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“I have always disliked being photographed, but I intensely dislike being photographed by Anna. It is a strange thing to say, I know, but when she was behind a camera she was like a blind person, something in her eyes went dead, and essential light was extinguished. She seemed not to be looking through the lens, at her subject, but rather to be peering inward, into herself in search of defining some perspective, some essential point of view. She would hold the camera steady at eye-level and thrust her raptor’s head out sideways and stare for a second, sightlessly, it might be, as if one’s features were written in some form of Braille that she was capable of reading at a distance: When she pressed the shutter it seemed the least important thing, no more than a gesture to placate the apparatus.” (

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A developing field called metabonomics analyses metabolites in body fluids in order to better select drug compounds. This field has been accelerated by recent observations in the laboratories of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. Here, the dramatic effect of gut microbiota on drug availability and effectiveness was demonstrated. This was demonstrated in a group of rats who had an unusual ability to metabolise drugs and thus reduce their effectiveness. Speculation that microflora may even influence some drugs that become toxic in a minority of people, such as Vioxx, makes this field of investigation even more important. (

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Some investigators have theorised that fetal cells may circulate inside a mother’s body to protect her health. Investigators from the National University of Singapore have recently demonstrated in mice that fetal cells can be detected in the mother’s brain. These fetal cells transferred into what seemed like neurons, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and macrophages. More impressive was the observation that after chemical injury of the mother’s brain nearly six times as many fetal cells made their way to the damaged area suggesting that these cells could be responding to molecular distress signals released by the injured brain. How fetal cells make it through the capillaries separating the brain from the blood system (blood-brain barrier) is still unknown. (

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The cause of lower respiratory infections is incompletely known. Estimates suggest that 12%–39% of cases are caused by yet unidentified viruses. Scientists from Sweden and Singapore have recently identified a previously unknown virus that causes lower respiratory tract infections primarily in a paediatric population. This unknown parvovirus has been named human bocavirus. Seventeen of 540 children with lower respiratory tract infections were found to be infected with this virus. (Go to www.pnas.org August 22, 2005)

Studies have recently emphasised the increasing prevalence of the metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance in the adult population in the developing world. Investigators studied 523 people aged 7–90 years of age without diabetes; 119 individuals had cognitive impairment. Insulin resistance was significantly higher in the group of patients with cognitive impairment than in those without. Insulin resistance may contribute to cognitive impairment in the elderly population primarily through a vascular mechanism. (

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Tuberculosis remains a major health problem throughout the world. The amount of time required to treat tuberculosis could be cut in half if a series of phase 2 clinical trials of a new drug regimen prove effective. This routine will replace one drug in the current multidrug treatment of tuberculosis with a new antibiotic called moxifloxacin. Studies in mice suggest that this may reduce treatment time by 2–3 months. (

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Although statins have proved to be extremely effective in preventing both cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease some controversy still surrounds their cost effectiveness and side effects. In a meta-analysis which included over 90 000 patients from 14 randomised trials, investigators concluded that there is no evidence of a link between statins and cancer even among older patients. Rhabdomyolysis was extremely rare, in fact only slightly more common among treated patients than controls. The authors conclude that statins are safe and effective and treatment with them should be considered for anyone with increased risk of an occlusive vascular event including stroke. (

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Falls are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in the elderly population. This can be further exasperated when there is coexisting visual impairment. In a randomised controlled trial in New Zealand investigators studied possible intervention therapies. In this study home safety programmes reduced falls and were more effective than an exercise programme in a group of elderly people with poor vision. The Otago exercise programme with vitamin D supplementation was not effective in reducing falls in this study group, probably because of low levels of compliance. (

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Recent studies have reported the isolation and amplification of stem cells from the retina of neonatal mice. Investigators have recently studied the survival integration and differentiation of mouse retinal progenitor cells after transplantation to the subretinal space of adult pigs. In this study retinal progenitor cell xenographs survive for a sufficiently long period to integrate into areas of injury and exhibit morphological differentiation. However by 5 weeks survival diminishes. (

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Past case studies have suggested a putative common origin of left handedness and breast cancer. Investigators from the Netherlands in a breast cancer screening study reviewed more than 12 000 women and found that left handed women were more than twice as likely to develop pre-menopausal breast cancer as non-left handed women. This seemingly inexplicable association may be due to intrauterine exposure to steroid hormones. This is supported by data showing the high prevalence of left handedness in women with intrauterine exposure to diethylstilboestrol. (

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