MUMMIES WITH BROKEN HEARTS
Heart disease is commonly thought to be a modern ailment, but evidence from ancient mummies suggests humans have had heart problems for thousands of years.
Pacific Ocean. The mummies represent human populations dating from 3,000 BC to the 20th century.
A significant cross-section of mummies, from all cultures and time frames, had calcified plaque in artery walls -- most frequently the aorta but also in the neck's carotid artery -- hinting at atherosclerosis, a major cause of heart attacks (The Lancet).
SWEET WAY TO DIE
By Sara Reardon
New York City's controversial ban on large soda drinks was blocked in March, but the ban's backers may have been onto something. A new study suggests around 184,000 global deaths a year can be linked to sugary drinks.
Gitanjali Singh of Harvard University and colleagues examined survey data covering 60 percent of the world's population. They worked out the obesity rates resulting from sugary drink consumption and looked at the number of deaths from obesity-related diseases to calculate that 184,000 deaths each year could be associated with sugary beverages -- about the same as the number of people killed by asthma. The work was presented March 19 March at an American Heart Association conference in New Orleans, LA.
Diabetes accounted for about 70 percent of the sugar-related deaths; heart disease and certain cancers accounted for the rest.
The study only shows an association between deaths and sugary drinks, but Rachel Johnson at the University of Vermont-Burlington says that the idea of a real link is biologically plausible.
WORLD'S THINNEST SCOPE REVEALED
By Douglas Heaven
As thin as a human hair and with a resolution four times that of similar devices, the world's slimmest endoscope could soon visualize the parts other scopes cannot reach.
Endoscopes are used to look inside the body, and usually consist of a bundle of fibers that transmit light and images. Joseph Kahn at Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, and colleagues have now created one out of just a single optical fiber. Usually, single fibers scramble the light signal, so the team developed an algorithm to reconstruct images.
Currently, the prototype can show objects 2.5 micrometers in size -- a third of the diameter of a red blood cell -- but the team reckons it will be able to improve the resolution to 0.3 micrometers.
The endoscope could be used to observe brain activity in minute detail or to detect cancer cells (Optics Express).
"Just as the telecoms industry has devised ways to squeeze more information content through optical fibers, this team have done the same for medical endoscopy," says Stephen Boppart of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
SUPPORT SYSTEM DOUBLES THE LIFE OF DONATED LIVERS
By Andy Coghlan
Donated livers can now be kept healthy for at least a day thanks to a device that keeps the organ ticking over as if still inside the body. The technology could more than double the availability of livers for transplant.
The device was developed by Constantin Coussios and Peter Friend at the University of Oxford, who unveiled it in London in March.
In the U.S. and Europe, 2000 donor livers are discarded annually because they deteriorate in transit, damaged by the ice packs and solutions that, for the past 40 years, have been the usual way to preserve them. A quarter of the 30,000 people on U.S. and European transplant waiting lists die each year before receiving a liver.
Whereas most livers become unusable after about 14 hours, the new device keeps them functioning and in perfect condition for at least 24 hours.
"In animals, we've gone up to 72 hours," says Friend.
When Friend plumbs a donated liver into the device, the brown-grey organ turns bright red as blood floods into its capillaries. The device has a pump mimicking the heart, an oxygenator mimicking the lungs, and tubes to supply blood and nutrients. An automated master console controls the fluid pressure and levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide and sugar in the blood, making the device easy for non-specialist medical staff to use.
As well as buying precious time to use the organ, the device will enable surgeons to test a liver's condition before deciding whether to use it. The device will also allow the use of fatty livers that have so far been rejected because they do not respond well to freezing.
Two people have received livers kept alive using the device. Both were treated at King's College Hospital, London, in February, and are among 20 people taking part in a pilot trial that, if successful, should allow the device to win approval for use in Europe by next year.
Friend says that the same technology, suitably modified, could preserve other organs, including lungs and kidneys.