; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Just the Facts?: Human Head Transplants Now Possible -- Spirits In My Life -- Brain-Eating Amoebas in US Lakes

Human Head Transplants Now Possible

Dr Sergio Canavero believes that the technology now exists that will allow surgeons to carry out the Frankenstein-style procedure, which has been tested out on animals since 1970.

Up until now there has been no way to successfully reconnect the spinal cord, leaving the subjects paralysed from the point where the transplant was connected.

Recent advances have meant that re-connecting the spinal cord is now possible, and it is believed that the breakthrough means that previously fatal diseases could be cured.

However, other experts have dismissed the idea.

Professor Anthony Warrens, from the British Transplantation Society, told the Sun: "Connecting a head to a body is worthless to human beings today. The whole concept is bizarre."

In 1970 Robert White successfully transplanted the head of a rhesus monkey onto the body of a second rhesus, and Dr Canavero, a member of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, has proposed using a similar method.

He said: “The greatest technical hurdle to such endeavour is of course the reconnection of the donor's and recipient's spinal cords. It is my contention that the technology only now exists for such linkage,” he wrote.

“It is argued that several up to now hopeless medical conditions might benefit from such procedure.”

He believes that it a team of 100 could perform the operation in 36 hours — at a cost of £8.5million.
Both heads would have to be removed at the same time, and reconnected within an hour.

"This is no longer science fiction. This could be done today — now. If this operation is done it will provide a few people with a substantial amount of extra life,” he said. “The only reason I have not gone further is funding."

However, Dr Calum Mackellar, from the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, added: "This sounds like something from a horror movie." - Telegraph

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Spirits In My Life

The following story was forwarded by a reader:

I live here in east central Indiana. I've been a trucker for many years until I retired in 2006 and about 11 years ago, my oldest brother David finally succumbed due to his smoking. After his funeral, I was driving down a highway not far from home. I always kept a roll of paper towels in the storage space over my head. The road was smooth, no bumps, that roll of paper towels came down and hit me on my right shoulder. I put it back and with in a mile, it happened again. I placed it back and both times I had jammed it into place as hard as I could. This time, I told David to knock it off. It didn't happen again. I had to blame someone. lol

A few years later my mother passed away. On the day of her funeral I was sitting in mom and dad's living room talking to my cousin. In mid sentence, I heard "Mike!" in my right ear. I stopped talking and looked around, only other person was my brother in the kitchen and this was a woman's voice. I shrugged it off and proceeded to finish telling my cousin my story and then I heard this "OH Mike!" again. I must have had a strange expression because my cousin asked if I was alright. One evening I pulled back into the company lot in Muncie, Indiana and was in the process of doing my paperwork gathering stuff to take home. I was hit with this strong essence of lilac. I didn't have anything in the truck that smelled of lilac but my mother had a big lilac bush at the farm where we grew up that she had planted many years ago. I told my brother, hesitantly because I thought he would make fun of me since he was older. Surprisingly, he didn't laugh and a few days later, he was walking through the front living room and detected the scent of strawberries. Mind you now, my mother always had a huge straw-berry patch and would spend hours picking weeds out and doing whatever was needed. Also, my brother Ernie was living in their house for he took care of our parents till they passed.

One day at he local fair, I ran into my brother's (the one that had died) step-daughter. She had an adopted son who was very young at the time and was taking him somewhere one day. This was after dad had died. He was in the back seat and talking up a storm. She asked him who he was talking to and he said he was talking to his new friend. And then he said, his name's Victor and he likes trains mommy! Victor is my father's name and a train fanatic. This child had never met my father, let alone knew who he was. She said the hair stood up on her neck after he told her that. I never was close to my father but I was close to mom. My father was a bitter old man and loved to control my three brothers and I. Maybe that explains why I've not felt his presence around me.


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Brain-eating amoebas thrive in US lakes

It’s a fatal infection without an effective treatment, and one that strikes in a decidedly gruesome manner: An amoebic organism lurking in water is inadvertently inhaled during a swim on a hot summer’s day. From there, it travels through the nasal passage and into the brain, where it multiplies, devours one’s cerebral fluid and gray matter, and almost invariably causes death.

These "brain-eating amoebas" — known to doctors and scientists as Naegleria fowleri, or N. fowleri — aren’t believed to kill often. In the US, researchers estimate that between three and eight people die from N. fowleri disease, commonly referred to as PAM (primary amebic meningoencephalitis) each year. But that might not be the case for long. In recent years, N. fowleri has popped up in unexpected locations, which some experts suggest is a sign that warmer waters — caused by brutal summer heat waves and rising temperatures across the country — are catalyzing their spread.

"The climate is changing, and let me tell you, so is this," says Travis Heggie, an associate professor at Bowling Green State University who’s tracked the amoebas for several years. "If warm weather keeps up, I think we’ll see N. fowleri popping up farther and farther north."

That speculation seems to be reinforced by recent cases of PAM, once a health woe confined to fresh water in southern states like Texas and Arizona. In Minnesota, public health officials were stunned to see two fatalities caused by N. fowleri — both young children — in 2010 and 2012. The cases are the only in state history, and occurred about 550 miles farther north than any previous reported PAM fatality in the US. The amoebas have also recently killed swimmers in Kansas and Virginia, both states where earlier infections have been exceedingly rare. "You could certainly say it’s a concern of ours," said Jonathan Yoder, an expert with the CDC’s division of parasitic diseases, about the seeming progression of N. fowleri to colder regions. "We’re still trying to understand this."

Victims of PAM are typically young men, who take in the amoeba when they dive or splash around in rivers, lakes, or swimming pools that haven’t been properly chlorinated. And in two separate 2011 instances, individuals died of PAM after using neti pots filled with contaminated tap water to rinse their nasal passages. The amoeba doesn’t cause health problems when ingested orally — stomach acid kills the organism — so a patient can only fall ill if they’re taking water up the nose. Once they do, however, a single amoeba is enough to yield disastrous consequences: individuals usually feel fine for around a week, but then experience a puzzling array of symptoms, including headaches, vomiting, and confusion. That incubation period, combined with relatively common symptoms and the rarity of the infection, make accurate diagnosis exceptionally hard. "It’s not something that’s necessarily touched on in medical school," William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, said. "You have to really probe what patients were doing in the last several days, you have to ask if they were swimming. Honestly, an accurate diagnosis is basically serendipity."

This diagnostic challenge is one factor that helps explain why N. fowleri is accompanied by a 99 percent fatality rate — since 1962, there’s only one documented case of a US patient surviving PAM. But researchers also note that there’s no tried-and-true treatment. Patients are often beyond saving by the time they’re diagnosed, so the existing protocol, a cocktail of antifungal and antibiotic drugs, simply hasn’t been used on enough people to know how well it works. "That’s very frustrating for us," Yoder said. "Did the treatment only work that one time? Does it work at all? Would other treatments work better? We just don’t know."

Right now, experts at the CDC are working to resolve that problem — and better establish where N. fowleri might emerge in the future. Earlier this month, the agency received FDA clearance to import and stockpile miltefosine, a breast cancer drug that kills off N. fowleri in lab tests. "It’s certainly worth a shot," Yoder said. "In other brain infections, with different amoebas, we have seen it work."

The agency is also collecting environmental data on each case of PAM, in an effort to one day issue "targeted warnings" based on weather and water conditions that make the proliferation of N. fowleri — and subsequent infection — more likely. "We want to know what the water temperature was, whether there was a heat wave, what were the humidity levels," Yoder explained. In an ironic twist, however, PAM’s rareness makes such research much more difficult. "If you had thousands of observations, it would be much easier to do this," Yoder said. "Obviously, we’re short on data."

Heggie, for one, also suspects that PAM is already much more common that experts think. In his own research, he says he’s found N. fowleri in some surprising spots, including water far below 86 degrees — widely perceived as the cut-off point beyond which the amoeba thrives. And because the symptoms of PAM are similar to those of bacterial meningitis, Heggie also cautions that doctors may have misdiagnosed patients who actually died because of N. fowleri. "I’ll swear my life to that — this is being wrongly diagnosed," he said. "If someone died of meningitis, I’d suggest looking into that case a little more closely ... and looking at where the brain was eaten away at." Little research has examined the issue, but one 1970 study out of Virginia examined 16,000 meningitis deaths and found that five of those were actually caused by PAM.

Short of avoiding fresh water swims altogether, public health officials recommend plugging one’s nose during dives or periods underwater. Tightly. "You don’t need water gushing up there to get sick," Heggie said. "It doesn’t take much more than a drop." - TheVerge


China law forces children to visit parents

A Chinese law requiring family members to visit their elderly relatives has come into effect to howls of online ridicule, as the country's huge population ages rapidly.

The regulation "forces" children to visit their parents, the state-run Global Times newspaper said, with concerns growing over increasing numbers of "empty nest" homes.

China's rapid development has challenged its traditional extended family unit, and reports of elderly people being neglected or mistreated by their children have shocked the country.

Last year a farmer in the eastern province of Jiangsu faced a barrage of online criticism after domestic media revealed he had kept his 100-year-old mother in a pig sty.

More than 14 per cent of China's population, or 194 million people, are aged over 60, according to the most recent figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.

The growing proportion of the elderly is the result of China's controversial one-child policy, which was launched in the late 1970s to control population growth.

Many aged live alone in "empty nest" homes, as a result of their children finding work in other areas of China.

But while internet users generally express concern for elderly people - who are highly respected in the close-knit Chinese family unit - many took to China's Twitter-like microblogs to criticise the new measures.

"A country actually legislates respecting its parents?" said one of the eight million people to comment on the story on Sina Weibo.

"This is simply an insult to the nation."

Another poster said: "The government should have thought of how they would address this problem when it brought in the one-child policy."

The state-run Shanghai Daily said the new law gives parents the power to apply for mediation or bring a case to court, but experts are unclear about how the measures will be enforced, or how often visits are required. - TheAge


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