Category Archives: Science

Neural Memory traces are formed by listening and learning prior to birth

A cognitive neuroscientist from University of Helsinki, Dr. Eino Partanen led a team to show direct neural evidence that neural memory traces are formed by auditory learning prior to birth. Neural memory traces are formed by listening and learning.  Fetuses were exposed to various words inside the uterus and they showed recognition of these words on birth with enhanced brain activity measurements for the trained words.  Furthermore, greater brain activity was correlated with higher amount of prenatal speech exposure (Read original article here). Simply stated, it means that talking or singing to the baby inside the womb will help the baby develop it’s brain commited to speech features.

Implications in Autism?
These results have important implications for Autism prevention in susceptible communities. Perhaps, prevention education might need to begin during prenatal stage? Along with Vitamin D exposure from sunlight, supplements and nutrition of the parents. Recent studies report Vitamin D plays a role in compensating for stress induced deteriorating effects on the brain.

Neural commitment to speech begins before birth
Until this August 2013 publication by Dr. Partanen’s team, the neural basis of fetal learning had not thus far been investigated. This research will aid scientists learning to compensate for learning disabilities of a genetic nature such as dyslexia. It might also imply that it is important to compensate with early learning and listening protocols for genetically susceptible offsprings while still inside the uterus.

Learning begins while Baby is still inside the uterus and factors can stress them

This baby began to learn at 17 weeks of age inside the uterus and may have been exposed to mother's stress hormones

This baby began to learn at 17 weeks of age inside the uterus with prenatal speech exposure and may have been exposed to mother’s stress hormones

Dr. Gail Cross reviewed a few research studies on prenatal learning for Huffington Post here that inform us the developing brain is very sophisticated in utero. Christie Moon, Ph.D., a psychologist at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington and Dr. Hugo Lagercrantz, a professor at the Karalinska Institute in Sweden and a member of the Nobel Assembly co-authored the first study measurably showing the neurosensory mechanism for hearing is intact at 30 weeks of gestational age, while still in the mother’s womb. Dr. Vivette Glover of Imperial College of London was the first to note the early stage in which a mother’s stress and anxiety might affect an unborn baby. Stress hormones of the mother can cross the placenta, affect the dopamine production of the developing fetus brain around 17 weeks of age, and cause a baby to stress more easily with long term lasting effects.

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Induce new hair follicles for baldness – a future personalized hair regeneration method

Columbia University Medical Center and University of Durham scientists collaborated to bring us a step closer to cure baldness (2013, October 21). Bald guys be patient. This step closer to a  cure in mice may reach humans.  Hair regeneration method is first to induce new human hair growth.  Many laboratories are working on curing baldness.  Growing hair follicle cells further in the laboratory are proving frustrating.  This laboratory circumvented that hurdle by using specific cells called dermal papillae cells and figuring out how the cells “speak” to each other and other cells around them to create a hair follicle. For the first time, researchers have been able to take human dermal papilla cells (those inside the base of human hair follicles) and use them to create new hairs. Dermal papillae cells are embedded in a rich, matrix at the base of the hair follicle and are essential for induction and maintenance of hair growth.

How new hair grows from a hair follicle

How new hair grows from a hair follicle

The study was published today in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on October 21st, 2013, which you may click here to read. 
The significance of this study, briefly quoted below, is that it has the potential to grow new hair using a patient’s own cells – providing a personalized hair growth solution for baldness, says co-study leader Angela M. Christiano. Additionally, according to co-study leader Dr. Jahoda, this is an important step toward the goal of creating a replacement skin that contains hair follicles for use with, for example, burn patients


Growth of de novo hair follicles in adult skin occurs by a process known as hair neogenesis. One way of initiating neogenesis is to place dermal papillae isolated from the hair follicle in contact with an overlying epidermis where they reprogram the epidermis to adopt a follicular fate. This approach, however, has not been successful using cultured human dermal papilla cells in human skin because the cells lose their ability to induce hair growth after expansion in vitro. In this paper, we demonstrate that by manipulating cell culture conditions to establish three-dimensional papilla spheroids, we restore dermal papilla inductivity. We also use several systems biology approaches to gain a comprehensive understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underlie this regenerative process.

Similar baldness research in other laboratories
For years, scientists had thought that people suffering from hair loss had a depletion of hair follicles and follicle stem cells, which are necessary to grow hair. Dr. George Cotsarelis, a professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, published a study showing that bald people have the same number of follicle stem cells as those with hair. So if researchers could identify the signals that stimulate the stem cells into producing more hair follicle progenitor cells, then it would be possible to generate bigger hair follicles that could grow hair. Such studies have shown that men with male pattern baldness still have stem cells in follicle roots but these stem cells lose the ability to initiate hair regeneration.

University of Toronto scientists have discovered cells in hair follicles that seem to function like dermal stem cells and could have potential uses in many areas of medicine.

Whilst nobody currently offer stem cell therapy for hair loss, this research offers insight into how stem cell therapy can be used for a range of skin conditions, including scarring and skin cancer.

Freda Miller, Ph.D., professor of molecular and medical genetics at the University, reviewed her and her colleagues’ current and prior research at a recent International Society for Stem Cell Research meeting.

The research may someday offer stem cell therapy for hair loss.

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Vit D may prevent Multiple sclerosis and reverse the disease indefinitely in mice

Vitamin D based treatments to standard Multiple Sclerosis drugs were compared by a team led by biochemistry researcher Dr. Colleen Hayes, of the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

What did the team discover in mice?

Mice that exhibit MS, were given a single dose of Calcitrol, which is one type of Vit D supplement, followed by dietary Vit D supplements. All the mice got progressively better and regained more neurological function each day. To read the published original article click here.

This work was published in the Journal of Neuroimmunology, August issue of 2013, online.

Hayes believes that the calcitriol may cause the autoimmune cells attacking the nerve cells’ myelin coating to die, while the vitamin D prevents new autoimmune cells from taking their place

(Read more).

Dr Hayes has devoted her career to the study of multiple sclerosis and especially the role of Vitamin D. Current FDA approved MS treatments only work for some MS patients. Her team plans to continue questioning the relevance of Vitamin D in multiple sclerosis diagnosis and treatment.

Clearly, Calcitrol plus Vit D, was more effective than methylprednisonole, has potential for reversing inflammatory demyelinating disease safely and cost effective in mice.  If someone you know is suffering from MS, you might advise them to discuss Dr Hayes’ team’s recent publication with their Physician.  Should they wait until clinical trials are conducted in humans to get exposure to more sunlight and dietary sources of Vit D?

Prior Studies on correlation of Levels of Vit D and MS
Previously some studies have linked low levels of Vitamin D with higher risk of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Inheriting genetic risk factors for multiple sclerosis (MS) is not sufficient to cause this
demyelinating disease of the central nervous system (CNS); exposure to environmental risk factors is also required. MS may be preventable if these unidentified environmental factors can be avoided. MS prevalence increases with decreasing solar radiation, suggesting that sunlight may be protective in MS.

(Read more).

What should we do to prevent Multiple Sclerosis?
The research by Dr Hayes team clearly indicates that a person with multiple sclerosis currently should immediately discuss this published finding on the role of Calcitrol and Vit D in multiple sclerosis therapy.  What if you are related to someone with multiple sclerosis?

Eat more Vit D rich food and supplements
Expose to daily exposure of sunlight
If one day is cloudy, make up for it another sunny day
Winter months with less sunlight exposure must be supplemented with seasonal days with more sunlight exposure

Related Articles:
Worm Theory: to improve the immune system to fight asthma, multiple sclerosis and more

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The race to cure macular degeneration with stem cells

The major eye disease epidemic faced by an aging population is Macular Degeneration (AMD).  For the first time in history of civilization, the largest number of people will approach aging with the possible prospect of living indefinitely. They will also have to deal with losing their youthful energy, faculties and organs, before science and technology intervenes.  One such organ is the human eye with the function of sight.  The aged fear the loss of their independence and are looking to stem cell scientists for hope. For an overview read: “Stem cells in retinal regeneration: past, present and future“, June 2013 with lead author, Dr Peter Coffey, the pioneer in stem cell research. The journey to restoring eye health via stem cell therapy is discussed below. You may also enjoy reading the “Genes for AMD” below.

Stem Cell Retina Research
Here we will reveal to you the leaders in stem cell retina research in 2013, and the current status in academic – industry relationship to bring the laboratory discoveries to the clinic.  There is much cause for hope that soon this technology may be in your local clinic. We will also briefly discuss the genes that may predispose some of the people to age related macular degeneration (AMD).

The Eyes of the Young

The Eyes of the Young

A Hole in the Vision
AMD arises when damage occurs to the light-sensitive cells of the retina, at the back of the eye, leading to progressive loss of sight. All aging people do not lose vision to AMD. The University College of London (UCL) noted that about a quarter of the people above 60 in the United Kingdom were affected with either a wet form or a dry form of AMD. No cure for the dry AMD exists yet. UCL researchers today lead the way for cell replacement therapy research with a goal to replace the “sight” cells lost during aging. They are currently involved with using human embryonic cells.

UCL has entered a collaboration with biopharmaceutical company Pfizer, headquartered in New York city, USA. Pfizer will provide drug development and distribution experience. This UK_USA collaboration will enable stem cell based therapies for AMD and other retinal diseases. You may click here to read this announcement. They plan to be in clinics quickly.

The Eyes of those with years of Wisdom

The Eyes of those with years of Wisdom

The Countries at the Forefront of Pioneering Stem Cell Therapy
USA, Japan and Britain lead the race in stem cell therapy. Both the countries of Japan and Britain face a future of a large number of aging humans who may lose their eyesight from AMD and become dependent and their number of aged outnumber their new borns. In addition, in all three countries modern technology will keep the aging people alive until they are over 120 to 150 years old. Both countries have an incentive to use technology to keep their aging independent.

The Scientist Who Led the Retina Replacement with Stem Cell Effort
Dr. Pete Coffey, of the UCL School of Ophthalmology led the The London Project to Cure Blindness. He finds it great that Britain is at the forefront of this field of research. It has huge implications for the field of regenerative medicine as a whole.

Europe’s First Stem Cell Clinical Trial began with Retinal Cells
The first clinical trial in patients of a human embryonic stem cell therapy began in London’s Moor-fields Eye Hospital with 12 Stargardt disease patients (Click here to read article in Stem Cell Trans Med Jan 2012).  Stargardt is a type of macular degeneration currently untreatable.  It is an inherited disease causing progressive blindness with thinning of the cell on the retina called the epithelium.  The procedure, requiring the surgeon to inject several thousand cells behind the eye using a fine needle, takes up to an hour.  It is an out patient operation.  The cells will grow and replace the retina restoring sight which will require a follow up out patient check up to confirm. That’s all – two visits, both out patient and in about an hour the patient will have healthy eye sight.  Dr James Bainbridge will lead the clinical trial.  The retinal cells in the London trial were obtained from Advanced Cell Technology, that is developing similar trials in USA. Read about ground breaking transplantation of cells grown in a lab by clicking here.

Sights on a Cure for Age – Related Macular Degeneration?
Two clinical studies were started at University of California, USA to establish the safety and tolerability of human embryo derived stem cell transplantation in the retina. One patient had stargardt and the other had AMD. The cells grew and showed 99% normal retinal epithelial cell behavior. The eye is a great place to inject stem cells. It is contained in the eye cavity and there is no way for it to spread into the body. The only risk? Losing the blind eye. The future therapeutic goal is to treat patient in an earlier stage of retinal disease. Naturally, the first trial was with patients quite blind and their sight was restored favorably. Vision did improve although not perfected. You may click here to read the clinical trial report published on January 2012. Do be patient. It is a large 5.5MB file and takes time to load but is worth it for its clinical detail.

UCL School of Ophthalmology and Pfizer have requested permission for AMD treatment with stem cells. A patch of new retinal cells will be developed from human embryonic cells. The patch can be inserted into the eye through a slit in the retina where they will grow to cover the retina.

You may also enjoy reading “Stem cell scientists have macular degeneration on cross hairs“.
By the year 2020 there will be 450,000 Californians stuck with AMD unless modern technology intervenes. With negative population growth there may be fewer younger people to take care of the elderly so vision care becomes more practical an issue than simply a luxury point of care.

Stem Cells in Retinal Development: Past, Present and Future
Stem cell therapy trials are now actively recruiting for treating various visual disorders. Future directions and challenges for the field are also discussed. Do share your thoughts on this with all our readers by leaving a comment below. Would you be willing to participate in a clinical trial if you were almost blind? If yes, click here for details of such a trial in progress summarized June 2013

Take Hope from First Human Trials
Stem cells that do not originate from patients own body:
Human trials have been conducted in Britain. Very brave, very old and almost blind British volunteers asked to be guinea pigs for retina replacement stem cell research, for the sake of all aging people. The procedure took less than an hour and each of two visits. The transplanted stem cells settled into the back of the volunteers’ eyes. The retina stem cell transfer was generally successful and the aging volunteers reported eye sight better than that of an infant, which was probably an exaggeration since they were so greatful to be regain eyesight. One patient could even drive to the clinic independently for follow up studies. Prior to this procedure, he was dependent. The British are brimming with pride and joy: even their seniors know more about the advantages of stem cell biology than the average high school or college student in other countries. After all, the seniors learnt that donating their own cells to be coaxed to produce stem cells that could regenerate retina cells would benefit them while serving a scientific cause. Britain had led one of the earliest human trials in stem cell research for an important human organ.

The Eyes of a person who has lived several decades and has perfect eyesight

The Eyes of a person who has lived several decades and has perfect eyesight

Stem cells that originate from patients own body:
In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, Japan, winner of the Nobel Laureate in medicine in 2012, was the first to successfully harvest stem cells from adult tissue. He heralded the era of regenerative medicine in which iPS cells can grow into cells of any tissue. An ancient country ethically opposed to human embryo research, has embraced induced pluripotent stem cell(iPS) research or adult tissue stem cell generation.

In July 2013, the Japanese Health Minister gave permission to two Japanese research institutes to treat age-related Macular Degeneration using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). The Riken center for developmental biology will harvest the tissue stem cells while The Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation will transplant six Japanese patients with the retinal cells created by targeted regeneration of the harvested stem cells (click here to read).

Eye of a person who has seen one decade

Eye of a person who has seen one decade

Japan has a disprotionate number of more older people to younger people and faces the impending problem of elderly dependent care. AMD affects 700,000 adults in Japan alone and the numbers will rise as the elderly continue to live indefinitely. By giving the elderly the choice to regain their vision with the clarity of youth, the Japanese government reduces the number of elderly dependents. This condition is incurable with available chemical medicinal approaches.

Eye of person who has seen two decades

Eye of person who has seen two decades

The Genes for AMD
Researchers at Columbia University absolutely confirm the significant roles of two genes, and consequently, the central role of a specific immune response pathway, in the development of AMD. Their genetic discovery explains 75% of the cases of AMD. You may read the original article by clicking here.
It is estimated that more than 50 million people worldwide will suffer from irreversible blindness from AMD It is the most common cause of blindness for those over sixty, but occasionally it is diagnosed in younger people who possibly had a very stressful event.

Several variants of a factor H gene help shut down an immune response against common infections, once the infection is eliminated. People with these risk-increasing variations of factor H are less able to control inflammation caused by infection triggers, which may spark AMD later in life. However, one third of people with a factor H risk variant have not been diagnosed with AMD. Looking for additional culprits, the researchers discovered factor B as the major modifier of the disease. While factor H is the inhibitor of the immune response to infection, factor B is an activator. They complement each other. A protective factor B variation protects against AMD, and vice versa. What about those who have a protective factor B and a non-risk variation of factor H? They may never need to fear AMD.

The researchers predict:

It’s estimated that 30 percent of the population will have some form of AMD by the time they reach the age of seventy-five. The disease is marked by a progressive loss of central vision due to degeneration of the macula-a region of the retina and the area responsible for fine, central vision.

Long Road Ahead
Clearly, losing eyesight with aging is no longer an option scientists are willing to accept. Do encourage them if you believe that choosing to fight blindness with modern research tools is a goal you fully aim to support. If not, do suggest how a society should arrange for one in every four elderly persons going blind and living with blindness for several decades. Who will take care of them? The number of aging far out number children. The number of young are fewer than the number of aging for the first time in history of mankind. Giving eyesight to the almost blind will make them independent longer.

The following articles provide relevant information on iPS therapy for AMD

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What is the status of blood cancer or leukemia research and stem cell therapy today?

Most of us know someone or have heard of someone with blood cancer or Leukemia.  Some times, it is difficult to hear that a four year child died from blood cancer.  It is harder still to hear about the cancer clusters that develop in certain countries and in particular states.

In memory of all the children who lost their lives to childhood leukemia

In memory of all the children who lost their lives to childhood leukemia

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had begun to compile a list of cancer clusters in USA which you may read by clicking here. It lists three clusters of childhood blood cancers. In 1997 to 2001, Churchill County, Nevada, Siera Vista, Arizona and Toms River, New Jersey reported a significant increase in number of children diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia and acute mylocytic leukemia. The goal was to identify possible triggers associated with the rising rates of blood cancer in children. You may click here to read how the small community of Woburn, MA, with a childhood leukemia rate higher than the nation’s average collaborated to solve the silent health risks of environmental contamination. A blockbuster movie has highlighted such a cluster.  An energized scientific community is committed to the study of blood cell production and it has already resulted in one of last century’s scientific breakthroughs – Stem Cell Therapy.  The search for leukemia triggers continues, to prevent the unnecessary loss of innocent children.

Blood Cancer Therapy
Therapy choices for blood cancer vary ranging from limited success to promising. The National Cancer Institute discusses here the key options currently available: Bone Marrow Transplantation (dependent on a donor match program) and Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplantation.  Many dedicated scientists are working on saving the lives of these children suffering from blood cancer.

Leukemia is diagnosed often during a routine blood count check

Leukemia is diagnosed often during a routine blood count check

Their job becomes difficult when some pediatricians, especially when faced with a cluster of children with early stages of blood cancer, fail to recognize the symptoms until it is too late to save their lives. Toddlers have several ailments in their little lives and the doctor generally mistakes early symptoms of blood cancer for a far lesser evil like fatigue. How is a doctor to even suspect that he/she may be faced with a cluster of children with not fatigue but blood cancer? It is hard for a doctor to imagine that a number of children in his/her practise may have blood cancer.  Early leukemia detection is critical for favorable treatment outcome.  So, researchers are trying to develop early blood cancer detection tools and therapy compounds.

Blood Cancer Stem Cell Therapy Scientists
Hematopoiesis is the term applied to the myriad processes in blood cell production. A culmination of the blood cell research by several scientists over several years led to a profoundly beneficial medical therapy for leukemia or blood cancer, namely blood stem cell transplantation. This activity of forming blood cells using stem cells is a tremendous scientific milestone of the last century and will save the lives of many. Several limitations remain, which are discussed here, and future research is focussed on overcoming these. One of the primary limitations is in virus infection after stem-cell transplantation with virus-specific cell lines.

Stem Cell Research has led to a promising therapy. Unequivocal proof that stem cells exist in blood (hematopoietic system) has given rise to their isolation and their utility studies in regenerative medicine (Read 2001 review).  Stem cells can be grown from embryonic cells or from a patient’s own mature cells transformed into stem cells. The ultimate goal is to take a person’s own cells, and transform them into the spcific cell/s the patient needs most. Say, a blood cancer patient needs more blood. Instead of requesting blood donation, the patient’s own stem cells for blood can be developed and injected right back into the bone marrow to make more blood. Since, it originated from the patient itself, there is little immune rejection issues and the patient’s chances of survival are quite good.  Currently, some limitations remain so success is not 100%.

Dr Irving Weissman, MD, Stem Cell Therapy Pioneer 2002 California Scientist of the Year. Photo California Science Center

Dr Irving Weissman, MD, Stem Cell Therapy Pioneer 2002 California Scientist of the Year. Photo California Science Center

One of the leaders of blood cancer therapy with stem cells is Dr. Irving Weissman of Stanford University, who is among the pioneers in this field and is determined to save many lives by creating a standard for stem cell therapy. He is confident that personalized stem cell therapy for leukemia, using the patient’s own cells for a source of blood regenerating stem cells (to lower rejection rates) for complete remission, is an attainable goal. He isolated the human hematopoietic stem cell and his lab discovered a novel method to transplant blood-forming stem cells into the bone marrow. In a 2011 Nature article, which you may click here to read, Irv discusses the difficulties his team encounters fourteen years after the first patient got a stem cell transplant.  He is focussed on treating the AML patient.

Another, who may soon become a leader among stem cell biologists is George Daley, MD PhD of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital.

George Daley MD PhD, Boston Children's Hospital. His lab is focussed on chronic myeloid leukemia (AML) and direct diffentiation to cell of interest

George Daley MD PhD, Boston Children’s Hospital. His lab is focussed on chronic myeloid leukemia (AML) and direct diffentiation to cell of interest

He coauthored the latest 2013 review, “A blueprint for engineering cell fate: current technologies to reprogram cell identity“, which he claims is already outdated because the field of stem cell engineering is moving so quickly. George says in a NOVA interview that induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) have all the properties of embryonic stem cells and can be made quite readily from specific patients. But limitations of iPS cells include the fact that viruses are used to make them. He envisions scientists studying many kinds of stem cells including embryonic, iPS and direct conversion to cell of interest, with stem cells isolated from many sources, not just embryos. Scientists use various regulatory factors to coax stem cells to become specific cells and this field is growing.  The Daley lab focuses on blood/hematopoietic differentiation from human stem cell sources and the BCR-ABL oncoprotein of chronic myeloid leukemia.  Their primary research area is direct differentiation, where they attempt to bypass the route via pluripotent cells by coaxing a cell to directly become the cell of interest.  They continue to define the molecular genetic programming of cells.  The Daley lab was amongst the first to show that mature cells from a patient’s biopsy are capable of being reprogrammed to an embryonic – like state – a Scientific Breakthrough of the year 2008.   A key direction of future work is in beginning with the purest source of cells, because stem celsl retain the signature of the starting source cell.

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Bringing brain disorders back into balance with Brain’s thermostat?

Bringing a new path of hope to people with brain development disorders is Dr. Gina Turrigiano and her team at Brandeis University. They demonstrated for the first time in a live animal that the brain has a “thermostat” that maintains a balance of excitement. When it gets too excited a system exists to tone down the firing rate of the neurons or vice versa. This discovery has implications in brain disorder conditions in which the balance is lost in psychiatric conditions like autism where the brain does not get excited enough, or epilepsy in which the brain gets too excited. The brain’s “thermostat” keeps the neurons on an even keel even as they change in response to learning, development or environment factors. This thermostat worked even when the animal was awake or asleep. Read the original article published in the journal Neuron as the cover article on October 16, 2013 by clicking here.

Dr. Turrigiano says that if scientists can figure out how these set points are built, then researchers may be able to adjust them and bring the brains of people suffering from such disorders back into balance.

Dr. Gina Turrigiano, Brandeis University, pioneered "synaptic scaling" where neurons and neural circuits maintain both stability and flexibility

Dr. Gina Turrigiano, Brandeis University, pioneered “synaptic scaling” where neurons and neural circuits maintain both stability and flexibility

Dr. Gina Turrig1ano, was conferred the 2012 HFSP Nakasone award, McArthur Foundation award and the NIH Director’s Pioneering award for her pioneering work and introduction of the term “synaptic scaling”. The concept is that the developing and fully developed brain has inbuilt mechanisms that allow balancing the need for plasticity. It allows the brain to enable learning and development while maintaining the stability and integrity of the circuits that drive behavior.

Work in her lab has shown that neurons can “tune” themselves and scale down excitement or vice versa. However, this concept of “synaptic scaling” or thermostat control had never been observed in a life animal until now.

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The happiness gene – is there one?

In recent decades many have observed that certain people are always optimistic.  Naturally, researchers who requested funding to study if “optimism” could be inherited did get some money. Any major answer? The 5-HTT gene family: The feeling of satisfaction is apparently controlled by the 5-HTT gene family. It probably may not be the only gene family that controls the feeling of satisfaction but it has been the one most studied. There are many members in the 5-HTT gene family with various functions. One member controls satisfaction levels while another member controls marital bliss.

Satisfaction level controlled by a gene?
We found that this single, collaborative article published in the Journal of Neuroscience answered our question the best, given today’s technological knowledge and funding set aside for the pursuit of a happy society. The article, “Genes, Economics and Happiness” studied the feeling of subjective well being in twins in a genetic association study. Studying twins makes sense because scientific studies require a “control”, with which they can compare any differences, such as environment and economics, all other factors being equal. Who can be a better control than a person’s own twin? Let’s find what these scientists collaborating between four universities in three countries summarized. Subjects were asked questions like, “How satisfied are you with your life as a whole?”

1. About 33% of life’s satisfaction can be explained by genetic variation – you inherit your family’s feelings of satisfaction.
2. There are molecular genetic associations with subjective well being – meaning that although previous studies have shown that there is a baseline happiness that is inherited from family, certain experiences can interfere with that baseline. An indirect molecular effect of life’s stressful events?
3. As an example, they studied in detail the Serotonin Transporter gene (5-HTTLPR, also named SLC6A4), or SERT a key brain protein it encodes. Serotonin is a chemical released by one neuron and received by another neuron. The protein has a longer form and a shorter form. Initial findings suggested that families that inherited the longer form were more satisfied. But this study produced mixed results, implying that certain experiences can interfere with the length of this gene. The 5-HTT gene has been studied for over 20 years. This gene encodes a protein (located on the cell surface membrane) that absorbs serotonin into the neuron in parts of the brain that influences mental states.
4. Heritability of happiness rises as people age. At different points in life’s course genes and environment play a different role.
5. In particular, gender does not systematically effect happiness.
6. There are other genes with functions involved in gene-environment interactions and satisfaction.

This study encourages economists to consider biological differences in their studies. Economists are interested in the impact of income or unemployment on feelings of satisfaction. Psychologists describe a “set point” or “happiness levels” that exist in families. Since, optimism is linked in families carrying a more efficient version of the 5-HTT gene, all of us are interested.

Wedded bliss gene?

Dr Claudia Haase, Northwestern University

Dr Claudia Haase, Northwestern University says couples with the 5-HTTLPR gene were most happy in their marriages

There is recent evidence for a wedded bliss gene. Scientists have long observed that married people are generally happier than divorced people. Couples with the 5-HTTLPR gene were most happy in their marriages. Couples with two shorter forms of this gene are likelier to be happier in a compatible relationship rather than suffer in a bad one. Emotion is an important element in marital bliss. The marriage thrives under certain emotional levels. People who inherit the two longer forms of this gene respond less to emotional levels in marriage. Read, “Claudia Haase’s New Study links DNA Marital Happiness“.

Can we be re-engineered biologically to be happier?
If we do have this satisfaction gene and we find that some of us do not have this happiness gene, then what? Will it be allowed by FDA to walk into a clinic to get diagnosed “for a happiness gene” and then get a bioengineered happiness gene if the doc says we lack one? Will insurance pay for such a happiness – gene – bioengineering therapy? What will it’s medical code termininology read like? Will insurance pay for “diagnosing a SNP or marker” that causes change in the “happiness gene” in an unhappy individual?

Pursue Natural felt it could begin by searching for any peer – reviewed published work on happiness genes. Peer – reviewed would indicate that fellow scientists respect the methodology or scientific thoroughness with which this scientist approached the issue of discovering the happiness gene.  We discussed above our findings. What are your opinions on the happiness gene? Laugh a Lot. Can you imagine the impact of an eternally happy society?

Other Authors who have recently discussed the Happiness factor
Happiness from having a purpose in life linked with gene activity
Your happiness type matters
Happiness can affect your genes
Looking to genes for the secret to happiness
Wedded bliss or blues? Scientists link DNA to marital satisfaction

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Autism Scientists seek public assistance to detect, measure and prevent Autism and major psychiatric disorders

You may want to visit and contribute your experiences at the  Autism Spectrum Disorder Task Force  site and inspire them in their public – private effort to achieve their goal. Their vision is to get the desired outcome in three to five years as a result of the work laid out to implement the Minnesota Autism Spectrum Disorder strategic plan. Help them in your own, unique creative way.

You may also contact the Science Department Leadership at various autism foundations, such as Autism Speaks, and Autism Support Network with your personal experiences, hunches and suggestions on which public – private large scale database efforts to fund.

Autism rates continue to rise at an alarming rate
Tomorrow the autistic child could be someone born in your family – 1/50 to 1/80th chance of happening today, with more boys being born with autism than girls. States are drowning with the rising numbers of autism cases. The role of environment cannot be ignored which you may read by clicking “Why is Autism observed in America and not in underdeveloped countries?“, although dyslexia and mild communication disorder is rising worldwide (Read more). The role of shared family genes is not being ignored but so far, no clear association has scientific merit. You may call it the Geek syndrome but as Steve Silberman describes, if the autism spectrum genes were eliminated from society, it would be disastrous for the evolution of society. He also adds here that Microsoft recently became the first major US corportion to offer its employees insurance benefits to cover the costs of behavioral training for their autistic children. The number of autistic children among their employees were high enough to justify that – a fact that did not exist even over a decade ago. And their numbers continue to rise.

History of Autism
John Hopkins Neuroimmunopath has a FAQ site on their “Focus on Autism“.  They are researching the role of the immune system in Autism.  You might want to visit their site to consider what unseen factors inside the body control the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  After all, the first cases of Autism in USA were diagnosed at John Hopkins by Dr. Leo Kanner and published in 1943 to alert the public.  Dr. Hans Asperger of Austria described a similar group of patients around the same time and the distinctive sypmtoms got a diagnostic name.

Although historical accounts point to the existence of what could be isolated cases of autism, the mid 20th century is the first time clusters of patients with distinct ASD symptoms began to be diagnosed.  Unfortunately, ASD cases are rising at a rate that we find alarming, even if we allow for a certain threshold of misdiagnosis.  There is no known cure for ASD.  Since we do not know a cause we cannot begin to prevent onset of ASD, which usually strikes suddenly and without warning around the age of 18 months, according to parental reports.  Although there is no doubt that genetics or inherited family factors plays a role in susceptibility to ASD, scientists cannot rule out a potential major role for non-heritable risk factors.  A strong supporting reason for this is an observation by parents of Somali origin, which you may read by clicking “Why is Autism observed in America and not in underdeveloped countries?“. Scientist urge for more research on the important role of Vit D, as a possible environmental risk factor in Autism Spectrum Disorder. You may read their review by clicking here. Research studies on gene x environment are identifying which pesticide, herbicide, fungicide classes are of greatest concern in susceptible populations.

What is Autism
Sceptics abound (Read Forbes magazine article here).  Many do not know what is Autism.  Just like in the early 1980s the average person had no idea what HIV and AIDS was; similarly, the average skeptic today is unacquainted with autism and untouched by the daily adversities of living with autism.  Those who have never seen or been in the same room, let alone family, of an autistic individual, will not have any empathy for this discussion. Take your autistic child to public museums, movie theaters, enclosed botanical garden exhibitions. Tell every skeptic who frowns with displeasure that this disruptive individual is a healthy, autistic person. Your job is educational in nature and to reach as many skeptics as you can. If you believe that Autism research needs more believers, then you will have to leave a skeptic alone in the same room with a severely autistic child. Then, leave the skeptic alone in the same room with simply a misbehaved child. The skeptic will realize that there is a difference. Then, to justify urgency, you can show evidence as to how the numbers of autistic children are growing, and soon to become a growing burden on society as they age and their parent – caretakers die. Who will take care of them? Additionally, society is losing 1/50 of every young male or 1/80 of every young child who could contribute gainfully to social security or medicare. Can society let such monetary contributors get lost without a question? In 1960 there were 4.9 workers paying into the social security system for every beneficiary collecting (click here for Time magazine article). In 2035 there will be 1.9 workers for every social security recipient. With rising autism rates, how many of these 1.9 workers will be unable to contribute to this social equation and instead require social care as their caretaker parents die?

AutismIt is possible that part of the reason why no other risk factors have been identified may be that genetic and non – genetic factors need to be studied together in order to get a complete ASD profile.  What factor/s changed globally in the developed world around mid 20th century?  The scientists need the assistance of the public to solve this mystery as observant team members.  You may click here to learn more about facts of ASD and the Autism Fact Sheet of John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.  The origins, detection, measurement and prevention of conditions that affect behavioral, socioemotional and/or cognitive development are specific to Autism and ASD and are discussed here.

Role of Dirt/Microbial biome in Allergy, Asthma and ASD?

A variety of Hookworms

A variety of Hookworms

A blogger, summarizes a recent research study and it’s conclusion that dirt may be necessary to prevent allergies in “Dirt Prevents Allergies“. The researchers, headed by Professor Bisgaard, followed a cohort of asthma patients for several years to identify what factors might have triggered their disease. While these researchers are still looking for asthma trigger factor/s in early childhood, they did find that there was a connection between lack of diversity of bacteria in the intestine and allergy and have published their results in the journal of allergy and clinical immunology in 2011. The “microbial biome” is the term used to define all the bacteria that a healthy intestine supports. You may click here to read “Worm Theory: to improve the immune system to fight asthma, multiple sclerosis and more”. Several families have reported the presence of a parent with multiple sclerosis and children with autism and/or allergy. There apparently is a age – related connection. A younger family member presents with autism while an older family member has symptoms of multiple sclerosis. neuron

Since, researchers are finding that the immune system is involved in both Autism – which is on the rise recently, and in food allergy – which too is on the rise in recent decades and often in the same family, we have to wonder if it is correct to ask, “Is Autism an immune reaction with an allergic profile?” However, why did the recent study of Bisgaard and colleagues not find a common factor in allergy and asthma yet?  Multiple sclerosis, a nerve disease, is also on the rise in recent decades, and often reported in families with autism and severe allergies.

Babies with no autism or allergy

Babies with no autism or allergy

When is the earliest trigger for the diseases that are on the rise in recent years? Why is the first symptom seen not at birth but a few months, several months or years later? What factors control later symptoms? Is it an age – related control? You may want to read a popular article “How I gave my son autism” by Thinking Mom’s Revolution, which lists eight things this mother would change given a change to move time back.

Health Analyses of Families with Autism using the internet

Health Analyses of Families with Autism using the internet

No single gene appears to control autism. Studies indicate that the main immune mechanism in autism is an innate immune reaction. Contrast this to adaptive immune response seen in diseases such as meningitis and encephalitis. What is the difference between innate and adaptive immune system? A simple biological explanation is given by the Univesity of Arizona researchers here.

The Autism Genome Project
The Autism Genome project(AGP) is a large-scale, public – private collaborative, genetics research project initiated by the National Alliance for Autism Research and the National Institute of Health and is aimed at sifting through the human genome in search of autism susceptibility genes. The vision is to identify predisposition to Autism and to identify the causal mechanisms.  A new born screening mechanism would allow for early intervention. AGP has identified a dozen autism related genes researched by 120 scientists from 11 countries. They indicate that two important gene networks in the central nervous system contribute to the susceptibility to autism, leading to impairments in social and communication skills. The estimated prevalence of autism in siblings is about 10%, while it is a whopping 90% in twins. However, although heredity plays a definite role, such children with autism are born only under certain environmental conditions, underlining the fact that unknown life-style changes trigger autism.  The role of lack of exposure to enough Vit D in autism is being researched, especially in countries like Sweden. AGP has also revealed that Autism shares risk genes with major psychiatric disorders. Which leads to the question, whether searching for a cure for autism might lead to an early diagnosis of major psychiatric disorders, prevention and cures? It appears that the diagnosis of dyslexia is more common in underdeveloped countries. However, when this same gene pool is exposed to the life – style changes of a developed country the diagnosis of moderate to severe autism is observed.

Innate and Adaptive Immunity
There is a growing body of evidence linking Vit D to various immune related conditions including allergy and auto-immunity, but none show a convincing link, meaning there is a connecting missing link which remains to be discovered. Lack of Vit D would normally not cause diseases like autism but, given the presence of this missing link, lack of Vit D or specific life-style changes, one becomes predisposed to diseases like autism.  Various diseases involve the innate and/or adaptive immune system:

Dr Belbedos and colleagues want to modulate the innate immune reaction in allergy and asthma therapy in young children.

Lyme disease is an innate immune reaction.

Measles suppreses both innate and adaptive.

Pertussis or whooping cough involves both innate and adaptive.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis is different – see fatal tuberculosis , where an acquired immunity is not enough but an innate immune response additionally, is required. The MyD88 pathway is crucial to protect against this disease. 90% of infected people do not show any symptoms. What protects them?

Vitamin D initiates an innate immune reaction. Apparently, its role in adaptive immune response has been known, but not in innate immune response. Too much Vit D is bad.

The National Institute of Health has explained immunity and the immune response in an article and include a video on immune response and a video on vaccines. The definitions of innate, acquired and passive immunity are followed by a video; if you scroll down, you will see the videos.

Related Video
Watch a video of a Pro-surfer, a father of an autistic son, and founder of a non-profit foundation school of Surfing for Autistic kids and how it makes them smile. Volunteers are pro-surfers.

Related Articles
A single shared component has been confirmed in allergy and autoimmune diseases
Proteins neuroligins and neurexins are important in Autism and Schizophrenia
G proteins: the connector proteins that try to prevent Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Your blood pressure is influenzed by hot to cold weather

Heart expert Dr. Padmanabhan has discovered that there is a connection between a drop in temperature during the day to your blood pressure (BP).  This may be because the arteries and veins tend to collapse with colder weather making it harder for blood to travel around the body.  This response to temperature changes may be under genetic control too. Which means some families may be more susceptible to temperature changes than others, so all people may not respond in the same way to weather changes. Those susceptible are 30% more likely to die from a deadly rise in BP than those who are not.

These heart experts realize that not many studies have correlated effect of weather on BP and recommend that physicians be aware of this. Quote

Temperature-sensitive subjects had significantly higher mortality (1.35 [95% confidence interval, 1.06–1.71]; P=0.01) and higher follow-up systolic blood pressure (1.85 [95% confidence interval, 0.24–3.46]; P=0.02) compared with temperature-nonsensitive subjects. Blood pressure response to temperature may be one of the underlying mechanisms that determine long-term blood pressure variability. Knowing a patient’s blood pressure response to weather can help reduce unnecessary antihypertensive treatment modification, which may in turn increase blood pressure variability and, thus, risk.

Sunshine plays a role in monitoring BP. Cloudy days raise BP.

Nature - the blazing, glorious sun that sustains all life shows one form in the sand dunes of Morocco. Copyright (C) Pursue Natural

Nature – the blazing, glorious sun that sustains all life shows one form in the sand dunes of Morocco.
Copyright (C) Pursue Natural

To read the original article published in Journal of Hypertension on 23 May 2013 by researchers in Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, University of Glasgow, UK click here.

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Now is the time for your 2013 – 2014 flu vaccine

The 2013- 2014 flu season is here for the Northern Hemisphere. Los Angeles has reported it’s first flu case early September (Click here). New York city residents are surprised that flu season has already arrived and reaching people before their scheduled flu vaccination date. The first Los Angeles case is an H1N1 which is in this year’s flu vaccine combination to protect those vaccinated this season. The New York city strain has yet to be reported.  Fortunately, the flu vaccine of 2013 – 2014 has either three flu strains (trivalent) or the newly introduced four flu strains (quadrivalent) described more in detail below.  If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you might want to begin flu vaccination plans much earlier this flu season, since the flu has already arrived atleast in two major USA cities and it is only early September. However, in Australia and countries of the Southern Hemisphere, the peak of the 2012 – 2013 flu season is expected to have just ended in August 2013, since the seasons are opposite.

This is what the flu virus looks like

This is what the flu virus looks like

Why should you take the flu vaccine?
The reason one has to take the vaccine every year is because the vaccine only provides immunity for about a year. Unlike the natural infection which gives you lifetime immunity, a flu vaccine does not. Even if in certain years the vaccine flu strain composition is exactly the same as in the previous year. The individual is  advised to take the flu vaccine annually. The answer is explained in detail in this previous article.

However, do take your doctor’s advice before vaccination. Certain flu vaccines are not recommended for all ages. For example, CDC recommends that one brand of inactivated flu vaccine called Affluria, should not be given to children 8 years of age or younger. A related vaccine was related with fever and fever – related seizures in young children in Australia. More about side effects below.  Young children who get inactivated flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine (PCV13) at the same time may be at increased risk for seizures caused by fever. Ask your doctor for more information. Tell your doctor if a child who is getting flu vaccine has ever had a seizure.addition,

Egg and/or latex allergy?
What if you have an egg and/or latex allergy? Consult your doctor. The answer is in this previous article.  However, there is a major update for individuals with egg allergy waiting to be vaccinated – Flublok.  In 2013, FDA has approved Flublok, for 18-49 year old, which is not developed in eggs but in insects. Hence, Flublok may be suitable for adults (but not children, teens and seniors) with egg and/or latex allergy.  Traditionally, the flu vaccine has been developed in eggs.  To learn more you may read a previous article, “Tracking the history of the development of the flu vaccine”, by clicking here.  The ability to develop the flu vaccine in insects instead of eggs is heralded as a boon to egg allergic individuals.  However, since it has been newly introduced in 2013, it remains to be clinically tested in individuals other than adults and hence, is not yet FDA approved in children, teens and seniors, since their immune system is different than a typical healthy adult.

Please, discuss with your doctor.  It is highly recommended to take the flu vaccine to avoid hospitalization and other secondary complications from a flu infection.  It is highly contagious.  Certain age groups are more susceptible than others.  The Centers of Disease Control of USA reports a total of 12,343 hospitalizations that occurred from October 1, 2012 through April 30, 2013, which translates to a cumulative rate of 44.3 influenza-associated hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the United States. The total number of influenza-associated pediatric deaths reported to CDC for 2012-2013 was 146 in USA. While the vast majority of the tested virus samples (>99%) showed susceptibility to the antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir, some varieties showed resistance. Watch an animated video of how the flu virus enters, and multiplies inside the human body.

Why do I feel fatigued after my flu vaccine?
The vaccine composition is changed every year. The WHO meets twice a year to discuss the varieties of flu strains causing flu infections and hopes to include the most “popular” strains in the flu vaccine composition (see below for for the 2013-2014 composition). However, the vaccine can accomodate a maximum of three to four flu strains. There might be a new flu strain that emerges later in the year. There might be a fifth or sixth flu strain also causing infections. The flu vaccine assists an individual in easing the “suffering from symptom” period. Therefore, a person who has the vaccine can still get the flu from a flu strain not included in the vaccine but the symptoms will be weaker. This is because the flu strains differ from each other very slightly and most of their characteristic proteins are included in the vaccine, hence “teaching” the body’s immune system to be ready to fight the flu infection.

There can be a slight fever and other side effects (see below) after the flu vaccine.  The symptoms would start right away and last 2 to 3 days. This might happen if the flu vaccine composition includes one or more flu strains that were not included in the previous year’s vaccine composition. If the individual has never been exposed to 1 or more of the flu strains in the vaccine, the immune system might react with symptoms like the flu. It is the immune system getting ready. The individual does not get flu from the inactivated flu vaccine and the live flu vaccine is too weakened to cause the flu. You may also read “Why am I feeling fatigued after taking the flu vaccine?

The New Quadrivalent Flu Vaccine: Until recently, the vaccine compositions have only had three different kinds (trivalent) of circulating flu varieties. This year, the vaccine choices include those with four different kinds (quadrivalent) of circulating flu varieties, approved by the WHO (see quote below). Do be aware of your vaccine choices in 2013 to 2014 – trivalent or quadrivalent and discuss with your care provider. The FDA approved companies in 2013 manufacturing the new quadrivalent flu vaccine are:

1) GlaxoSmithKline – Fluarix
2) AstraZeneca – MedImmune
3) Sanofi Aventis – Fluzone approved in June 2013 for children 6 months or older, adolescents and adults.

Two methods of delivery of Flu Vaccine

One method of delivery of Flu Vaccine

One method of delivery of flu vaccine

One method of delivery of flu vaccine

The 2013-2014 Influenza/Flu virus compostion
The compostion of the 2013 – 2014 trivalent and quadrivalent flu vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere:

The World Health Organization has met in Geneva Switzerland in February 2013 to decide upon the composition of the Influenza or flu vaccine composition of the upcoming 2013-2014 flu season. Read more.

Influenza/flu vaccine Adverse Effects

The CDC site has the following safety information. In addition to including three to four different flu varieties in the vaccine composition (trivalent or quadrivalent), the flu vaccine may be either inactivated or live. If inactivated, it can never cause the flu because it does not contain a live virus. However, inactivated flu vaccine could be associated with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), no more than 1 or 2 cases per million people. If the flu vaccine is live, it is made from a weakened virus and does not cause flu. Both may cause allergic reactions in less than one in million doses. Quote
Influenza (inactivated) vaccine side-effects
What are the risks from inactivated influenza vaccine?

With a vaccine, like any medicine, there is a chance of side effects. These are usually mild and go away on their own.

Serious side effects are also possible, but are very rare. Inactivated flu vaccine does not contain live flu virus, so getting flu from this vaccine is not possible.

Brief fainting spells and related symptoms (such as jerking movements) can happen after any medical procedure, including vaccination. Sitting or lying down for about 15 minutes after a vaccination can help prevent fainting and injuries caused by falls. Tell your doctor if you feel dizzy or light-headed, or have vision changes or ringing in the ears.

Mild Problems

soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
hoarseness; sore, red or itchy eyes; cough
If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1 or 2 days.

Moderate Problems

Young children who get inactivated flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine (PCV13) at the same time may be at increased risk for seizures caused by fever. Ask your doctor for more information. Tell your doctor if a child who is getting flu vaccine has ever had a seizure.

Severe Problems

A severe allergic reaction could occur after any vaccine (estimated less than 1 in a million doses).
There is a small possibility that inactivated flu vaccine could be associated with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), no more than 1 or 2 cases per million people vaccinated. This is much lower than the risk of severe complications from flu, which can be prevented by flu vaccine.
The safety of vaccines is always being monitored. For more information, visit: Vaccine Safety Monitoring and Vaccine Safety Activities.

One brand of inactivated flu vaccine, called Afluria, should not be given to children 8 years of age or younger, except in special circumstances. A related vaccine was associated with fevers and fever-related seizures in young children in Australia. Your doctor can give you more information.

This information was taken directly from the Inactivated Influenza VIS
(This information taken from Inactivated Influenza VIS dated 7/26/2013. If the actual VIS is more recent than this date, the information on this page needs to be updated.)

Influenza (live) vaccine side-effects
What are the risks from LAIV?

With a vaccine, like any medicine, there is a chance of side effects. These are usually mild and go away on their own.

Serious side effects are also possible, but are very rare. LAIV is made from weakened virus and does not cause flu.

Mild Problems
Some children and adolescents 2-17 years of age have reported:

runny nose, nasal congestion or cough
headache and muscle aches
abdominal pain or occasional vomiting or diarrhea
Some adults 18-49 years of age have reported:

runny nose or nasal congestion
sore throat
cough, chills, tiredness/weakness
Severe Problems

A severe allergic reaction could occur after any vaccine (estimated less than 1 in a million doses).

The safety of vaccines is always being monitored. For more information, visit: Vaccine Safety Monitoring and Vaccine Safety Activities.

This information was taken directly from the LAIV VIS
(This information taken from Live Influenza VIS dated 7/2/12. If the actual VIS is more recent than this date, the information on this page needs to be updated.)


The WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland

The WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland

A meeting in action at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland

A meeting in action at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland

World Health Organization (WHO) headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland recommends the flu vaccine composition each year for the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.

Related Article:
Review by Anne Sealey: A Cruel Wind: Pandemic Flu in America, 1918-1920; Author Dorothy A. Pettit and Janice Bailie (Timberlane Books, 2008): The book has an excellent chapter on the biological detail of the flu virus, a historical narrative of the 1918 pandemic, and an intimate portrait of political life and social environment during the pandemic. It includes plenty of charts for statistical support.


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