body as a whole. In a study where both meditators and non-meditators were given the flu virus, meditators had produced a greater number of anti-bodies and had increased immune function. Meditation also showed advantages on the cellular level where lower levels of stress increased the function of the enzyme telomerase that counteract the shortening of DNA telomeres, which are linked to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and aging.

Of course meditation is not a substitute for other medical advice or a healthy life style, but much like hitting the gym can grow your muscles and increase your overall health, it seems like meditation is a way to workout your brain with extra health benefits.

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