Life & Fitness

Sacklers willing to pay more to settle Purdue Pharma opioid lawsuits, mediator says

Members of the Sackler family who own OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma are willing to kick in more money — up to $6 billion total — to settle thousands of lawsuits over the toll of opioids as the company tries to work out a deal with state attorneys general who torpedoed an earlier settlement.

The offer of extra cash was detailed in a report filed Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court by a federal mediator who asked the court to let her have until the end of the month to broker a new settlement.

Under the latest proposal, the Sacklers would contribute between $5.5 billion and $6 billion, an increase from the $4.3 billion they had agreed to in the original bankruptcy settlement. The last of the money would not be paid out for 18 years, and the exact amount would depend on how much the family would make from selling its international drug companies.

The additional money would have to be used to combat a crisis that has been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. over the past two decades. Part of it would be controlled by the eight states, joined by the District of Columbia, that objected to the original settlement last year even when other states agreed to it.

In exchange, members of the family would be shielded from current and future opioid-related lawsuits. That protection was contained in the original bankruptcy settlement but prompted the objecting states to file an appeal that ultimately succeeded, leading to the current round of negotiations.

The objecting states said the earlier amount of $4.5 billion did not go far enough to hold accountable members of a family that made billions from the sale of OxyContin.

‘Math neurons’ identified in the brain’

The brain has neurons that fire specifically during certain mathematical operations. This is shown by a recent study conducted by the Universities of Tübingen and Bonn. The findings indicate that some of the neurons detected are active exclusively during additions, while others are active during subtractions. They do not care whether the calculation instruction is written down as a word or a symbol. The results have now been published in the journal Current Biology.

Most elementary school children probably already know that three apples plus two apples add up to five apples. However, what happens in the brain during such calculations is still largely unknown. The current study by the Universities of Bonn and Tübingen now sheds light on this issue.

The researchers benefited from a special feature of the Department of Epileptology at the University Hospital Bonn. It specializes in surgical procedures on the brains of people with epilepsy. In some patients, seizures always originate from the same area of the brain. In order to precisely localize this defective area, the doctors implant several electrodes into the patients. The probes can be used to precisely determine the origin of the spasm. In addition, the activity of individual neurons can be measured via the wiring.

Some neurons fire only when summing up

Five women and four men participated in the current study. They had electrodes implanted in the so-called temporal lobe of the brain to record the activity of nerve cells. Meanwhile, the participants had to perform simple arithmetic tasks. “We found that different neurons fired during additions than during subtractions,” explains Prof. Florian Mormann from the Department of Epileptology at the University Hospital Bonn.

It was not the case that some neurons responded only to a “+” sign and others only to a “-” sign: “Even when we replaced the mathematical symbols with words, the effect remained the same,” explains Esther Kutter, who is doing her doctorate in Prof. Mormann’s research group. “For example, when subjects were asked to calculate ‘5 and 3’, their addition neurons sprang back into action; whereas for ‘7 less 4,’ their subtraction neurons did.”

This shows that the cells discovered actually encode a mathematical instruction for action. The brain activity thus showed with great accuracy what kind of tasks the test subjects were currently calculating: The researchers fed the cells’ activity patterns into a self-learning computer program. At the same time, they told the software whether the subjects were currently calculating a sum or a difference. When the algorithm was confronted with new activity data after this training phase, it was able to accurately identify during which computational operation it had been recorded.

Prof. Andreas Nieder from the University of Tübingen supervised the study together with Prof. Mormann. “We know from experiments with monkeys that neurons specific to certain computational rules also exist in their brains,” he says. “In humans, however, there is hardly any data in this regard.” During their analysis, the two working groups came across an interesting phenomenon: One of the brain regions studied was the so-called parahippocampal cortex. There, too, the researchers found nerve cells that fired specifically during addition or subtraction. However, when summing up, different addition neurons became alternately active during one and the same arithmetic task. Figuratively speaking, it is as if the plus key on the calculator were constantly changing its location. It was the same with subtraction. Researchers also refer to this as “dynamic coding.”

“This study marks an important step towards a better understanding of one of our most important symbolic abilities, namely calculating with numbers,” stresses Mormann. The two teams from Bonn and Tübingen now want to investigate exactly what role the nerve cells found play in this.

Can Viagra-Like Drugs Help Prevent Dementia?

Results from a small clinical trial suggest that Cialis, an erectile dysfunction drug in the same family of medicines as Viagra, might help prevent vascular dementia by increasing blood flow in the brain.

By Lisa Rapaport

yellow Cialis pills
Sildenafil and other erectile dysfunction drugs might have brain health benefits because they increase blood flow.Daniel Acker/Getty Images

The same medications that treat erectile dysfunction might also help combat what’s known as vascular dementia — a common kind of age-related cognitive decline that happens when damaged blood vessels in the brain deprive cells of oxygen and nutrients.

Erectile dysfunction drugs work by increasing blood flow to the penis. In a new clinical trial published February 8 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, scientists tested whether these medications might also help improve blood flow to the brain in older adults with narrowing brain arteries and symptoms of vascular dementia.

“Narrowing of the brain arteries is a common contributor to cognitive decline in older people and currently has no treatment,” says Jeremy Isaacs, MBBS, a principal clinical investigator on the trial and a neurologist at St. George’s University Hospitals in London.

For the trial, participants had two magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs) at least one week apart. One brain scan was done after they took a 20-milligram dose of the erectile dysfunction pill tadalafil (Cialis) and the other was done after they took a placebo pill. The goal was to see if MRIs showed increased blood flow with tadalafil.

Overall, the MRIs didn’t show a significant increase in blood flow in the brain after participants took a single dose of tadalafil.

However, when researchers looked only at results for participants over 70 years old, they did observe increased blood flow in white matter, a part of the brain that’s involved in the development of vascular dementia.

“This was a landmark study in which we attempted to reverse the reduction in brain blood flow characteristic of this condition,” Dr. Isaacs says. “Although we did not find a significant effect following a single dose of tadalafil, we can’t rule out the possibility of benefits from longer term use, for which further research is needed.”

Beyond its small size, another limitation of the trial is that it included some participants who were under age 50 — too young to experience meaningful changes in blood flow in the brain from one dose of an erectile dysfunction drug. It’s possible that the results might be more apparent if the trial had included only elderly participants or administered more doses of tadalafil over a longer period of time.

 The speed of cognitive information processing remains largely stable over decades

Mental speed — the speed at which we can deal with issues requiring rapid decision-making — does not change substantially over decades. Psychologists at Heidelberg University have come to this conclusion. Under the leadership of Dr Mischa von Krause and Dr Stefan Radev, they evaluated data from a large-scale online experiment with over a million participants. The findings of the new study suggest that the speed of cognitive information processing remains largely stable between the ages of 20 and 60, and only deteriorates at higher ages.

“The common assumption is that the older we get, the more slowly we react to external stimuli. If that were so, mental speed would be fastest at the age of about twenty and would then decline with increasing age,” says Dr von Krause, a researcher in the Quantitative Research Methods department headed by Prof. Dr Andreas Voß at Heidelberg University’s Institute of Psychology. In order to verify this theory, the researchers reevaluated data from a large-scale American study on implicit biases. In the online experiment with over a million participants, subjects had to press a button to sort pictures of people into the categories “white” or “black” and words into the categories “good” or “bad.” According to Dr von Krause, the content focus was of minor importance in the Heidelberg study. Instead, the researchers used the large batch of data as an example of a response-time task to measure the duration of cognitive decisions.

When evaluating the data, Dr von Krause and his colleagues noted that, on average, the response times of the test subjects rose with increasing age. However, with the aid of a mathematical model, they were able to show that this phenomenon was not due to changes in mental speed. “Instead, we think that older test subjects are mainly slower because they reply more cautiously and concentrate more on avoiding mistakes,” Mischa von Krause explains. At the same time, motor execution speed slows down during the course of adult life: older participants in the experiment needed longer to press the appropriate key after they had found the right answer.

Another finding of the study was that average information processing speed only progressively declined with participants over the age of 60. “It looks as though, in the course of our life, we don’t need to fear any substantial losses of mental speed — particularly not in the course of a typical working life,” says Mischa von Krause. “Generally speaking, we should also note that the test subjects in all age groups included individuals with high and low mental speeds. Our results relate to the average trend.”

FDA Recalls E25Bio Rapid COVID-19 Antigen Tests

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recalled E25Bio rapid COVID-19 tests because the tests were not approved by the agency, may give false results, and may injure the user.

This is a “Class I recall, the most serious type of recall. Use of these devices may cause serious injuries or death,” the FDA said in a news release Friday.

The tests are sold under the product name E25Bio COVID-19 Direct Antigen Rapid Test and the trade name E25Bio SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Test Kit. Consumers who purchased the tests should throw them in the trash and health care providers who used the tests should consider re-testing patients.

“E25Bio is recalling its COVID-19 Direct Antigen Response Tests (DART) for several reasons, particularly that these tests were marketed and distributed to U.S. customers without authorization, clearance, or approval from the FDA,” the FDA said.

“Labeling distributed with some of the tests also includes inaccurate claims and instructions, including a statement that misrepresents the test as FDA-authorized.”

The FDA said the kit may give users false-positive or false-negative results, which could result in the spread of the virus or a person delaying medical treatment.

The kits instruct users to obtain samples from deep inside the nose or throat, which could injure consumers, the FDA said.

“Only trained health care providers should collect these types of swab samples to prevent serious injury,” the FDA said, noting there have been no reports of such injuries.

Most at-home COVID tests require consumers to collect a sample with a nasal swab.

​​The FDA issued an alert on Feb. 4 warning consumers not to use the tests and posted the recall notice Friday. The company sent a letter to consumers in January telling them not to use the tests.

Omicron subvariant BA.2 may cause severe disease, lab study suggests

The WHO said while BA.2 is more tranmsissible than BA.1, the subvariant is not more severe.

Omicron was first reported from Botswana and South Africa in November, 2021. (Photo: AP)

The BA.2 subvariant of the Omicron coronavirus variant is not only faster at spreading, but may also cause more severe disease, a lab study suggests.

The yet-to-be peer-reviewed findings, recently posted on the preprint repository BioRxiv, show that the BA.2 sub variant may have features that make it as capable of causing serious illness as older coronavirus variants.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said while BA.2 is more tranmsissible than BA.1, the subvariant is not more severe.

“Among all subvariants, BA.2 is more transmissible than BA.1. However, there is no difference in terms of severity,” Maria Van Kerkhova, COVID-19 Technical Lead at WHO said in a video.

In the latest study, a Japanese team led by researchers from the University of Tokyo found that similar to BA.1, BA.2 subvariant of Omicron appears to largely escape the immunity induced by COVID-19 vaccines.

“Neutralisation experiments show that the vaccine-induced humoral immunity fails to function against BA.2 like BA.1,” the authors of the study said.

Omicron was first reported from Botswana and South Africa in November, 2021. Its BA.1 sub variant has since rapidly spread across the world and outcompeted other variants such as Delta.

As of February this year, another subvariant of Omicron, the BA.2 lineage, has been detected in multiple countries such as Denmark and the UK.

BA.2 has started outcompeting BA.1, suggesting that it is more transmissible than the original Omicron, the researchers said.

“Although BA.2 is considered as an Omicron variant, its genomic sequence is heavily different from BA.1, which suggests that the virological characteristics of BA.2 is different from that of BA.1,” the authors noted.

When the researchers infected hamsters with BA.2 and BA.1, the animals infected with BA.2 got sicker and had worse lung function.

In tissues samples, the lungs of BA.2-infected hamsters had more damage than those infected by BA.1, they said.

“Our investigations using a hamster model showed that the pathogenicity of BA.2 is similar to that of an ancestral B.1.1 and higher than that of BA.1,” the authors noted. Similar to the original Omicron, BA.2 was resistant to antibodies in the blood of people who had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

It was also resistant to the antibodies of people who had been infected with the earlier variants of SARS-CoV-2, according to the researchers.

BA.2 was almost completely resistant to some monoclonal antibody treatments used to treat COVID-19 infection, they said.

“Together with a higher effective reproduction number and pronounced immune resistance of BA.2, it is evident that the spread of BA.2 can be a serious issue for global health in the near future,” the authors added.

The reproduction number is a measure of transmission — the average number of people infected by one infected person.

Covid-19: Five food habits to strengthen your immune system

Dr Siddhant Bhargava, Fitness and Nutritional Scientist, said, ” a healthy, balanced diet directly affects the way we feel and how our body functions.”

As we continue to navigate through a global pandemic, there are various measures one can take to avoid infection and prevent spreading the virus. Although there are still many unknowns about the COVID-19 virus and the information around it is constantly evolving, “we do know that healthy diets, physical activity, stress management and adequate sleep are vital to keep the immune system strong”, said Dr. Siddhant Bhargava, Fitness and Nutritional Scientist, Co-Founder – Food Darzee.ALSO READ |Has your child tested positive for Covid-19? Follow these measures for better health, immunity

He explained that a healthy, balanced diet directly affects the way we feel and also how the body functions. “In the face of current health challenges, these tips will help protect you and your loved ones in the fight to stay Covid-free”, the expert added.

Mentioned below are some healthy eating habits, according to Dr Bhargava, to sail you through these challenging times:

*Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables – Opt for a variety of fruits and vegetables that offer loads of vitamins, minerals and fibre. One can also use them to prepare a large batch of soups, stews or other dishes, as per preference and taste.

*Consume pulses and nuts – Whole grains, pulses, nuts and healthy fats support the immune system and help in reducing inflammation. An inexpensive source of protein, pulses are full of vitamins and minerals that can help reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes and coronary conditions. “Increase the intake of olive, sesame, peanuts and other unsaturated oils”, Dr Bhargava said.salad Developing healthy eating habits will help strengthen immunity. (Source: Pexels)

*Limit fats, sugar and salt – In times of high stress, such as during a pandemic, do not turn towards comfort food that is high in fat, sugar, salt and calories. “Managing fats, sugar and salt in the body can keep you healthy and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease”, he said.

*Immunity boosting drinks – Prepare fresh, immunity boosting drinks at home using ginger, apple cider vinegar, granola fruit smoothie, and kadha. These drinks are not only delicious but exceptionally healthy, fulfilling and rejuvenating.

*Regular physical activity– It is important to exercise daily to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. The aim must be at least 30-60 minutes of daily exercise depending on your age, fitness, diet and lifestyle.ALSO READ |Fact check: Can immunity really be ‘boosted’?

“Eat a variety of food to ensure a balanced diet, include micronutrient-rich foods in the diets of elderly people, seek guidance on what constitutes healthy portions for adults and young children to avoid overeating and prevent obesity. Also, adopt the right pre-cooking processes and appropriate cooking methods”, the expert said in conclusion.

HIV prevention for people at substantial risk for HIV infection

WHO announces…

WHO has made available the membership of the Guidelines Development Group (GDG) for the development of WHO ” Guidance on offering long acting injectable cabotegravir as HIV prevention for people at substantial risk for HIV infection.”

The group will meet virtually from 9 – 10 March 2022 to review evidence on this new option of offering long-acting injectable antiretroviral prevention product, in a timely manner and as requested by countries, implementers and communities, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. This guidance will focus on individual and public health benefits.

In line with WHO policy on conflict of interest, members of the public and interested organizations can access the biographies of the GDG members and inform WHO of their views about them.

Poor Dental Health Higher in Children with Heart Conditions: Study

Children with heart conditions are more likely to have frequent cavities, toothaches, or bleeding gums, according to a new study from the CDC.

If oral bacteria travel into the bloodstream, children with heart disease could be prone to get other conditions such as infective endocarditis, the researchers said. The rare condition leads to inflammation in the inner lining of the heart and can be life-threatening.

“Therefore, preventive dental care (i.e., check-ups, dental cleaning, radiographs, fluoride treatment, or sealant) to maintain oral health is important,” the study authors wrote.

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The research team analyzed data from the National Survey of Children’s Health for 2016-2019, comparing oral health status and recent dental care for children with and without heart conditions.

About 10% of children and teenagers ages 1-17 with heart conditions had “poor” to “fair” dental health, as compared with 5% of kids without heart problems. About 17% of those with heart conditions also had symptoms of poor oral health, such as decayed teeth or cavities.

About 73% of U.S. Estimated to Be Immune to Omicron Variant

About 73% of Americans are now immune to the Omicron variant, which could increase to 80% by mid-March, a university health institute says.

About half of eligible Americans have received booster shots, and about 80 million confirmed COVID-19 infections have been reported. Many more infections have occurred but haven’t been officially recorded, The Associated Press reported.

man coronavirus graphic

The high percentage of immunity from vaccination and previous infection tends to prevent or shorten new illnesses and reduce the amount of virus circulating overall. Health experts are now discussing whether the number is high enough to stop new waves or reduce the burden on hospitals.

“I am optimistic even if we have a surge in summer, cases will go up, but hospitalizations and deaths will not,” Ali Mokdad, PhD, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, told the AP.

Mokdad works on COVID-19 forecasting for the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which has been a reliable model during the pandemic. Mokdad calculated the 73% number for the AP.

“We have changed,” he said. “We have been exposed to this virus and we know how to deal with it.”

The U.S. is now reporting about 125,000 new cases per day, according to the data tracker from The New York Times, marking a 68% decrease from the past 2 weeks. Hospitalizations are also down 39%, and about 2,300 new deaths are being reported daily, marking a 13% decline.

There will be more outbreaks as new variants emerge, immunity wanes, and some people remain unvaccinated, Mokdad said. But the coronavirus is no longer new, and the entire population is no longer “immunologically naive.” Scientists are now trying to understand how long booster protection will last against Omicron and how many people have been infected who had mild or no symptoms that were never reported.

By the end of the Omicron surge, about three out of four people in the U.S. will have been infected, Shaun Truelove, PhD, an epidemiologist and disease modeler at Johns Hopkins University, told the AP.

“We know it’s a huge proportion of the population,” he said. “This varies a lot by location, and in some areas, we expect the number infected to be closer to one in two.”