Canada’s airways are safe again – the Red Zeppelin is down!

Good news, Canada: Budweiser’s goal light blimp has been found.

Bad news, Canada: It is yet to be retrieved.

The 70-foot-long blimp that was made for the Olympics and is literally a big goal light in the sky, was stationed outside an event in St. John, New Brunswick when it broke free from its tethers and began floating away. That was on Saturday.

Aside from a few scattered sightings, the blimp was nowhere to be found by officials but it was expected to come down around Sussex, NB, some 70 kilometers to the northeast of St. John.

Indeed it has descended in New Brunswick and officials know exactly where it is. But getting to it is going to a challenge. From the CBC…”It’s in a wooded area in New Brunswick that doesn’t look like it’s going to be real easy to get to,” said Wade Keller, director of corporate affairs (Atlantic) for Labatt Breweries.

“We know there is a lot of interest and a lot of curiosity,” he said. “We haven’t even talked to to the property owner yet…We don’t want people going out to try and find it on their own, so at this point we’re not going to release the exact location…”

So the plus side here is the Red Zeppelin, as it is officially named, didn’t go down like another famous zeppelin. Hopefully it can live to light up the skies of Canada again. Just make sure it’s tied down next time.

It didn’t make it as far as PEI, eh? My kin up in the Great White North were watching for it.

Why was 1918 flu pandemic so deadly? New clues…

In 1918, as one global devastation in the shape of World War I came to an end, people around the world found themselves facing another deadly enemy, pandemic flu. The virus killed more than 50 million people, three times the number that fell in the Great War, and did this so much faster than any other illness in recorded history.

But why was that particular pandemic so deadly? Where did the virus come from and why was it so severe? These questions have dogged scientists ever since. Now, a new study led by the University of Arizona (UA) may have solved the mystery…

They hope the study not only offers some new clues about the deadliness of the 1918 pandemic, but will also help improve strategies for vaccination and pandemic prevention, as Prof. Worobey explains:

“If our model is correct, then current medical interventions, especially antibiotics and vaccines, against several pneumonia-causing bacteria, could be expected to dramatically reduce mortality, if we were faced today with a similar set of pandemic ingredients…”

Researchers reconstructed the origins of the 1918 pandemic virus, the classic swine flu and the postpandemic seasonal H1N1 flu virus lineage that circulated between 1918 and 1957, to find out why the 1918 pandemic was so deadly…

For their investigation, the researchers developed an unprecedentedly accurate “molecular clock,” a technique that looks at the rate at which mutations build up in given stretches of DNA over time…

Prof. Worobey and his team used their molecular clock to reconstruct the origins of the 1918 pandemic virus, the classic swine flu and the postpandemic seasonal H1N1 flu virus lineage that circulated between 1918 and 1957…

They found that a human H1 virus that had been circulating among humans since around 1900 picked up genetic material from a bird flu virus just before 1918 and this became the deadly pandemic strain.

Exposure to previous strains of flu virus does offer some protection to new strains. This is because the immune system reacts to proteins on the surface of the virus and makes antibodies that are summoned the next time a similar virus tries to infect the body.

But the further away the new strain is genetically from the ones the body has previously been exposed to, the more different the surface proteins, the less effective the antibodies and the more likely that infection will take hold.

Prof. Worobey notes…”We believe that the mismatch between antibodies trained to H3 virus protein and the H1 protein of the 1918 virus may have resulted in the heightened mortality in the age group that happened to be in their late 20s during the pandemic.”

He says their finding may also help explain differences in patterns of mortality between seasonal flu and the deadly H5N1 and H7N9 bird flu viruses.

The authors suggest perhaps immunization strategies that mimic the often impressive protection that early childhood exposure provides could dramatically reduce deaths from seasonal and new flu strains.

Biologists of this calibre are walking encyclopedias of science, history, chemistry and the knowledge to assemble it all within the guidance of evolution into a unique illuminating dialectic.

It is a delight to stand inside the cone of enlightenment made possible by dedication to science, the addition of something of value to human understanding.

OTOH, you may spend your spare time watching reality TV. 🙂

Thanks, Mike

Doctors continue to get million$ from Medicare after their licenses yanked

SouthernNM H&V Group

The first time cardiologist Robert Graor lost his Ohio license to practice medicine was in 1995, after he was convicted of 10 felony theft counts for embezzling more than $1 million from the Cleveland Clinic and sentenced to three years in jail.

The second time was in 2003, after he’d won back the license following his release from prison. This time, the Ohio Board of Medicine found he repeatedly misrepresented his credentials over a two-decade period and permanently barred him from practicing medicine.

That didn’t stop Graor from participating in Medicare, the government’s health insurance program for the elderly and disabled. In 2012, Medicare paid $660,005 for him to treat patients in New Mexico, which gave him a license to practice in 1998. Graor declined to comment…

At least seven doctors who’d lost a medical license because of misconduct collected a total of $6.5 million from Medicare in 2012, according to federal data. The list includes doctors accused of gross malpractice, a brutal sexual assault and violating prescription drug laws. Their continued participation in the $604 billion program reflects what some members of Congress and others call a permissive approach that lets providers with questionable backgrounds keep billing taxpayers. All the doctors notified Medicare of the loss of their licenses, records show…

CMS has “discretionary authority” to ban a doctor from the Medicare provider list if his license to practice has been revoked by a state, spokesman Aaron Albright said in an e-mail. The agency would not reveal if it has taken any action against the providers identified by Bloomberg as having lost their licenses to practice, saying such a disclosure would be a violation of the doctors’ privacy.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General also can ban a doctor from Medicare if a state has revoked a medical license. Like CMS, it isn’t required to do so. Donald White, an agency spokesman, says the revocation of a license falls into a “permissive area where they will not necessarily be excluded” from Medicare. He said doctors are “generally not excluded” in cases where one state has pulled a license but another allows that doctor to continue practicing, with the knowledge of the first state’s action.

In all seven cases identified by Bloomberg, the doctors stripped of a license in one state were allowed to practice in another state and continued to bill Medicare.

RTFA for all the gory details. Graor is practicing cardiology, etc. down in Deming, New Mexico. Wonder if folks know – or care – about his history. I wonder why the Feds consider doctor’s privacy a higher priority than patient safety. A doctor who lost his license twice.

Reconnecting severed nerves with liquid metal

When peripheral nerves are severed, the loss of function leads to atrophy of the effected muscles, a dramatic change in quality of life and, in many cases, a shorter life expectancy.

Despite decades of research, nobody has come up with an effective way to reconnect nerves that have been severed. Various techniques exist to sew the ends back together or to graft nerves into the gap that is created between severed ends.

Ultimately, the success of these techniques depends on the ability of the nerve ends to grow back and knit together. But given that nerves grow at the rate of one mm per day, it can take a significant amount of time, sometimes years, to reconnect. And during this time, the muscles can degrade beyond repair, leading to long-term disability…

Today, Jing Liu at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a few pals say they’ve reconnected severed nerves using liquid metal for the first time. And they say that in conducting electrical signals between the severed ends of a nerve, the metal dramatically outperforms the standard saline electrolyte used to preserve the electrical properties of living tissue.

Biomedical engineers have been eyeing the liquid metal alloy gallium-indium-selenium for some time (67 percent Ga, 20.5 percent In and 12.5 percent Sn by volume). This material is liquid at body temperature and is thought to be entirely benign. Consequently, they have been studying various ways of using it inside the body, such as for imaging.

Now a team of Chinese biomedical engineers say the metal’s electrical properties could help preserve the function of nerves while they regenerate. And they’ve carried out the first experiments to show that the technique is viable

What’s more, since liquid metal clearly shows up in x-rays, it can be easily removed from the body when it is no longer needed using a microsyringe.

…Their goal is to make special conduits for reconnecting severed nerves that contain liquid metal to preserve electrical conduction and therefore muscle function, but also containing growth factor to promote nerve regeneration…

So it’s just possible that liquid metal will become an important component in the treatment of nerve injuries in future.

Bravo! Something I’d volunteer for in a New York minute. RTFA for surgical details.

Even though I’m an old fart I’d gladly offer to participate if there was a chance of aiding folks in following generations. Good research always needs a few warm bodies to check on final results.