What the sci­en­tists are say­ing…

The Week Middle East - - News -

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?

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