Day: May 3, 2017

Mid-life Obesity: There Might Be a Pill for That

As they get older, most people tend to gain weight.  But it’s not their fault, according to scientists who have discovered a biological mechanism that causes peoples’ waistlines to expand in middle-age.  

Endocrinologist Jay Chung says the average weight gain is 13 kilos or more between the ages of 20 and 50.

Chung, head of the laboratory of obesity and aging research at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute near Washington, DC, led a team of scientists that discovered the role of an enzyme called DNA-PK in middle-aged spread.  Chung said it becomes overactive as we age.

“It’s like trying to accelerate with a foot on a brake,” said Chung.  “And what it does is prevents fat release from our belly and it prevents fat burning by our tissues like skeletal muscle.”

Chung explained that overactive DNA-PK causes people to gradually lose a tiny structure inside their cells called mitochondria that act as powerhouses to fuel the body, at the same time burning fat.

In a paper published in the journal Cell Metabolism, Chung and colleagues described the role of DNA-PK in weight gain among aging adults.  They reported testing a compound that inhibited the enzyme in mice.

After discovering the biological pathway in middle-aged monkeys, investigators fed older mice high fat diets.  Half of the mice were given the DNA-PK inhibitor while the others were not.  

Chung said the treated animals didn’t gain as much weight as the untreated rodents, “about 40 percent less weight and they were protected against type 2 diabetes.  They also ran on a treadmill significantly longer than control mice.”

In addition to reducing the risk of diabetes, Chung said the DNA-PK inhibitor could potentially bring down rates of heart disease and other illnesses that tend to occur in older adults.

The finding could address what Chung called the middle-age paradox.  As people grow older, they usually gain a significant amount of weight even though they tend to eat less, and they are blamed for their condition.

“Our society attributes middle age weight gain, lack of exercise, to lifestyle choices, and lack of willpower and discipline.  But what our study shows is that there’s actually a genetic program that makes us the way we are in middle age,” Chung said.

Chung said the DNA-PK inhibitor is unlikely to work in younger people who are obese because they eat a poor diet, rather than experience a reduction in mitochondria.

More animal studies are needed before the DNA-PK could be tested in humans, according to Chung, who said drug approval could take many years after that. 


Kylie Jenner’s Star-studded Met Gala Selfie Rivals Ellen’s Oscar Pic

Kylie Jenner’s star-studded Instagram picture is coming close to Ellen DeGeneres’ all A-list Twitter selfie in social media popularity.


Jenner’s bathroom mirror shot posted Monday night from the Met Gala in New York included Jenner’s sisters Kendall Jenner and Kim Kardashian, as well as Sean “Diddy” Combs, Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky and Oscar winner Brie Larson.


As of early Wednesday, the picture had more than 3.3 million likes. That compares to the more than 3.4 million retweets DeGeneres got for her selfie featuring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep taken at the 2014 Oscars.


Jenner’s photo was taken in spite of a rumored ban on selfies at the Gala.


Facebook to Hire 3,000 to Stop Violent Videos

In the wake of several Facebook videos depicting murder, suicide, rape and other violent acts, the social media giant says it is hiring 3,000 more people to review videos and remove those that violate its terms of service.

The company has been facing increased pressure to stop people from posting and sharing violent videos.

According to Facebook’s terms of service, violent videos are not allowed, but as recent events have shown, it can take the company some time to review and remove them.

The announcement to add staff to the already 4,500 who review videos was made Wednesday on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page.

Facebook’s founder and CEO wrote, “Over the last few weeks, we have seen people hurting themselves and others on Facebook – either live or in video posted later. It is heartbreaking, and I have been reflecting on how we can do better for our community.”

“These reviewers will also help us get better at removing things we don’t allow on Facebook like hate speech and child exploitation, “ Zuckerberg wrote. “And we’ll keep working with local community groups and law enforcement who are in the best position to help someone if they need it – either because they’re about to harm themselves, or because they’re in danger from someone else.”

In addition to more staff, Zuckerberg said the company was going to enhance its software to keep violent videos off the site.

“We’re going to make it simpler to report problems to us, faster for our reviewers to determine which posts violate our standards and easier for them to contact law enforcement if someone needs help,” he wrote, adding the company had recently acted on a report of someone considering suicide on Facebook, preventing them from going through with it.


Royal Caribbean Cruises Are Returning to New Orleans

Royal Caribbean International has announced it will resume weeklong cruises from New Orleans to the Bahamas and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

News outlets report Royal Caribbean said in a news release Monday that their 2,435-passenger Vision of the Seas cruise ship will relocate in December 2018 to the Port of New Orleans after a three-year hiatus. The company announced the move as part of an overview of its 2018-2019 fleet plans.

After a two-year agreement with the Port of New Orleans ended in 2014, the Miami-based company chose to end sailings from the city. The departure came despite several years of growth for the city as a cruise hub.

The 915-foot ship will sail from Miami to Los Angeles before setting sail for New Orleans.


New Observation of Nearby Star System Confirms Similarity to Ours

A relatively nearby planetary system is structured remarkably like what ours probably looked like when it was young, the U.S. space agency NASA confirms.

The system around the star Epsilon Eridani, or eps Eri, is just 10.5 light-years away and astronomers say it provides an excellent example of how planets form around stars in systems like ours.

Previous studies of the system using the Spitzer Space Telescope led to two theories about how the system formed. One suggested a wide debris disk made up of gas, dust and small rocky and icy bodies. Another suggested several thin debris disks similar to our system, which has an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the Kuiper Belt of mostly icy objects beyond the dwarf planet Pluto.

Using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, astronomers found eps Eri has two narrow bands like our system. Furthermore, they detected a Jupiter-sized planet roughly the same distance from its star as Jupiter is from the sun.

“It really is impressive how eps Eri, a much younger version of our solar system, is put together like ours,” said Kate Su of the University of Arizona who led the study.

SOFIA, which is a larger telescope than Spitzer, is mounted on a Boeing 747. It previously found oxygen in Mars’ atmosphere, offered close-up looks at Jupiter and has documented the formation of new stars.

If the name eps Eri sounds familiar, you may have already heard of it as the setting for the science fiction television series Babylon 5.

The description of eps Eri was published in the Astronomical Journal on April 25, 2017.


Apple Posts Surprise Dip in iPhone sales, Shares Fall

Apple Inc. reported a surprise fall in iPhone sales for its second quarter on Tuesday, indicating that customers may have held back purchases in anticipation of the 10th-anniversary edition of the company’s most important product later this year.

Under pressure from shareholders to hand over more of its $250 billion-plus hoard of cash and investments, Apple boosted its capital return program by $50 billion, increased its share repurchase authorization by $35 billion and raised its quarterly dividend by 10.5 percent.

Investors were unmoved, sending shares of the world’s most valuable listed company down 1.9 percent at $144.65 in after-hours trading.

Apple sold 50.76 million iPhones in its fiscal second quarter ended April 1, down from 51.19 million a year earlier.

Analysts on average had estimated iPhone sales of 52.27 million, according to financial data and analytics firm FactSet.

Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri argued the decline was not as bad as it looked, given the peculiarities of how phone sales are calculated.

The company reports what are called “sell-in” figures for the iPhone, a measure of how many units it sells to retailers, rather than “sell-through” figures, which measure how many phones are actually sold to consumers.

Maestri said the company reduced the volume of inventory going through its retail channel by about 1.2 million units in the quarter, meaning the company sold about 52 million phones to customers on a sell-through basis.

Despite the dip in unit sales, iPhone revenues rose 1.2 percent in the quarter, helped by a higher average selling price.

10th anniversary

Expectations are building ahead of Apple’s 10th-anniversary iPhone range this fall, with investors hoping that the launch would help bolster sales.

Apple typically launches its new iPhones in September.

A big jump in sales usually follows in the holiday quarter, before demand tapers over the next few quarters as customers hold back ahead of the next launch.

Apple’s 10th-anniversary iPhone range might sport features such as wireless charging, 3-D facial recognition and a curved display.

“There is a general softening in phone demand to contend with as well as expectations of a big upgrade, all of which softens the blow of this quarter’s miss,” said James McQuivey, a Forrester Research analyst. “If we see Apple downplaying expectations before the next upgrade cycle, it might mean that the company isn’t confident it will beat those expectations.”

The company forecast total revenue of between $43.5 billion and $45.5 billion for the current quarter, while analysts on average were expecting $45.60 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Analysts on average expect the company to sell 42.31 million iPhones in the current quarter, according to FactSet.

For the second quarter, the company’s net income rose to $11.03 billion, or $2.10 per share, compared with $10.52 billion, or $1.90 per share, a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected $2.02 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose 4.6 percent to $52.90 billion in the quarter, compared with analysts’ average estimate of $53.02 billion.

A 17.5 percent jump in the company’s services business – which includes the App Store, Apple Music, Apple Pay and iCloud — to $7.04 billion, boosted revenue.

“We are particularly encouraged by the fact that service revenue is nowhere near as cyclical as product revenue,” Neil Saunders, Managing Director of GlobalData Retail, wrote in a note to clients.

Apple’s revenue from the Greater China region fell 14.1 percent to $10.73 billion in the quarter, as cheaper rivals in the region chipped away at sales.

Maestri said that sales of Macs and the company’s services were strong in China during the March quarter. “The performance we’re seeing in China should get better going forward this year,” he said.

Apple’s gross margin hit 38.9 percent, slightly ahead of analysts’ average expectation of 38.7 percent, despite higher prices for memory chips. The company said it expects gross margins next quarter between 37.5 percent and 38.5 percent, versus analysts’ expectation of 38.3 percent, according to FactSet.

“NAND and DRAM [memory chips] are under pressure right now in terms of some price pressure. We saw that in the March quarter and expect that to continue into the June quarter, but for all the other commodities, we see prices declining,” Maestri said.







97-Year-Old Credits Harmonica as Key to Long Life

Stacey Blank remembers the day she first read about an innovative tool for her chronic lung patients. The Coordinator of the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Department at the Western Maryland Health System describes it as “something outside the box.”

Blank’s career objective was to help her patients breathe better. “You don’t realize how tough it is to live everyday and be short of breath,” she says.

She became instrumental in the nationwide Harmonicas for Health Program

through the COPD Foundation (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) in conjunction with the Academy of Country Music and its Lifting Lives charitable division.

Blank met country music sensation Chris Janson, who explained how playing the harmonica calmed his asthma. Since then, medical groups have formed across country and the COPD foundation sells Harmonica for Health leader and players’ kits on their website.

Better breathers, now vacuuming with oxygen

“One, two, three….” Stacey Blank counts the beats as her 25 pulmonary patients, appropriately named, “Better Breathers” alternately “blow” and “draw” on their harmonicas. The song, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” emerges as a fun cacophony of pitches. The harmonica strengthens lungs as the player exhales and inhales to create notes.

Jodie Steward has been battling COPD since 2008. She joined Better Breathers two years ago and is amazed at what she’s accomplished. “I can even run my sweeper with my oxygen attached,” she says. “I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do that.”

91 years of playing

Jack Hopkins doesn’t have a pulmonary condition, but he played his harmonica in the hospital last year while recovering from a heart attack. Hopkins — who is quick to laugh or to run up a flight of steps — turned 97 at the Virginia Harmonicafest in late April.

The group saluted him with a “Happy Birthday” song on their harmonicas and a cake shaped like a silver harmonica. Hopkins responded by playing “This Old Man” on his instrument. “Got to watch out for us old guys on the harmonica!” he chuckles.

He says his harmonica kept him breathing all those years. He doesn’t smoke. “I do a lot of drinking.” He pauses for effect. “… water,” he adds with another of his signature chuckles.

Santa brought Hopkins his first harmonica in his Christmas stocking when he was six years old. Within two weeks he was playing complete songs and convinced his dad to buy him a chromatic harmonica – one with sharps and flats.

Hopkins didn’t take formal lessons until he was 49. “Sometimes I’m playing it before I get out of bed. Usually I’m singing before I get out of bed. I love singing too!”

Physical, social, emotional benefits

Medical professionals say the instrument small enough to fit in a shirt pocket benefits the player physically and mentally. It’s been known to bring COPD patients out of depression, since the disease isolates people from normal activities.

A group like “Better Breathers” is a social venture too. “I think we laugh the whole time,” says Blank. “The whole hour and a half that we are here, we’re just having a great time.”


British Hopes to Build Post-Brexit ‘Empire 2.0’ Hit 21st Century Reality

Britain wants to boost trade ties with Africa after it leaves the European Union — a project some have called “Empire 2.0.”  British plans to build on historical links with its former empire could face resistance in many African countries, as exporters face years of uncertainty over future trading relations with the UK.

Britain says leaving the EU will allow it to “go global” and throw off the shackles it claims the EU has imposed on its trading ambitions. On a recent visit to Uganda, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the first stop would be Britain’s former colonies.

“We are re-entering the Commonwealth, re-entering the global economy,” he said.


That re-entry has been dubbed “Empire 2.0” in Britain. But in many former colonies, memories of British rule are at best mixed, said British Conservative party lawmaker Kwasi Kwarteng, an author on the legacy of the British Empire, and a key figure in the campaign to leave the EU.

“My own family is from West Africa, Ghana, which is a Commonwealth country and was a former colony. And people have very mixed memories of the Empire. So to try and relive that past, I think, is a completely ridiculous and forlorn exercise. But what we can do is to try and use those relationships that were forged, some of them through the Empire, and then latterly through the Commonwealth,” said Kwarteng.

The legacy of the British Empire is still debated decades after its collapse. In South Africa, statues of the colonialist Cecil Rhodes were torn down in 2015.


Despite a long list of atrocities — such as the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s — Kwarteng believes the old links forged in Empire days will aid new trade deals.

“There’s a vast world out there, nearly 80 percent of global GDP, which is outside the EU. And a lot of GDP is taken up by Commonwealth countries,” he said.

Critics highlight that almost half of British exports go to the European Union — $288 billion worth every year. In comparison, exports to Africa total just $21.3 billion.

To boost that trade, Britain wants quick trade deals with emerging economies. But African nations should be cautious, according to Matt Grady of the charity Traidcraft, which advocates fair trade and global justice.

“African countries have indicated that their priorities are regional integration and cooperation. So now is not really the time for the UK to be trying to negotiate deals with African countries that will undermine those priorities. It will undermine their ability to develop their manufacturing and processing sectors,” he said.

Brexit poses other risks. Britain imports $9.7-billion worth of goods from Africa — including produce like coffee from Kenya or wine from South Africa.

“Producers in developing countries, they don’t know what tariffs they’re going to face to sell into Britain. Decisions are being made now for two years down the line on uncertain conditions,” said Grady.

Citing that uncertainty, the head of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of nations said this week that a free trade deal with Britain should be delayed until at least six years after Britain’s EU exit.


Bison Reclaim, Restore their Natural Range

Bison once thundered across the North American plains by the millions.  But they were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century for their hides.  Today, their numbers are growing again, thanks in part to the important role they can play in land restoration.

The 429-hectare Kankakee Sands Nature Reserve is a sea of tall dried grass, with bits of spring green filling in here and there, but it once was Beaver Lake, the largest body of water in Indiana.  Pioneers drained it for farmland in the 19th century.  While the Indiana chapter of the Nature Conservancy can’t bring back the lake, it can restore the prairie.

And that’s where the bison come in.

Doing what bison do

This spring, a dozen or more fuzzy bison calves, notable for their orange hue and tiny stature, will gambol across the landscape.  

That’s good news, says Ted Anchor, the program manager for this Nature Conservancy project, because although they are very young, they and their herd are responsible for fixing a very old problem: more than 100 years of environmental damage.  “By creating this large-scale restoration project, we’ve been able to harbor all those species that were just barely hanging on.”

The Indiana Chapter of the Nature Conservancy has been working for 20 years to restore the prairie at Kankakee Sands.  Late last year, they took the final step, bringing in 23 bison, including 16 pregnant cows. The Conservancy now owns 13 herds, in preserves from Mexico to North Dakota.

“Bison are a really easy way to get short grass prairie,” Anchor explains.  “Just by living and doing what bison do which is eat grasses and make little bison, they create the short grass prairie for us.”

Environmental managers

Unlike domestic animals, the wild herd basically takes care of itself.  The only thing Conservancy members do is make sure there’s enough water on the land and provide salt licks.

While farmed bison are raised for meat, these animals exist solely for environmental management.  In addition to grazing on prairie grasses, which allows wildflowers to grow and provides habitat for rare birds, the bison wallow.  The depressions they create fill with rainwater, which attracts amphibians and other small animals.  

The animals are also a tourist attraction, bringing new sources of revenue to the community. Some visitors return again and again.

It’s expected that the Kankakee Sands herd will eventually grow to between 55 and 75 animals, and return the landscape to resemble what it was when herds numbering in the thousands roamed here.


A New Occupation: Urban Farmer

Living in large cities has its downsides, and one of them is a lack of fresh organic locally grown produce. But growing vegetables is something everyone can do and it can be done in literally a handful of soil. Two amateur gardeners in the Swedish city of Gothenburg started small, but now see gardening as a way to profitability. VOA’s George Putic reports.


Jimmy Kimmel Tearfully Recounts Newborn Son’s Heart Surgery

A tearful Jimmy Kimmel turned his show’s monologue into an emotional recounting of his newborn son’s open-heart surgery — and a plea that all American families get the life-saving medical care they need.

“It was a scary story and before I go into it, I want you to know it has a happy ending,” Kimmel assured ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” studio audience Monday as he detailed how his son’s routine birth April 21 suddenly turned frightening.

Several hours after his wife, Molly, gave birth to William John, a “very attentive” nurse at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center alerted the couple and doctors to the baby’s purple-ish color and an apparent heart murmur, the host said.

The baby’s lack of oxygen was either due to a lung problem or heart disease, Kimmel said, and it was found to be his heart.

“It’s a very terrifying thing,” he said. He was surrounded at the hospital by very worried-looking people, “kind of like right now,” he told the audience, one of the jokes he managed despite choking up and having to pause at times.

A test showed his son had a birth defect called tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia — a hole in the wall separating the right and left sides of the heart and a blocked pulmonary valve, Kimmel said. The baby, nicknamed Billy, was taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles to undergo surgery to open the valve.

“The longest three hours of my life,” Kimmel said.

Billy will have another open-heart surgery within six months to repair the hole and then a third procedure when he’s a young teen, but he came home six days after the surgery and is “doing great,” Kimmel said. He shared photos of him with his wife, their 2-year-old daughter Jane and a smiling Billy.

After thanking by name the nurses, doctors and staff at the two hospitals, along with his colleagues and friends — “Even that (expletive) Matt Damon sent flowers,” Kimmel said of his faux rival — the comedian then gave an impassioned speech on health care.

He criticized President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health and praised Congress for instead calling for increased funding.

“If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. … Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?” he said.

Washington politicians meeting on health care need to “understand that very clearly,” he said. Partisan squabbles shouldn’t divide American on something “every decent person wants. We need to take care of each other.”

Former President Barack Obama took to social media, retweeting Kimmel and touting the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.

“Well said, Jimmy. That’s exactly why we fought so hard for the ACA, and why we need to protect it for kids like Billy. And congratulations,” he tweeted.

Kimmel said he would skip the rest of this week’s shows to be with his family while guest hosts take his place.

He was joined Monday by Dr. Mehmet Oz, who was a previously scheduled guest but jumped in to offer an illustrated description of Billy Kimmel’s heart problem. Also on the show at Kimmel’s request was Shaun White, the Olympic gold medal snowboarder who discussed overcoming the same heart defect as Kimmel’s son.


Mystery Illness Kills 12 in Liberia

Global health experts are striving to identify a mysterious illness in Liberia that has already killed 12 people.

Officials with the World Health Organization in Monrovia have already ruled out Ebola, yellow fever and a regional virus called Lassa.

They have sent samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for further tests.

The illness causes fever, vomiting, diarrhea and headaches.

At least 21 cases have been confirmed so far and nearly all of the victims had attended the funeral of a religious leader last month in Sinoe County.

The health experts are looking for a link between the victims and food and drinks they may have consumed at the funeral.


Congress Warns US Airlines to Improve Customer Service

U.S. lawmakers have put the nation’s airlines on notice: Improve customer service or we will make you.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing for top airline executives to testify, and to determine how Congress might respond after a passenger was violently dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight.

“Seize this opportunity,” committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, told United CEO Oscar Munoz and other airline executives at a hearing. Otherwise, “we’re going to act and you’re not going to like it,” he said, predicting a “one-size-fits-all” solution that may serve some airlines but not all.

Munoz apologized repeatedly for the removal of David Dao, 69, who last month refused to give up his seat to make room for airline employees. The video of airport police dragging Dao from his seat went viral.

“In that moment for our customers and our company we failed, and so as CEO, at the end of the day, that is on me,” Munoz said. “This has to be a turning point.”

Munoz was joined at the hearing by United President Scott Kirby and executives from American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

American Airlines experienced its own public relations fiasco last month when a passenger video went viral, showing a woman on a plane in tears holding a child in her arms and another at her side after an encounter with a flight attendant over a baby stroller.

United and other airlines have announced policy changes regarding overbooked flights. Airlines have said they routinely overbook flights because a small percentage of passengers do not show up.