Later On

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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

MIT Media Lab Kept Regulators in the Dark, Dumped Chemicals in Excess of Legal Limit

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Another instance of overweening entitlement. Something needs to be done to slap some sense into the heads of these people with excessive self-regard. (I don’t mean literally “slap”; I mean sent to prison for a decade or so.) Lisa Song, ProPublica, and Max Larkin, WBUR-FM, report in ProPublica:

Documents and interviews show the Media Lab, already under fire for accepting contributions from Jeffrey Epstein, is being investigated for an apparent violation of state environmental regulations. They paused operations after we asked questions.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab have dumped wastewater underground in apparent violation of a state environmental regulation, according to documents and interviews, potentially endangering local waterways in and near the town of Middleton.

Nitrogen levels from the lab’s wastewater registered more than 20 times above the legal limit, according to documents provided by a former Media Lab employee. When water contains large amounts of nitrogen, it can kill fish and deprive infants of oxygen.

Nine months ago, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection began asking questions, but MIT’s health and safety office failed to provide the required water quality reports, according to documents obtained by ProPublica and WBUR. This triggered an ongoing state investigation.

After ProPublica and WBUR contacted MIT for comment, an institute official said the lab in question was pausing its operations while the university and regulators worked on a solution. Tony Sharon, an MIT deputy vice president who oversees the health and safety office, didn’t comment on the specific events described in the documents.

The state’s investigation adds to recent scrutiny of the Media Lab for accepting donations from Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender who was charged with trafficking minors before he died in jail last month. Joichi Ito, the director of the Media Lab, has resigned, and students have called for the resignation of MIT President L. Rafael Reif, who signed off on at least one of Epstein’s gifts.

The lab responsible for the dumping is the Open Agriculture Initiative, one of many research projects at the Media Lab. Led by principal research scientist Caleb Harper, who was trained as an architect, the initiative has been under fire for overhyping its “food computers”: boxes that could supposedly be programmed to grow crops, but allegedly didn’t work as promised.

Throughout early 2018, the lab’s research site in Middleton, about 20 miles north of the main MIT campus in Cambridge, routinely drained hundreds of gallons of water with nitrogen into an underground disposal well, at concentrations much higher than the lab’s permit allowed, according to documents and interviews. The nitrogen came from a fertilizer mix used to grow plants hydroponically.

The information comes from dozens of emails and lab results shared by Babak Babakinejad, a former researcher in Harper’s lab. Babakinejad said he decided to speak out because he’s worried about the health and environmental impacts of the dumping. Babakinejad’s account of the lab’s actions was confirmed by two other sources with knowledge of the experiments, who asked for anonymity.

Babakinejad told ProPublica and WBUR that he warned Harper and MIT’s Environment, Health and Safety Office (EHS) about the situation after he realized their hydroponic solution exceeded their environmental permit, which limited the wastewater to concentrations of 10 parts per million (ppm) for nitrogen.

EHS is responsible for health and safety throughout the institute, from environmental sustainability to the proper handling of toxic chemicals in research labs.

“Our base fertilizer regiment is at 150 ppm Nitrogen… way above the required limit,” Babakinejad wrote in an April 2018 email to Harper, other Media Lab employees and senior staffers at EHS. “I am looking forward to discuss available options such as diluting our waste water… or apply for an appropriate license.”

Harper responded to Babakinejad within the hour, scolding him for emailing health and safety officials: “Writing emails directly to Senior EHS / Facilities teams at MIT, especially those that effect [sic] our groups ability to do research, without asking [the project’s assistant director] or I to review, comment and approve is inappropriate… If emails are directed to you regarding our teams [sic] EHS responsibilities please redirect them to me until further notice.”

This followed prior emails when Babakinejad had questioned Harper about whether the lab’s food computers could really do what Harper claimed. In news reports about this question, Harper did not address allegations about the project’s shortcomings.

Babakinejad said he later spoke to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) in the fall of 2018, prompting the agency to take a closer look at the lab’s wastewater disposal permit.

For more than five months, a MassDEP scientist tried to get basic information from MIT’s EHS office about how the lab disposed of its wastewater. This June, the scientist expressed frustration in an email to a senior EHS official:

“MassDEP is concerned about the time that it is taking to provide what should be easy to obtain information regarding the (disposal well) discharges and other on-site discharges,” he wrote. “MassDEP is concerned that MIT still hasn’t indicated to MassDEP its long term solution to the management of spent growing solution wastewater containing unacceptably high concentrations of total nitrogen.”

In a statement, MassDEP spokesman Edmund Coletta stated the agency was “concerned about the wastewater discharge issue connected to the Open Agriculture Initiative’s facility in Middleton (MA) and we are investigating the issue further. However, as this is a potential enforcement matter, I cannot offer any other comments.”

Harper provided a statement through his lawyer, David Siegal: “Mr. Harper and his lab are, and have always been, deeply committed to protecting the environment. He has been and will continue to be fully cooperative with and responsive to MIT’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in their efforts to make sure the lab conforms to all environmental laws and regulations,” Siegal said.

At this point there is no evidence that the discharge from Harper’s lab has reached local drinking water or the nearby Ipswich River.

Excess nitrogen, when ingested by infants under four months old, can prevent blood from carrying oxygen, which can be fatal if left untreated. Municipal water systems routinely check for contaminants, but homes and businesses that use private drinking water wells are responsible for monitoring their own water. ProPublica and WBUR did not obtain any of those testing results.

Pamela Templer, a Boston University professor who studies biogeochemistry, said nitrogen is an essential component of all living things.

“But at high concentrations, it can become what we consider too much of a good thing,” she said. “In waterways, it can lead to phenomena like harmful algal blooms, which can be toxic to people and pets.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2019 at 6:14 pm

A cure for chronic pain?

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I know people who suffer chronic pain, and it’s a tough row to how. That’s why this article by Sophie Elmhirst in the Economist 1843 caught my eye:

Peter McNaughton, a professor of pharmacology at King’s College London, is a devoted optimist. He acknowledges that his positivity can sometimes seem irrational, but he also knows that without it he wouldn’t have achieved all that he has. And what he’s achieved is quite possibly monumental. After decades of research into the cellular basis of chronic pain, McNaughton believes he has discovered the fundamentals of a drug that might eradicate it. If he’s right, he could transform millions, even billions, of lives. What more could anyone hope for than a world without pain?

McNaughton, nearly 70, is long-limbed, grey-haired and bespectacled. Though he has lived in London for decades, his voice still carries the cheery cadence of his native New Zealand. He wears blue Levis and black Nikes and delights in a late-blooming informality after years of heading university departments and turning up in a suit. Now, running his own lab, he can dress as he likes. On a Friday morning in April he waited for his young team to arrive at the modern, red-brick building in south London where he conducts his research. (McNaughton is always the first to arrive.) Today the team was assembled to hear a presentation by Rafaela Lone, a Brazilian scientist, who had spent the past six months in McNaughton’s lab breeding mice with symptoms that mimic fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes widespread pain and chronic fatigue. Lone explained that her mother had suffered from fibromyalgia for seven years. Her life had been reduced to a misery of symptoms ranging from urinary-tract infections to intense sensitivity to cold. Some days were bear-able; on others she couldn’t get out of bed. “She learns how to hold the pain,” said Lone.

McNaughton looked aggrieved at this (he finds it so hard to tolerate other people’s discomfort that, when his grandchildren come to stay, he lets them sleep in his bed because he can’t bear to disappoint them). But there was hope. Lone’s slides revealed her preliminary findings. Using genetic and pharmacological methods based on McNaughton’s research, she had achieved a consistent eradication of the mice’s pain. McNaughton looked exultant: “It’s really worked spectacularly well, hasn’t it?”

His eureka moment occurred back in 2010. From previous research, he knew that a group of ion channels (protein molecules that span a cell’s membrane), known as the HCN family, modulated pain sensation. When a nerve is stimulated, a message is sent via the spinal cord to the brain, which then interprets it as pain. The challenge was to find the right ion channel to target with a drug. His team slowly worked their way through the group: blocking HCN1 had little effect and they didn’t want to interfere with HCN4 as it regulates the heart rate. Then they tried HCN2.

The team bred genetically engineered mice from embryos that had HCN2 excised from their DNA. Subsequent experiments showed that these mice did not develop neuropathic pain (the kind that affects the nervous system and is often caused by long-term conditions such as cancer or diabetes). Not only that, the mice with HCN2 cut out were still able to feel acute pain – the necessary, protective jolt that tells us to remove our finger from a drawing pin. “That’s the holy grail,” McNaughton told me, sitting in his modest office in his lab, pictures of his family looping on his computer screensaver. “It is! It really is!” (On the mice in question, McNaughton was remorseful: “I’m acutely aware that this is unpleasant for the mice,” he said.)

After his discovery, McNaughton’s research group developed chemical compounds able to achieve, by blocking the HCN2 ion channel, the same effect in mice as the genetic technique. These form the basis for a prospective painkilling drug with the potential to treat multiple chronic-pain conditions (further research has shown strong evidence that blocking HCN2 has a positive effect on mice mimicking symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and migraine).

McNaughton filed three patents, pitched his research around the large pharmaceutical companies and a deal was then reached earlier this year between King’s College London and the Wellcome Trust (who helped fund the research) and Merck, an American pharmaceutical giant. The deal is worth $340m plus royalties if the drug comes to market. That may sound like a large sum, but it is nothing compared with the profits that Merck could reap, in an industry where the larger the potential patient pool, the greater the reward. Chronic pain is estimated to affect a fifth of the global population, or 1.5bn people. “It’s an absolutely vast market,” said McNaughton.

The windfall would not touch McNaughton himself. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2019 at 11:58 am

The true Paleo diet: LOTS of plants

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How do we know? Because dietary fiber comes only from plants.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2019 at 9:02 am

Free ebook: Nutrition by Carrie — The Gut Health Issue

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This has just been made available. Here it is.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2019 at 4:06 pm

Why a Resource Like Is Necessary

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Dr. Michael Greger blogs:

In a study of the dietary advice given by newspapers in the United Kingdom, “no credible scientific basis” was found for most claims. Indeed, “[m]isreporting of dietary advice…is widespread and may contribute to public misconceptions about food and health”—and potentially not only the public.

Scientists like to think they are not influenced by popular media. One study decided to put it to the test. The New York Times reports on scientific research each week, and researchers found that the studies covered by the Times end up being cited in the New England Journal of Medicine more than those that don’t. Seems like the popular press does indeed have an impact on science? Not so fast. That’s just one potential explanation. Perhaps outstanding studies are more likely to be picked up by the media and, independently, more likely to be cited. It’s possible the Times was just earmarking important science and its publicizing of that research didn’t have any effect on how often it was cited in future studies.

How can we disentangle the two? In 1978, there was a three-month strike during which the Times continued to print copies but couldn’t sell them to the public. So, a natural experiment was set up. Researchers compared the number of citations of Journal articles published during the strike with the number published when the paper wasn’t on strike to “discover whether publicity in the popular press truly amplifies the transmission of scientific findings to the medical community.” If the paper were just earmarking important articles, then the strike would have no effect on the studies’ future impact, but that’s not what happened. As you can see from a graph shown in my video Spin Doctors: How the Media Reports on Medicine, the studies covered by the Times during the strike when no one could read them appeared to have no impact on the medical community.

The next question, of course, is whether the press is simply amplifying the medical information to the scientific community or distorting it as well? “[S]ystematic studies suggest that many stories about new medicines tend to overstate benefits, understate risks and costs, and fail to disclose relevant financial ties.” What’s more, “[o]verly rosy coverage of drugs may also result from the direct and indirect relations between journalists and drug companies”—that is, the financial ties between the reporters and Big Pharma with all its perks.

Scientists and physicians often blame the press for the public being “poorly served” by the media’s coverage of medical science. In fact, the famous physician William Osler was quoted as saying, “Believe nothing that you see in the newspapers…if you see anything in them that you know is true, begin to doubt it at once.” Both parties, however, share the blame. Reporters may only have an hour or two to put together a story, so they may rely on press releases. It’s not hard to imagine how drug company press releases might be biased. But, surely, press releases from the scientists themselves and their institutions would “present the facts fairly, unambiguously, and without spin,” right?

Researchers decided to put it to the test. Critics may blame the media, but where do you think the media gets its information? “One might assume” that press releases from prestigious academic medical centers would be “measured and unexaggerated,” but researchers found they suffered from the same problems: downplaying side effects, having conflicts of interest and study limitations, and “promot[ing] research that has uncertain relevance to human health…”

For example, most “animal or laboratory studies…explicitly claimed relevance to human health, yet 90% lacked caveats about extrapolating results to people.” Indeed, “a release about a study of ultrasonography [ultrasound] reducing tumors in mice, titled ‘Researchers study the use of ultrasound for treatment of cancer,’” failed to add “for your pet mouse.”

“For animal research, it is estimated that less than 10% of non-human investigations ever succeed in being translated to human clinical use. Over-selling the results of non-human [lab animal] studies as a promised cure potentially confuses readers and might contribute to disillusionment with science.”

Although it is common to blame the media for exaggerations, most times, they don’t just make it up—it is what the research institutions are sending out themselves. Researchers found that “most of the inflation detected in our study…was already present in the text of the in their own press releases produced by academics and their establishments.” Medical journals, too. Indeed, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2019 at 9:23 am

Why keto is not a fix for type 2 diabetes

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I had thought that my low-carb high-fat diet had helped with my type 2 diabetes until a doctor commented on an answer I had posted on Quora. The doctor said that my blood glucose seemed to be under control, but that was an illusion created by the fact that I was simply not eating any carbohydrates to speak of, so of course my blood glucose was low, but the LCHF diet was not doing my diabetes (or my health) any good.

That got me to reading and exploring and within a few days I had learned enough to motivate me to change my diet drastically from a low-carb high-fat diet to a whole-food plant-based diet.

This new brief video from Dr. Greger has the same message: a keto (or LCHF or Atkins) diet doesn’t really help, but only provides an illusion of help.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2019 at 8:46 am

Why is Extra Salt Injected into Meat?

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Dr. Michael Greger writes at

Why is the salt industry so powerful? It has its own PR and lobbying firms to play tobacco industry-style tactics to downplay the dangers of high salt intake, but salt is so cheap. How much money is the industry really making? As I discuss in my video Big Salt: Getting to the Meat of the Matter, it’s not the salt mine barons who’re raking it in—it’s the processed food industry. Indeed, the trillion-dollar processed food industry uses dirt-cheap added salt and sugar to sell us their junk, and, by hooking us on hypersweet and hypersalty foods, our taste buds get so dampened down that natural foods may taste like cardboard. The ripest fruit may not be as sweet as Froot Loops, so we just continue to buy more and more of the processed junk.

There are two other major reasons the food industry adds salt to food. “The other 2 reasons, however, are entirely commercial and for most foods are the real reason the food industry wants the intake of salt to remain high.” If salt is added to meat, it draws in water, so the weight can be increased by about 20 percent. Since meat is often sold by the pound, that’s 20 percent more profit for very little cost.

Salt also makes us thirsty. There’s a reason bars offer free salted peanuts and soda companies own snack food companies. It is not coincidence that Pepsi and Frito-Lay are the same company. Would we shell out nine dollars for a drink at the movies after eating a bucket of unsalted popcorn? Would we supersize our soda if they didn’t salt our fries and Big Mac?

Salt is also added to meat because it solubilizes the muscle proteins into a gel for “optimum” meat texture, which is one of the reasons the meat and fish industries like transglutaminase, the “meat glue” enzyme. Meat glue can help gel the muscle protein without adding salt.

Some of these salt alternatives leave a bitter aftertaste in the meat, but this problem can be managed by adding chemical “bitter blockers…which work by blocking the activation  of [our] taste receptor cells and thereby preventing taste nerve simulation”—that is, the information is stopped from ever reaching our brain.

The meat industry acknowledges that its products contribute a significant amount of dietary sodium, “maligning their own image,” but salt is just so cheap that using anything else would cost the industry money. However,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2019 at 8:55 am

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