In Brief

In Brief

May 19, 2006

Ornithology

Bird may know who thieves are

When Western scrub-jays put food aside for the future, they typically watch over their shoulders (or wings) to see whether other scrub-jays are watching them. That's because scrub-jays like to raid one another's food supplies.

Now, research by scientists at the University of Cambridge in England shows that scrub-jays may actually remember which birds were watching when they stored the food. And they use that knowledge the next time to decide whether to stash the goodies in a different place to avoid having it stolen.

Some scientists see this as evidence that the birds have a "theory of mind," which means the ability to understand another animal's intentions. But the Cambridge researchers said it could merely be the result of specific experiences acting on predictions of risk in the future.

The study was reported in today's issue of the journal Science.

Sun staff

Immunizations

Mumps shots recommended

A government vaccine panel is urging mumps shots for everyone in the region of an outbreak unless they are immune to the virus from childhood exposure or from being vaccinated.

And health care workers younger than 50 should get two doses unless they still have immunity from childhood, the immunization advisory committee said this week.

The panel, which advises the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommended aggressive immunization in an effort to thwart future outbreaks such as the one plaguing Iowa and some other Midwestern states.

Health officials in Iowa say there are still more than 1,700 cases statewide, but the number is on the decline. Last week the state urged people ages 18 to 46 to get vaccinated. The CDC and a drug company have been providing extra vaccine.

Associated Press

Breast cancer

Older, less-toxic drug mix better

Women with the most common breast cancers get no extra benefit from an aggressive and toxic mix of anti-cancer drugs, according to a Canadian study that suggests women should receive a milder cocktail of chemotherapy medicines.

A three-drug combination including Pfizer's Ellence failed to prevent relapses or prolong life significantly more than an older, cheaper mix of drugs that had fewer side effects in women with a less-dangerous type of breast cancer. The study appears in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.

"Women may do just as well with an old, cheap and less-toxic regimen," said lead researcher Kathleen Pritchard, professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. "It looks like it does as well, or virtually as well, with fewer side effects."

The stronger cocktail was more effective for women with a less common and deadlier form of the disease that produces a protein called HER2, fueling cancer growth. The same women benefit from Genentech Inc.'s Herceptin.

Bloomberg News Service

Lung cancer

Male nonsmokers more likely to die

Lung cancer isn't common in people who never smoked. But when they do get it, doctors have long thought women were more likely to die than men. New research suggests the opposite.

Analyzing medical records of nearly 1 million people, American Cancer Society researchers reported this week that men who never used cigarettes actually had slightly higher death rates from lung cancer than women who never puffed.

However, more black women who had never smoked died of lung cancer than their white counterparts.

Lung cancer is the most common and deadliest malignancy. More than 174,000 Americans will be diagnosed with it this year, and 162,400 will die. Smoking cigarettes is the main cause, but about 15,000 of the deaths will be in people who never smoked.

Associated Press

Medicine

Movie comas not realistic

Note to screenwriters and filmgoers: People look bad when they are in comas -- and they never get up, unplug themselves from their machines and walk out of the hospital.

A study in this month's Journal of the American Academy of Neurology reviewed 30 U.S. and foreign movies with characters in prolonged comas and found that only two of those -- The Dreamlife of Angels and Reversal of Fortune -- contained reasonably accurate representations of coma.

The others often portrayed the comatose as tanned and muscular, as if they were simply in a deep sleep. In reality, their muscles would atrophy and they would probably be incontinent.

Researchers identified scenes from 17 movies portraying a coma, then asked 72 viewers to rate the realism. The portrayal of comas in movies is important, said Dr. Eelco Wijdicks, lead author of the study and neurologist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., because people are subconsciously influenced by what they see on the screen.

"The wrong representation could lead to the wrong expectations," Wijdicks said. In the study, 39 percent of participants said the movie scenes would affect a real-life decision.

Los Angeles Times

Pregnancy

Stress may help child's maturation

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