Education

Interviews: Ask Author and Programmer Andy Nicholls About R 101

Andy Nicholls has been an R programmer and consultant for Mango Solutions since 2011 (where he currently manages the R consultancy team), after a long stint as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry. He has a serious background in mathematics, too, with a Masters in math and another in Statistics with Applications in Medicine. Andy has taught more than 50 on-site R training courses and has been involved in the development of more than 30 R packages; he's also a regular contributor to events at LondonR, the largest R user group in the UK. But since not everyone can get to London for a user group meeting, you can get some of the insights he's gained as an R expert in Sams Teach Yourself R In 24 Hours (available in print or at Safari), of which he is the lead author. Today, though, you can ask Andy about the much-lauded statistics-oriented free software (GPL) language directly -- Why to use it, how to get started, how to get things done, and where those intriguing release names come from. (The about page is helpful, too.) As usual, please ask as many questions as you'd like, but one question at a time, please.
Medicine

Researchers Uncover the Genetic Roots Behind Rare Vibration Allergy (vice.com) 83

derekmead writes: A team of National Health Institute researchers has for the first time uncovered the genetic roots of one of the strangest allergies: vibrations. The vibration allergy, which is just as it sounds, may be quite rare, but understanding it more completely may yield important insights into the fundamental malfunctioning of immune cells in the presence of allergens. The group's findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In addition to being uncommon, the vibration allergy is not very dangerous. In most cases, the allergic response is limited to hives—the pale, prickly rash most often associated with allergic and autoimmune reactions. Other less-common symptoms include headaches, blurry vision, fatigue, and flushing. The triggering vibrations are everyday things: jogging, jackhammering, riding a motorcycle, towel drying. Symptoms appear within a few minutes of exposure and are gone usually within an hour.
Biotech

Ethics Panel Endorses Mitochondrial Therapy, But Says Start With Male Embryos (sciencemag.org) 125

sciencehabit writes: An experimental assisted reproduction technique that could allow some families to avoid having children with certain types of heritable disease should be allowed to go forward in the United States, provided it proceeds slowly and cautiously. That is the conclusion of a report released today from a panel organized by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS), which assesses the ethics questions surrounding the controversial technique called mitochondrial DNA replacement therapy. More controversially, however, the panel recommended that only altered male embryos should be used to attempt a pregnancy, to limit the possible risks to future generations. (Males can't pass along the mitochondrial DNA that is altered in the procedure.)
The Almighty Buck

A Crowdfunding Site To Help Pay Patients' Medical Bills 285

Lucas123 writes: A start-up financial services company called Someone With Group has just completed a pilot of a crowdfunding service that allows hospitals to set up campaigns to help patients pay their medical expenses. The website, which is HIPAA compliant in terms of privacy and security, allows patients facing medical debts to inform family, friends and even strangers of their need for funds versus flowers or cards. The crowdfunding service also addresses a systemic debt issue in the healthcare industry. Each year, the U.S. healthcare industry writes off $40 billion in bad debt from unpaid medical bills. "Then you consider that $6 billion is spent on cards and flowers for patients every year. Why can't we redirect that money and put it into a debit instrument restricted to medical spending only?" said Jagemann-Bane, CEO of Someone With Group. One hospital group, Pinnacle Health Systems in Harrisburg, Penn., routinely writes off $40 million to $50 million a year in unpaid medical bills from patients. The hospital set up a crowdfunding site via Someone With Group and so far has seen a couple dozen patients use it. ... After a one-year pilot of the crowdfunding service, patients who've used it on average have raised $2,315.
Medicine

Chronic Stress Could Lead To Depression and Dementia, Scientists Warn (independent.co.uk) 60

schwit1 writes: A major review of published research suggests that chronic stress and anxiety can damage areas of the brain involved in emotional responses, thinking and memory, leading to depression and even Alzheimer's disease. Dr Linda Mah, the lead author of the review carried out at a research institute affiliated to the University of Toronto, said: 'Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia.'
Medicine

Zika Virus Outbreak Prompts CDC To Expand Travel Advisory (washingtonpost.com) 83

turkeydance writes: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking pregnant women to avoid 22 countries that have seen outbreaks of the Zika virus. That's up eight from just yesterday. Disturbingly, the mosquito-borne virus, which may be causing abnormally small heads in newborns, has also been linked to yet another debilitating disease. The Zika virus has been spreading rapidly over the past several months, most prominently in Brazil. Its spread has been associated with a dramatic increase in microcephaly, a rare condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads.
Medicine

French Drug Trial Leaves One Brain Dead and Five Critically Ill (theguardian.com) 232

jones_supa writes: One person is brain dead and five others are seriously ill after taking part in a phase one drug trial for an unnamed pharmaceutical firm at the Biotrial clinic in France. In medicine, phase one entails a small group of volunteers, and focuses only on safety. Phase two and three are progressively larger trials to assess the drug's effectiveness, although safety remains paramount. The French health ministry said the six patients had been in good health until taking the oral medication. It did not say what the new medicine was intended to be used for, but a source close to the case told AFP that the drug was a painkiller containing cannabinoids, an active ingredient found in cannabis plants. Mishaps like this are relatively rare, but in 2006 six men fell ill in London after taking part in a clinical trial into a drug developed to fight auto-immune disease and leukaemia. All trials on the drug at the French clinic have been suspended and the state prosecutor has opened an inquiry.
Medicine

Video Alfred Poor Talks About Health Wearables at CES (Video) 22

The biggest shift in wearables that Alfred Poor saw at CES was from consumer wearables to wearables designed to serve corporate goals, especially cutting health care costs. He says that when it comes to fitness and other health-related wearables, "consumer is the past and business is the future."
Medicine

Major Health Organization Stops Forcing Doctors To Adopt New Technology (internalmedicinenews.com) 111

nbauman writes: The administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, told an investors' conference that they will be backing off the unpopular requirement that doctors show "meaningful use" of their new computer systems. Andy Slavitt, acting administrator, admitted that "physician burden and frustration levels are real. Programs that are designed to improve often distract. Done poorly, measures are divorced from how physicians practice and add to the cynicism that the people who build these programs just don't get it."

Dr. James L. Madara, CEO of the American Medical Association, agreed that EHRs were having a negative impact on physicians' practices. Many physicians are spending at least two hours each workday using their EHR and may click up to 4,000 times per 8-hour shift, he said. Instead, CMS will reward health care providers for patient outcomes through the merit-based incentive pay systems created by last year's Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) legislation.CMS is calling on the private sector to create apps and analytic tools that will keep data secure while fostering true and widespread interoperability.

Biotech

First Children Have Been Diagnosed In 100,000 Genomes Project (bbc.com) 75

Zane C. writes: The 100,000 Genomes project, an organization dedicated to diagnosing and researching rare genetic disorders, has just diagnosed its first 2 patients. After painstakingly analyzing about 3 billion base pairs from the parents of one young girl, and the girl herself, "doctors told them the genetic abnormality — in a gene called KDM5b — had been identified". The new information will not yet change the way the young girl, named Georgia, is treated, but it opens up a path for future treatments. For the other girl, Jessica, the genetic analysis provided enough information to diagnose and begin a new treatment. A mutation had occurred "[causing] a condition called Glut1 deficiency syndrome in which the brain cannot get enough energy to function properly." Jessica's brain specifically had not been able to obtain enough sugar to power her brain cells, and as such, doctors prescribed a high fat diet to give her brain an alternate energy source. She has already begun showing improvement.
Government

New Jersey Rejects Request For Dolphin Necropsy Results, Cites "Medical Privacy" (muckrock.com) 228

v3rgEz writes: When a dolphin died in New Jersey's South River last year, Carly Sitrin wanted to know what killed it. So she filed a public record request to the NJ Department of Agriculture in order to get the necropsy results. The DOA finally responded last week with the weird decision to deny the release of the record on grounds of medical privacy. The response reads in part: "We are in receipt of your request for information (#W101407) under the auspices of the State’s Open Public Records Act (O.P.R.A.). Specifically, you requested any and all reports associated with the necropsy of the dolphin that strayed into the South River on August 5, 2015 in Middlesex County, New Jersey. This request is denied as it would release information deemed confidential under O.P.R.A., specifically information related to a medical diagnosis or evaluation. (E.O. 26, McGreevey)"
Medicine

Gardasil Cleared of Anti-Vax Nonsense (slate.com) 508

New submitter Zane C. writes: A new study once again shows vaccines have no link with yet another batch of medical disorders. The vaccine in question is a relatively new HPV vaccine called Gardasil, mainly targeting preteens to reduce infection. Phil Plait has more on this, debunking anti-vax claims and explaining why you should receive the vaccine: "It’s another typical anti-vax call to arms due to a complete and gross misunderstanding of how reality works. To them, if something happens after something else, it was caused by that first thing. This is the classic post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. But the Universe doesn’t work that way. And this kind of bad thinking has consequences. In the U.S. alone, 79 million people are infected with HPV. That’s more than a quarter of the entire population. Fourteen million new cases crop up every year. Gardasil can substantially cut those numbers back—it’s working, and working well, in the U.S. and Australia—but not if the fearmongering falsehoods by anti-vaxxers get traction."
Biotech

New Class of Sound Wave Gentle Enough To Use In Biomedical Devices (dispatchtribunal.com) 14

hypnosec writes: In a first kind of discovery in decades, researchers have created a new class of hybrid sound waves that are gentle enough to be used in biomedical devices. Known as "surface reflected bulk waves", the new class of sound waves are a hybrid of bulk waves and surface waves and have been created by a team at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. According to the team the new class of sound waves have already proved their worth in delivering vaccines and other drugs directly to the lung and are hopeful that their creation could lead to a revolution in stem cell therapy. As Dr Amgad Rezk, from RMIT's Micro/Nano Research Laboratory, explains, they have already dramatically improved the efficiency of an innovative new "nebuliser" that could deliver vaccines and other drugs directly to the lung in as little as 30 seconds [study abstract]. Researchers are hopeful that their work opens up the possibility of using stem cells more efficiently for treating lung disease enabling them to nebulise stem cells straight into a specific site within the lung to repair damaged tissue and this could be a real game changer for stem cell treatment in lungs as well as other organs.
Medicine

UK Cuts Men's Recommended Weekly Alcohol To 14 Units (theguardian.com) 274

jones_supa writes: Men have been advised to drink no more than seven pints of beer a week – the same as the maximum limit for women – in the first new drinking guidelines to be released by the UK's chief medical officers for 20 years. They also advise there is no safe level of drinking for either sex, and issued a stark warning that any amount of alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing a range of cancers, particularly breast cancer. David Spiegelhalter from University of Cambridge said: 'These guidelines define 'low-risk' drinking as giving you less than a 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition.'
Medicine

Brazil Cautions Women To Avoid Pregnancy Over Zika Virus Outbreak (discovermagazine.com) 102

iONiUM writes: According to an article at Discover, "Authorities in Brazil have recently issued an unusual and unprecedented announcement to women: don't get pregnant, at least not just yet. Amidst an intractable outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, public health authorities in Brazil are highly suspicious of an unusual surge of cases of microcephaly among newborn children." There were over 3,000 cases in 2015.

It's believed this virus is linked to shrinking newborns brain, and it is spreading. "Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, and it was first detected in Uganda in the 1940s. After spreading through Africa and parts of Asia, it has made its way to Latin America. There is no known vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat the disease caused by the virus. Since May 2015, the Brazilian government estimates that some 1.5 million people have been infected with the virus." The CDC has published an article about it, and travel warnings are now being issued for pregnant women.

Networking

The Network Revolution Needed For Remote Surgery (thestack.com) 103

An anonymous reader writes: IEEE researchers are proposing new standards for haptic codecs over software-defined 5G networks in order to achieve the ambitious 1ms latency and reliability required for the 'tactile internet'. It's a trivial consideration when hugging chickens over a network, more serious for applications of telesurgery, and a proposed leap in network quality that seems likely to yield benefits for general data streams as well.
Biotech

Gene Editing Offers Hope For Treating Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (nytimes.com) 48

schwit1 writes with news that scientists have used a new gene-editing technique called CRISPR to treat mice with defective dystrophin genes. This is the first time that such a method has successfully treated a genetic disease inside a living mammal. The Times reports: "Three research groups, working independently of one another, reported in the journal Science that they had used the Crispr-Cas9 technique to treat mice with a defective dystrophin gene. Each group loaded the DNA-cutting system onto a virus that infected the mice's muscle cells, and excised from the gene a defective stretch of DNA known as an exon. Without the defective exon, the muscle cells made a shortened dystrophin protein that was nonetheless functional, giving all of the mice more strength."
Medicine

Dog With 3D-Printed Legs Gets an Upgrade (gizmag.com) 36

An anonymous reader writes with this update about Derby who was born with a congenital deformity that deprived him of front paws and was outfitted with a pair of 3-D-printed prosthetics. According to Gizmag: "You might remember Derby, a dog who was born with a congenital deformity but last year received a 3D-printed prostheses that enabled him to run for the first time. Well, it's onward and upward for Derby and his carers, who have now crafted an upgraded set of custom prostheses allowing him to walk proudly with a straight back and even sit like a healthy dog."
Medicine

Posture Affects Standing, and Not Just the Physical Kind (nytimes.com) 77

An anonymous reader writes: As somebody who sits in front of a computer most of the day, and has for a number of years, this article at the NY Times struck a bit close to home. It compiles a list of the negative consequences of poor posture. There are the obvious ones, like neck and muscle pain, joint problems, digestive issues, and so forth. But there are social problems, too. We're probably all aware that slouching can give a worse first impression than standing straight, but there's also evidence it can influence who a mugger picks to rob, and how you feel. "In a study of 110 students at San Francisco State University, half of whom were told to walk in a slumped position and the other half to skip down a hall, the skippers had a lot more energy throughout the day (abstract)." So take this as your yearly reminder, fellow keyboard-hunchers — sit up straight, move around every so often, and maybe invest in that standing desk.
Medicine

Emergency Room Visits From Distracted Walking Skyrocket (cbsnews.com) 142

schwit1 writes: An estimated ten percent of pedestrian injuries that land people in emergency rooms are due to distracted walking, a recent study found. That's thousands of people injured — sometimes killed. In San Diego, investigators believe Joshua Burwell may have been trying to take a picture of the sunset when he took a fatal fall some 40 feet off Sunset Cliffs. "A lot of people don't admit that they do it," said Dr. Claudette Lajam, an orthopedic surgeon. "It's getting worse as we have more and more features on these devices that we carry around with us that can distract us."

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