Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2018

Are e-cigarettes more harmful than we think?

E-cigarettes have effects similar to those seen in regular smokers and patients with chronic lung disease.  This is the conclusion of authors of a new report published online in the journal Thorax.

E-cigarette vapour boosts the production of inflammatory chemicals and disables key protective cells in the lung that keep the air spaces clear of potentially harmful particles.
Impaired lung defences The vapour impairs the activity of vital protective cells in the tiny air sacs of the lung,  the alveolar (air sac) macrophages.

These macrophages are the 'big eaters',  or the scavengers,  of the respiratory tract. They are  cells of the immune system whose role is to engulf debris, removing dust particles, bacteria, and allergens that get through the mechanical defences of the respiratory tract.  They are a crucial line of defence.

Without them, our respiratory systems would become choked with detritus and pathogens, and our lungs would be more readily infected.
E-cigarettes may be mor…

Stress in pregnancy can increase anxiety in female babies

High maternal levels of the stress hormone cortisol during pregnancy increase prevalence of anxious and depressive-like behaviour in female offspring assessed at the age of two.  This is the finding of a new study in the journal Biological Psychiatry.


Effects of cortisol on the developing brain The effect of elevated maternal cortisol appeared to result from stronger communication between brain regions involved in sensory and emotion processing.  But this effect was seen only in female offspring and not in boys.

Over the last two decades studies have demonstrated the importance of the environment in the womb in health and disease in later life.  Programming of the brain is not gene-centred but critically dependent on conditions during pregnancy and in early postnatal life.  
The findings of this new study show again the role of prenatal conditions in developing later susceptibility to mental health problems in offspring.   It also demonstrates a specific risk factor for females.

John K…

Nicotine exposure in pregnancy linked to cot death

Nicotine exposure during pregnancy, whether from smoking cigarettes, or nicotine patches and e-cigarettes, increases risk of sudden infant death syndrome – sometimes known as “cot death” – according to new research published in The Journal of Physiology.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexpected death of an infant under 12 months of age occuring typically while sleeping. Failure of auto resuscitation, the ability to recover normal heart rate and breathing following gasping caused by lack of oxygen in the brain, has been recorded in human SIDS cases.



Smoking increases risk for SIDS Over the last decade, use of cigarettes has declined significantly, however, over 10% of pregnant women still smoke during pregnancy. Over recent years nicotine replacement therapies, such as nicotine patches or e-cigarettes, have been prescribed to women who wish to quit smoking during their pregnancy. However, nicotine replacement therapies may not protect infants from SIDS. 
With inc…

Maternal DDT exposure associated with autism?

A new study suggests exposure to residues persisting in the environment from pesticides banned fifty years ago is associated with autism.

The new study provides the first biomarker-based evidence in humans that maternal exposure to DDT residues in the food chain may increase the risk of autism in their children.

DDTs (organochlorines) were widely banned as pesticides from the late 1970s,  but residues persist in the food chain.



These persistent organic pollutants can be transferred from the mother across the placenta to the fetus, resulting in fetal blood concentrations ranging from 30% to 50% of levels found in maternal blood.  
The investigation,  published online in the American Journal of Psychiatry, was derived from the Finnish Prenatal Study of Autism, a large national birth cohort with maternal serum specimens from early pregnancy tested for levels of the organochlorine DDT (dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane) and its metabolite DDE (dichlorodiphenyl-dichloroethylene).
Low birthwe…

British mammals at risk of extinction

Almost one in five of British mammal species face a high risk of extinction, according to the first comprehensive review of their populations for more than 20 years launched this week by The Mammal Society and Natural England.

The red squirrel, wildcat and the grey long-eared bat are all facing severe threats to their survival.

Other mammals such as the hedgehog and water vole have seen their populations decline by up to 66% over the past 20 years.

Climate change and pesticides Climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and road deaths are all putting pressure on some of the best loved and most recognisable of Britain’s 58 terrestrial mammals.  
Prof Fiona Mathews, Mammal Society Chair and professor of Environmental Biology at the University of Sussex, says This is happening on our own doorstep so it falls upon all of us to try and do what we can to ensure that our threatened species do not go the way of the lynx, wolf and elk and disappear from our shores forever.Urgent need f…

Dame Emma Thompson leads charge against rainforest destruction

Dame Emma Thompson, backed by a host of other famous names, has taken aim at big brands including Unilever, Nestle and Mondelez today, as Greenpeace releases a powerful new 90-second animation that highlights how orangutans are being pushed to the brink of extinction because of deforestation for palm oil.



Launched globally today, just ahead of International Orangutan Day (on August 19), the film, voiced by Emma Thompson, will also be shown across UK cinemas with thousands of screenings throughout August and September. It has been made by creative agency Mother (directed by award-winning Salon Alpin) and produced by Oscar-winning Passion Animation Studios.

Celebrities taking to social media to share it include Stephen Fry, Bryan Adams, Jodie Kidd, Alesha Dixon, Andy Serkis, Geri Horner (née Halliwell), Gregg Wallace and Sharon Osbourne.

The film tells the story of baby Rang-tan as she causes mischief in a little girl’s bedroom. Just as the girl is about to banish her, she asks Rang-tan…

From peregrines to european starlings

A federal court has ordered the US Environmental Protection Agency to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos because it is harmful to human health.   This is good news for the environment as much as it is for human safety.
From peregrine falcons to european starlings Just as peregrine falcons help alert us to the harmful effects of organochlorine pesticides,  european starlings alert us to the harmful effects of organophosphates.   The studies of these birds demonstrate the harmful effects on wildlife.



In 1973 I was a student of Zoology at Manchester University.   For my very first assignment, my tutor gave me the name of a species,  the peregrine falcon, Falco perigranus, and a set of dates, and asked me to do some research in the library and write a short report.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Derrick Ratcliff of the British Nature Conservancy noted a sharp decline in peregrine falcons across Europe. Soon after this observation correlations between eggshell thickness and reproductive failure i…

Bottlenose dolphins come out to play

New research shows young bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) learn and develop through play, just like human children.

Anyone who has a dog or a cat will know that they play, particularly when they are young.  Play is an important way of testing and understanding the world about them.


Problem solving skills Play also creates scenarios, and tests positions and possibilities.  It develops prowess and agility.  It rehearses action,  and with different behavioural strategies and methods, individuals can develop a variety of problem-solving skills that can be applied across different contexts. It enhances stimulation and sensory experience, but above all,  play is by its nature 'enjoyable'.
Cultural learning Like humans, dolphins have big brains.  Play is also vital for  developing the complex neural circuitry of a dolphin's  brain, a great deal of which will be forming after birth and in early life.

Previous research suggests that complex social and cultural characteristics…

Childhood trauma and later life cancer

Events in childhood influence profoundly how we cope with poor health as adults.  Now, a new study shows that those who experienced childhood trauma are more likely to have advanced cancer in later life.

Among individuals with head and neck cancer, those who experienced childhood trauma were more likely to have advanced cancer, to have higher alcohol consumption, and to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings indicate that childhood trauma history should be considered during treatment for head and neck cancers.

Stress, anxiety and depression Individuals may experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression during and after cancer diagnosis and treatment.  Because human social interaction and emotional expression depend largely on the structural and functional integrity of the head and neck region, the diagnosis and treatment of HNC have a significant psychological impac…

Tiger farming threat to wild tigers

The demand for 'traditional medicine'  is driving tigers to extinction.  Tiger farming feeding this demand fosters the market for poaching, increasing the threat to tigers in the wild. 
The rising demand for tiger parts and rapid increase in price of tiger bone continues to be an irresistible incentive to poachers.


According to the World Wildlife Fund, the number of tigers on tiger farms has escalated rapidly in recent years, with 7,000-8,000 tigers reportedly held in a large number of facilities throughout East and Southeast Asia – most notably in China, Thailand, Lao PDR and Vietnam.

This captive population is estimated to be much higher than the remaining tigers in the wild, which are found across eleven countries. Each of these last remaining wild tigers is threatened by the illegal trade in their body parts – from their skins down to their bones – which are traded by criminals for profit on the black market. Breeding tigers for profit You might think tiger farming would b…

The invasion of the ladybirds

Aliens are invading the United Kingdom and the consequences may be far reaching.

The non-native harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis has rapidly spread throughout Europe and is now displacing native species in the UK.

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge have been tracking the invasion.   They examined changes in ladybird communities at four sites (two lime tree sites, one pine tree site and one nettle site) in East Anglia, England, over an 11-year period (2006–2016).


Harlequin Ladybirds displacing native species Their study, published in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity shows that overall Harlequins represented 41.5% of all ladybirds sampled in 2006 to a high of 70.7%  and was over three times more abundant than the second commonest species, Coccinella septempunctata.

The proportion of native ladybirds declined from 99.8%  in 2006 to 30.7%  in 2016, although Halequins were dominant only at the lime tree sites and not at the pine or nettle sites.
In an e…

Doctors say Brexit bad for the NHS

With the persistent underfunding of the National Health Service,  crippling 'efficiency savings' and increased pressure on doctors, nurses and other health care workers, it is little surprise that the doctors in the UK have shifted in the political spectrum.  A new study finds that a once generally 'Conservative' profession has now become more leftwing.

The survey published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health finds that British doctors are now mostly left-leaning and liberal minded...except for surgeons and high earners.

UK doctors think Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU), dubbed Brexit, will be very bad for the NHS.



As a group, they are predominantly left-wing and liberal-minded. But high earners tend to lean more to the right of the political spectrum, while surgeons are twice as likely as other specialties to express right-wing views.

When respondents rated their political beliefs on a scale of 0 (extremely left wing) to 10 (extreme…

Time to ban organophosphate pesticides?

How would you react if your neighbour told you he was going to spray his garden with a neurotoxin used in WW2? "Oh don't worry!" he assures you, "it's only a low dose!"
"A neurotoxin?" you ask incredulously "Are you crazy?"
"It's very effective!" he asserts.
"How does it work?" you ask.
"It stops the pests' brains working" he asserts with a smile.  "Everyone uses it."
"But..."

Campaigners in the USA hope that with Scott Pruitt’s resignation, and with a new administrator Andrew Wheeler at the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this presents another chance to apply pressure and achieve a national ban in the United States on the organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos once and for all.



Organophosphate insecticides, such as diazinon, chlorpyrifos, disulfoton, azinphos-methyl, and fonofos, have been used widely in agriculture and in household applications as pesticides si…

Are late-night meals affecting our health?

Is your late night meal delivering cancer on a plate? Are late night meals affecting your health?  A new study suggests timing of late night meals is linked to cancer risk.
Modern lifestyles have profoundly changed our eating habits. Our food consumption is now often out of step with our circadian rhythms.

We eat to fit into our busy lifestyles, rather than adjusting our lives to our eating needs.  How many of us have late night meals and go to bed soon after eating? 
A body of evidence now suggests that this mismatch,  or 'mistiming',  can  profoundly affect our health.
Lifestyles driving eating habits.  Experimental and epidemiological evidence shows that long term disruption of endogenous circadian rhythms, in particular due to exposure to light at night, may be associated with a wide range of common diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Now this new study provides some evidence to show that this extends to our night-time eating…

Exporting carbon emissions

The UK, we are told, leads the world in tackling climate change. Since 1990 the UK has  cut emissions by more than 40 per cent while growing the economy by more than two-thirds. Unfortunately, this hides a bleaker reality.

British Prime Minister, Theresa May boasts that the UK has "the best performance on a per person basis than any other G7 nation."  She may be right, but... Yes, there is a 'but', and it is a very a big 'but'.  The UK hits its targets by exporting its pollution.
Exporting environmental pollution The UK reliance on imports is simply exporting our environmental pollution. Our cheap food comes at a great environmental cost.   Our consumption goes on killing the planet.


In a globalised world, the demand for food is increasingly met by resources outside a given country’s own territory.  Currently, almost a quarter of all food produced for human consumption is traded internationally.  This is good news for the global food market and the big con…

Harnessing artificial intelligence for the health of all

Imagine! Imagine if the greatest medical knowledge and expertise could be harnessed for the wellbeing of all, regardless of their location.  Imagine if we could harness expertise in cancer diagnosis and treatments, even in remote rural areas of Africa.  Imagine the possibilities.

One of the greatest barriers to health care is access to expert diagnosis, prognosis and treatment, but what if AI could be used to breakdown this barrier?  Even in the remotest areas there is often access to mobile phone technology.  Could this be harnessed to for the benefit of those who live in these areas.  Could AI be harnessed to ease the ever increasing demands on stretched human medical resources? 
Two United Nations specialist agencies are joining forces to expand the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the health sector to a global scale, and to 'leverage the power' of AI to advance health for all worldwide.
Creating a standards framework The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) an…

The unmet 'financial toxicity' of cancer

In addition to facing new concerns about their health, individuals who are diagnosed with cancer often worry about the financial burdens of treatment. A new study in the USA indicates that many patients feel that such ‘financial toxicity’ is not adequately addressed by their doctors and other clinicians. The findings are published online in  CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.
Growing awareness of financial difficulties There is growing awareness that cancer diagnosis and treatment can create financial difficulties even for patients with health insurance, but it is unclear whether patients today are being helped by their doctors or staff with these challenges. To investigate, Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and her colleagues surveyed patients with early-stage breast cancer and their physicians: 2502 patients, 370 surgeons, 306 medical oncologists, and 169 radiation oncologists.

Half of responding medical oncologists repo…

Whose the daddy Gorilla?

With television shows  emotionally uniting children with their long-lost 'real fathers', paternity clearly matters to us humans. Many species show discrimination in rearing their own offspring.  But, it appears not to matter so much to mountain gorillas.


Gorilla Fathers from Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund on Vimeo.

Recent research published in the journal Animal Behaviour shows that being the biological daddy isn’t so important for male gorillas when it comes to their relationships with the youngsters in the group. What matters is their rank.

Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) live in groups in the forests of central Africa.  They are unusual among primates because one group, or troop, of gorillas can have more than one male, as well as several females.  So, do the males behave differently to the youngsters in the group? Or do they treat them all the same?  Is there any sign they are distinguishing their 'own' young?


Rank more important than genetic parentage The…

Palm Oil production killing the planet

Bad trade and bad products are killing our planet. We have said this before on The Thin End. There is no better example than that of palm oil. It is used ubiquitously in so many products, and its production is a major factor destroying rainforests and threatening precious species.

Demand for palm oil is 'skyrocketing worldwide'. It is used in packaging and in so much of our snack foods, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, instant noodles, cereals, and doughnuts, and the list goes on.
Bad for the planet So, why is this so bad for the planet?

The oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palms native to Africa. It is now grown primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia, but is also expanding across Central and West Africa and Latin America.

Palm oil production is now one of the world's leading causes of rainforest destruction, and this is impacting adversely some of the world's most culturally and biologically diverse ecosystems. Irreplaceable wildlife species like t…

Taxing the carbon footprint of world trade

With nations entering a new period of protectionist tariffs,  it is time to rethink the regulation of global trade.   Global trade is the driver of climate pollution and climate change.
Call for Carbon Charging: In an article in Nature this month, three leading environmental experts have called for carbon charges rather than trade tariffs.

With President Trump imposing heavy tariffs on goods from China and the EU, and those countries following with retaliatory barriers, they fail to address the real problem of global trade.  That countries are simply exporting pollution and emissions through imports.

The authors point out that with all good intention of the Paris Climate Accord, it is unlikely that the target will be met of keeping warming below the critical 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.  This would be so even if all countries were to meet their targets set out in their individual action plans.


Tackling carbon-intensive global trade Only by tackling the drivers of …

Weekly Magazine Episode 1

Latest Podcast. A weekly round up of news and views on topical issues. This week: Invasive Rabbits and Hares, pesticides and hummingbirds, Invasive mosquitos, abortion law reform in the UK, and controversl new blood pressure guidelines.



Rabbits and hares a conservation nightmare?

Throughout history, humans have deliberately translocated rabbits and hares (leporids) around the world, so they now occupy every continent, with the exception of Antarctica.

But our bunnies are not always lovable, at least not from a conservationist viewpoint.  They can be a pest, creating economic and ecological mayhem.

A new Mammal Review article examines studies on the twelve leporid species that have been introduced by humans to areas beyond their native ranges, highlighting the effects on the ecosystem at different levels.
Rabbits and Hares breed fast One thing is certain about rabbits. Rabbits breed like rabbits, and that means fast!

Most leporids have multiple litters per year with litter sizes varying from 1 to 11 individuals, and each female produces between 10 and 45 young per year.  This makes them resilient to predation, and enables them to adapt rapidly to environmental change.  They can also rapidly colonise a range of environments.

Thus, measures to eradicate invasive …