What the scientists are saying…
Pets and children’s health
A wide range of small studies have suggested that children who own or interact with a pet have better physical and psychological health. But the largest study of its kind to date, by Rand corporation, now disproves this hypothesis. The authors of the study, Jeremy Miles and Layla Parast, used advanced statistical tools, which allowed the scientists to account for other factors that may influence a child’s health rather than pet ownership, such as family income. Miles and colleagues analyzed data from 2,236 households that owned either a dog or a cat and compared them with 2,955 households that did not have a pet. The study found that, as expected, children in families that owned a pet were in better health and tended to be more physically active than children in families without a pet. However, after the researchers adjusted the findings using the double-robust approach and including propensity scores, the link between pet ownership and children's health was no longer statistically significant.
All aboard for facial scanning
Could the end of the line be in sight for the railway ticket? British scientists are testing a facial recognition system that might see some ticket barriers replaced within three years, according to The Times. The technology, developed by Bristol Robotics Laboratory, uses rapidly flashing nearinfrared lights to capture 3D images of faces in unprecedented detail. The picture can then be checked against a database of customers. Unlike existing systems, it is smart enough to identify people even when they’re wearing glasses, and can distinguish between identical twins. Funding for the project has come from the Railway Safety and Standards Board; and Britain’s largest railway franchise, Go-Ahead, has expressed interest. At first, the system would be used only in new “fast-track” lanes, open to passengers whose faces had been scanned as part of a registration process and who then paid fares online or at a station “ticket” machine.
New hope for Parkinson’s
A drug commonly used to treat diabetes could slow the progress of Parkinson’s disease, research has revealed. Existing treatments merely ameliorate symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as tremors and stiffness, but a study published in The Lancet suggests that the drug exenatide targets its underlying pathology. Researchers tracked 60 people with the condition at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London for almost a year. Patients injected themselves once a week for 48 weeks with either exenatide or a placebo. Those in the placebo group experienced a typical rate of decline in their motor functions, while those in the exenatide group registered a modest improvement. Scans also indicated that the brains of those taking the drug showed less degeneration. The study’s lead author, Tom Foltynie, said: ‘‘This is the strongest evidence we have so far that a drug could do more than provide symptom relief for Parkinson’s disease.” However, the scientists stressed that further research was required. Exenatide comes from a class of compounds originally isolated from the venom of a lizard called the Gila monster. These compounds not only help control blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes, but also seem to protect neurons from toxins.
Cannibalism in Somerset
A new study of engraved bones found in a Somerset cave has shed light on the cannibalistic rituals of early Britons. The bones, thought to be around 15,000 years old, were unearthed at Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge in the 1980s. An earlier investigation suggested that they were the remains of at least five people, including a child aged about three, who appeared to have been eaten by fellow humans. But the latest analysis goes further: it reveals that decorative zigzag incisions were apparently made between the butchering process and eating. “This wasn’t just a case of someone dies and then they’re eaten,” said Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, who took part in the research. “They’ve cleaned off the flesh, then someone sits down and very carefully carves this design, and only afterwards do they break open the bone to get the marrow out.”
Are pets good for kid’s health?