Week in Review: More For Less

UNC-TV Science Week In Review: September 12, 2013
More For Less

 

One of the basic hallmarks of progress is getting more for less. More miles for less gas, more food for less time, even more tube socks for less money: we like to optimize how much we get out of everything.

Research science often falls into this mindset as well, whether we’re looking for the best land to protect the most wildlife, greater pain relief with less cost or better treatments with less hassle, it all boils down to more for less.


Protect 17% of the Earth, Save 66% of the Plants
You probably hear quite a bit about how we need to protect habitats in order to save threatened species. But the process is not as simple as fencing in any old acre of land and saying that you protected one acre’s worth of species. 

Different places have different collections of wildlife, as anybody who has seen North Carolina’s mountains and coast can tell you. These collections of wildlife are called a region’s biodiversity, and some places just have a greater biodiversity than others.

Now new research from Duke University and NC State University has identified some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. They determined that by protecting an area equal to 17% of Earth’s land, we can preserve two thirds of the planet’s plant species.

Most of these areas are located in the tropics of South America and Southeast Asia. You can see the areas the researchers identified on this map. The findings were published in the journal Science.


Antidepressants Not Working? Here’s a Magnet.
Depression affects roughly 14 million American adults each year. Some common treatments are therapy and antidepressant drugs. But for many Americans suffering from clinical Major Depressive Disorder are not responsive to most antidepressants, and therapy can’t fix chemical imbalances in the brain.

That is why East Carolina University Medical Center is attacking depression with a new treatment: magnets. The technique, called repeat transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), involves pulsing a magnetic field through the prefrontal cortex, which is thought to influence mood.

Treatments involve 37 minutes of magnetic pulsing of a similar strength to an MRI scan daily for 4-6 weeks. Research has shown that this treatment results in a 22% decrease in symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder, which for patients who are unresponsive to drugs, is a drastic change in quality of life.


Same Pain Relief, Fewer NSAIDs
Polyphenols are chemical compounds found in green tea and blueberries. Scientists have found that polyphenols are good for regulating blood pressure and blood glucose. But researchers from Appalachian State University recently discovered another use for these molecules.

The researchers gave ultra-long distance runners a smoothie made of the equivalent of a cup of green tea and 3 cups of blueberries and put them on a treadmill for two and a half hours. These runners, when compared to runners who just had protein powder instead of the smoothie, experienced less inflammation and stress from oxygen.

Why does this matter? Athletes devour non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen to keep their inflammation down. But taking NSAIDs continuously can harm your heart, kidneys and GI tract. If polyphenols can accomplish the same thing as NSAIDs, athletes can put themselves at less risk by incorporating polyphenols into their diet.

What’s more, the researchers found that exercise, like running, increases the rate at which our colons take up polyphenols. So just when your body can use them, your colon absorbs more polyphenols. The research is published in the journal PLOS ONE.


Big Prize for More Hearing
Blake Wilson, a biomedical engineering professor at Duke University, will receive the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award next week in New York City. The Lasker Awards are considered by many scientists to be the American equivalent of the Nobel Prize, and 31 Nobel Laureates have won Lasker Prizes in the last 20 years.

Wilson will share the prize with two other scientists for their work in developing cochlear implants, which can reverse certain types of deafness. The cochlea is a spiral fluid-filled organ in the inner ear responsible for translating the vibrations of the ear drum into a signal that can be interpreted by the brain.

Wilson’s work primarily dealt with the development of the computer programs that translate the complex language of vibrations into an electrical signal. Seventeen percent of American adults report some sort or hearing loss, and cochlear implants have restored hearing to thousands of deaf patients.

- Daniel Lane

Daniel Lane covers science, medicine and the environment as a reporter/writer. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in medical and science journalism at UNC - Chapel Hill.