Trampolines Are Bouncy Death Traps; Could a Virus Cure Acne?

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Discovered: Pediatricians warn of trampoline's dangers; a treatment for progeria; virus touted as cure for pimples; research universities in financial straits. 

Pediatricians want to spoil everyone's fun. Bouncing around on trampolines until the point of nausea is one the childhood's most innocent joys. But trampolines are also responsible for about 98,000 injuries every year according to research from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Over 3,000 of those injuries led to hospitalization. Citing such figures, pediatricians have "strongly discouraged" parents from letting kids play on their backyard death traps. Mishaps mostly occur when multiple people are on the trampoline simultaneously. The International Trampoline Industry Association and the American Society of Testing and Materials Trampoline Subcommittee—which are both real organizations—has not updated their user safety recommendations since 1999. [Los Angeles Times]

Could bacterial acne be eradicated with a virus? No one wants acne, but close to 90 percent of us get zit outbreaks at least once in our lives. Various ointments and scrubs and pills and wipes all purport to reduce pimples, but there's still no sure-fire cure. But University of California, Los Angeles University of Pittsburgh scientists think they're on to something with their new research into the Propionibacteriumacnes phages virus. "Harnessing a virus that naturally preys on the bacteria that cause pimples could offer a promising new tool," writes Robert Modlin, co-author of a paper published in MBio. It might seem counter-intuitive to fight a harmless but cosmetically undesirable affliction with a viral infection, but the researchers say that their experiments demonstrate the effectiveness of P. acnes phages in killing acne-causing bacteria while remaining otherwise harmless. "Phages are programmed to target and kill specific bacteria, so P. acnes phages will attack only P. acnes bacteria, but not others like E. coli," says lead author Laura Marinelli of UCLA. "This trait suggests that they offer strong potential for targeted therapeutic use." [Smithsonian]

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First-ever treatment for progeria developed. Children diagnosed with progeria, one of the most heart-breaking fatal diseases, usually don't live past the age of 13. The rare disease causes rapid aging, making young children appear far older than their actual age. Death is usually brought on by heart attack or stroke due to an accretion of the protein progerin. Up until now, doctors could only ease symptoms; no other treatments were available. But now lonafarnib, a drug Merck developed to treat cancer, holds some hope for treating those suffering from progeria. A clinical trial at the Boston Children's Hospital began in 2007, with 28 children participating. Nine of them showed encouraging improvements, such as weight gain, better cardiovascular activity, and improvement in hearing and bone strength. But six children lost weight and didn't improve on those symptoms, and researchers can't yet explain the discrepancy. "The drug prevents the abnormal protein collecting in places where it seems to do the most damage, but it doesn't stop the abnormal protein from being made," says lead researcher Mark Kieran. He is currently conducting another trial with Ionafarnib and other drugs to further the research into a possible progeria treatments. [The Wall Street Journal]

Public research universities distressingly cash strapped. Public universities carry out the lion's share of federally funded research in the U.S., which makes the last decade's 20 percent drop in state funding for higher education so alarming. The National Science Board released a report today that finds a fifth of state funding for public universities has vanished since 2002. Certain states cut funding even more drastically, with Colorado and Rhode Island slashing close to half the budget. Students suffer higher tuition costs and science is hindered. "Universities have to adjust," says NSB member Ray Bowen, president emeritus of Texas A&M University. "Those that have not already started have perhaps made a mistake. There’s no question they have to become more efficient." The answers to patching up public higher education are elusive, but someone needs to find them soon if the U.S. plans to stay at the forefront of scientific research. [The Washington Post]

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