Review Category : Health

This Robot Is Being Taught to Flinch as Though It’s Reacting to Pain

Leibniz University of Hannover(HANNOVER, Germany) — Robots with emotion. Robots that can do our jobs. Robotic friends. Next up: Robots that can feel pain.

Researchers in Germany are developing an artificial nervous system that would teach robots to feel and react to pain, with the intent of helping them to avoid damage to their systems and warn their human co-workers, which could help prevent accidents.

A team of researchers from Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany, described their research at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation last week in Stockholm, Sweden.

In humans, neurons transmit pain. Artificial neurons in the robot would send the same signals, allowing it to determine the scope of the pain, from light to severe.

“Pain is a system that protects us. When we move away from the source of pain, it helps us not get hurt,” Johannes Kuehn, one of the researchers, told IEEE Spectrum.

How the robot reacts is also key. Kuehn and his co-worker, Sami Haddadin, wrote in a paper published in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters they used human pain research to understand how robotic reflexes could help protect the machines.

Using a tactile fingertip sensor that can feel temperature and pressure, the researchers developed a prototype reflex controller based on how human feel when they experience physical pain. When the force on the sensor passes a certain level, the robot receives alerts, the same way humans would when they experience pain. The robot can then use its protective reflexes.

It’s only a matter of time before robots are practically human-like.

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Zika Fears Prompt 150 Experts to Call for Rio Olympics to Be Moved

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A group of 150 prominent scientists, doctors and medical ethicists released a letter calling for this summer’s Olympic Games to be postponed or moved from Rio de Janeiro due to the ongoing Zika virus outbreak in Brazil.

In a letter directed to World Health Organization Director Dr. Margaret Chan, the group said that new findings about the Zika virus should result in the games being moved or postponed to safeguard the thousands of athletes, staff and reporters scheduled to attend the games.

“Currently, many athletes, delegations, and journalists are struggling with the decision of whether to participate in the Rio 2016 Games,” the group wrote. “We agree with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendation that workers should ‘Consider delaying travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission’. If that advice were followed uniformly, no athlete would have to choose between risking disease and participating in a competition that many have trained for their whole lives.”

New information about the Zika virus was cited by the group in the letter as an additional reason to postpone or move the games. The disease has been found to cause the birth defect microcephaly in pregnant women and has also been linked to an immunological reaction called Guillain-Barré syndrome.

“That while Zika’s risk to any single individual is low, the risk to a population is undeniably high. Currently, Brazil’s government reports 120,000 probable Zika cases, and 1,300 confirmed cases of microcephaly (with another 3,300 under investigation), which is above the historical level of microcephaly,” the group said.

The group of experts also pointed out that current mosquito-killing programs in Rio were ineffective and that when they looked at dengue fever, which is spread by the same mosquitoes that spread Zika virus, the infections were up markedly in 2016 compared to the previous two years.

The group also claimed the WHO had a conflict of interest due to a decades-long partnership with the International Olympic Committee and said previous statements by WHO officials have been “troubling.”

“To prejudge that ‘there’s not going to be a lot of problems,’ before reviewing this evidence [on Zika virus effects] is extremely inappropriate of WHO, and suggests that a change in leadership may be required to restore WHO’s credibility,” the group wrote.

The WHO and the International Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.

Art Caplan, director of the NYU Division of Medical Ethics and co-author of the letter, told ABC News that the group was not alleging any wrongdoing by the WHO or IOC but wanted to bring up these issues to spark a dialogue about the risks involved and encourage health officials unrelated to the Olympics to weigh in.

“What we’re really focused on is can we have transparent, open, frank, televised, out-in-the-open discussion with experts” unconnected to the Olympics, Caplan said. “We think WHO is close to the IOC. … They work together a lot.”

The big fear, Caplan said, is that the giant sporting event will enable the transmission of the virus through infected travelers to other parts of the globe that have yet to be affected by the disease.

“We’re worried about bringing the mosquito back to places it isn’t, like India,” Caplan aid. “You have people who will be infected and … there are people literally coming from everywhere.”

Earlier this month, the director of the WHO addressed Zika virus fears amid the Olympics, saying the WHO would not call for the games to be moved but that they were using a “targeted approach” to decrease transmission and warning those most at risk not to visit the country.

“I do share the concern of some athletes and travelers and, as I said, it is very much an individual decision,” Chan said at the time. “The role of WHO is to provide them with support so they can make the right decision.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Pennsylvania Campaign Seeks to End Stigma Around Disabilities Through Provocative Signs

Let’s Think Again(HARRISBURG, Pa.) — “They call it ‘ADHD,’ I call it bad parenting.”

“Handicapped people make me nervous.”

“There’s no such thing as a learning disability — people just need to work harder.”

Those are just a sampling of signs being posted around Pennsylvania in a campaign, co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council (PDDC) and marketing firm Suasion, launched not to offend, but to destigmatize those with disabilities.

The “Let’s Think Again” campaign, launched statewide last month, aims to use provocative signs to bring more awareness to the stigmas surrounding those living with mental, emotional, intellectual and physical disabilities, PDDC Executive Director Graham Mulholland told ABC News.

The campaign was inspired by a 2014 study from the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association in which 79 percent of residents surveyed said they felt “discomfort and awkwardness” around those with disabilities.

“It is harsh,” Mulholland said of the campaign. “But we’ve tried to work on the issue for a number of years and we really weren’t getting anywhere.”

“The approach has been to present [those with disabilities] to make them look good or accomplished or just like regular people and the change was always about the person with the disability. And we decided that the change belonged in the beholder and the general public. We want to educate the public about their own thoughts and feelings when they’re around people with disabilities,” he added.

Mulholland said the reaction from disability communities in the state has “been very positive.”

“Some were a little wary … but after we explained what we were up to and why, they became to understand why we were choosing to do it that way,” he explained.

Although signage can no longer be seen around the state, the campaign hopes to continue the conversation online through its website, LetsThinkAgain.org.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Zika Fears Prompt 125 Experts to Call for Rio Olympics to Be Moved

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A group of 125 prominent scientists, doctors and medical ethicists released a letter calling for this summer’s Olympic Games to be postponed or moved from Rio de Janeiro due to the ongoing Zika virus outbreak in Brazil.

In a letter directed to World Health Organization Director Dr. Margaret Chan, the group said that new findings about the Zika virus should result in the games being moved or postponed to safeguard the thousands of athletes, staff and reporters scheduled to attend the games.

“Currently, many athletes, delegations, and journalists are struggling with the decision of whether to participate in the Rio 2016 Games,” the group wrote. “We agree with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendation that workers should ‘Consider delaying travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission’. If that advice were followed uniformly, no athlete would have to choose between risking disease and participating in a competition that many have trained for their whole lives.”

New information about the Zika virus was cited by the group in the letter as an additional reason to postpone or move the games. The disease has been found to cause the birth defect microcephaly in pregnant women and has also been linked to an immunological reaction called Guillain-Barré syndrome.

“That while Zika’s risk to any single individual is low, the risk to a population is undeniably high. Currently, Brazil’s government reports 120,000 probable Zika cases, and 1,300 confirmed cases of microcephaly (with another 3,300 under investigation), which is above the historical level of microcephaly,” the group said.

The group of experts also pointed out that current mosquito-killing programs in Rio were ineffective and that when they looked at dengue fever, which is spread by the same mosquitoes that spread Zika virus, the infections were up markedly in 2016 compared to the previous two years.

The group also claimed the WHO had a conflict of interest due to a decades-long partnership with the International Olympic Committee and said previous statements by WHO officials have been “troubling.”

“To prejudge that ‘there’s not going to be a lot of problems,’ before reviewing this evidence [on Zika virus effects] is extremely inappropriate of WHO, and suggests that a change in leadership may be required to restore WHO’s credibility,” the group wrote.

The WHO and the International Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.

Art Caplan, director of the NYU Division of Medical Ethics and co-author of the letter, told ABC News that the group was not alleging any wrongdoing by the WHO or IOC but wanted to bring up these issues to spark a dialogue about the risks involved and encourage health officials unrelated to the Olympics to weigh in.

“What we’re really focused on is can we have transparent, open, frank, televised, out-in-the-open discussion with experts” unconnected to the Olympics, Caplan said. “We think WHO is close to the IOC. … They work together a lot.”

The big fear, Caplan said, is that the giant sporting event will enable the transmission of the virus through infected travelers to other parts of the globe that have yet to be affected by the disease.

“We’re worried about bringing the mosquito back to places it isn’t, like India,” Caplan aid. “You have people who will be infected and … there are people literally coming from everywhere.”

Earlier this month, the director of the WHO addressed Zika virus fears amid the Olympics, saying the WHO would not call for the games to be moved but that they were using a “targeted approach” to decrease transmission and warning those most at risk not to visit the country.

“I do share the concern of some athletes and travelers and, as I said, it is very much an individual decision,” Chan said at the time. “The role of WHO is to provide them with support so they can make the right decision.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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How to Tell If Your Kid Might Be Addicted to the Cellphone

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Kids who are overly attached to their phones, possibly crossing the line into addiction, can be a problem for many families.

Jason Clark, 15, of Little Rock, Arkansas, is no different. He loves his smartphone, but he’s so attached to it that his family worries he might one day need therapy to get his habit under control.

ABC News’ Good Morning America asked Jason to put an app on his phone to track his phone use.

For two days in a row, he clocked in at six hours of screen time.

His mom, Tomika Clark, said there are days her son will spend eight or even 12 hours on the phone morning, noon and night, at home, at school, and even at the library.

Between social media, music, texting and gaming, the hours add up.

Clark said she thinks his phone use has crossed a line.

“When you’re talking about addiction, you’re talking about, ‘I can’t live without it,’” she explained, adding that she “knows he is” dependent on his phone.

Cellphone addiction isn’t officially designated as a clinical disorder like drug or alcohol addiction, but licensed Maryland psychologist Ed Spector, an expert on the healthy use of technology, thinks it should be.

He treats people who have what he calls “compulsive use of technology.”

“Their brains change in similar ways to real chemical-addicts,” Spector told ABC News. “If you talk to the parents of my clients, they come in and they say, ‘My kid’s like a junkie.’ They feel like it’s an addiction.”

But when does it go from being normal, acceptable teenage behavior to a problem that needs to be addressed?

Spector said not to just focus on the hours.

“When we talk about compulsion, it’s not the behavior, it’s whether you have control over it,” he said.

Clark says she worries Jason fits the definition and his compulsion is taking away from other parts of his life. She said as his smartphone use has gone up, his grades have gone down and she has noticed changes in his behavior.

“When somebody freaks out because you’re taking something they have an emotional attachment to, it is an addition,” she said.

Jason said he sees nothing wrong or abnormal about his phone use and doesn’t believe it has a major effect on other parts of his life, though he admits he could probably stand to cut back.

Caroline Knorr, parenting editor for Common Sense Media, outlined several phone-obsession warning signs: Depression, slipping grades, hostility, highly sensitive, strong preoccupation with phone and not being interested in activities they used to love.

Knorr also provided tips for parents to limit their kids’ phone use: Set up screen-free times and zones, limit multitasking, prohibit phones in the bedroom at night and be a good digital role model.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Study: Healthy Living Could Normalize Risk for Breast Cancer

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Some women at high risk for breast cancer may be able to lower their risk to that of an average woman by making healthy lifestyle choices, according to a new study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).

To understand if healthy living could lower the possibility of developing breast cancer in the approximately 23,000 high-risk white woman between the ages of 30 to 80 that they studied, researchers from several institutions including the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University poured through data from their health records about their smoking and drinking habits, weight indexes and use of hormones.

An average 30-year-old woman has approximately an 11 percent chance of developing breast cancer by the time she is 80, according to the report. However, some women have a much higher risk of developing the disease due to “non-modifiable” issues like family history, genetic markers and reproductive factors — as much as 23.5 percent risk for developing breast cancer.

Using data from the cancer cohort and national survey they included in the study, researchers created a model to estimate risk among this group of white women.

What they found is that those with seemingly high risk for breast cancer due to genetic factors or family history could lower their overall risk to the average level of 11 percent by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Robert Shenk, Medical Director at the Breast Center, University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland, Ohio said these JAMA study results may help shed light on how women can modify their cancer risk. Most notably, not having an a high BMI, which would indicate overweight or obese body types, not smoking and not drinking heavily may all help people feel more in control of their health and cancer risk.

But, he added that further research could also show that those with a family history of breast cancer may have a lower risk than previously thought. Shenk said some women may understand their risk more and not feel doomed to have cancer due to family history and some could be oblivious to monitoring for breast cancer because they have no family history.

“The average risk is 10 to 12 percent for everyone,” said Shenk. “The highest risk factor is being a woman.”

This study is limited by the specific group — white women between the ages of 30 to 80 in Australia, Europe and the U.S., so the findings may not be expandable to a larger population of varying ethnic groups, some of which have different risk factors.

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Mom Writes Message to Stranger Who Disciplined Her Child on the Playground

Karen Alpert/BabySideburns.com(CHICAGO) — One mom’s blog post is drawing tons of Internet buzz after she thanked a stranger for disciplining her son at the playground.

“My guess is when that mom told my son to knock it off, that might not have been an easy decision to make,” Karen Alpert of Chicago told ABC News. “Most moms are biting their tongue before they tell another kid to stop it.”

She added: “I would like other parents to have that courage and I feel like if another parent does that for me, then, ‘Thank you’ – you deserve the applause for having that courage.”

Alpert, who’s mom to Zoey, 7, and Holden, 4, said it was earlier this week when she brought Holden and his buddy to play on the playground.

While Holden was swinging on the monkey bars with another child, Albert noticed he hadn’t waited his turn. A nearby mom asked him to stop, Alpert said.

“He’s a nice, sweet kid, but he really wasn’t stopping to think about this other child,” she said. “I kind of saw it going on in the corner of my eye. You walk over, and you’re so angry at them for doing that instead of thanking the other parents for helping.”

So Tuesday, Alpert took to her blog babysideburns.com, to show her gratitude for the mom who helped out that day.

The post read, in part:

“Now before I continue, I just want to say that yes, I know I should have been there when this all went down, but unfortunately I was on the other side of the playground with my son’s friend who was crying. So no, I wasn’t there, but does that give you a right to discipline my kiddo? Does that give you the right to talk to him sternly and tell him to knock it off? Does that give you the right to act like you are the person in charge when he is actually MY child?”

“Ummmm, yes. YES IT DOES.”

She added: “I didn’t get the chance to say this today, but THANK YOU.”

The letter received 317,000 Facebook “likes” and a slew of comments in three days.

“Omg! I was almost scared for the same type of blog,” one person commented. “I totally agree with this! The beginning sounded like it was gonna go the complete opposite way! LOVE THIS. It takes a village to raise a child.”

Another argued: “If there is something my child is doing, by all means politely come up to me and inform me. Disciplining a child without first acknowledging the issue with the parent is largely overstepping the boundary.”

Alpert said she was surprised of her post’s going viral.

“I guess it’s a hot-button issue,” she said. “It seems to me that most parents agree with this and they realize how difficult parenting alone is and we need to rely on each other.

“[I’ve heard] friends complaining – that not everyone feels this way,” Alpert added. “ … But if your kid is doing something to bother my kid and there’s no parent around, I’m going to say something. Maybe one less child will get hurt physically or emotionally when another parent speaks up.”

Alpert hopes her blog encourages parents to support one another.

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Antibiotic-Resistant Strain of Bacteria Renews Fears of Superbug Arrival in the US

luchschen/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Federal health officials say researchers may have uncovered a strain of bacteria so resistant to treatment that some of the toughest antibiotics cannot kill it.

Bacteria found in a Pennsylvania woman suffering from a urinary tract infection was found to be resistant to the antibiotic called colistin, according to a case report released on Thursday in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

The strain of bacteria was isolated from her urine. Colistin is considered a last-resort antibiotic for bacteria that does not respond to medication. It is rarely used because of its harsh side effects.

“The more we look at drug resistance, the more concerned we are,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics.”

CDC officials did clarify however that in this woman’s case, the bacteria strain was susceptible to a more commonly used antibiotic, making the use of colistin for treatment unnecessary.

“The strain is not resistant to everything. It carries the plasmid [genetic material] for colistin resistance,” said Dr. Beth Bell, director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases and the person overseeing antibiotic resistance. “The fear is that this could spread to other bacteria and create the bacterium that would be resistant to everything.”

For years, officials have been concerned that antibiotic-resistant bacteria could develop and not be affected by a known antibiotic. There are only a few classes of antibiotics to treat bacterial infections to begin with, experts say.

The overuse of antibiotics by people and in animals has bred superbugs, resistant strains of bacteria. A lack of good infection control has helped them spread in hospitals. According to the CDC, there were 2 million antibiotic resistant infections in 2013.

“The medicine cabinet is empty for some patients,” Frieden said. “It is the end of the road for antibiotics unless we act urgently.”

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Implant to Curb Opioid Addiction Approved by FDA, Offering New Tool to Fight Epidemic

xmee/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The first implantable treatment for opioid addiction was approved on Thursday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The implant, a match-sized rod that is inserted under the skin, releases a milder opioid drug called buprenorphine that is usually taken orally to treat addiction. Under the name Probuphine, the implant comprises four rods that release the drug at a low dose for six months.

“Anyone who’s gone through addiction knows that motivation fluctuates day to day. This allows a person to decide for their future self,” Dr. Keith Humphreys, a Stanford psychiatrist who also served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told ABC News.

The implant is designed for opioid addicts who are “already stable on low-to-moderate doses” of oral buprenorphine, the FDA said in a statement. Experts like Humphreys believe this could be a game-changer for the 2.5 million Americans with an opioid addiction.

Experts also say that an implantable rod could prevent addicts from abusing the oral drug.

In January, an FDA advisory committee voted 12-to-5 to recommend the implant for FDA approval, but it was unclear how the FDA would act on that recommendation until today.

While Probuphine was found to be about as effective as the oral medication, the FDA advisory report raised the question of who would be implanting and removing the rods. Relatively few buprenorphine prescriptions are written by doctors with surgical training, the report said.

“A typical psychiatrist hasn’t laid their hand on a patient in 20 years,” Humphreys said.

Early tests showed that even clinicians who regularly performed procedures were unable to remove the implant in some cases, according to the report.

“There have been improvements in the tools and techniques,” said Behshad Sheldon, CEO of Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, which markets Probuphine with San Francisco–based Titan Pharmaceuticals.

Both the implantation and removal kits have undergone recent changes to make it easier for doctors and reduce bruising, Sheldon told ABC News.

While side effects have been rarely reported in clinical trials, they may typically include infection at the injection side, according to the FDA report.

Braeburn aims to make the product widely available to patients starting June 21, said Sheldon, adding that it will cost “under $1,000 a month” but declining to provide an exact price.

But patients like Sarah Wilson, a mother of four who was involved in the implant trials, said she has already seen some benefit.

Wilson told ABC News that she developed a hydrocodone addiction seven years ago after being hit by a drunk driver and developing chronic pain. She began taking oral buprenorphine to get sober and was transitioned to the Probuphine implant less than a year later.

She said she stopped worrying that her kids would get into her medication, that her local pharmacy would not have the drug in stock, and that she couldn’t travel. She also stopped waking up in the early morning when she felt the oral drugs would wear off, she said.

“I went from existing to living,” Wilson said.

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High Risk for Breast Cancer May Be Normalized With Healthy Living, Study Finds

BakiBG/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Some women at high risk for breast cancer may be able to lower their risk to that of an average woman by making healthy lifestyle choices, according to a new study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).

Dr. Robert Shenk, Medical Director at the Breast Center, University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland, Ohio said these JAMA study results may help shed light on how women can modify their cancer risk.

“We have some of those models but this takes in a lot more factors,” Shenk told ABC News. “I think ultimately [doctors are] going to have to look at things more prospectively.”

To understand if healthy living could lower the possibility of developing breast cancer in the approximately 23,000 high-risk white woman between the ages of 30 to 80 that they studied, researchers from several institutions including the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University poured through data from their health records about their smoking and drinking habits, weight indexes and use of hormones.

An average 30-year-old woman has approximately an 11 percent chance of developing breast cancer by the time she is 80, according to the report. However, some women have a much higher risk of developing the disease due to “non-modifiable” issues like family history, genetic markers and reproductive factors — as much as 23.5 percent risk for developing breast cancer.

Using data from the cancer cohort and national survey they included in the study, researchers created a model to estimate risk among this group of white women.

What they found is that those with seemingly high risk for breast cancer due to genetic factors or family history could lower their overall risk to the average level of 11 percent by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

“For women in the highest decile of risk owing to non-modifiable factors, those who had low BMI, did not drink or smoke, and did not use MHT [menopause hormone therapy] had risks comparable to an average woman in the general population,” the authors said. They caution that more research is necessary to determine if these lifestyle choices will have the same effect on other groups of women.

Shenk pointed out living a healthy lifestyle by not having an a high BMI, which would indicate overweight or obese body types, not smoking and not drinking heavily may all help people feel more in control of their health and cancer risk. Additionally, he pointed out this data may help provide better information about who should be screened for cancer via yearly mammograms.

“You can modify some factors to decrease the risk,” said Shenk.

But, he added that further research could also show that those with a family history of breast cancer may have a lower risk than previously thought.

Shenk said some women may understand their risk more and not feel doomed to have cancer due to family history and some could be oblivious to monitoring for breast cancer because they have no family history.

“The average risk is 10 to 12 percent for everyone,” said Shenk. “The highest risk factor is being a woman.”

This study is limited by the specific group — white women between the ages of 30 to 80 in Australia, Europe and the U.S. The findings may not be expandable to a larger population. Additionally, ethnic differences affect the baseline risk for breast cancer so these findings may not be the same for all women with an increased risk of breast cancer due to genetic variations and family history.

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