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UPI NewsTrack Health and Science News

Oct. 29, 2010 at 5:37 PM   |   Comments

Mice to go along on final shuttle flight

GALVESTON, Texas, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Sixteen laboratory mice, part of a medical experiment, will join the crew of the space shuttle Discovery when it launches Monday, U.S. researchers say.

The experiment is part of a long-running effort by NASA to understand why spaceflight seems to make humans more vulnerable to infection by viruses and bacteria.

"Since the Apollo missions, we have had evidence that astronauts have increased susceptibility to infections during flight and immediately post-flight -- they seem more vulnerable to cold and flu viruses and urinary tract infections, and viruses like Epstein-Barr, which infect most people and then remain dormant, can reactivate under the stress of spaceflight," Dr. Roberto Garofalo, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, said.

A collaboration between the school and NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., it will be the final immunology investigation planned for the shuttle program, a university release said Friday.

Within 2 hours of the shuttle's return to Earth, eight of the mice will be infected with respiratory syncytial virus -- a pathogen that infects almost all human children by age 2 and ordinarily causes a relatively harmless cold-like upper respiratory disease.

Another group of mice kept in nearly identical conditions on the ground will also be exposed to the virus, and researchers will conduct genetic and protein studies of the lung and nasal tissues of both sets of mice.

"The space environment incorporates many factors that we know affect the immune system -- microgravity, radiation, even different nutritional standards -- all acting in a relatively short period of time," Garofalo said.


Biodiversity summit nears end

NAGOYA, Japan, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Intense sessions in the final hours of an international biodiversity summit in Japan saw delegates working on agreements on some thorny issues, officials said.

Western nations attending the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya appear to have given ground on the most contentious issue, the sharing of natural genetic resources, the BBC reported Friday.

The issue involves a protocol known as Access and Benefit-sharing, meant to ensure developing countries are compensated when products are made from genetic material of organisms from their territory.

Still being resolved is the issue of how much of the Earth's lands and oceans should be placed under protection.

Environmentalists have criticized China for its insistence that a Nagoya agreement should call for protecting just 6 percent of the marine environment, with no protection at all outside coastal waters.

The current global target for protection is 10 percent, the BBC said.


U.K. soldiers in Iraq studied for stress

LONDON, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- British soldiers serving in Iraq show fewer signs of stress than police officers, ER doctors and disaster workers, a U.K. study says.

Psychologists say just over one in five servicemen in Iraq showed signs of psychological distress while less than 4 percent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.

The levels are the same as service personnel in training and less that other high-stress occupations like law enforcement and emergency medicine, the study by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London said.

Although the mental health of U.K. armed forces personnel has been researched both before and after deployment, little was known about their level of psychological stress during deployment, one researcher said.

"Interestingly, those who told us they remembered having a pre-deployment stress briefing reported significantly better mental health than those who did not," Professor Neil Greenberg from the Academic Center for Defense Mental Health said.

Training for military medical staff has begun to help them recognize mental health disorders, Greenberg said.

"Improving training, as well as raising awareness among staff of the link between these personnel reporting sick and having poorer mental health, may help identify those in most need of psychological help," he said.


Malaria control, not eradication, urged

LONDON, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Attempts to completely eradicate malaria in some countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, might be counterproductive, researchers suggest.

Failure to meet any declared timeline to wipe out the disease, researchers writing in the British medical journal Lancet say, "could lead to dangerous swings in funding and political commitment, in malaria and elsewhere."

In the article they suggest some countries, particularly in Africa, may have more success pursuing a policy of controlling the disease rather than outright eradication.

They urge a pragmatic approach using available resources to shrink the global areas where malaria still prevails.

In an editorial accompanying the researchers' writings, the Lancet argues control may save more lives.

"If existing control efforts were indeed scaled up, by 2015, 1.14 million children's lives could be saved in sub-Saharan Africa alone," the editorial said.

"This finding is important. The quest for elimination must not distract existing good malaria control work," it said.

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