Category Archives: Health

You Don’t Know the Extent of Sciatica Until You Experience It Firsthand

All kinds of pain can stem from your back. I think that is because, well, your back is essentially your stem. All the nerve conduction to and fro that gets your body to do just about everything comes from your spine. Mess it up, even a little, and you got all kinds of trouble. I had pains shooting down my leg from my hip into my big toe that felt like a combination of being on fire with gasoline and being struck by lightning at the same time. My chiropractor in Sacramento told me it was irritation to my sciatic nerve. Irritation was like saying that someone scooping your eyeball out of the socket is similar to popping a pimple. He said that the irritation could result in severe pain.

It would hit me out of the blue and get me to jump up right out of my chair. People thought a snake bit me under my desk or I got shocked by my computer. I scared everyone the first time I jumped up like that. They did not know if I had lost my mind or was having a seizure. It has hit me a couple of times while driving too.

Rejecting Junk Food Can Be Easier When Shopping Online

For people who just can’t seem to pass up the candy in a supermarket checkout line, perhaps grocery shopping online could help reduce these impulse purchases, a new study suggests.

In the study, college students who were asked to shop for groceriesonline made similar food choices to one another, regardless of how impulsive the individuals were.

The findings are preliminary, and more research is needed to confirm the results, but the study suggests that online grocery shopping could help people stick to a healthy diet, said lead study author Jaime Coffino, a public health researcher at the University at Albany, State University of New York. [The Science of Hunger: How to Control It and Fight Cravings]

Previous research shows that people who are more impulsive may be less healthy than less impulsive people, Coffino told Live Science. In a grocery store, that impulsiveness could lead to a shopping cart filled with junk food.

The new study looked at 60 college students who filled out questionnaires that assessed their levels of impulsiveness as well as how they respond to the presence of food. The students were then told they had $48.50 for grocery shopping, and were asked to fill an online shopping cart with “nutritious, affordable and tasty” foods.

When Coffino calculated the nutritional value of all the food in each person’s online shopping cart, she found that there was no link between the foods a person chose and how impulsive the person was.

“It didn’t matter how impulsive a person was,” Coffino said. “The nutritional outcomes didn’t vary.”

Online grocery shopping could one day serve as a type of dietary intervention, Coffino said. Often, when people buy groceries online, they need to search for each item they want, as opposed to strolling through a store and saying, for example, “Oh, those chips look good.” Online, more planning and thought is needed. In addition, online grocery shopping makes people more aware of how much money they’re spending, which could deter them from adding impulsive picks to their carts, Coffino said.

She noted that the study has limitations — for example, no control group was used — and much more research is needed. Future studies could compare online grocery shopping to in-store grocery shopping, she said.

The findings were presented here Aug. 4 at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting. The research is part of a larger study that looks at how public health researchers can use online grocery shopping as a tool to encourage healthy eating. The findings have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Why Your Maus Moscow Drink May Be Dangerous

Your Moscow mule cocktail may look pretty in a copper mug, but officials in Iowa say that using copper containers for this beverage, and similar drinks, could be hazardous for your health.

Recently, Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division issued an advisory stating that pure copper mugs should not be used to serve Moscow mules or other acidic beverages with a pH below 6.0, including fruit juices, vinegar and wine. Traditionally, Moscow mules contain vodka, ginger beer and lime and have a pH well below 6.0, the advisory said.

When copper comes into contact with acidic foods and beverages,copper may leach into the food or drink. Ingesting too much copper can lead to copper poisoning, the advisory said. Symptoms of copper poisoning include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin, according to the National Institutes of Health. [Top 7 Germs in Food that Make You Sick]

The Alcoholic Beverages Division said it issued the advisory because of the recent rise in popularity of Moscow mules, which has led to questions about the safety of copper containers for this beverage.

But Moscow mule enthusiasts need not despair — you can still use a mug with a copper exterior, as long as the interior is lined with a different metal, such as nickel or stainless steel. Mugs with these interiors are safe containers for the cocktail, and are widely available, the advisory said.

Consuming CAN can increase Death due to High Blood Pressure.

Smoking pot is often considered safer than smoking cigarettes, but a new study suggests that marijuana use may increase a person’s risk of death from high blood pressure.

Over the two-decade-long study period, marijuana users, whose level and frequency of smoking was not assessed in the study, had a more than threefold greater risk of dying from hypertension than nonusers. This increase in risk was greater than that associated with cigarette smoking, the researchers said.

“Support for liberal marijuana use is partly due to claims that it is beneficial, and possibly not harmful, to health,” lead study author Barbara Yankey, a doctoral student of epidemiology and biostatistics at Georgia State University, said in a statement. “However, there is little research on the impact of marijuana use on cardiovascular and [stroke] mortality.” [25 Odd Facts About Marijuana]

The risks associated with smoking cigarettes, on the other hand, are well established, according to the study, published today (Aug. 9) in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. Studies linking heart disease deaths and cigarettes, for example, are “extensive,” leading the researchers to hypothesize that smoking pot would be associated with a similar level of risk.

The study included more than 1,200 adults in the U.S. who had participated in the 2005 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a federal survey done annually to evaluate Americans’ diets and health. As a part of the survey, the participants were asked if they had ever used marijuana and, if so, when they first tried the drug. The survey also collected data on cigarette use.

Using data from 2011 from the National Center for Health Statistics, the researchers were able to determine if any of the participants in the NHANES study had died during the study period.

Using the two data sets, the researchers estimated the associations between marijuana use and length of use with deaths from high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

At the end of the study period, 73 percent of the participants were still alive, the researchers found. Nearly 35 percent of them reported that they did not use marijuana or tobacco; 21 percent used only marijuana (no tobacco); 4 percent smoked cigarettes (no marijuana); 20 percent used both marijuana and tobacco; 16 percent used marijuana currently and smoked cigarettes in the past; and about 5 percent did not use marijuana or tobacco currently but smoked cigarettes in the past.

The average duration of marijuana use was 12 years, and the average duration of cigarette use was 10 years.

The study found that, compared with people who didn’t use marijuana, those who did had a 3.4-fold greater risk of death from high blood pressure during the study period. There were no statistically significant links between marijuana use and the risk of death from heart disease or stroke.

Yankey noted that the findings suggest that marijuana use “may carry even heavier consequences on the cardiovascular system than that already established for cigarette smoking,” but she added that larger studies are needed to confirm the results. [Where Americans Smoke and Grow Marijuana (Maps)]

The researchers acknowledged several limitations of the study. For example, the study assumed that marijuana use was continuous from the time the study participants said they first tried the drug, but this may not be accurate.

Even so, the new findings are “not particularly surprising” and make sense in the context of previous studies on marijuana smoking, said Dr. Charles Pollack, an emergency-medicine physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia and the director of the university’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp. Pollack was not involved with the new study.

But the study had some weaknesses, Pollack told Live Science. For example, relying on study participants to report their marijuana use can be “unreliable and inconsistent,” he said. In addition, “there are so many strains of [marijuana] out there, with no quality standards … making it tough to generalize” the effects, he added.

Pollack also noted that the study focused on recreational marijuana use, “which is different from most medicinal cannabis use.” Typically, marijuana from medical dispensaries is of higher quality, Pollack said, but in both cases (recreational and medicinal), “nothing in this space is tightly controlled.”

Indeed, the study authors wrote that they “are not disputing the possible medicinal benefits of standardized cannabis formulations,” but added that the “recreational use of marijuana should be approached with caution.”

Do You Eat Worm Parasite Eggs? Why A Company Wants To Sell It As Food

The German government is considering approval of a food ingredient that most people try their best to avoid: parasite eggs.

The country’s Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety is evaluating the safety of a product that consists of pig whipworm (Trichuris suis) eggs, New Scientist reported Aug. 7. If approved, the eggs would be sold as a food ingredient.

The product, made by a Thai company called Tanawisa, would be sold in small vials containing up to 2,500 eggs, which could be added to foods or drinks. It was approved for sale in 2012 in Thailand.

The company argues that parasite infections may have some health benefits, such as reducing the risk of certain autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn’s disease. Tanawisa selected the pig whipworm for its product because the parasite cannot survive and reproduce in humans. (Thehuman whipworm, called Trichuris trichiura, on the other hand, is responsible for more than 600 million infections worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can cause symptoms including severe iron deficiency and slowed growth in children.)

Some experts have dismissed the idea that self-infecting with a parasiteis a good idea.

For example, in 2013, the pharmaceutical company Coronado Biosciences (now called Fortress Biotech) announced that its clinical trial using pig whipworm eggs to treat Crohn’s disease had failed, according to The Boston Globe.

“In my opinion, worm therapies belong in the same category of pseudoscience cult therapies as chelation therapy for autism,” and approving this product in Germany would be a “dumb idea,” Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, told New Scientist. (Chelation therapy is a controversial technique in which harmful heavy metals are removed from a person’s blood.)

Why Lice Can Spread Lots of Diseases?

There’s a long list of diseases that you can get from a tick bite, including some that can actually kill you. In fact, the tiny bloodsucking critters can transmit a wider variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites than any other arthropod, a category that includes not only ticks but also insects such as mosquitoes.

More than 80 species of ticks are found in the United States, and about a dozen of these species can bite humans and are considered medically important, said Rebecca Eisen, a research biologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Moreover, infections from tick-borne diseases in the United States are increasing steadily, and the geographic range of ticks that transmit diseases is also expanding, Eisen told Live Science.

Geographically, the greatest expansion of deer ticks (which spread Lyme disease) has been observed in northeastern and north-central states, while remaining stable in southeastern states, according to a recent report on ticks by Eisen and her colleagues published in the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) journal. The expanded range of this tick may be a result of increasing populations of white-tailed deer, increasingly warmer temperatures and reforestation (the replanting of trees), experts say. [10 Important Ways to Avoid Summer Tick Bites]

As ticks spread into new areas and more cases of tick-related illnesses are reported each year, scientists are discovering new disease-causing agents spread by ticks, Eisen said. Since 2000, six new pathogens that cause disease in humans have been recognized in the United States, she said. For example, a new species of bacteria has recently been detected as a cause of Lyme disease in the upper Midwest that has not yet been found in the eastern U.S.

Ticks are known to spread nine bacterial diseases, such as Lyme disease(caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi) and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsia); four viral infections, including Powassan disease; and one illness linked with a parasite, babesiosis (Babesia microti).

Just three species of ticks are responsible for most U.S. cases of tick-related illness, Eisen said: the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis); theLone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) and the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis).

The blacklegged tick, also called the deer tick, is found in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States, and can transmit Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Powassan disease. The Lone Star tick, which is found in the eastern and southeastern U.S., can spread tularemia. And the American dog tick is found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains and can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Lyme disease is the most well-known tick-borne illness. People who catch it may develop a red-ringed “bull’s-eye” rash, along with flu-like symptoms. As the infection progresses, there may be facial-muscle paralysis or nerve pain. Each year, about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC, but because of unreported cases, the actual number of people in the U.S. with the disease is likely 10 times higher, Eisen said.

Troubling trends

What makes ticks so hospitable to such a wide array of disease-causing agents?

Ticks are parasites, so they have to feed on blood in order to reproduce, said Greg Ebel, a professor and director of the Arthropod-borne and Infectious Diseases Laboratory at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. This means ticks often associate with other animals because they need blood from these hosts to survive, he said.

For example, the ticks that are carriers of Lyme disease feed only one time during their larval stage, one time during their nymph stage and once in adulthood, Ebel told Live Science. They need each of these blood meals to molt and develop to their next stage of life, he explained.

Ticks don’t have wings, so they can’t fly, Ebel noted. In their early stages of development, larvae hang around in leaf piles, looking for mice and birds, and they can acquire infections by feeding on infected hosts, he said. Nymph and adult ticks may crawl onto blades of grass or shrubs. Nymphs may attach to medium-size animals, like chipmunks, and adult ticks may latch onto larger ones, like deer or dogs, Ebel said.  [Video: A Tick Bite Visualized]

Ticks typically spread disease by attaching to the skin of the host, which creates a wound, Ebel said; while ticks are taking a blood meal, they spit their infected saliva into the wound.

Adult female ticks may feed on a host for several days, which can increase their chances of picking up a pathogen that they may later pass along. And some disease-causing agents can be passed from infected female ticks into her eggs, so hatching larvae may already be infected.

Tick-bite prevention

Ticks are not specifically adapted to feed on people, Ebel said. For the most part, when a tick bites a human, it’s by accident, he said.

If, for example, a person is walking by tall grasses or thick vegetation, and a tick senses movement or warmth or smells carbon dioxide, the tick might attach to a human by mistake, thinking it’s an animal capable of giving it a blood meal, Ebel said.

Several factors may be contributing to the rise in tick-borne illnesses. There are more ticks in places where they have always been, and there are now ticks in places where they never were, Ebel said.

More ticks, of course, mean more tick bites.

In turn, there’s more transmission of disease-causing agents, but there is also increased awareness of tick-borne diseases among health professionals, as well as improved technologies to diagnose these illnesses, Ebel said.

Prevention can be challenging because ticks are difficult to control, Eisen said. Community-wide strategies to reduce the number of ticks — such as spraying vegetation with pesticides in areas where people are likely to encounter ticks or using deer fencing to keep animals away from homes — have not always been socially acceptable, she said.

But there are some steps people can take on their own to avoid tick bites:

  • Know which ticks are common in your area. Avoid places with thick vegetation, tall grass and leaf piles, where ticks often live, Eisen recommended.
  • Use insect repellent containingdiethyltoluamide (DEET). Put it on exposed skin when outdoors in areas that may be infested during the spring, summer and early fall, when ticks are most active.Treat clothing and camping gear with the insecticide permethrin, Eisen suggested.
  • Check for ticks. Shower as soon as possible after coming indoors, and check your body, clothes and gear for ticks. Treat dogs and cats with a product designed not to bring ticks into the home, Eisen said.

“The sooner a tick is found, the better a person’s odds are of not becoming infected,” Eisen said.

Pig-to-Human Transplantation CRISPR Genes Editing May Make This Possible

We are one step closer to having pig organ transplants, a new study shows.

Using the genetic cut-and-paste tool CRISPR, scientists have removed DNA-based viruses that usually infect pig organs, raising the chances that these animal organs could be safely transplanted into human patients one day, a process known as xenotransplantation.

Still, that doesn’t mean pig organ transplants are just around the corner; scientists would still need to change other elements of pig transplants to ensure the human body doesn’t reject them.

Currently, there is a dramatic shortage in the number of organ transplants available for people who need them, and many people die before they receive one. Animals such as pigs could theoretically supply an unlimited source of such organs. But immune incompatibilities and viruses that are incorporated into the pig genome, called porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs), have made it very likely that such pig organs would never take on their own. [11 Body Parts Grown in the Lab]

To get around those PERVs, scientists at eGenesis, a bioengineering company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used CRISPR-Cas 9, a genetic tool that cuts the genome wherever it’s targeted, to remove 62 PERVs in pig cells in culture. The team then injected these cells into pig egg cells and generated baby pigs. They then used genetic testing to show that the pigs did not contain any trace of these PERVs.

“Although we have focused in this paper on the applications to xenotransplantation, we envision, more generally, that the synergistic combination of CRISPR-Cas technology with anti-apoptosis treatment may also be used to enable large-scale genome engineering in primary cells for a broad range of applications,” the researchers wrote in the study, which was published yesterday (Aug. 10) in the journal Science.

Opioid Crisis Is a National Emergency, What Happens Now?

President Donald Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a “national emergency,” but what happens now, and could this declaration really help address the crisis?

On Thursday (Aug. 10), Trump told reporters that the opioid epidemic is a national emergency. “We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” he said.

In a statement, the White House said Trump had ” instructed his administration to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.”

The declaration follows a recommendation from Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis, which urged the president to declare a national emergency over the issue.

Experts said that the declaration was encouraging, but it’s uncertain how big of an impact it will have on the opioid crisis.

“To me it’s an important step, [but] there need to be many steps after this,” said Dr. Bradley Stein, a psychiatrist and senior physician policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization. Stein noted that the opioid epidemic has evolved over decades and is not something that can be solved overnight. “There’s not really a silver bullet here — there’s not really a single policy that’s going to solve this. We as a country need to attack it at multiple fronts,” Stein told Live Science. [America’s Opioid-Use Epidemic: 5 Startling Facts]

Since 1999, the number of people who have died from overdoses of either prescription opioids or heroin has nearly quadrupled in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Currently, about 1,000 Americans die per week from drug overdose (not just from opioids), according to a statement from Trump’s opioid commission. And in 2015, opioids (prescription and heroin) killed more than 33,000 people, more than in any other year on record, according to the CDC.

Declaring a national emergency does bring attention to the issue, Stein said. “It certainly sends a signal about the level of federal commitment to addressing this crisis,” he said.

The declaration could also open up more resources for addressing the epidemic. But exactly which resources become available will depend upon which path the administration takes for this emergency declaration.

The administration can declare an emergency in two ways: through the Stafford Act or through the Public Health Service Act, and each of these laws could help in different ways, Stein said.

A declaration through the Stafford Act would trigger the same type of aid that is available to areas after a natural disaster. This means money from the federal disaster-relief fund could be used to bolster efforts to treat opioid addiction or prevent misuse of these drugs, Stein said.

However, money from the disaster-relief fund would be limited; in total, there is currently $1.4 billion available through the fund for aiding disasters over the rest of the year. This could be enough to get some efforts started in the short term, but ultimately, a more long-term investment would be needed, Stein said.

A declaration through the Public Health Service Act could help increase access to opioid treatment in underserved areas by making it easier for doctors to practice medicine in different states, Stein said. Rather than having to go through a lengthy process to obtain a medical license in a different state, a doctor moving to an underserved area would have some of these requirements waived.

A particularly promising benefit of the “national emergency” declaration (regardless of which act is invoked) could be to allow states more flexibility in using funds from Medicaid for treating opioid disorders. For example, currently, Medicaid can’t be used to reimburse treatments at psychiatric facilities, where some people with opioid disorder receive treatment, Stein said. But this barrier could be waived using either the Stafford Act or the Public Health Service Act.

“That would open up more resources [and] more facilities to be able to treat opioid disorders,” Stein said.

As for next steps, Stein said there should be a focus on not only increasing access to treatment for opioid disorders, but also making sure the treatment is of high quality. In addition, more efforts are needed to reduce access to these powerful drugs, through both prescriptions and illegal markets, he said.

“Neither of those things happen[s] overnight … but we can make progress” over the long term, Stein said.

Finally, when new policies are put into place to address the opioid epidemic, it’s important to revisit these policies from time to time to make sure they are working and not having unintended consequences, Stein said. For example, in recent years, the Food and Drug Administration approved newer formulations of opioids that were harder to abuse, but as a result, some people shifted to using heroin instead, Stein said.

“We can’t put things in place and walk away,” Stein said. “We may need to modify some of our responses” to the epidemic.

What is MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)? Here’s his Explanation!

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), also known as nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, is a scanning technique for creating detailed images of the human body.

The scan uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to generate images of parts of the body that can’t be seen as well with X-rays, CT scans or ultrasound. For example, it can help doctors to see inside joints, cartilage, ligaments, muscles and tendons, which makes it helpful for detecting various sports injuries.

MRI is also used to examine internal body structures and diagnose a variety of disorders, such as strokes, tumors, aneurysms, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and eye or inner ear problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is also widely used in research to measure brain structure and function, among other things.

“What makes MRI so powerful is, you have really exquisite soft tissue, and anatomic, detail,” said Dr. Christopher Filippi, a diagnostic radiologist at North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, New York. The biggest benefit of MRI compared with other imaging techniques (such as CT scans and x-rays) is, there’s no risk of being exposed to radiation, Filippi told Live Science.

During an MRI, a person will be asked to lie on a movable table that will slide into a doughnut-shaped opening of the machine to scan a specific portion of your body. The machine itself will generate a strong magnetic field around the person and radio waves will be directed at the body, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A person will not feel the magnetic field or radio waves, so the procedure itself is painless. However, there may be a lot of loud thumping or tapping noises during the scan (it may sound like a sledgehammer!), so people are often given headphones to listen to music or earplugs to help block the sound. A technician may also give instructions to you during the test.

Some people may be given a contrast solution by intravenous, a liquid dye that can highlight specific problems that might not show up otherwise on the scan.

Young children as well as people who feel claustrophobic in enclosed places may be given sedating medication to help them relax or fall asleep during the scan because it is important to stay as still as possible to get clear images. Movement can blur the images.

Some hospitals might have an open MRI machine that is open on the sides rather than the tunnel-like tube found in a traditional machine. This may be a helpful alternative for people who feel afraid of confined spaces.

The scan itself may take 30 to 60 minutes, on average, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

A radiologist will look at the images and send a report to your doctor with your test results.

The human body is mostly water. Water molecules (H2O) contain hydrogen nuclei (protons), which become aligned in a magnetic field. An MRI scanner applies a very strong magnetic field (about 0.2 to 3 teslas, or roughly a thousand times the strength of a typical fridge magnet), which aligns the proton “spins.”

The scanner also produces a radio frequency current that creates a varying magnetic field. The protons absorb the energy from the magnetic field and flip their spins. When the field is turned off, the protons gradually return to their normal spin, a process called precession. The return process produces a radio signal that can be measured by receivers in the scanner and made into an image, Filippi explained.

Protons in different body tissues return to their normal spins at different rates, so the scanner can distinguish among various types of tissue. The scanner settings can be adjusted to produce contrasts between different body tissues. Additional magnetic fields are used to produce 3-dimensional images that may be viewed from different angles. There are many forms of MRI, but diffusion MRI and functional MRI (fMRI) are two of the most common.

This form of MRI measures how water molecules diffuse through body tissues. Certain disease processes — such as a stroke or tumor — can restrict this diffusion, so this method is often used to diagnose them, Filippi said. Diffusion MRI has only been around for about 15 to 20 years, he added.

In addition to structural imaging, MRI can also be used to visualize functional activity in the brain. Functional MRI, or fMRI, measures changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain.

It is used to observe brain structures and to determine which parts of the brain are handling critical functions. Functional MRI may also be used to evaluate damage from a head injury or Alzheimer’s disease. fMRI has been especially useful in neuroscience — “It has really revolutionized how we study the brain,” Filippi told Live Science.

Unlike other imaging forms like X-rays or CT scans, MRI doesn’t use ionizing radiation. MRI is increasingly being used to image fetuses during pregnancy, and no adverse effects on the fetus have been demonstrated, Filippi said.

Still, the procedure can have risks, and medical societies don’t recommend using MRI as the first stage of diagnosis.

Because MRI uses strong magnets, any kind of metal implant, such as a pacemaker, artificial joints, artificial heart valves, cochlear implants or metal plates, screws or rods, pose a hazard. The implant can move or heat up in the magnetic field.

Several patients with pacemakers who underwent MRI scans have died, patients should always be asked about any implants before getting scanned. Many implants today are “MR-safe,” however, Filippi said.

The constant flipping of magnetic fields can produce loud clicking or beeping noises, so ear protection is necessary during the scan.

Next Stop for Researching Parkinson’s Disease

In an effort to find new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, researchers are sending their experiments to space.

This Monday (Aug. 14), researchers will launch a key Parkinson’s disease protein, called LRRK2, to the International Space Station (ISS). The microgravity conditions in space should offer a better test environment for their experiments with this protein, the researchers said.

The materials for their experiments will travel aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule as part of a mission to send supplies and science experiments to the ISS.

The work is a collaboration between The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).

LRRK2 is a type of protein that modifies other proteins. Mutations in the gene that codes for LRRK2 are thought to cause Parkinson’s disease in some people. Researchers have hypothesized that developing drugs to inhibit LRRK2, or block its activity, could help prevent Parkinson’s or slow its progression. [10 Celebrities with Chronic Illnesses]

But before scientists can develop a drug to inhibit LRRK2, they need to know the precise structure of this protein. One way to get a detailed view of its structure is by growing crystals of LRRK2 in lab dishes. However, on Earth, gravity can interfere with the growth of these crystals, and keep them small.

“The quality of our crystals is just not good enough [on Earth],” Sebastian Mathea, a researcher at the University of Oxford who is involved in the LRRK2 project, said during a news conference about the project Tuesday (Aug. 8).

This is where the ISS research comes in: Researchers hope that themicrogravity conditions in space will allow the crystals to grow bigger with fewer defects. The scientists can then get a sharper view of the crystal structure.

Scientists will grow the LRRK2 crystals for about a month in space. Then, the crystals will be sent back to Earth, where they will be analyzed with high-energy X-rays, Mathea said.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects people’s movement abilities, and can result in symptoms such as tremors, slowed movements and muscle stiffness. There are currently no treatments to stop or reverse the progression of the disease, according to The Michael J. Fox Foundation.