• Climate change to fuel more extreme heat waves in western U.S. by 2020

    Human-caused climate change will drive more extreme summer heat waves in the western United States, including in California and the Southwest as early as 2020, new research shows. Understanding the driving forces behind the projected increase in occurrence and severity of heat waves is crucial for public health security and necessary for communities to develop extreme heat mitigation strategies, said the authors.

  • Identifying the key drivers of high U.S. healthcare spending

    The major drivers of high healthcare costs in the U.S. appear to be higher prices for nearly everything—from physician and hospital services to diagnostic tests to pharmaceuticals—and administrative complexity. The study confirmed that the U.S. has substantially higher spending, worse population health outcomes, and worse access to care than other wealthy countries.

  • Nerve agents: what are they and how do they work?

    The first nerve agents were invented by accident in the 1930s when researchers were trying to make cheaper and better alternatives to nicotine as insecticides. In their search, German scientists made two organic compounds containing phosphorus that were very effective at killing insect pests. However, they soon discovered that, even in minuscule amounts, the substances caused distressing symptoms in humans exposed to them. The two substances – too toxic to be used as commercial insecticides in agriculture – became known as tabun and sarin. Since then, other nerve agents have been developed, but much less is known about them, although they are thought to work in broadly the same way. Unlike street drugs, nerve agents cannot be made in your kitchen or garden shed, on account of their toxicity, even in tiny amounts. Synthesis of nerve agents requires a specialist laboratory, with fume cupboards. As more details emerge from the case of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, we’ll know more about the precise substance used and how it should be tackled. Either way, nerve agents are horrendously lethal and chemical warfare is an obscene use of chemicals.

  • Low-cost arsenic sensor could save lives

    Worldwide, 140 million people drink water containing unsafe levels of arsenic, according to the World Health Organization. Short-term exposure causes skin lesions, skin cancer and damage to the cognitive development of children, while long-term exposure leads to fatal internal cancers. A new low-cost, easy-to-use sensor which can test drinking water for arsenic in just one minute.

  • New framework for guiding controversial research still has worrisome gaps

    In December the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) release lifted the funding moratorium on Gain of Function (GoF) research, following the controversial projects involving H5N1 in 2011. The “Framework for guiding funding decisions about proposed research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens” is similar to the January 2017 “P3C0 Framework,” and it came with the bonus of restoring funding for such research – but there are still considerable concerns with how GoF research is evaluated and if these frameworks have really addressed the gaps.

  • Bioengineers today emphasize the crucial ingredient Dr. Frankenstein forgot – responsibility

    Mary Shelley was 20 when she published “Frankenstein” in 1818. Two hundred years on, the book remains thrilling, challenging and relevant — especially for scientists like me whose research involves tinkering with the stuff of life. Talk of “engineering biology” makes a lot people squeamish, and technology can turn monstrous, but I read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” not as an injunction against bioengineering as such. Rather, the story reveals what can happen when we – scientists and nonscientists alike – run away from the responsibilities that science and technology demand. Victor Frankenstein was certainly careless and perhaps a coward, unable to own up to the responsibility of what he was doing. We now know that science is best conducted with humility, forethought and in the light of day.

  • Number of people killed by animals in the U.S. remains unchanged

    Bites, kicks, and stings from farm animals, bees, wasps, hornets, and dogs continue to represent the most danger to humans, according to a new study. The study shows that animal encounters remain a considerable cause of human harm and death. Researchers analyzed fatalities in the United States from venomous and nonvenomous animals from 2008-2015. They found that while many deaths from animal encounters are potentially avoidable, mortality rates did not decrease from 2008-2015. Each year in the United States alone, over one million emergency room visits and approximately $2 billion in healthcare spending are attributable to problematic animal encounters.

  • Large-scale study on gun-policy effects finds gaps in existing research, with a few exceptions

    The United States has the highest gun ownership rate in the world, with estimates suggesting that Americans own as many as 300 million guns. More than 36,000 people died of gunshot wounds in the U.S. in 2015, and Americans are 25 times more likely to die by gun homicide than residents of other wealthy countries. One of the largest-ever studies of U.S. gun policy finds there is a shortage of evidence about the effects of most gun laws, although researchers from the RAND Corporation found there is some persuasive evidence about the effects of several common gun policies.

  • Making U.S. health sector more resilient to major disasters

    The health sector in the United States would be far better positioned to manage medical care needs during emergencies of any scale by empowering existing healthcare coalitions to connect community resilience efforts with a network of hospitals equipped to handle disasters, according to a new report. The report’s authors found that while the U.S. health sector is reasonably well prepared for relatively small mass injury/illness events that happen frequently (for example, tornadoes, local disease outbreaks), it is less prepared for large-scale disasters (e.g., hurricanes) and complex mass casualty events (for example, bombings) and poorly prepared for catastrophic health events (for example, severe pandemics, large-scale bioterrorism).

  • “Zero not an option”: Antibiotic use in agriculture

    In November 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) took a significant step in its campaign to address the crisis of antibiotic resistance, calling for an overall reduction in the use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals. The WHO recommendations included a complete restriction on the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals, a step that has already been taken by several countries and is not considered particularly controversial. Although the use of antibiotics for growth promotion has long been a practice in animal agriculture, it has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, both from the scientific community and the wider public. But the WHO also recommended that farmers stop using medically important antibiotics for preventing diseases that have not been clinically diagnosed — and that, one expert says, is where things start to get a little tricky.

  • Growing severity of U.S. firearm injuries requiring hospitalization since early 1990s

    From 1993 to 2014, 648,662 people were admitted to U.S. hospitals for non-fatal firearm injuries. An analysis of these cases show an annual increase in severity of non-fatal firearm injuries needing hospital admission across the United States since the early 1990s. This increase “reflects a move towards hospitalization of more serious injuries, and outpatient management of less serious injuries across the board, suggesting a mounting burden on the U.S. healthcare system,” say the researchers.

  • New evidence of nuclear fuel releases discovered at Fukushima

    Uranium and other radioactive materials, such as cesium and technetium, have been found in tiny particles released from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. This could mean the environmental impact from the fallout may last much longer than previously expected according to a new study by a team of international researchers. The team says that, for the first time, the fallout of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor fuel debris into the surrounding environment has been “explicitly revealed” by the study.

  • Protecting soldiers from blast-induced brain injury

    Researchers have developed a new military vehicle shock absorbing device that may protect warfighters against traumatic brain injury (TBI) due to exposure to blasts caused by land mines. During Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, more than 250,000 warfighters were victims of such injuries. Prior to this study, most research on blast-induced TBI has focused on the effects of rapid changes in barometric pressure, also known as overpressure, on unmounted warfighters.

  • European health worries: High levels of drug resistance in zoonotic bacteria

    A surveillance report from European health and food safety agencies indicates that antibiotic resistance in zoonotic bacteria from humans, food, and animals on the continent remains at high levels, with notable levels of multidrug resistance in two common causes of foodborne illness in humans. Zoonotic bacteria are organisms that are transmissible between animals and humans, either through direct exposure or through consumption of contaminated meat.

  • More than half of U.S. gun owners do not safely store their guns

    More than half of gun owners do not safely store all their guns, according to a new survey of 1,444 U.S. gun owners. The survey, believed to be the first nationally representative sample in fifteen years to examine gun storage practices in U.S. households, found that 54 percent of gun owners reported not storing all their guns safely. The survey defined safe storage as all guns stored in a locked gun safe, cabinet or case, locked into a gun rack, or stored with a trigger lock or other lock. This definition is based on research showing these practices reduce the risk of unauthorized access or use.