Blind Mice…No More

An injection into the eye could one day restore sight to the blind, scientists say.

The jab has already been found to repair sight in blind mice, leading to hopes for new treatments for human patients.

The molecule is injected into the eyes and acts as a ‘photoswitch’ that turns on light sensitive cells.

It allowed genetically programmed sightless animals to temporarily see. The researchers are now working on a better compound that could eventually cure people with degenerative blindness.

It could help those with the genetic disease retinitis pigmentosa – the most common inherited form of blindness – as well as AMD (age-related macular degeneration).

In both diseases the light sensitive cells in the retina – the rods and cones – die, leaving the eye without functional photoreceptors.

Professor Richard Kramer, of California University in Berkeley, said the chemical called AAQ acts by making the remaining, normally ‘blind’ cells in the retina sensitive to light.

AAQ (acrylamide-azobenzene-quaternary ammonium) is a photoswitch that binds to proteins on the surface of retinal cells. When switched on by light AAQ activates brain cells in much the same way as rods and cones are triggered.

Prof Kramer said: ‘This is similar to the way local anaesthetics work – they embed themselves in ion channels and stick around for a long time so you stay numb for a long time.

‘Our molecule is different in that it’s light sensitive so you can turn it on and off and turn on or off neural activity.’

Because the chemical eventually wears off it may offer a safer alternative to other experimental approaches for restoring sight – such as gene or stem cell therapies – which permanently change the retina. It’s also less invasive than implanting light-sensitive chips in the eye.

Prof Kramer said: ‘The advantage of this approach is it is a simple chemical which means you can change the dosage, you can use it in combination with other therapies or you can discontinue the therapy if you don’t like the results.

‘As improved chemicals become available you could offer them to patients. You can’t do that when you surgically implant a chip or after you genetically modify somebody.’

Co-researcher Dr Russell Van Gelder, an ophthalmologist at Washington University in Seattle, said: ‘This is a major advance in the field of vision restoration.’

The blind mice in the experiment had genetic mutations making their rods and cones die within months of birth and inactivated other photopigments in the eye.

After injecting very small amounts of AAQ into their eyes, light sensitivity was restored because the mice’s pupils contracted in bright light.

The mice showed light avoidance – a typical rodent behavior, impossible without the animals being able to see some light.

Prof Kramer whose study is published in Neuron is hoping to conduct more sophisticated vision tests in rodents injected with the next generation of the compound.

Dr Van Gelder said: ‘The photoswitch approach offers real hope to patients with retinal degeneration.

‘We still need to show these compounds are safe and will work in people the way they work in mice but these results demonstrate this class of compound restores light sensitivity to retinas blind from genetic disease.’

The current technologies being evaluated for restoring sight include injection of stem cells, gene therapy to insert a photoreceptor into blind neurons to make them sensitive to light and installation of electronic prosthetic devices to stimulate blind neurons.

Prof Kramer said several dozen people already have retinal implants and have had rudimentary, low vision restored.

Eight years ago his researchers developed an optogenetic technique to chemically alter potassium ion channels in blind neurons so a photoswitch could latch on.

Potassium channels normally open to turn a cell off but with the attached photoswitch they were opened when hit by ultraviolet light and closed when hit by green light – activating and deactivating the neurons.

Prof Kramer said new versions of AAQ now being tested activate neurons for days rather than hours using blue-green light of moderate intensity.

These photoswitches naturally deactivate in darkness so a second color of light is not needed to switch them off.

He said: ‘This is what we are really excited about.’

‘However, clearly it is still at an early stage and more extensive trials are needed to confirm the safety and effectiveness of this kind of treatment.’

Colorado Massacre: No Causes, No Cures

By Michael Medved

After the grisly massacre in Colorado no one will attend weekend showings of The Dark Knight Rises with expectations of a rollicking, uplifting, feel-good night at the movies. But even before its association with horrifying images of real-life mass murder, this final installment in the current Batman series suffered from serious deficiencies in terms of its fun factor. It’s wrong to suggest that the movie provoked the killings in its midnight Aurora premiere, but those crimes do, in a sense, expose the nihilistic darkness at the heart of the film that’s become dominant in far too much of today’s pop culture.

Whenever Americans find themselves transfixed by stories of senseless slaughter, there’s an irresistible impulse to seek causes and cures. We’re supposed to probe some chain of cruelty and complaint that impelled the alleged lone gunman (and it’s almost always a lone gunman) to undertake his deadly rampage. Custom also calls for earnest pronouncements by every preening pundit on social and governmental changes that might prevent such carnage in the future.

Concerning causes, we usually hear about the devastating impact of adolescent bullying, the influence of violent media imagery, the breakdown of the family, or, more generally, the toxic nature of our “sick society.” When it comes to cures, the most common recommendations involve tighter regulation of guns, or new restrictions on brutal entertainment, or more emphasis on character building in school, or more antibullying protections, or mental-health programs, or enhanced economic mobility, or smaller class size, or more spirituality in public life, or some idealized combination of all of the above.

Of course, none of these causes or cures seems to fit comfortably with what we know of the alleged shooter. Like the alleged killer’s Colorado counterparts who perpetrated the Columbine massacre in 1999, the evidence suggests that the suspect was a bully rather than the bullied: with a reported height of 6 feet 3, he no doubt would have cut a hugely intimidating figure on the night of his alleged crime, dressed in black ninja garb with body armor and gas mask. Moreover, preliminary information hardly suggests the suspect is a troubled loser on the margins of society; instead, James Holmes compiled an impressive record of academic achievement (in the challenging field of neuroscience) with no reported record of prior arrests or serious psychiatric problems.

As for the recommended reforms that might prevent such nightmarish scenarios, the inevitable and simplistic case for gun control remains illogical at best, feeble at worst. For instance, Norway imposes fierce regulation on all private ownership of firearms, requiring detailed rules for use and even storage as well as a rigorous and restrictive licensing process. None of this prevented the monstrous Anders Behring Breivik from butchering 77 of his countrymen in a 2011 killing spree that lasted far longer and took a much heavier toll in human life than the movie massacre in Colorado.

All civilized societies enforce unequivocal laws against murder, let alone wanton slaughter, so it’s difficult to argue that a determined killer planning to break such clear-cut rules will somehow stop short when it comes to violating far more complicated and obscure strictures on firearms ownership. The stories from Aurora also concentrated on the tragic case of one 24 year-old victim, Jessica Ghawi, who previously survived a bloody gun massacre at a shopping center in Toronto only to succumb to this latest outrage in the Rocky Mountains. Advocates for gun control (filmmaker Michael Moore particularly prominent among them) regularly lift up Canada as an enlightened example of tough, common-sense firearms regulation, which may in fact reduce, but hardly eliminates, gun violence.

Meanwhile, the incidence of homicidal violence in the United States has dramatically declined over the last 30 years, even as gun ownership has soared in every segment of society. According the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the overall murder rate peaked in 1980 at 10.7 per 100,000 people and then fell by more than half to 4.8 in 2010—a much more substantial drop in the murder rate than in tightly gun-controlled Canada, by the way.

But America’s ongoing reduction in violent crime also undermines a favorite talking point of many conservatives, who try to blame media violence for brutality on the streets. Anyone who believes that the reduction in the murder rate in the United States since 1980 is either the result or the cause of a corresponding reduction of violent imagery in movies, music, or TV has paid no attention to long-term trends in popular culture. Movies that once qualified as R- or even X-rated now easily slide into the catchall PG-13 parental-guidance designation for any child above the age of 12—as did the deeply disturbing and gratuitously sadistic The Dark Knight Rises.

Director Christopher Nolan seemed deeply determined to channel his inner Mel Gibson and to create a comic-book classic that might be subtitled “The Passion of the Batman.” The Caped Crusader suffers broken bones, bloody beatings, and exquisite tortures, all for the sins of citizens who mostly reject and despise him in a two-hour-and-45-minute ordeal. The deafening soundtrack, featuring a relentless and brutalist film score by the redoubtable Hans Zimmer, may count as the most earsplitting and headache-inducing sonic assault in major-motion-picture history. As my fellow film critic Joe Morgenstern sagely observed in The Wall Street Journal, the film “makes you feel thoroughly miserable about life. It’s spectacular, to be sure, but also remarkable for its all-encompassing gloom. No movie has ever administered more punishment, to its hero or its audience, in the name of mainstream entertainment.”

But worried social critics should avoid the instinct to interpret the popular embrace of such a cinematic assault as some powerful evidence of our sick society, just as the senseless killings in Colorado hardly offer proof of national disease or decline. On Aug. 1, 1966, an engineering student and former Marine named Charles Whitman murdered 16 strangers and wounded 32 others in an inexplicable rampage at the University of Texas, but we tend to look back on that era of the Great Society with nostalgia and affection as a time of hopeful innocence.

My first conscious exposure to the “sick society” mantra came two years later, after the Robert Kennedy assassination (which I personally witnessed), which, combined with the prior killings of JFK and MLK, led many prominent observers to suggest a deep disease afflicting the nation’s soul. Even at the time, that made little sense to me: as a buff on presidential assassinations, I knew that President McKinley in 1901 and President Garfield in 1881 had been shot by demented loners who bore a strong family resemblance to Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and Sirhan Sirhan, but few historians view that confident earlier era of economic growth and rising world power as a time of deep social illness.

A proper perspective doesn’t minimize the horror of the Colorado crimes, but should dismiss the obnoxious demands for coming up with causes and cures. There’s no cause for the killer’s unspeakable acts and no conclusive cure for senseless violence in society. Insanity and evil represent eternal and inevitable elements of the human condition. The killing doesn’t carry a politically correct point, or a particularly timely lesson, or some deeper meaning. It is, in the worst possible sense, meaningless and all the more horrible for that. The senselessness of the suffering should help us to avoid our vague, mostly groundless sense of collective guilt, but it won’t make that suffering—either on screen or in the streets—any more endurable.

Attribution: Townhall, Daily Beast

This Just In…New York City Bans Everything

There’s the smoking ban, salt, transfats,  large sugary drinks and probably more I’ve fotgotten. Now baby formula?

When will Heir Bloomberg stop?

They should rename the city’s government buildings, the Reichstag.

No one could deny breastmilk is more beneficial to a child than formula, but, here we go again. Is it the job of government to dictate it?

Evidently, Whoopi Goldberg thinks he has gone too far. Oh, she’s just fine with all the other government oversteps, but regarding baby formula, Whoopi says, “Hands Off!”

This is the way it always works. Oppression is always fine until they take away something you care about. When they finally came for me, there were none left to stand.

Mayor Bloomberg has demanded that hospitals stop handing out baby formula to persuade more new mothers to breastfeed their babies.

The New York City health department will monitor the number of formula bottles being given out and demand a medical reason for each one.

From September 3, 27 out of 40 hospitals in the city have agreed to the terms of the Latch On initiative – which will also see them stop handing out free bags of formula and bottles.

 
Ban: Mayor Bloomberg is locking up the formula at New York hospitals to encourage mothers to breastfeed their newborns

Although mothers who want to bottle feed their babies will not be denied formula, it will be kept under lock and key similar to medications.

However any mother who requests formula will be given a lecture on why breastfeeding is better by hospital staff.

‘Human breast milk is best for babies and mothers,’ said health commissioner Thomas Farley when the campaign was launched in May.

‘With this initiative the New York City health community is joining together to support mothers who choose to breastfeed.’

 
Breast is best: The Latch On program from the NY health department has seen an increase in the number of mothers breastfeeding newborns

However mother-of-two Lynn Sidnam, who formula-fed both her daughters, told the New York Post: ‘If they put pressure on me, I would get annoyed.’

Some hospitals are already operating under the policy. NYU Langone Medical Center has seen breastfeeding rates soar to 68 per cent from 39 per cent.

Medical experts support the Latch On initiative. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life as it lowers risk of ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections and developing asthma.

It is also in the health interests of the mother. There has been a link established between breastfeeding and reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

Attribution: Mail Online

Joke of the Day

Ol’ Fred was in the hospital, near death. The family called his closest friend to stand with them.

As the friend stood next to the bed, Ol’ Fred’s condition
appeared to deteriorate rapidly and he motioned frantically for something
to write on.

The friend lovingly handed him a pen and a piece of paper, and Ol’ Fred used his last bit of energy to scribble a note, then
suddenly died.

The friend thought it best not to look at the note at that time, so he placed it in his jacket pocket.

At the funeral, as Ol’ Fred’s friend was finishing the eulogy, he realized that
he was wearing the same jacket that he was wearing when Ol’ Fred
died. He said, “You know, Ol’ Fred handed me a note just before
he died. I haven’t looked at it, but knowing Fred, I’m sure
there’s a word of inspiration there for us all.”

He opened the note, and read, “Please step to your left — you’re
standing on my oxygen tube!”

Of Roads and Bridges

by: the Common Constitutionalist

So recently we learned a business person can’t make it on their own (certainly not a solar business). No business owner or entrepreneur ever made it with the great collective. It was thanks to everyone elses efforts. Evidently it does take a village to build a road or a bridge or a business.

I agree with Mitt Romney,  that every entrepreneur or business owner has received at least some assistance somewhere along the way. But he never said, nor does he believe, that someone didn’t build a business through their own sweat, blood and tears.

As an aside, I never thought I’d say, “I agree with Mitt Romney”, but I find myself doing just that. Maybe Mitt has seen the conservative light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know. What I do know is that Mitt is saying the right things. I also tend to think he may actually believe them due to the conspicuous lack of teleprompters. He appears to be speaking from the heart. One doesn’t need a teleprompter when one is being honest. Obama has shown us that on many occasions; revealing his true, radical self, when he strays from his prepared text. Sorry for the digression.

If it were as King Barack describes, we would all be business owners. But we’re not. Some don’t have the drive or passion. Some don’t wish to work all day and half the night. Some would like to have weekends off. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. We can’t all be chiefs. Every business needs Indians. Employees are needed to do the tasks the owner no longer has time to do, you know, as he grows and expands his business. That doesn’t mean the employee or the neighbor down the street had anything to do with starting the business, anymore than the road or bridge.

To hear Obama describe it, to the cheers and hoorahs of the dimwitted clones in his audiences, the city, state or federal government decide to build a road to nowhere in particular, and the entrepreneur says to himself, ” Gee, look at that road leading to nowhere special. Why don’t I put a business on that road that leads to nowhere. I will go ask the community to help me think up, finance, build and run my business on the road to nowhere in particular.”

I’m sure Henry Ford thought just that. He must have looked out over the countryside, marvelling at all the paved roads. He then said to himself, “Self; The government must have had great forthought in creating these roads and bridges. Maybe I should mass-produce automobiles to take advantage of all the tarred over government maintained former cart paths. I’ll go see President Teddy Roosevelt. He’s a progressive. Surely he will issue me a government grant to build an assembly plant. I’ll even power it by harnessing the wind and the sun. Then I will go on a listening tour of the country, to discover how to build the business, for I have no idea how to achieve success on my own.”

Yes, that’s how Ford did it. Look it up. It’s all there in the history books. 

Another thought: If a company hits a rough patch and has to lay people off  or plans to close all together, the business owner could ask the government to simply repave the road leading to it. That would certainly lead to its re-emergence. We’ll call it the “Tarmac Bailout”.

Although it happens all the time, it’s still very interesting to see everyone tie themselves into knots over a simple, honest statement. The media and Obama sycophants (one in the same), hitting the trail in lock step to attempt to explain away the genuine opinion of a collectivist.

Those of us who understand the president, would expect nothing less of a socialist.

EPA Wears Jack Boots

EPA could thwart mineral mother lode and sets dangerous precedent

The Environmental Protection Agency is employing a disturbing strategy to evaluate a major new mine project by passing judgment on whether it will damage the environment before the company even determines how the venture will work.

The Pebble Limited Partnership wants to mine a deposit in southwest Alaska that holds

The EPA is coming for You!

one of the largest concentrations of copper, gold and molybdenum in the world—at least 80 billion pounds of copper, 100 million ounces of gold, and five billion pounds of molybdenum.

The mother lode of minerals is estimated to be worth $200 billion to $500 billion. Copper is a mineral considered critical to the nation’s economy and is used in computers; molybdenum is used in steel production.

While the unelected bureaucracy of the EPA is trying to stall or block the mining of critical elements, which the U.S. mostly imports from China, Congress passed legislation last week to speed up the mine permit approval process from five years to less than two years in order to advance U.S. self-reliance in obtaining those minerals.

Airlifting outhouses

Pebble has been conducting its own environmental studies for five years and has spent more than $100 million to monitor water, soil and wildlife. While the studies are under way, Pebble removes all of the human waste from the study site by helicopter—including the outhouses, which along with other trash are airlifted to Anchorage—so mine employees don’t add an extra burden to the local treatment facility.

Researchers hired by Pebble have donned dry suits to snorkel through the arctic streams to study spawning habitat and count fish, adding some 7,000 pages of investigative work to another 20,000 pages of environmental reviews the mine company has so far produced.

“It’s one of the most comprehensive environmental studies of a mine project in Alaska, and probably nationwide,” said Mike Heatwole, vice president of public affairs for Pebble.

The problem is that the studies have not been completed or analyzed, and the actual mine plan has not been finalized.

But that hasn’t stopped the EPA from jumping the gun to write its own assessment of the mining operation’s effects on the surrounding 20,000 square mile area and on the salmon population and other species in Bristol Bay—120 miles away from the proposed mining operation site.

The EPA is collecting public comments on their draft report until July 23 and will then submit it for a peer review process in August. If the EPA determines that mining operations are a risk to the water supply, it can use its authority under the Clean Water Act to shut down the mine before its final conception is submitted to the State of Alaska for approval.

Pebble officials say the EPA’s preemptive actions set a dangerous precedent.

“What’s really a concern to us is that the EPA has never stepped into this kind of preemptive space … before we’ve even defined development scenarios for the mine,” Heatwole said. “The EPA is being asked by environmentalists and a number of native Alaskan tribes to potentially take action against us before we have even defined our project and submitted an application.”

Pebble officials say they expect the project to employ 4,000 construction workers over the next four years, plus create another 1,000 jobs for year-round mine operations.

Alaska questions EPA actions

In a series of letters between the EPA, Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and members of Congress that were obtained by Human Events, the legality of the EPA’s actions have been questioned and condemned.

“EPA has shared little information about its purported legal authority to conduct the watershed assessment,” the attorney general said in a March 9 letter.

The EPA says in its response to the attorney general that its assessment will look at the potential impacts of hypothetical mining alternatives, which the attorney general countered is in conflict with several laws, including the Alaska Statehood Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act.

“The state selected lands with natural resource potential to provide for the economic welfare of the residents of Alaska,” Geraghty said. “A premature decision could thwart those objectives, as established by both Congress in the Alaska Statehood Act and the Alaska Legislature in a myriad of state laws.”

Dennis McLerran, EPA Region 10 administrator, responded on April 5: “EPA has not initiated any regulatory action under (the Clean Water Act), or any authority. Many of your legal concerns would only be relevant and can only be addressed in the context of a specific regulatory action. Should the EPA move forward with a (Clean Water) action, we will address your legal concerns at that time.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is not taking a position on the mine until a proposal is actually submitted, but her spokesman Robert Dillon said there are serious concerns about the EPA’s interference.

“Will this preempt all mines, regardless of its size or scope? It’s turned the entire process on its head and raised a lot of questions,” Dillon said. “We keep getting told to trust the EPA, but there’s not a lot of trust of the EPA in Alaska.”

Attribution: Audrey Hudson