Drugs already in medicine cabinets may fight dementia, early data suggests

Tried, true, and FDA-approved drugs for cancer and depression—already in medicine cabinets—may also be long-sought treatments for devastating brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other forms of dementia, according to a new study in Brain, a Journal of Neurology.

The research is still in early stages; it only involved mouse and cell experiments, which are frequently not predictive of how things will go in humans. Nevertheless, the preliminary findings are strong, and scientists are optimistic that the drugs could one day help patients with progressive brain disease. Researchers are moving toward human trials. And this process would be streamlined because the drugs have already cleared safety tests. But even if the early findings hold up, it would still take years to reach patients.

In the preliminary tests, the two drugs—trazodone hydrochloride, used to treat depression and anxiety, and dibenzoylmethane (DBM), effective against prostate and breast tumors—could shut down a devastating stress response in brain cells, known to be critical for the progression of brain diseases. The drugs both protected brain cells and restored memory in mice suffering from brain diseases.

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Despite delays, Boeing’s Starliner moving steadily toward the launch pad

Boeing

Last October, during a White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh, President Obama sat down in a simulator of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, which will begin transporting astronauts to the International Space Station within a couple of years. The commander-in-chief wanted to try his hand at a task astronauts would eventually have to perform. After taking the controls and cleanly docking to the station, Obama gleefully exulted, “Your ride is here, baby.”

So when I sat down in the same simulator on a recent Friday morning at the FIRST Robotics Competition in Houston, I felt a little pressure to match the president’s success. Even though this simulator has been “dumbed” down for the general public from the real thing, it still wasn’t trivial to guide the Starliner, nose first, into a docking port on the station’s Node 2 module.

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Soylent recalls powder after dairy accidentally slips into 1.8 powder

Those swigging Soylent are in for another hiccup—but, it seems, no belly aches this time.

The high-profile meal-replacement company issued a voluntary recall Monday after finding that a small amount of milk product may have slipped into some batches of its Soylent 1.8 powder, which is supposed to be free of lactose and milk products. Soylent fans with an allergy or severe sensitivity to milk face serious or even life-threatening allergic reactions if they chug any of the contaminated product.

In an announcement of the voluntary recall on the Food and Drug Administration’s website, the company noted that it has not received any reports of illnesses related to the offending dairy. The company also said it has figured out what went wrong and identified the batches contaminated, and the problem won’t affect future products or interrupt supply.

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Cooler climates linked to rapid evolution

While natural selection is a big part of evolution, the theory now embraces much more than that. One of the big concepts that explains a lot of the pattern of evolution throughout history is called “adaptive radiation.” Adaptive radiation is a process in which environmental changes create new resources, challenges, and environmental niches, enabling rapid diversification of organisms from a single ancestral species.

Adaptive radiation provides a sound explanation that captures the effects of the interactions among organisms on species diversification. However, non-biological effects—the details of how environmental changes interact with species—are not easy to incorporate into this model and have not been extensively explored.

In a recent investigation published in PNAS, a team of scientists developed a method to test how non-biological variables influence the rates of trait evolution within a group of related species. This method was based on a framework that compares evolutionary trajectories, which the scientists validated through intensive simulations.

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President Trump quips about sending humans to Mars in his first term

Early on Monday morning, NASA’s veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson set a US record for cumulative time in space, surpassing Jeff Williams’ record of 534 days. To honor her achievement, President Donald Trump called Whitson from the Oval Office, flanked by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and another NASA astronaut, Kate Rubins.

The conversation was cordial, and President Trump was gracious in congratulating Whitson and asking about her science activities on the space station. After Whitson explained various engineering efforts, including the recycling of urine into water to make for a closed-loop environmental system, Trump replied, “Well that’s good, I’m glad to hear that. Better you than me.”

During the call, the president also asked about NASA’s Journey to Mars and whether any of the astronauts, including Whitson, Rubins, and Jack Fischer, wanted to go to Mars. They all did. “Tell me, for Mars, what do you see a timing for actually sending people to Mars. Is there a schedule, and when do you see that happening?” he then asked.

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To keep EpiPen sales up, Mylan threatened states, sued making bogus claims

Pharmaceutical company Mylan sued West Virginia in 2015 to keep its EpiPens on the state’s “preferred drug list,” which, if successful, would mean that the state’s Medicaid programs would have to automatically pay for the pricey epinephrine auto-injectors.

The bold and unusual move by Mylan—which ultimately failed—is yet another example of the aggressive marketing and legal tactics the company used to boost profits from EpiPens, which halt life-threatening allergic reactions. Since Mylan acquired rights to EpiPen in 2007, the company raised its price by more than 400 percent. Mylan also allegedly made illegal deals with schools to undercut competitors and allegedly scammed federal and state regulators out of millions in rebates by knowingly misclassifying the device.

Last year, EpiPen’s sales and expanded markets brought in more than $1 billion in revenue for Mylan. The company’s CEO, Heather Bresch, is one of the highest-paid CEOs in the industry, earning nearly $19 million annually.

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UK has first coal-free power day since the Industrial Revolution

In 1882, the world’s first coal-fired public-use power station opened in London at 57 Holborn Viaduct—today a fairly nondescript location in the centre of London close to Blackfriars. On Friday, some 135 years, a few monarchs, and an entire Industrial Revolution later, the UK power grid had its first ever day without coal energy.

The National Grid control room announced on April 21 that from 11pm on Thursday to 11pm on Friday the UK’s electricity demand was supplied without firing up some coal power plants. The UK’s power mix for the day was: 50.3% natural gas, 21.2% nuclear, 12.2% wind, 8.3% imported from France, the Netherlands, and Ireland, 6.7% biomass, and 3.6% solar. (That appears to come to 102.3%… better to supply too much power than not enough, perhaps?)

As you can see from the graph above, coal-free Friday was more of an eventual inevitability than a surprise. The UK has been rapidly scaling back its coal use—it accounted for 23 percent of our power use in 2015, then 9 percent in 2016—and the government says it wants to close down all remaining coal power plants by 2025.

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“Mindless Eating,” or how to send an entire life of research into question

Brian Wansink didn’t mean to spark an investigative fury that revisited his entire life’s work. He meant to write a well-intentioned blog post encouraging PhD students to jump at research opportunities. But his blog post accidentally highlighted some questionable research practices that caused a group of data detectives to jump on the case.

Wansink attracted the attention because he’s a rockstar researcher—when someone’s work has had such astronomical impact, problems in their research are a big deal. His post also came at a time when his field, social sciences, is under increased scrutiny due to problems reproducing some of its key findings.

Wansink is probably regretting he ever started typing. Tim van der Zee, one of the scientists participating in the ongoing examination into Wansink’s past, keeps a running account of what’s turned up so far. “To the best of my knowledge,” van der Zee writes in a blog post most recently updated on April 6, “there are currently 42 publications from Wansink which are alleged to contain minor to very serious issues, which have been cited over 3,700 times, are published in over 25 different journals, and in eight books, spanning over 20 years of research.”

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