Researchers Find Textbook-Altering Link Between Brain, Immune System

Courtesy of University of Virginia:

In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist.

That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped throughout the body is surprising on its own, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s disease to multiple sclerosis.

“Instead of asking, ‘How do we study the immune response of the brain?,’ ‘Why do multiple sclerosis patients have the immune attacks?,’ now we can approach this mechanistically – because the brain is like every other tissue connected to the peripheral immune system through meningeal lymphatic vessels,” said Jonathan Kipnis, a professor in U.Va.’s Department of Neuroscience and director of U.Va.’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia. “It changes entirely the way we perceive the neuro-immune interaction. We always perceived it before as something esoteric that can’t be studied. But now we can ask mechanistic questions.”

He added, “We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role. [It’s] hard to imagine that these vessels would not be involved in a [neurological] disease with an immune component.”

Kevin Lee, who chairs the Department of Neuroscience, described his reaction to the discovery by Kipnis’ lab: “The first time these guys showed me the basic result, I just said one sentence: ‘They’ll have to change the textbooks.’ There has never been a lymphatic system for the central nervous system, and it was very clear from that first singular observation – and they’ve done many studies since then to bolster the finding – that it will fundamentally change the way people look at the central nervous system’s relationship with the immune system.” Continue reading

£330,000 for a 20-minute speech at a world hunger event? Tony Blair is an inspiration to us all

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Courtesy of Michael Segalov @ The Independent:

Over the weekend, it was reported that Tony Blair pulled out of addressing The World Hunger Forum in Stockholm because his £330k price tag for turning up and talking just couldn’t be met.

According to one source, the food company organising the event, Eat, dropped Blair because “his star power is fast diminishing”. But regardless of whether this is true or not, many agree that he was wrong to ask for such an astronomical payment in the first place. It was apparently going to be given to The Cherie Blair Foundation. So if his claim that he didn’t turn up and speak due to “prior commitments” is true, that’s a real shame; it would have been a huge donation.

But either way, I think it’s time we give the man a break. His impeccable record as a selfless public servant aside, Blair’s approach to life after his Downing Street days display the exact same values that both the government and opposition want us to tattooed on our foreheads: “aspiration” and “wealth creation”.

The next Labour leadership favourite, Andy Burnham, last week suggested “wealth creators must be valued as highly as NHS staff”. Burnham reckons these wealthy people are “everyday heroes”, in which case Tony Blair is basically Superman, creating cash money left right and centre.

Since leaving Downing Street he’s had to deny reports that he has amassed a personal fortune of £100m, and has insisted that it’s closer to £20m – a far more modest amount. But regardless of how many millions he has, Tony’s real message to us all is that we shouldn’t be bothered by those bleeding-heart liberals who think we should be paying a fair level of tax – in fact, a company he set up managed to halve its tax bill to just £300,000 on an income of £14m. Continue reading

Fossil Fuels Subsidised by $10m a Minute, says IMF

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Courtesy of Damien Carrington @ The Guardian:

Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF calls the revelation “shocking” and says the figure is an “extremely robust” estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $5.3tn subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments.

The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.

US taxpayers subsidising world’s biggest fossil fuel companies
Nicholas Stern, an eminent climate economist at the London School of Economics, said: “This very important analysis shatters the myth that fossil fuels are cheap by showing just how huge their real costs are. There is no justification for these enormous subsidies for fossil fuels, which distort markets and damages economies, particularly in poorer countries.”

Lord Stern said that even the IMF’s vast subsidy figure was a significant underestimate: “A more complete estimate of the costs due to climate change would show the implicit subsidies for fossil fuels are much bigger even than this report suggests.”

The IMF, one of the world’s most respected financial institutions, said that ending subsidies for fossil fuels would cut global carbon emissions by 20%. That would be a giant step towards taming global warming, an issue on which the world has made little progress to date. Continue reading

EU dropped pesticide laws due to US pressure over TTIP, documents reveal

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Chief EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia-Bercero (R) and chief US negotiator Dan Mullaney hold a press conference in Washington, DC after a new round of talks on creating a transatlantic free trade zone, 19 May. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Courtesy of Arthur Neslen @ The Guardian:

EU moves to regulate hormone-damaging chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility were shelved following pressure from US trade officials over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal, newly released documents show.

Draft EU criteria could have banned 31 pesticides containing endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). But these were dumped amid fears of a trade backlash stoked by an aggressive US lobby push, access to information documents obtained by Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe show.

On 26 June 2013, a high-level delegation from the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) visited EU trade officials to insist that the bloc drop its planned criteria for identifying EDCs in favour of a new impact study.

Minutes of the meeting show commission officials pleading that “although they want the TTIP to be successful, they would not like to be seen as lowering the EU standards”.

The TTIP is a trade deal being agreed by the EU and US to remove barriers to commerce and promote free trade.

Responding to the EU officials, AmCham representatives “complained about the uselessness of creating categories and thus, lists” of prohibited substances, the minutes show.

The US trade representatives insisted that a risk-based approach be taken to regulation, and “emphasised the need for an impact assessment” instead.

On 2 July 2013, officials from the US Mission to Europe visited the EU to reinforce the message. Later that day, the secretary-general of the commission, Catherine Day, sent a letter to the environment department’s director Karl Falkenberg, telling him to stand down the draft criteria.

“We suggest that as other DGs [directorate-generals] have done, you consider making a joint single impact assessment to cover all the proposals,” Day wrote. “We do not think it is necessary to prepare a commission recommendation on the criteria to identify endocrine disrupting substances.” Continue reading

Ironing Out Oxidative Stress

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A white blood cell, also known as a T cell, carries special structures on its surface with which to recognise specific pathogens. (Grapics: Blausen.com, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

A balanced, non-GMO organic diet, exercise, meditation while identifying and removing stress enablers are key components for a healthy life.  Courtesy of Peter Rüegg @ ETH Zurich:

You’re up in the mountains, the snow is blindingly white, and the sun is blazing down from the sky: ideal skiing conditions – but any skiers carrying the herpes virus might also have to reckon with the onset of cold sores after their day out. Increased exposure to UV radiation releases free radicals in the body. These put the body under oxidative stress, which weakens the immune system. And that in turn allows the herpes virus to prosper.

Oxidative stress has become a major topic; not only is it implicated in many diseases, it may even be one of their causes. Other environmental influences besides UV radiation can also increase oxidative stress on the body, including air pollution, smoking and the consumption of alcohol, and not least infections. Again and again, the talk is of fighting these free (oxygen) radicals by supplementing our diet with the appropriate vitamins.

T cells divide after contact with the enemy

Researchers working with Manfred Kopf, a professor at ETH Zurich’s Institute of Molecular Health Sciences, took these questions as their starting point and have now identified a phenomenon that explains the effects of oxidative stress on immune cells.
Whenever a foreign body such as a virus or other pathogen enters our bodies, a certain class of immune cells – the T cells – jump into action, proliferating rapidly. One sub-class of these cells, the CD8+ T cells, eliminate the virus by killing cells it has infected. Other T cells, known as CD4+ T cells, coordinate the immune response to all kinds of pathogens. These are the generals in the immune system’s army.

But a week can pass before these T cells start to take their toll on a virus, because in the early stages of an infection too few T cells are able to recognise the specific pathogen. Only once they have had “enemy contact” do these few “scout” cells begin to divide, forming “clones” of themselves. With cells dividing every eight to twelve hours, it takes a few days to gather a strike force of cells in the hundreds of thousands: enough to overwhelm the infection. Continue reading

TTIP: Why the EU-US Trade Deal Matters

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Courtesy of Andrew Walker @ BBC:

There’s one big issue for the new UK government that stayed below the radar during the election campaign – trade negotiations between the European Union and the United States, known as TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The big political parties didn’t make much of it during the campaign. Both the Conservatives and Labour are broadly in favour, though the Greens are very critical. TTIP was however addressed in the manifestos. War on Want (who oppose the plans) have compiled the parties’ positions on the issue.

Outside the political arena there are some very strong opinions. Many business voices are enthusiastic, but there is also very vocal opposition.

What is TTIP and what is it for?

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or it will be if the negotiations are completed. The aim is to boost the economies of the EU and the US by removing or reducing barriers to trade and foreign investment.

President Obama said, when the talks were launched, that TTIP would promote “new growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic”. Critics reject that claim – more of that below. Continue reading

Crippling PFI Deals Leave Britain £222bn in Debt

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Courtesy of

Every man, woman and child in Britain is more than £3,400 in debt – without knowing it and without borrowing a single penny – thanks to the proliferation of controversial deals used to pay for infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.

The UK owes more than £222bn to banks and businesses as a result of Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) – “buy now, pay later” agreements between the government and private companies on major projects. The startling figure – described by experts as a “financial disaster” – has been calculated as part of an Independent on Sunday analysis of Treasury data on more than 720 PFIs. The analysis has been verified by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The headline debt is based on “unitary charges” which start this month and will continue for 35 years. They include fees for services rendered, such as maintenance and cleaning, as well as the repayment of loans underwritten by banks and investment companies.

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The situation is expected to worsen as PFI projects spread across the world (Getty)

Basically, a PFI is like a mortgage that the government takes out on behalf of the public. The average annual cost of meeting the terms of the UK’s PFI contracts will be more than £10bn over the next decade.

And the cost of servicing PFIs is growing. Last year, it rose by £5bn. It could rise further, with inflation. The upward creep is the price taxpayers’ pay for a financing system which allows private firms to profit from investing in infrastructure.

An NAO briefing, released last month, says: “In the short term using private finance will reduce reported public spending and government debt figures.” But, longer term, “additional public spending will be required to repay the debt and interest of the original investment”.

A case in point is Britain’s biggest health trust, Barts Health NHS Trust in London, which was placed in special measures last month. It is £93m in debt – struggling under the weight of a 43-year PFI contract under which it will pay back more than £7bn on contracts valued at a fraction of that sum (£1.1bn) Continue reading

TTIP: Transatlantic Trade Deal Text Leaked to BBC

Which ever ist or ism you want to apply, it solidifies the power of a few. Courtesy of Glenn Campbell @ BBC Scotland:

A leaked draft of what the European Union wants excluded from a new trade deal with the United States has been obtained by the BBC.

The document describes itself as the EU’s “initial offer” in negotiations over the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP).

It includes the wording that UK ministers have said will protect the NHS from privatisation.

Anti-TTIP campaigners say a specific exemption for the NHS is still needed.
The 103-page document is headed “trade in services and investment: schedule of specific commitments and reservations”.

It was produced before the most recent round of TTIP negotiations in Brussels were held at the beginning of this month.

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On health, the document states: “The EU reserves the right to adopt or maintain any measure with regard to the provision of all health services which receive public funding or State support in any form”.

The wording is the same as that used in a similar free trade agreement between the EU and Canada (CETA).

The UK trade minister, Lord Livingston, said last week that this text ensured “publicly funded health services are excluded”.

The European Commission has also previously said TTIP would not affect how NHS services are provided, whether in Scotland or the rest of the UK.

But Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has called for the NHS to be specifically excluded from the deal. Continue reading

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think

Courtesy of Johann Hari @ Huff Po:

It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned — and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong — and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.

I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.

Continue reading