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UPI NewsTrack Health and Science News

Depression may hike COPD hospitalizations

MONTREAL, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Canadian scientists say depression and anxiety in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients might cause increased hospitalizations.

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"This is an important and revealing finding, indicating that for COPD patients, depression and anxiety must be treated as potential clinically important risk factors, rather than simple comorbidities that are caused by COPD," said Dr. Jean Bourbeau, director of the Respiratory Epidemiology and Clinical Research Unit at McGill University in Montreal.

"To our knowledge this is the first report of the possible causal association between depressive symptoms and exacerbations and hospitalizations in stable COPD," said Bourbeau. "However, people have to realize that the causal relationship is a complicated issue and will require further evaluation as part of other properly designed longitudinal studies."

But he said the study's findings can guide researchers and clinicians to evaluate in COPD patients with depression the effectiveness of antidepressants and psychotherapies on reducing related complications such as hospital admissions.

The research appears in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.


NASA finds evidence of a wetter Mars

PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. space agency says its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found evidence that liquid water remained on Mars far longer than previously theorized.

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration spacecraft has observed hydrated silica, or opal, spread across large regions of Mars. That, scientists said, suggests liquid water was on the planet's surface as recently as 2 billion years ago.

"This is an exciting discovery because it extends the time range for liquid water on Mars, and the places where it might have supported life," said Scott Murchie, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

The newly discovered silicates formed where liquid water altered materials created by volcanic activity or meteorite impact on the Martian surface, scientists said. One such location is the large Martian canyon system called Valles Marineris.

"We see numerous outcrops of opal-like minerals, commonly in thin layers extending for very long distances around the rim of Valles Marineris and sometimes within the canyon system itself," said Ralph Milliken of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Milliken is lead author of an article describing the discovery in the November issue of the journal Geology.


Saliva DNA may solve drug dosing problems

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they're using DNA extracted from saliva to customize prescriptions and solve dosing problems that often confound doctors and patients.

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By using DNA to customize a prescription, researchers at Temple University's School of Pharmacy hope to prevent adverse drug reactions. At the top of the list of problem drugs is warfarin (Coumadin), the most widely prescribed anticoagulant.

The researchers say they're trying to find the correlation between genotypes and the correct dosage of warfarin. By collecting saliva samples and extracting DNA, the scientists can look for variances in genetic clues that make people metabolize the same drug in very different ways.

"Our findings have confirmed there is a genetic variance of certain genotypes that correlate to how these participants respond to this drug," said Associate Professor Nima Patel, one of the investigators. "So, if you have this genotype, we can conclude what your risks may be, based on your DNA."

That would allow doctors to prescribe the correct dosage of warfarin and decrease the risk of adverse drug reactions.


Scientist warns of 'digital dark age'

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Oct. 28 (UPI) -- A U.S. professor says an unintended result of our rapidly digitizing world is the potential of a "digital dark age" where information could be forever lost.

University of Illinois Assistant Professor Jerome McDonough says the issue stems from the mass of data being produced -- at last count, 369 exabytes worth of data, including electronic records, tax files, e-mail, music and photos. An Exabyte, he explained, is 1 quintillion bytes -- a quintillion is the number 1 followed by 18 zeroes.

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The concern is much of the data we produce today could soon become inaccessible. "After all," McDonough asks, "when was the last time you opened a WordPerfect file or tried to read an 8-inch floppy disk?"

He said according to the National Archives Web site, by the mid-1970s only two machines could read data from the 1960 U.S. Census. One was in Japan, the other in the Smithsonian Institution. Some of the data collected from NASA's 1976 Viking landing on Mars is already unreadable and lost forever.

"If we want information to survive, we need to avoid formats that depend on a particular media type," he said. "When the old media dies, the information dies with it."

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