In Brief

In Brief

December 02, 2005


A stronger case for early implants

A study of cochlear implants in cats has strengthened the hand of doctors who urge parents of deaf children to consider the hearing devices before their toddlers are 2 years old.

Scientists led by David Ryugo, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, fitted three deaf kittens with cochlear implants within months of birth. The devices convert sound into electrical signals, then transmit them directly to auditory nerves in the cochlea, in the inner ear. Two other deaf kittens grew up without them.

Ryugo found that the cats with implants developed nearly normal auditory nerves and neural connections to the brain. Those animals responded normally to sound cues within a week. But examination of the nerves of the cats without implants revealed abnormalities that would prevent impulses from reaching the brain.

The scientists conclude that early deterioration of the unstimulated auditory nerve helps to explain why implants are up to 80 percent successful in young children, but rarely effective in adults who were born deaf.

"This study tells parents that if cochlear implants are being considered, the earlier they're done, the better," Ryugo said. The Hopkins paper appears today in the journal Science.



Predicting success at game-playing

By scanning the brains of volunteers preparing to play a brief visual game, neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis say they can predict whether the players will succeed.

Just before volunteers played the game - which involves determining the direction of a field of moving dots - researcher showed the players a hint in the form of an arrow pointing to the place where the moving dots were likely to appear. The dots were visible only for one-fifth of a second and were easy to miss.

As this was going on, researchers used functional brain imaging to measure blood flow to different brain areas, an indication of increased activity in those regions. Based on brain activity patterns reflecting whether subjects used the hint or not, scientists could frequently predict whether a volunteer's response would be right or wrong before they even had a chance to see the dots.

The results will appear in this month's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.



The consequences of pill-popping

Millions of people pop a pill to relieve headache, arthritis pain or muscle ache every day. But a study in the Journal of Rheumatology found that 25 percent take too much, and risk trading pain relief for serious stomach problems.

The medications are a class of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, which include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Many common cold remedies and prescription pain relievers also contain NSAIDs.

Although their containers include warnings and recommended doses, a study of 807 adults by the University of Alabama at Birmingham found they're often ignored. More than half the respondents, for example, said they were unaware of potential gastrointestinal side effects, including ulcers and hemorrhage.

Overdosing can happen in several ways. Besides taking more than the recommended dose, users may take the next dose too soon, take more than the recommended number of doses in a day, or unknowingly take several drugs that all contain NSAIDs.

The findings point to a clear need for better doctor-patient communication "to help prevent unnecessary complications from painkillers," said the study's author, Dr. C. Mel Wilcox, a professor of medicine at Alabama.



Chicken fat in every engine

Researchers at the University of Arkansas say they've developed a way to convert chicken fat to a biodiesel fuel. R.E. Babcock, a professor of chemical engineering, said chicken-fat fuels are better for the environment and the machines.

Traditionally, biodiesel producers have used refined products like soybean oil because they are easier to convert to fuels. However, the refining process makes soybean oil more expensive - and fuel producers must compete with grocers for the oil supply. Chicken fat can be a less-expensive substitute because it is available at a low cost.


Did you know?-- Keeping your hands clean helps you avoid getting sick and spreading germs. Wash with soap and running water for 20 seconds.

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