Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 4th, 2012

Treating fat with fat: Can we put brown fat to work?

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Edyta Zielinska writes in The Scientist:

Nearly 500 million adults worldwide are obese—close to 10 percent of men and 14 percent of women, an incidence twice as high as in 1980, according to the World Health Organization. Obesity, defined as a body mass index of 30 or greater, has been linked with higher rates of serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. But an obesity drug hasn’t been approved in the United States since 1999.

The regulatory environment for this class of drugs remains extremely tough following high-profile failures in the 1990s. For example, the infamous fen-phen drug combo caused life-threatening side effects and became one of a number of approved drugs removed from the market because of health concerns. “Obesity is the toughest market to get into,” says Praful Mehta, a senior analyst from IHS Global Ltd., a market research company. This is in part because obesity is not an immediately life-threatening disease, so side effects that are acceptable for the treatment of diseases like cancer are unacceptable when treating obesity.

Despite these odds, Lou Tartaglia decided that now was the perfect time to start a company to target obesity. A scientist turned venture capitalist, Tartaglia is betting on the newest science in this area: brown-fat biology. Unlike white fat cells, which get their name from the excess lipids they store and whose relatively few mitochondria transfer energy from the lipids and sugars to the energy-storing molecule ATP, brown fat cells’ many mitochondria contain an “uncoupling protein” that allows them instead to release the energy from sugars and lipids as heat—to warm hibernating animals, for example. Researchers think that by increasing the numbers of brown fat cells in adults, or by activating those that already exist, they will be able to help people burn calories, shedding extra pounds as a result. In contrast to previous efforts that tried to curb food cravings via compounds that acted on the central nervous system, brown-fat therapies would attack the problem by increasing energy expenditure, even while at rest. In addition, activating brown fat cells could help diabetic patients improve blood glucose control by increasing sensitivity to insulin.

With research findings continuing to endorse brown fat as a promising target for tackling obesity, Tartaglia and his colleagues decided to make the commercial leap. In December 2011, with $34 million in financing from Third Rock Ventures, where Tartaglia is a partner, they launched Ember Therapeutics in hopes of leveraging the work from the labs of its scientific founders and advisors, such as Bruce Spiegelman, whose lab at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute discovered a hormone called irisin that appears to make white fat behave like its brown counterpart. “We’ve tied up the real A-team in brown fat in one company,” says Tartaglia.

And Ember isn’t the only company trying to capitalize on the growing promise of brown-fat therapies. Several other companies—both large and small—have also jumped onto the brown-fat bandwagon over the last few years. Still, the obstacles in this area are many, from the scientific to the regulatory, and it remains to be seen whether this new target can deliver on the excitement that it has been generating.

Brown fat, found only in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2012 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Fitness, Health, Medical, Science

Fat’s immune sentinels

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Justin Odegaard and Ajay Chawla report in The Scientist:

Obesity and associated health consequences are the greatest public-health challenges of our time. Worldwide, an estimated 1.5 billion people tip the scales as overweight—300–500 million of whom are obese—placing nearly a quarter of humanity at dramatically increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many types of cancer. While considerable scientific investments have barely begun to slow the expansion of our waistlines, they have yielded unexpected physiologic insights, perhaps the greatest of which is the discovery that proper metabolic function requires a previously unsuspected level of cooperation between the cells that make up each internal organ and that organ’s resident leukocytes.

For almost 2 centuries, the stereotypical appearance of basic human tissues—muscles with their long, cabled cells; kidneys with their cauliflower floret–shaped structures—have been a familiar staple of medical textbooks. But this depiction has proven to be deceptive. Only recently has cellular inventory of these tissues revealed remarkable numbers of macrophages—whose main function is to ingest and degrade dead cells and pathogens—and other leukocytes tucked away among the more familiar tissue cells. Researchers had seen these immune cells with simple stains, but had always assumed they were transient, rather than permanent residents. Now, it’s clear that rather than being randomly distributed, these leukocytes are arranged in reproducible patterns that are tissue-specific.1 For example, liver samples consistently harbor similar numbers of macrophages (known as Kupffer cells) lining the ducts and channels between liver cells, whereas brain tissues have a similarly constant complement of microglia, the resident macrophages of the central nervous system, located around blood vessels and near synapses, as well as in other areas. Indeed, macrophage representation is significant and similar—around 5 to 15 percent—across nearly every tissue type, and is remarkably well conserved across vertebrate species.2 Perhaps most interesting of all, however, is that depletion of macrophages from any given tissue does not result in permanent loss, haphazard recolonization, or encroachment by other leukocyte lineages, but in rapid and precise restoration of the original macrophage complement in both spatial and numerical terms. If macrophages had only been present transiently, such precise recolonization would not occur.

While macrophages’ role in inflammation following infection or injury has long been appreciated, the strict precision and temporal stability of their arrangements in healthy tissues, the conservation of these patterns across vertebrate species, and their rapid and precise reestablishment following depletion all suggest that active mechanisms exist to maintain the specific number and activation status of tissue macrophage populations at set points that ensure an appropriate complement of leukocytes at all times.

Indeed, recent work has begun to unearth the complex recruitment and retention networks dedicated to the maintenance and survival of resident leukocyte/macrophage populations. For example, many organs continually release chemokines that attract monocytes—macrophage precursor cells—and promote their survival. Needless to say, such sophisticated arrangements—especially in tissues where there is little risk of infection, such as the brain—are not easily explained by traditional theories of host defense. Why, then, would organs go to such lengths to outfit themselves with macrophages?

Studies are beginning to reveal that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2012 at 2:02 pm

Your brain and sushi

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Bad news: apparently adding poisons to the food supply is not a good idea, long-term. Corporations, however, measure their actions purely by the profits they make, so don’t expect them to change course unless they are required to by law and alert enforcement. Paul Ames writes in the Global Post:

Can eating too much sushi reduce your brain power?

Mercury contamination in big fish such as sharks, swordfish and certain types of tuna is on the rise, and smaller traces of the toxic metal may be enough to cause restricted brain development or other health problems for humans who eat them, according to data released Tuesday.

“Levels of exposure that are defined as safe by the official limits, are actually having adverse effects,” said Dr. Edward Groth, author of one of two new reports published ahead of a United Nations conference on mercury pollution.

“These are not trivial effects, these are significant effects,” Groth, an adviser to the World Health Organization, told journalists in a web conference. “There does appear to be evidence now, fairly persuasive evidence, that adverse effects occur from normal amounts of seafood consumption.”

Scientists have warned about the potential dangers of mercury in seafood since the 1950s when mercury-contaminated waste water was dumped in the sea from a factory in Minamata,Japan. Thousands suffered poisoning, which in extreme cases lead to insanity, deformation and death. Many children whose mothers had eaten contaminated fish were born with severe disabilities.

The mercury levels at Minamata were uniquely high, but since then scientists have sought to discover whether tiny traces of mercury found in seafood across the oceans could have an impact on the health of fish-eating humans.

Although little risk has been detected in most types of fish, the authorities have long warned vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and small children, to limit their consumption of certain species of big ocean predators.

The European Union recommends pregnant or breastfeeding women not to eat tuna more than twice a week, while the US Food and Drug Administration says they should avoid shark, swordfish or king mackerel, although it says some tuna should be included in their diet.

Such guidelines are out of date and stricter rules are needed to avoid the risk that even low levels of mercury could lead to health issues such as impeded brain development in unborn children, according to the new reports which were produced by the Maine-based Biodiversity Research Institute and an international coalition of environmental campaign groups called the Zero Mercury Working Group.

“Recent studies have found adverse effects below exposure levels considered ‘safe’ just a few years ago,” says one report. “Several of these studies clearly show that the consumption of ordinary amounts of fish with higher mercury levels can cause health risks to the developing foetus and children.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2012 at 1:42 pm

Most dramatic photos of 2012

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No dramatic photos are possible in the month of December, it seems. At any rate, there are indeed some memorable photos here. (Photographs are now called “images” for some reason that is not clear to me.) In light of my previous post, here is one: Israelis and Palestinians. Guess which is which:

Israelis and Palestinians

Here’s another collection.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2012 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Daily life

Israel and the Palestinians

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The latest move against the Palestinians was Israel’s decision to open new settlements in Jerusalem, a move condemned by the US and even by Jews. The move is especially problematic in context. Noam Chomsky writes:

An old man in Gaza held a placard that read: “You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all, but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.”

The old man’s message provides the proper context for the latest episode in the savage punishment of Gaza. The crimes trace back to 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled from their homes in terror or were expelled to Gaza by conquering Israeli forces, who continued to truck Palestinians over the border for years after the official cease-fire.

The punishment took new forms when Israel conquered Gaza in 1967. From recent Israeli scholarship (primarily Avi Raz’s “The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War”), we learn that the government’s goal was to drive the refugees into the Sinai Peninsula – and, if feasible, the rest of the population too.

Expulsions from Gaza were carried out under the direct orders of Gen. Yeshayahu Gavish, commander of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command. Expulsions from the West Bank were far more extreme, and Israel resorted to devious means to prevent the return of those expelled, in direct violation of U.N. Security Council orders.

The reasons were made clear in internal discussions immediately after the war. Golda Meir, later prime minister, informed her Labor Party colleagues that Israel should keep the Gaza Strip while “getting rid of its Arabs.” Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and others agreed.

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol explained that those expelled could not be allowed to return because “we cannot increase the Arab population in Israel” – referring to the newly occupied territories, already considered part of Israel.

In accord with this conception, all of Israel’s maps were changed, expunging the Green Line (the internationally recognized borders) – though publication of the maps was delayed to permit Abba Eban, an Israeli ambassador to the U.N., to attain what he called a “favorable impasse” at the General Assembly by concealing Israel’s intentions.

The goals of expulsion may remain alive today, and might be a factor in contributing to Egypt’s reluctance to open the border to free passage of people and goods barred by the U.S.-backed Israeli siege.

The current upsurge of U.S.-Israeli violence dates to January 2006, when Palestinians voted “the wrong way” in the first free election in the Arab world.

Israel and the U.S. reacted at once with harsh punishment of the miscreants, and preparation of a military coup to overthrow the elected government – the routine procedure. The punishment was radically intensified in 2007, when the coup attempt was beaten back and the elected Hamas government established full control over Gaza.

Ignoring immediate offers from Hamas for a truce after the 2006 election, Israel launched attacks that killed 660 Palestinians in 2006, most of whom were civilians (a third were minors). According to U.N. reports, 2,879 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire from April 2006 through July 2012, along with several dozen Israelis killed by fire from Gaza.

A short-lived truce in 2008 was honored by Hamas until Israel broke it in November. Ignoring further truce offers, Israel launched the murderous Cast Lead operation in December.

So matters have continued, while the U.S. and Israel also continue to reject Hamas calls for a long-term truce and a political settlement for a two-state solution in accord with the international consensus that the U.S. has blocked since 1976 when the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution to this effect, brought by the major Arab states.

This week, Washington devoted every effort to blocking a Palestinian initiative to upgrade its status at the U.N. but failed, in virtual international isolation as usual. The reasons were revealing: Palestine might approach the International Criminal Court about Israel’s U.S.-backed crimes.

One element of the unremitting torture of Gaza is Israel’s “buffer zone” within Gaza, from which Palestinians are barred entry to almost half of Gaza’s limited arable land.

From January 2012 to the launching of Israel’s latest killing spree on Nov. 14, Operation Pillar of Defense, one Israeli was killed by fire from Gaza while 78 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire.

The full story is naturally more complex, and uglier. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2012 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Class warfare offensive from the wealthy

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Many policies from the GOP/Right are understandable on the assumption that they simply hate poor people: all the efforts to end Medicare, Social Security, Food Stamps, public education, mass transit, and the like make sense on that basis.

Here’s the latest offensive—and “offensive” in both senses of the word: this article by Lynn Stuart Parramore:

New York magazine calls it [3] a “Mass Movement for Millionaires.” The New York Times’ Paul Krugman sums up the idea [4]: “Hey, sacrifice is for the little people.”

The Campaign to Fix the Debt [5] is a huge, and growing, coalition of powerful CEOs, politicians and policy makers on a mission to lower taxes for the rich and to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid under the cover of concern about the national debt. The group was spawned in July 2012 by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, architects of a misguided deficit reduction scheme in Washington back in 2010. By now, the “fixers” have collected a war chest of $43 million. Private equity billionaire Peter G. Peterson, longtime enemy of the social safety net, is a major supporter.

This new Wall Street movement, which includes Republicans and plenty of Democrats, is hitting the airwaves, hosting roundtables, gathering at lavish fundraising fêtes, hiring public relations experts, and traveling around the country to push its agenda. The group aims to seize the moment of the so-called “fiscal cliff” debate to pressure President Obama to concede to House Republicans and continue the Bush income tax cuts for the rich while shredding the social safety net. The group includes Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, Honeywell’s David Cote, Aetna’s Mark Bertolini, Delta Airlines’ Richard Anderson, Boeing’s W. James McNerney, and over 100 other influential business honchos and their supporters.

Corporations represented by the fixers have collected massive bailouts from taxpayers and gigantic subsidies from the government, and they enjoy tax loopholes that in many cases bring their tax bills down to zero. Sometimes their creative accountants even manage to get money back from Uncle Sam. For instance, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, Boeing has paid a negative 6.5 percent tax rate for the last decade, even though it was profitable every year from 2002 through 2011.

These CEOs talk about shared sacrifice, but it seems that they don’t intend to share anything but your retirement money with their wealthy friends. As New York mag reports: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2012 at 11:57 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

Visual gag

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I recently thought of a visual gag I’ve been enjoying in my imagination: a nouveau riche giving a tour of his mansion takes us into his wine cellar where we see, carefully placed on the racks to age, row upon row of boxed wines.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2012 at 11:45 am

Posted in Daily life

The GOP does not take governing seriously

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It’s an irresponsible party. See today’s editorial in the NY Times for an example—quite typical.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2012 at 10:32 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Some beautiful straight razors

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Traditionalists will enjoy this gallery of Wacker straight razors from Germany. Click on thumbnails to enlarge.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2012 at 10:31 am

Posted in Shaving

Great shave with timings

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SOTD 4 Dec 2012

You’ll note in the photo that once again I have the lid of the Otoko Organics shave soap upside down, and you’re probably wondering why. The answer is simple: this shaving soap comes from Australia. And it’s a superb soap, well worth having. It makes a terrific, stiffish sort of lather, and if you look at its ingredients, you’ll see that it’s not your typical shaving soap.

The timings I did were in lather production. In a thread on Wicked Edge, a guy mentioned that he had given up DE shaving because (among other reasons) he didn’t like “spending 5+ minutes every morning” making lather. I was gobsmacked: more than 5 minutes to make lather??

So I timed my lather with the HJM black synthetic brush shown (a rather soft brush, like a fluffy silvertip) and the Otoko Organics soap:

9 sec before tap water was hot
16 sec to load brush fully with soap/lather

I brought the brush to my beard and worked the lather up further, but I was in effect lathering my beard in 25 seconds. Of course, I took my time working the lather in to give it time to work—I imagine I spent 30-35 (very pleasurable) seconds doing that. But 5+ minutes? Not even close to that much time. I can’t imagine what the problem was unless he had a very poor soap and extremely hard water.

I used Eddy of Australia’s idea of the Weber handle and Edwin Jagger head and got a very fine shave with a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge blade: almost totally BBS.

Three passes, a splash of Saint Charles Shave Refined aftershave, and I’m good to go. The entire shave takes only 8 minutes.

5+ minutes to make lather. Imagine.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2012 at 9:10 am

Posted in Shaving

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