Science Museum News posts – 2014 (part 1)

  • Big plans for medical data, it may be anonymous, but people can still opt out if they wish
  • Being cold makes your ‘brown fat’ generate a lot of heat
  • Effect of new pills to help focus only seem to work in men
  • Facebook collaborated with Cornell and California Universities to study 689,000 users
  • Participants in a test self-reported their results, then examiners tested how honest they were
  • There is no vaccine or cure for Ebola, but it can only infect other people via bodily fluids
  • Unsurprisingly, young people use technology more, with 6-year-olds being as savvy as 45-year-olds
  • GM flies produced by researchers have ‘pre-pupal female lethality’
  • Each year obesity may be responsible for 12,000 cancer cases in the UK
  • Botox disrupts the vagus nerve, which goes from the brain to the stomach
  • Researchers used optogenetic switches, which control neurons (brain cells) with coloured light

Big plans for medical data
6th January 2014
1389007072820977I don’t like it when companies collect data on me just so they can sell more things. But what if data collected on us is used to help people?

GPs will soon gather heaps of patients’ medical recordsfrom all over the country. But don’t worry, this won’t contain names or addresses.

The NHS will trawl through this huge amount of data and build a big picture of health services in the UK. I like that my data will be used to improve people’s health.

Image: Flickr/redjar



Would you freeze to fight fat?
23rd January 2014

1390555944398270A Dutch research team are suggesting that being a little bit colder might help people lose weight. The idea is that you burn energy when you’re cold in order to keep warm.

Great, I thought, turning the thermostat down, pizza for dinner! Some people eat more when it’s cold, and these extra calories are probably more than they use up in making body heat.

To be honest I think chasing quick fixes for losing weight will never work. Eating light food and getting some exercise works for me.

Image: Flickr/dee & tula monstah


Staying focused
30th January 2014

1391080166565562Do you find it hard to stay focused sometimes? I know I do… the world can be so distracting! Five per cent of the adult population may have ADHD, and a new study suggests a simple vitamin pill could improve their concentration span.

The experts say that, like most stories about new treatments, it’s interesting but doesn’t offer anything conclusive. All I ever see in the media are tantalising glimpses of medical breakthroughs.

I get that medical research is complicated because everyone is so different, but I’d still love a magic brain-enhancing pill…

Image: Flickr/quinn.anya


Social networking psychology study
2nd July 2014

1404379146133468I like social networking, it lets me stay in touch with friends around the world. But I worry about the emotional impact it has on people.

A recent study suggests that showing people positive or negative news stories alters the mood of the posts those people go on to write. An obvious finding, but how this was discovered is a bit suspect. The users being studied didn’t know they were part of an experiment at all!

Stories like this make me rethink how much I want social networks to know about me.

Image: Flickr/Chris Potter


Early-bird honesty
17th July 2014

1405591249259776I’m certainly not a morning person, and I’m envious of those able to spring out of bed as soon as dawn breaks.

But being an early bird may have its drawbacks. A study suggests that early risers are less honest as the day goes on. The opposite is seen too: night owls are less honest towards the start of their days.

At only 200 participants the study is small, though. I hope businesses don’t take it too literally and start reshuffling their staff depending on how awake they look!

Image: Flickr/Shelia Sund


Are we safe from Ebola?
31st July 2014

1406800490250434I’ve just read about the return of the horrible Ebola virus in west Africa. It sounds unpleasant to say the least and has killed hundreds. I sure hope it doesn’t come here…

My fear is shared by UK border and immigration staff. They worry we’re not prepared enough to deal with a potential outbreak and want guidance from health officials.

But the World Health Organization and the NHS are assuring people that the UK is not at risk from Ebola – if it comes we can contain it. This puts my mind at ease.

Image: NIAID


Brits more switched on than switched off
7th August 2014

1407406956762996Every day I spend less time sleeping than I do looking at the screen of some device or other. I thought a minority of people would be like this, but it turns out most of the UK is like me!

A report from Ofcom says the average Brit spends 8 hours 41 minutes using media or communications devices and only 8 hours 21 minutes sleeping.

Many say we spend too much time with gadgets. But in an increasingly technological world, I wonder if it’s really such a big deal?

Image: Flickr/Tom & Katrien


GM flies to the rescue
13th August 2014

1407923937255147We all find flies annoying, but to farmers they’re a serious pest, infesting over 300 crop varieties worldwide.

Researchers in Oxford have a solution, but it’s controversial. They genetically modify fruit flies so they only produce male offspring, leading to a population collapse. The researchers want government approval to release some of these GM insects, in an attempt to reduce local fruit fly populations.

So long as it doesn’t upset the food chain I’m all for this. Food scarcity is a real problem in some parts of the world and ideas like this could help.

Image: US Department of Agriculture


Obesity link to cancer?
14th August 2014

1408012562510859It takes effort to keep fit, but when I read stories like this it reminds me it’s worth it.

Scientists have run the largest ever study, involving 5 million people, to look at the link between obesity and cancer. It’s hardly news that being overweight is linked to health risks, but now doctors find that specific types of cancer depend on how overweight someone is.

Cancers linked to obesity include those of the uterus, gall bladder, kidney, cervix, thyroid and also leukaemia. Expert advice, as always, is to exercise regularly and eat healthily.

Image: Flickr/Alan Cleaver


Wrinkle treatment to cure cancer?
21st August 2014

1408617611644540I’m amazed what some people do in the name of beauty… wrinkle-smoothing Botox injections, for instance. It turns out these nerve-paralysing chemicals may have a deeper use too.

Researchers in New York have found that Botox chemicals can slow the growth of stomach tumours in mice and even make them less resistant to chemotherapy. Surprisingly, nerve cells play a role in stomach cancer and this treatment can disrupt them.

Trials have already begun. I’ve got my fingers crossed that the idea is effective, as it could save lives.

Image: Flickr/Yale Rosen


Memory manipulation
27th August 2014

1409222482931043It’s nice to conjure up happy memories of places I visited as a child. I don’t think anyone can tamper with these memories, but if I were a lab mouse I wouldn’t be so sure.

Researchers at MIT have successfully manipulated the emotional memories mice have of different places. Some people may find the idea of replacing negative memories with positive ones appealing. But don’t our memories make us who we are?

The procedure is unlikely to be carried out on humans. It does make me wonder though…

Image: Wikimedia Commons

These stories and more were originally published on the Science Museum website and interactive news gallery ‘Antenna‘.

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