Science and Medicine

Japan Battles Nuclear Crisis, Power Effort Crucial

Japan has raised the severity rating of the nuclear crisis from level 4 to level 5 on the seven-level INES international scale, putting it on a par with the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, although some experts say it is more serious.

TOKYO—Exhausted engineers scrambled to fix a power cable to two reactors at Japan’s tsunami-crippled nuclear station on Saturday in a race to prevent deadly radiation from an accident now rated at least as bad as America’s Three Mile Island in 1979.

In a crude tactic underlining authorities’ desperation, fire engines also sprayed water overnight on a third reactor deemed to be in the most critical state at the Fukushima plant in northeastern Japan, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

The unprecedented multiple crisis of earthquake, tsunami and radiation leak has unsettled world financial markets, prompted international reassessment of nuclear safety and given the Asian nation its toughest time since World War Two.

It has also stirred unhappy memories of Japan’s past nuclear nightmare—the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

At Fukushima, nearly 300 engineers were working inside a 20 km (12 miles) evacuation zone. Their focus is on attaching power lines to two of the six reactors in order to restart water pumps and cool overheated nuclear fuel rods.

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Scans Show Surprising Differences in Brain-Injury Patients

“Not all minimally conscious patients are the same, and not all patients with locked-in syndrome are the same.”

Scanning the mental activity of people with brain injuries is showing scientists that not all patients with the same condition should be treated the same way. Some patients may have higher cognitive function than their responses to doctors indicate, and some may have lower, according to a new study.

“We have to abandon the idea that we can rely on a bedside exam in our assessment of some severe brain injuries,” researcher Nicholas Schiff, of Weill Cornell Medical College, said in a statement.

Schiff and other researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to test a spectrum of brain-injured patients—including those whose bedside tests showed them to be in a minimally conscious state; those who showed a limited ability to communicate by voice and gesture; and those suffering from “locked-in” syndrome, unable to move despite normal cognitive function. (Unlike paralysis, these patients can’t even move their eyes or head as a result of injury to the brain, not spinal cord.)

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New Explanation for Heart-Healthy Benefits of Chocolate

studies have shown that cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease by boosting levels of HDL

In time for the chocolate-giving and chocolate-noshing fest on Valentine’s Day, scientists are reporting discovery of how this treat boosts the body’s production of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL)—the “good” form of cholesterol that protects against heart disease. Just as those boxes of chocolates get hearts throbbing and mouths watering, polyphenols in chocolate rev up the activity of certain proteins, including proteins that attach to the genetic material DNA in ways that boost HDL levels.

Their report appears in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, one of 39 peer-reviewed scientific journals published by the American Chemical Society.

Midori Natsume, Ph.D., and colleagues note that studies have shown that cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease by boosting levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, and decreasing levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol. Credit for those heart-healthy effects goes to a cadre of antioxidant compounds in cocoa called polyphenols, which are particularly abundant in dark chocolate. Until now, however, nobody knew exactly how the polyphenols in cocoa orchestrated those beneficial effects.

The scientists analyzed the effects of cocoa polyphenols on cholesterol using cultures of human liver and intestinal cells. They focused on the production of apolipoprotein A1 (ApoA1), a protein that is the major component of “good” cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B (ApoB), the main component of “bad” cholesterol. It turns out that cocoa polyphenols increased ApoA1 levels and decreased ApoB levels in both the liver and intestine.

Read more: New Explanation for Heart-Healthy Benefits of Chocolate

   

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