; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Monday, January 16, 2012

Just the Facts?: Universal Flu Vaccine Coming -- Fat 6th Human Taste -- Bath Salts Horror

Universal Flu Vaccine Could Be Available by 2013

Annual flu shots might soon become a thing of the past, and threats such as avian and swine flu might disappear with them as a vaccine touted as the "holy grail" of flu treatment could be ready for human trials next year.

That's earlier than the National Institutes of Health estimated in 2010, when they said a universal vaccine could be five years off. By targeting the parts of the virus that rarely mutate, researchers believe they can develop a vaccine similar to the mumps or measles shot—people will be vaccinated as children and then receive boosters later.

That differs from the current '60s-era technology, according to Joseph Kim, head of Inovio Pharmaceuticals, which is working on the universal vaccine. Each year, the seasonal flu vaccine targets three or four strains that researchers believe will be the most common that year. Previous seasons' vaccines have no effect on future strains of the virus, because it mutates quickly. The seasonal vaccine also offers no protection against outbreaks, such as 2009's H1N1 swine flu. A universal vaccine would offer protection against all forms of the virus.

"It's like putting up a tent over your immune system that protects against rapidly mutating viruses," Kim says. At least two other companies are working on a similar vaccine. In late 2010, Inovio earned a $3.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to work on the vaccine.

"It's a completely different paradigm than how [the vaccines] are made seasonably every year," Kim says.

Kim says early research has been promising. Flu strains fall into different "buckets," he says. All H1N1 strains share similar characteristics, as do all H5N1 strains, including the the Asian bird flu strain that has killed more than 60 percent of the 500 or so people it has infected over the past decade.

Kim says Inovio has already made and completed successful human tests for vaccines that protect against all H1N1 and H5N1 flu strains.

In late 2011, two research groups created a strain of H5N1 bird flu that could be passed from human to human, leading the World Health Organization to issue a statement that said they were "deeply concerned about the potential negative consequences" that publishing their research could cause. Some news outlets have called the new strain "engineered doomsday" and wondered whether terrorist organizations could create and distribute a similar virus. Kim says not to worry.

"I am very certain our vaccine can already neutralize that newly made virus," he says. "We're trying to get our hands on it."

Inovio is working on vaccines that'll protect against other strains, such as H3N2, which is seen in a newly-emerged swine flu virus. Those vaccines will be combined with the already-developed H1N1 and H5N1 vaccines to be delivered in one shot by the 2013 flu season. Researchers are taking a similar approach to HIV vaccine development, but working on the flu might be easier.

"Unlike other diseases, we have 50 plus years of diagnostics on the flu," Kim says. "There are lots of toolkits that let us know if our approach will work or not. ... Our goal is to have a vaccine strategy that can protect us from all mutations." -


Lair of the Beasts: Monsters vs. Roswell!

No, the title of this particular feature is not a reference to a brand new Japanese Godzilla movie, despite the fact that it kind of sounds like it should be! But, it probably is the strangest title that I have ever applied to one of my posts here at Lair of the Beasts.

Back in the latter part of 2005, I did some filming for a TV show on the world's most famous UFO event. Yeah, you know the story: the New Mexico desert, little bodies, and 1947. Yep, that’s the one: Roswell. Anyway, for some odd reason that I don't think was ever really explained to me, the company chose to do the filming high in the mountains of Mexico. I actually wondered afterwards, and with hindsight, if the crew had mistaken Mexico for New Mexico!

But regardless of the reasons behind the odd location of the shoot, Mexico it was. And, for effect no doubt, the filming was done outside of a small astronomical observatory that sat high in the mountains, not too far from our base of operations in Monterrey. The photo above shows the TV crew setting up, while I wandered around, probably looking for exotic lizards or a bar, or both. Continue reading at Lair of the Beasts: Monsters vs. Roswell!


Women attacked by flesh-eating bacteria after injecting ‘bath salts’

A New Orleans woman attacked by flesh-eating bacteria after injecting the increasingly popular drug “bath salts” has had her arm and shoulder amputated, according to reports.

According to NPR, the 34-year-old presented at the Louisiana Health Sciences Center in August 2011 with a painful, swollen arm showing a small red puncture mark after attending a party, ABC News reported.

According to NPR:

The doctors cut open the skin on the woman’s forearm and discovered a raging infection and dead muscle. They knew immediately that she was in serious trouble.

As they cut skin farther up her arm in an effort to find healthy tissue, the infection was moving so fast they could see flesh dying right before their eyes.

The woman told orthopedic resident Dr. Robert Russo that she had injected “bath salts” at a party the night before she came to the hospital, according to a case report that Russo wrote in the journal Orthopedics.

Doctors ultimately amputated the woman’s entire right arm and shoulder, and performed a radical mastectomy to stop the infection.

Russo suggested that the flesh-eating bacteria entered the woman’s arm from the needle she used or in the bath salts themselves

“And the risks of using this drug, it’s not just getting your arm taken off. The drug is crazy,” he said, ABC reported.

The name “bath salts,” NPR wrote, covers “several synthetic chemicals, including mephedrone and MDPV, short for methylenedioxypyrovalerone, that give a stimulant high similar to meth or cocaine.”

The drug has also been called Vanilla Sky and Ivory Wave.

The Drug Enforcement Administration made the drug illegal in September. - globalpost


Does Bigfoot roam northern Minnesota?

Moose Lake area residents who claim to have seen Sasquatch share their stories on an episode of “Finding Bigfoot” which Sunday on Animal Planet.

The team of researchers and television crew visited northern Minnesota in August to investigate a concentration of claims around the Kettle River. The hour-long TV program, in its second season, shows the four-person team touring the woods on all-terrain vehicles, meeting with residents, re-enacting anecdotal evidence, then doing their own investigation decked out with night-vision gear, jump suits and lures.

“I’m excited and a little nervous about what we’ll look like on there,” said Kristy Aho, who is featured on the episode with her husband, Dale, and four young children. They claim to have seen Bigfoot while partridge hunting in the area of Automba about three years ago.

Aho said her husband had gone into the woods to make a loop past some birds. The animal had been squatting, then jumped up, creating a loud crash. She described the being as human-like, upright on two legs with hands swinging down by its knees and about 8 feet tall. Then it took off running.

“The whole ground was shaking,” she said. “The four-wheeler was shaking. We saw it run by about 15 feet away from us. I was really scared. My mind knew it wasn’t my husband, but it resembled a human.”

The fight-or-flight instinct kicked in, Aho said, and they opted for flight. It took a while for Aho to feel comfortable going back into the woods, but she wasn’t uncomfortable sharing her story with the viewers. While the people featured on the show are earnest in their stories, to other people Sasquatch is no more than campfire lore on the level of the Loch Ness Monster and UFOs.

“You feel like people are going to make fun of you or put you down if you say you saw one,” Aho said. “It’s intimidating. But we know what we saw.”

Lorraine Tomczak is in the Aho’s camp.

“That doesn’t bother me,” she said of naysayers. “I was very fascinated that they would want to talk to me. I wasn’t worried about that kind of thing.”

Curious creature

Tomczak saw a creature on Carlton County Road 6, going west toward Automba about a year ago. She describes seeing a big ape with human features. She made sure the doors of her station wagon were locked.

“I was going into town that day and the thing was looking into a vacant trailer house,” she said. “He was, I don’t know, curious, like animals and people are.”

Tomczak and “Finding Bigfoot” researcher Cliff Barackman revisit the trailer during the episode and, using a tape measure, determine that it was about 9 feet tall.

“He was a big thing,” she said. “I didn’t know it was a male, but the lady on the road ahead of me said she had seen the family jewels. I said I didn’t look that close.”

Tomczak wants to see Bigfoot again. She has even had a dream about encountering an entire family of Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) and being allowed to hold a baby Bigfoot.

“I was fascinated by it,” Tomczak said. “It was something you don’t see every day.”

The investigative team includes two men who claim to have had Bigfoot sightings, according to their bios on Animal Planet’s website: Matt Moneymaker had his first encounter while camping in a swampy area in Kent, Ohio; James “Bobo” Fay has had multiple sightings, his first in 2001.

Cliff Barackman has only seen evidence of Bigfoot. Ranae Holland is the crew’s resident skeptic, a biologist charged with identifying the creatures behind recorded growls and broken trees.

She said she thinks the people featured on the program genuinely believe they have seen Bigfoot and would pass a lie detector test if pressed. But she also said she believes a lot of sightings can be explained and that it is likely other animals being misidentified.

“The human mind is a funny thing,” she said in a phone interview. “Shadows and the way a canopy can move and you see something — your mind will start molding things into an object it wasn’t.”

Holland grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D., and said time spent with her late father was time spent either testing stuntman gear or watching movies about UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster and Sasquatch. Part of her reason for being on the show is the connection to him. Part of it is the lure of a Bigfoot story and how it captures the imagination of children and fosters critical thinking. Part of it is pure curiosity.

“What’s out there that is creating this phenomenon?” she said. “That fascinates me. We can’t seem to get tangible evidence for me to say ‘OK, I believe.’ I want to know one way or the other. That’s what keeps me going back out into the woods when it’s cold and I’m hungry. I want to see what these people keep telling me they’re seeing. They’re seeing something. OK, if Bigfoot is real, show your ugly, smelly face.” - duluthnewstribune

The M-Files: True Reports of Minnesota's Unexplained Phenomena (Tales of the Supernatural)


Scientists find 'fat' is the sixth human taste

For generations, scientists thought the human tongue could detect only four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salt and bitter.

Then a fifth was discovered, "umami" or savoury. Now, researchers have identified a previously-unrecognised "sixth taste" – fat.

A team in the United States has located a chemical receptor in the taste buds on the tongue that recognises fat molecules, and found that its sensitivity varies between individuals.

The finding may help to explain why some people consume more fatty foods, as they are less aware of the taste as they eat.

The researchers hope their discovery can be exploited to combat obesity by increasing people's sensitivity to fat in their food.

Apart from the basic tastes, other aspects of food flavour actually come from the smell and are detected in the nose.

The research team, from the school of medicine at Washington University, St Louis, showed that people with more of a receptor called CD36 were better at detecting the presence of fat in food.

They found that variations in a gene that produces CD36 makes people more or less sensitive to the presence of fat.

"The ultimate goal is to understand how our perception of fat in food might influence what foods we eat and the qualities of fat that we consume," said Professor Nada Abumrad, who led the research.

"We've found one potential reason for individual variability in how people sense fat. What we will need to determine in the future is whether our ability to detect fat in foods influences our fat intake, which clearly would have an impact on obesity."

The study, which is published in the Journal of Lipid Research, found that those with half as much CD36 were eight times less sensitive to the presence of fat.

Up to 20 per cent of people are believed to have a variant of the CD36 gene that is associated with producing lower levels of the receptor, which could mean they are less sensitive to the presence of fat in food. This may make them more prone to obesity.

Dr Yanina Pepino, who also conducted the research, added: "If we follow the results in animals, a high-fat diet would lead to less production of CD36, and that, in turn, could make a person less sensitive to fat.

"From our results in this study, we would hypothesise that people with obesity may make less of the CD36 protein.

"So it would seem logical that the amounts of the protein we make can be modified, both by a person's genetics and by the diet they eat." - telegraph



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