PHARMACY DESERTS ARE WORSENING.
Chicago’s South Side, primarily Black, faces a growing crisis of pharmacy deserts, with residents often traveling far for medications. This issue, mirrored in other low-income, Black, Latino, and Indigenous areas across the U.S., worsens as major chains like CVS and Rite Aid close stores. Research by Dima Qato highlights the serious health impacts of these closures, particularly in marginalized communities. The closures result in decreased access to vital medications, flu shots, and COVID-19 vaccines, disproportionately affecting already vulnerable groups. Independent pharmacies, more trusted in these communities, are closing at a higher rate, often excluded from preferred pharmacy networks and facing financial challenges. While some innovative solutions like mobile pharmacies emerge, experts emphasize the need for policy changes to ensure pharmacy access in underserved areas. The closing of pharmacies is not just a business decision but a critical public health and human rights issue. (STAT)
EDITING AWAY CHOLESTEROL.
A novel gene editing technique using a base editor has significantly lowered “bad” cholesterol in three individuals with high cholesterol risk. This method, more precise than CRISPR, targets the PCSK9 protein in the liver through a blood infusion. Presented at the American Heart Association meeting, this approach by Verve Therapeutics marks a first in human disease treatment using a CRISPR variant. While promising as a potential one-time treatment for cholesterol management, concerns about cost and safety remain. Two trial participants experienced serious heart events, highlighting safety uncertainties. The technique involves altering the PCSK9 gene to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. Despite its effectiveness, the risk of unintended gene editing effects and the need for extensive safety data are noted. Verve plans more trials, including a larger placebo-controlled study, aiming for broader application and affordability. The treatment could potentially extend to preventive care in older adults. (Science)
COUNTING THE BODY’S IMMUNE CELLS.
A study has quantified the human body’s immune cells, estimating an average individual’s immune system contains approximately 1.8 trillion cells, weighing around 1.2 kg. Lymphocytes, primarily located in the lymph nodes and spleen, account for 40% of the immune cell count and 15% of their mass. Neutrophils, mostly found in bone marrow, make up similar proportions. Macrophages, despite being only 10% of the immune cells, contribute nearly half of the total cellular mass due to their size. This comprehensive analysis, which integrated data from various sources including literature, imaging, and methylome-based deconvolution, provides a detailed view of the immune system’s distribution in terms of cell numbers and mass. This new understanding is crucial for developing models that can better elucidate immune functions and could have implications in health and disease management. (PNAS)
OBSTETRIC VIOLENCE HIGHLIGHTED.
Nahia Alkorta, now 37, recalls her traumatic experience of obstetric violence in a Spanish hospital in 2012 during the birth of her first child, detailed in her memoir “My Stolen Birth.” She went through a harrowing experience where her birth plan was ignored, and she underwent a non-consensual C-section, resulting in physical and psychological trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Alkorta’s case is the second to lead to a U.N. condemnation against Spain for obstetric violence, which encompasses physical or psychological harm to women during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum by healthcare personnel. Alkorta’s lawyer, Francisca Fernández, also a victim of obstetric violence, specializes in health law and handles about 60 cases a year. The two women share a critical view of the healthcare system in Spain. Despite a lack of acknowledgment or apology from the health center, Alkorta has found strength to move on and had another child during the pandemic, overcoming her fears of repeating the traumatic experience. The story emphasizes the ongoing issue of obstetric violence and the struggle for recognition and justice in such cases. (El Pais)
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AI IDENTIFIES ALZHEIMER’S GENES.
Researchers are using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify genes linked to Alzheimer’s disease by analyzing brain images and genomes. Traditional diagnosis methods face challenges due to the lack of specific tests for Alzheimer’s and its symptom overlap with other disorders. AI is being used to develop algorithms that can identify Alzheimer’s characteristics in brain scans, potentially leading to the use of these images as biomarkers for the disease. This approach aims to integrate brain imaging with medical and genetic data, enhancing the development of treatments and predictive models for Alzheimer’s risk. Led by neuroscientist Paul Thompson, these efforts were presented at the American Society of Human Genetics conference. The AI4AD consortium, initiated by Thompson, has created an AI model that shows over 90% accuracy in Alzheimer’s detection using MRI scans. However, the effectiveness of this AI research is limited by the lack of diversity in the data used, which may not represent all populations. (Nature)
NEW CHEETAH BEHAVIOR.
Cheetahs, usually hunting during the day, shift to dawn and dusk in warmer weather, increasing encounters with nocturnal predators like lions and leopards, as per new research in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. This change in behavior, influenced by rising temperatures, affects interspecies dynamics, observed University of Washington biologist Briana Abrahms. The study tracked 53 large carnivores, including cheetahs, over eight years, finding that cheetahs became 16% more nocturnal on hotter days. This behavior exposes them to more conflicts with larger predators, which can scavenge cheetah kills. The shift is a response to climate change and adds to cheetahs’ challenges, such as habitat loss and human conflict. With under 7,000 cheetahs in the wild, this adaptation to increasing temperatures in their African habitats is concerning. Future research will further explore these interspecies interactions using advanced tracking methods. (Associated Press)
RISEN FROM THE ASHES.
Scientists have filmed the Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna in Indonesia, disproving its feared extinction. This rare sighting was made by an Oxford University-led expedition in the Cyclops Mountains. Previously, the existence of this ancient egg-laying mammal, named after Sir David Attenborough, was only known through a museum specimen. The discovery confirms the echidna’s survival and its classification as a “living fossil,” thought to have appeared around 200 million years ago. The expedition, which faced challenging terrain and hazardous wildlife, also uncovered new insect and frog species, along with other wildlife like tree kangaroos and birds of paradise. This finding is crucial for conservation efforts, highlighting the rich biodiversity and the importance of protecting such unique ecosystems. The rediscovery of the Attenborough echidna, along with other species, emphasizes the potential of undiscovered biodiversity in these remote areas. (BBC)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: hattiesburgmemory.