Archive for March, 2011

Multiple Sclerosis: blaming the sunshine

March 31, 2011

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpleasant neurological disease, displaying an unpredictable range of symptoms which manifest themselves with equally unpredictable severity and rapidity. It is an autoimmune condition affecting the nerves: during relapses, an over-enthusiastic immune system attacks and damages the protective coating of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. People are often diagnosed in their most productive years— their 20s, 30s and 40s— when they must learn to deal with an uncertain prognosis, often ending with debilitating loss of mobility, speech, and memory at an unforeseeable point in the future.

For many years, the cause of the disease remained a mystery. Then, in 1960, Donald Acheson proposed a link between sun exposure in early life and a later diagnosis of MS. This hypothesis was founded on a growing body of evidence suggesting a north-south gradient of diminishing disease risk, based on research in several different northern hemisphere nations. Early studies demonstrated this relationship in World War 1 veterans living in several US states, and across populations in different regions of Norway. In the next few years similar associations were found in the southern hemisphere, but this time going in a reverse direction— with a higher risk of disease in the south versus the north— and it was discovered that immigrants tended to bring the risk of their original country with them when they moved, suggesting exposure in early life was an important factor. It seemed like Acheson was on to something.


Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear safety: ‘NDR’ revisited

March 13, 2011

Go to the main UK and international news websites and you will find, almost without exception, the same story right at the top of the page: the potential meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant.