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Thursday
Mar242011

Yale Law Students to Start Using Therapy Dog to Reduce Stress

Apple Tree House/Thinkstock (file photo)(NEW HAVEN, Conn.) -- At the Yale Law Library circulation desk, students have been signing up this week to check out Monty, a "certified library therapy dog," for 30-minute sessions of unconditional, stress-busting puppy love.

"The interest in available slots has been high," said Jan Conroy, a spokeswoman for Yale Law School, on Wednesday, the third day of sign-ups.

Beginning Monday, students at the nation's top-ranked law school, a Gothic complex that takes up one city block within Yale University's New Haven, Connecticut campus, will be able to spend time -- and maybe lower their blood pressure -- with the 21-pound brown border terrier mix.  In a March 10 memo, law librarian Blair Kauffman expressed hope that the free, three-day pilot pet therapy program would be "a positive addition to current services offered by the library."

"It is well-documented that visits from therapy dogs have resulted in increased happiness, calmness and overall emotional well-being," Kauffman wrote in the memo, which directed students to the website of Therapy Dogs International, a non-profit organization offering pet therapy in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and disaster recovery sites.

Kauffman told students he welcomed their feedback "to help us decide if this will be a permanent on-going program available during stressful periods of the semester, for example during examinations."

Therapy dogs have been introduced to help students at Tufts University in Massachusetts, Oberlin College in Ohio and UC San Diego in California survive the pressures of midterms and finals.

The idea of offering sessions with a professionally trained therapy dog came up last September in internal law school discussions with Monty's owner, librarian Julian Aiken.  Somehow, word of those discussions got out and landed in the legal blog, Above the Law, which posted a humorous law library catalog listing for Monty, whose full name is General Montgomery.  It said Monty circulates for 30-minute periods.

Despite the gag listing, administrative interest in the program was real.

For now, everyone is waiting to see how next week's experiment with Monty works out.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar242011

Transgender Woman Sues New York over Genital Surgery Law

BananaStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Joann Prinzivalli's New York City birth certificate still reads: Paul Joseph Prinzivalli Jr., male, even though she transitioned to a woman more than a decade ago.

She attempted a transition from man to woman in the 1970s, fully prepared to have genital surgery, but her psychiatrist rejected her request.

Prinzivalli, now 57, eventually changed her name and has legal documents -- a driver's license and a Social Security card -- but her birth certificate doesn't match.

She wants to take the final step to secure her identity, but the New York City Health Department has demanded she have sex reassignment surgery -- on her genitals.  Thirty years ago, she was healthy enough, but today Prinzivalli is morbidly obese and has type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and a blood disorder that would make surgery dangerous.

She is now one of three transgender New Yorkers who are challenging the city in a lawsuit, saying that requiring surgery amounts to discrimination.

The lawsuit was filed by the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) in the state Supreme Court, arguing that many transgender people cannot afford the surgical procedures.  They say a doctor's verification that they have fully transitioned is enough.

The federal government allows transgender Americans to change their gender marker on their passports and Social Security accounts with a doctor's certification that the person has had appropriate clinical treatment.

"When transgender people are forced to present an ID that does not match, they are laughed at and turned away at the DMV or applying for a job," said Noah Lewis, the TLDEF lawyer who is defending the New Yorkers.  "The cost is prohibitive for some people and insurance often denies those claims.  Some people feel that surgery is not necessary or appropriate for them."

The New York City Health Department requires written proof, "satisfactory to the department that the applicant has undergone convertive surgery," which it defines as genital surgery.

"We are very sympathetic to the petitioners' concerns and recognize that this is a complex issue," wrote Gabriel Taussig, chief of the New York City Health Department's administrative law division, in a statement.  "The health department must be satisfied that an applicant has completely and permanently transitioned to the acquired gender prior to the issuance of a new birth certificate."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar232011

Memory Champion Joshua Foer Reveals Secrets of the Brain

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Six years ago, science writer Joshua Foer was just like the rest of us, forgetting where he left his car keys, what he needed to buy at the grocery store and even his girlfriend's phone number.

Twelve months later, he became the U.S. memory champion.

"Not only did I win, I actually set a new U.S. record by memorizing a deck of playing cards in a minute and 40 seconds," said Foer, who recently wrote a book on his experiences titled Moonwalking With Einstein.

Foer trained himself to become a memory athlete, someone who regularly tries to memorize lists of hundreds of numbers and words.

It might sound like an incredible feat, but such people's brains aren't any different than a normal person's. They just tap into different parts of the mind to turn mundane lists into vivid, lasting memories.

Employing techniques that date back to the Greeks, memory champions like Foer create "memory palaces" that rely on the human brain's natural advantage with spatial and visual memory. They think up images to represent everything they want to remember -- the more outlandish or shocking the better.

"We're visual creatures," Foer added. "Probably, when we were hunter gatherers...that was the kind of thing that mattered. And remembering, say, phone numbers was, like, not that important when you're hunting down a mastodon or whatever."

Foer found cutting-edge neuroscience proving the notion that the people who are best at memorizing really do use their brains differently.

One study scanned memory champions with MRIs and discovered that the spatial part of their brain lights up when they try to remember things. Another study of London cab drivers found that memorizing the complex street grid made parts of their brains larger than average.

"There is nothing special, nothing biologically special about anyone who's a memory champion. They're simply using a different strategy," said Narender Ramnani, a professor with Royal Holloway, University of London, who has researched memory and the brain.

Memorizing a deck of cards might seem like a quirky parlor trick, but experts say that techniques like the "memory palace" can make a difference in everyday life. If you're trying to remember things you need to buy at the store on the way home, envision your house with the butter in the living room and the soap on the stairs. And what about where you left your keys? Some experts recommended that when you set them down, take a mental snap shot of the exact spot to help you when you're looking for them later.

Foer took such memory tricks to an extreme, training daily with special goggles and ear muffs to block out distractions in his quest to be a memory champion. But for the rest of us who just want to make life a little easier, no special equipment is required -- just our imagination.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Wednesday
Mar232011

Transgenders Sue over Surgery Requirement to Alter Gender on Birth Certificate

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock (NEW YORK) -- Joann Prinzivalli's New York City birth certificate still reads: Paul Joseph Prinzivalli Jr., male, even though she transitioned to a woman more than a decade ago.

She attempted a transition from man to woman in the 1970s, fully prepared to have genital surgery, but her psychiatrist rejected her request.

Prinzivalli, now 57, eventually changed her name and has legal documents -- a driver's license and a Social Security card -- but her birth certificate doesn't match. She wants to take the final step to secure her identity, but the New York City Health Department has demanded she have sex reassignment surgery -- on her genitals. Thirty years ago, she was healthy enough, but Wednesday Prinzivalli is morbidly obese and has type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and a blood disorder that would make surgery dangerous.

She is one of three transgender New Yorkers who are challenging the city in a lawsuit, saying that requiring surgery amounts to discrimination.

The lawsuit was filed by the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) in the state Supreme Court, arguing that many transgender people cannot afford the surgical procedures. They say a doctor's verification that they have fully transitioned is enough.

The federal government allows transgender Americans to change their gender marker on their passports and Social Security accounts with a doctor's certification that the person has had appropriate clinical treatment.

The New York City Health Department requires written proof, "satisfactory to the department that the applicant has undergone convertive surgery," which it defines as genital surgery.

A recent study by National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) shows 80 percent of women and 95 percent of men do not undergo sex reassignment surgery because of the cost, which can be tens of thousands of dollars.

The report, released in February, paints a bleak picture of life as a transgender person in the United States. The survey, "Injustice at Every Turn," says discrimination is pervasive.

The 50 states have a collection of different laws on how transgender Americans can change their birth certificates. Three states -- Idaho, Ohio and Tennessee -- ban any change to the birth certificate at all. Some require a court order, some, like New York, require proof of a surgical procedure.

In Washington state, which advocates say is a model, birth certificate changes require a doctor, under penalty of perjury, to validate the gender transition.

"Why would anyone who has not transitioned even think of doing this?" asked NCTE's Mara Keisling. "You have a right to do this. It doesn't make sense. What possible fraud is there?"

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Wednesday
Mar232011

Mercury from Fish Doesn't Increase Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- According to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, eating omega-3 fatty acids is good for the heart and can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. But fish also contain methylmercury, which has been linked in the past to an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

To determine if methylmercury levels were associated with cardiovascular disease, the authors measured levels of it in the toe clippings of almost 7,000 people.  The levels of mercury did correlate with reported fish consumption, but the authors found that there were no differences in the rates of heart disease, stroke, or cardiovascular disease in general between people with low or those with high levels of methylmercury. 

Therefore, there are no clinically relevant negative effects of mercury exposure on cardiovascular disease in adults, at least at the levels seen in this study.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar232011

Actos May Prevent Type II Diabetes

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Much attention has come to the use of glitazones, a class of drugs for the treatment of diabetes, especially in light of the Avandia (rosiglitazone) black box warnings.  Avandia is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and has been taken off the market in Europe. However, Actos (piolitazone), has fewer side effects and is still used as a therapy for type 2 diabetes. 

In this study, conducted by University of Texas Health Science Center and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, over 600 participants who have elevated blood sugar, a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, were given either Actos or a placebo and then followed for 2.4 years.  Results of the study show participants in the Actos group were 72 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those taking placebo. 

This is a modest improvement over lifestyle change alone, which can lead to a 58-percent decrease in progression to diabetes.  Patients in the Actos group also had slightly lower blood pressure, less plaque buildup in arteries, and an improvement in cholesterol.  However, patients taking Actos had more weight gain and leg swelling than those on placebo. 

It is not clear weather this medication will benefit patients in the long term or actually decrease complications from diabetes down the line. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar232011

Study Finds Mentholated Cigarettes No More Harmful than Regular Cigarettes

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock (NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- The FDA banned all fruit-flavored cigarettes in September of 2009 and is now considering a ban on menthol-flavored ones, which were not included in the 2009 ban.  The impetus for the ban was the idea that flavored cigarettes are more enticing to children. 

But are they more dangerous? A new study suggests that smokers of mentholated cigarettes are no more likely to develop lung cancer than other smokers.

Over 85,000 adults were categorized according to their preference for menthol versus non-menthol cigarettes. They were then followed for up to four years, during which time their rates of quitting and lung cancer were assessed. 

Researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that menthol smokers claimed to have fewer cigarettes per day compared to regular smokers. While smoking any kind of cigarette is unhealthy, the lung cancer risk for menthol smokers was 12 times greater than that for non-smokers.  However, non-menthol smokers had a lung cancer risk 21 times that of non-smokers. 

The authors concluded that smoking menthol cigarettes is no more likely, and perhaps even less likely, to cause lung cancer than smoking regular cigarettes.
 
Critics of the study say that the fact remains that the bigger issue is whether flavoring cigarettes increases the appeal to children.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar232011

Survey: Are Americans Feeling Healthy?

Jim Arbogast/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Too many of us are overweight or obese, we’re not exercising enough, we’re still smoking and Alzheimer’s disease is rising. So how are we feeling about our health as a nation? Pretty good, actually. 

A survey by the National Center for Health Statistics on Americans’ general health assesses 15 health measures, such as health insurance coverage, rates of flu and pneumococcal vaccinations, obesity, smoking, diabetes, asthma and others.  Americans are also asked to rate their own general health as excellent, very good, good, fair and poor. 

Although the percentage of people who rated their health as excellent or very good decreased slightly from 69 percent to 66 percent from 1997 to 2010, some 90 percent of Americans still rate their health as good or better.  This positive self-assessment is particularly interesting if one considers that some measures of health have been decreasing.

For example, the percentage of people who failed to obtain medical coverage due to cost in the past 12 months increased from 4.5 percent in 1997 to seven percent in 2010.  Cases of obesity and diabetes increased from 19.5 percent to 28.2 percent and 5.3 percent to 8.4 percent, respectively.
 
Other changes are more positive.  Rates of flu and pneumococcal vaccinations also increased significantly, along with HIV testing.

The report also showed that smoking has decreased.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar232011

Scientists Capture Evolution in the Lab

Comstock/Thinkstock(GAINESVILLE, Fla.) -- Scientists say they have caught "evolution in the act" in a series of experiments that open a new window into understanding how new species gradually morph into plants and animals that are distinctly different from their parents.

The experiments, conducted at the University of Florida in Gainesville, surprised the scientists by demonstrating that the development of a new species doesn't occur instantly, but instead is the product of succeeding generations that are able to alter their genetic blueprint as they gradually mature into a stable plant or animal.

The star of the show is a humble member of the daisy family, Tragopogon miscellus, better known as "goatsbeard," which began its long journey toward stability about 80 years -- and 40 generations -- ago.

"We can see for the first time what happens when a new species is formed," biologist Doug Soltis of the University of Florida said in a telephone interview. "We can see the process unfold, and it's still ongoing even as we speak. They (the plants) haven't figured all this out yet."

The research, published in the journal Current Biology, offers some startling insights. The new species first appeared in the Pacific Northwest sometime after 1920 when its parents produced a hybridized offspring with double the number of chromosomes. But unlike its parents, the genes were not rigidly programmed to perform certain functions. Instead, for many generations the genes acted sort of like free agents.

"Different genes are expressed at different times and in different places," Soltis said. So the new species had much greater diversity than would have been expected, creating a genetic blueprint as it went along, from one generation to the next, turning some genes on, and others off, and eliminating some entirely.

That, of course, gave goatsbeard an enormous advantage in adapting to new environmental challenges or opportunities.

"This is evolution at work," Soltis said. "You can see the fine tuning begin to take place."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar232011

Four Hundred-Pound Marathoner Finds Strength in Size

John Foxx/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Growing up in Idaho, Kelly Gneiting dreamed of running a marathon.  But his weight, which reached 245 pounds in college, pushed him towards football and wrestling, instead.

"I've always considered myself kind of an anomaly of an athlete as a big person," said Gneiting, who now weighs 400 pounds.

An athlete indeed, Gneiting is a three-time national champion sumo wrestler.

"Even though I'm big, I pride myself on being strong and tough," Gneiting said.

On Sunday, after only four months of training, Gneiting finished the Los Angeles marathon -- his second marathon in three years.

"When you do something once, people can think it's a fluke," Gneiting said.  "But when you do it twice, hopefully you convince people that you're just that person."

Gneiting set out to inspire heavy people to break down the barriers that stand between them and their dreams.  But in the process he appears to have also broken the Guinness World Record for heaviest marathoner, finishing the 26-mile course in nine hours, 48 minutes and 52 seconds.

"I told myself, 'Even if I have to crawl, I'll do whatever it takes,'" Gneiting said.  "I wanted to prove I was tougher than the road."

After his first marathon in 2008, Gneiting pledged never to do it again.  But on Sunday he shaved two hours off his time, despite heavy rain.

"The bottoms of my feet looked like white hamburger," he said.  "There was a few times when a blister would burst and I'd feel it, and it just about caused me to collapse.  And then I'd think, 'Oh my gosh, I still have six miles.'"

Gneiting, who works as a statistician at Fort Defiance Indian Hospital in Arizona, said he wishes he was smaller but refuses to let his weight hold him back.

"I certainly don't like being this big, but to me it's unacceptable to have low self-esteem," he told ABC News.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio