Anthrax vs. cancer…Researchers think they can cure dogs. We’re next in line.


Nicole Ehrhart

Can the feared anthrax toxin become an ally in the war against cancer? Successful treatment of pet dogs suffering bladder cancer with an anthrax-related treatment suggest so…

Among all cancers, the one affecting the bladder is the sixth most common and in 2019 caused more than 17,000 deaths in the U.S. Of all patients that receive surgery to remove this cancer, about 70% will return to the physician’s office with more tumors. This is psychologically devastating for the patient and makes the cancer of the bladder one of the most expensive to treat.

To make things worse, currently there is a worldwide shortage of Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, a bacterium used to make the preferred immunotherapy for decreasing bladder cancer recurrence after surgery. This situation has left doctors struggling to meet the needs of their patients. Therefore, there is a clear need for more effective strategies to treat bladder cancer…

In collaboration with colleagues at Indiana University medical school, Harvard University and MIT, we designed a strategy to eliminate tumors using the modified toxin. Together we demonstrated that this novel approach allowed us to eliminate tumor cells taken from human, dog and mouse bladder cancer.

Read on!

Clinical trials tend to be positive when Docs get industry dollar$

When study investigators have financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies, clinical trial results are more likely to turn up positive…

In a review of 190 papers on randomized controlled trials, taking money from industry was significantly associated with favorable trial results in a fully adjusted model…Salomeh Keyhani, MD, of the University of California San Francisco, and colleagues reported online…

Their findings suggest bias in the evidence base, Keyhani said. Practicing clinicians “should be concerned enough to employ healthy skepticism while reviewing the results of any one trial,” she told MedPage Today.

❝ The paper makes the distinction between a study being funded by a drug company, and investigators who have financial relationships with those companies.

Researchers with financial relationships can influence the study results in less obvious ways, such as study design and analytic approach, but Keyhani noted that the current research is a “cross-sectional study so any interpretation of the findings should be made with caution.”…

Gasp! Who’da thunk it.

RTFA for methodology – and more.

4-foot-long Titanosaur footprints found in the Gobi desert


Professor Shinobu Ishigaki lies next to the footprintAFP/Getty Images

One of the largest ever dinosaur footprints has been found by a joint expedition of Japanese and Mongolian researchers in the Gobi desert.

The giant print measures 106cm (42in) long and 77cm (30in) wide, according to AFP. It is thought to have belonged to a titanosaur, a group of giant, long-necked herbivores. Researchers said the creature may have been more than 30 meters (98ft) long and 20 meters (66ft) tall.

The print was discovered in August in a geologic layer formed between 70 million and 90 million years ago by researchers from Okayama University of Science and the Mongolian Academy of Science…

The print is a cast from sand that flowed into dents left by the creature’s enormous footprint. Its discovery could help scientists understand how titanosaurs walked.

In 2014, a titanosaur skeleton was discovered in Argentina and was dubbed the largest dinosaur ever discovered. A replica of the dinosaur, which has yet to be named, is currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. It weighed about 70 tons and its skeleton is 37 meters (122ft) long.

I would love to be convinced of the possibility of viewing prehistoric times via some sort of time warp. Scientists would line up for primary source accuracy.

Ice field in Patagonia is melting 1.5 times faster than previously


The color image is the same HPS 12 glacier in 2010 using data from the ASTER instrument onboard the NASA Terra satellite…The loss of ice thickness is comparable to the height of the Empire State Building

A little-studied mass of ice in South America is undergoing some big changes: The Southern Patagonian Ice Field lost ice volume at a 50 percent faster rate between 2000-2012 than it did between 1975-2000, according to new analysis of digital elevation models performed by Cornell researchers.

The researchers from Cornell’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences developed a new way of using digital topography maps obtained from a stereo camera on a NASA satellite to draw their conclusions…

The researchers stacked more than 100 of the digital maps, Michael Willis explained, so that a time-stamped pixel on one map is at the same place as a time-stamped pixel on a second map, and so on, like a pile of perfectly aligned pancakes, oldest on the bottom. At any particular place, there is a time series of ice topography changes coded by color…

The Cornell analysis better isolates the ice field changes only, Andrew Melkonian said. “While it’s not directly measuring mass, it is isolating the ice field signal, and by making some assumptions about what the density is, we can say how much mass these ice fields are actually losing,” he said…

Though it’s not nearly as studied as Greenland and Antarctica, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the world’s second-largest temperate (not frozen all the way through) ice field. The researchers call Patagonia a “poster child” for rapidly changing glacier systems, so studying them could be key to learning how melting cycles work and how they may be affected by climate change.

Ah, Patagonia. A terrible place to climb. Which means, of course, the world’s best mountain climbers always want to climb there.

Cripes! iPhone captures keystrokes via thump phreaking

Researchers at Georgia Tech have worked up a proof-of-concept demonstration of using an iPhone 4’s accelerometer as a keylogger. After setting the iPhone near a computer keyboard, the device’s built-in accelerometer and gyroscope were able to decipher entire sentences “with up to 80 percent accuracy…”

Apps don’t currently ask for users’ permission for access to accelerometers and gyroscopes, which raises the remote possibility of iPhones or other accelerometer-equipped devices spying on keyboard inputs without users being the wiser…

The keylogger software works by detecting key pairs — detecting individual key presses turned out to be too difficult and unreliable — and by comparing paired accelerometer events against a built-in dictionary, the software can decipher keypresses with startling accuracy. Our own Mike Rose has coined “thump phreaking” to refer to this spying technique (after Van Eck phreaking, which uses CRT or LCD emissions to reconstruct the screen image) and it’s as apt a term as any for what this software does.

It must be mentioned that this is only a proof of concept and not an actual attack that’s out in the wild. The researchers themselves admit that this keylogger was difficult to build, and it’s easily defeated by something as simple as moving your iPhone more than three inches away from the keyboard.

OTOH, proof of concept almost inevitably leads to some demented script-kiddy trying it out on an unsuspecting innocent.

Don’t turn off the spell checker in your email software!

Two researchers who set up doppelganger domains to mimic legitimate domains belonging to Fortune 500 companies say they managed to vacuum up 20 gigabytes of misaddressed e-mail over six months.

The intercepted correspondence included employee usernames and passwords, sensitive security information about the configuration of corporate network architecture that would be useful to hackers, affidavits and other documents related to litigation in which the companies were embroiled, and trade secrets, such as contracts for business transactions.

“Twenty gigs of data is a lot of data in six months of really doing nothing,” said researcher Peter Kim from the Godai Group. “And nobody knows this is happening.”

Well – truly conscientious IT departments are aware of the problem.

Doppelganger domains are ones that are spelled almost identically to legitimate domains, but differ slightly, such as a missing period separating a subdomain name from a primary domain name — as in the case of seibm.com as opposed to the real se.ibm.com domain that IBM uses for its division in Sweden.

Kim and colleague Garrett Gee, who released a paper this week (.pdf) discussing their research, found that 30%, or 151, of Fortune 500 companies were potentially vulnerable to having e-mail intercepted by such schemes, including top companies in consumer products, technology, banking, internet communication, media, aerospace, defense, and computer security…

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Agriculturists welcome news that wheat’s genetic code cracked

U.S. and international wheat breeders said Friday publication of the gene map of wheat could eventually help in developing beneficial new varieties, but cautioned that cracking wheat’s complicated genetic code is far from completed.

British researchers working with the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium on Friday released the first version of the wheat genome, a step toward a fully analyzed map that should help wheat breeders develop varieties that can yield more despite drought or disease.

“This is significant progress,” said Kellye Eversole, executive director of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC). “It is a very useful contribution towards the final goal of a genome sequence-based platform for wheat breeding. While we are nowhere near cracking the genetic code and far from having all of the information needed to understand the wheat genome, we are moving forward…”

The IWGSC was established by a group of plant scientists, breeders, and growers to sequence the highly complex wheat genome. Wheat has been viewed as all but impossible to sequence because of its sheer size.

Like all plants, wheat has far more complex DNA than animals. It is made up of 17 billion base pairs of the chemicals that make up DNA — five times more than the human genome.

The public release of the wheat genome data should provide a foundation to identify genetic differences between wheat varieties, wheat breeding experts said. Much more work remains to be done to discover what the genetic data means.

Lots of hard work ahead. Needless to say, climate change only adds to the questions needing to be asked and answered.

Assuring that artificial limitations are not imposed by profiteers or Luddites will probably consume a certain amount of time.

Dynamic, rapid evolution alters experiment! WTF?

When the forces of evolution took over an experimental strain of bacteria, it derailed an experiment Duke and NC State researchers thought they were conducting, but led to something much more profound instead.

The researchers used a colony of mice raised in a large plastic bubble, called an isolator, that was completely sterile, lacking even a single bacterium. They introduced a single type of bacteria into the mouse colony, but it mutated quickly into different types, making new bacteria that were hardier inside of the mice than the original bacterium was.

In some regards, “this is one of the best demonstrations of evolution ever carried out in a laboratory,” said William Parker, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Duke Department of Surgery. “This is the first time the evolution of bacteria has been monitored for a period of years in an incredibly complex environment.”

Parker said the work illustrates the power of evolution in creating diversity and in filling ecological niches. “This study also strengthens the idea that we could harness evolution in the laboratory to develop microbes for use in biotechnology and in medicine,” Parker said.

The results…indicate that “experimental evolution,” or evolution controlled in a laboratory setting, could be used to develop new strains of bacteria for use as probiotic substances, which are living organisms used for intestinal and digestive therapies…

Over the three-year study period, the bacterial population remained diverse and appeared to adapt significantly well to the environment in the digestive tracts of the mice. “The bacteria colonized better in the mice by the end of the experiment than at the beginning,” Parker said, with more than a three-fold increase in the density of bacteria within the gut by the end of the experiment.

Wow. Most researchers are flexible enough to perceive unexpected results for what they are, where they may lead.

Still – it’s rewarding to see how this group let their experiment carry through on its own – adding to evolutionary knowledge at the same time.

French respond to British claim that G-spot is fiction

There are a handful of subjects – among them cricket, the weather and the art of downing pints through a funnel – on which the French deign to allow the English a degree of authority. Sex, however, is not one of them.

Today, just three weeks after scientists at King’s College London declared that the elusive G-spot may be a myth, a group of gynaecologists gathered in Paris to launch a counter-attack on what they called a “totalitarian” approach to female sexuality.

Denouncing the study carried out last year by British researchers as fundamentally flawed, the French scientists insisted the fabled erogenous zone did exist in many women – around 60% according to Sylvain Mimoun, the organiser of the conference.

But, they said, it had fallen victim to an Anglo-Saxon tendency to reduce the mysteries of sexuality to absolutes. This attempt to set clear parameters on something variable and ambiguous, they said, was characteristic of British scientific attitudes to sex…

Pierre Foldès…said the questions in the King’s College study started from the false premise that all G-spots are alike. In fact, he says, the highly sensitive area bears little resemblance to the famed magic button guaranteed to generate immediate pleasure.

Moreover, said Mimoun, it will only be felt by a woman who knows it is there and takes steps to cultivate it. “In discovering the sensitive parts of her own body, this sensitive zone [the G-spot] will become more and more functional,” he said “But if she has never touched it and no one else has ever touched it … it won’t exist for her as a consequence.”

Maybe this is even more regional than cultural. Perhaps British women haven’t a G-spot and French women do.

Or, perhaps, British men wouldn’t know how to find one – and Frenchmen, well…