From breakthrough discoveries made in laboratories to outbreaks of infectious diseases in the field, 2015 has been a year marked by major developments in the area of human health.
Chipotle Stores Linked to String of E. Coli Outbreaks In Different States
Disease control officials have detected several cases of E. coli outbreaks spread across nine different states in the past few months, which has led to the sickening of dozens of individuals.
While the DNA identification of the bacteria involved in the outbreaks vary, almost all of the incidents concern diners eating at a Chipotle store days before falling ill.
The most recent E. coli infection cases reported to health officials occurred in Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota from Nov. 18 to Nov. 26.
The disease outbreak has caused Chipotle to temporarily close down a number of its stores during the investigations.
Traces Of Listeria Found In Grocery Products
Several incidents of listeria and salmonella contamination have also been reported involving food products sold in groceries and supermarkets.
Batches of Whole Foods' deli pasta and chicken salad, General Mills' frozen green beans, Karoun Dairies' soft cheese products and Blue Bell Creameries' ice cream were recalled because of cases of listeria scare concerning their products.
Turing Pharmaceuticals Hikes Price Of Long-Time Parasitic Infection Drug
Turing Pharmaceuticals, a startup company founded by former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli, received public scrutiny for hiking the price of Daraprim, a 62-year-old drug commonly prescribed by doctors to treat the life-threatening toxoplasmosis infection.
After acquiring the drug from Impax in August, Turing proceeded to increase the cost of Daraprim from its original price of $13.50 to $750 for each tablet.
Infectious disease experts believe the 5,000 percent increase in Daraprim's price could make the treatment beyond the reach of patients who depend on it.
Shkreli argued that the drug is rarely used in treatments and its impact on the health system would only be miniscule.
He said that the money Turing will earn from the price hike will be used to research better treatments for toxoplasmosis.
Portland State University Researchers Discover High Concentration Of Formaldehyde in E-Cigarettes
Despite claims of vaping advocates that smoking e-cigarettes is healthier compared to regular cigarettes, a new study by Portland State University scientists has found that using the vaporizer exposes individuals to high concentrations of formaldehyde, a chemical that is considered to be carcinogenic.
James Pankow, one of the researchers involved in the study, said that they were able to detect large amounts formaldehyde-containing chemical compounds in the vapor produced by e-cigarettes.
Health experts initially thought that the absence of fire in operating e-cigarettes eliminates the risk of toxic chemical exposure for the user.
Newer versions of the vaporizers, however, can now reach high temperatures in order to deliver the nicotine content at a faster rate. This also increases the user's exposure to carcinogens that can cause cancer.
New Vaccines Based On A Protein Inhibitor Found To Lower Cholesterol Levels
Scientists from the University of New Mexico and the National Institutes of Health have developed two new vaccines that are capable of lowering the levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Alirocumab and evolocumab have been found to reduce the amount of low-density lipoprotein, also known as bad cholesterol, more effectively compared to statins, which are commonly prescribed by doctors. The new drugs are based on the cholesterol-regulating protein known as PCSK9.
'Phubbing' Lowers Relationship Satisfaction Between Couples
A significant number of people in the United States claim to have been "phubbed" or snubbed by their partner in favor of using their smartphones, according to a study by Baylor University.
Researchers from Baylor's Hankamer School of Business have found that out of the 453 American adults they surveyed, 46.3 percent of them said that they have been phubbed by their loved one. About 22.6 percent of the participants said the act caused relationship conflict between them and their partner.
Additionally, 36.6 percent of the individuals said that they experienced depression as a result of the phubbing, while 32 percent claimed to be satisfied with their relationship with their partner.
Study co-author Meredith David explained that their findings point to the impact of too much cellphone use on the relationship between couples. The more one of them interrupts their intimate time because of cellphone use, the more likely the other person will feel unsatisfied in their relationship.
Children Born To Cannabis-Smoking Mothers Found To Excel In One Brain Development Aspect
A recent University of Auckland paper describes a phenomenon in which children born to mothers who regularly smoked marijuana during pregnancy scored high marks in a test designed to measure one aspect of their brain development.
Lead researcher Arijit Chakraborty said that prenatal exposure to cannabis appears to have benefited the children's visual neurodevelopment, particularly their global motion perception. Preschoolers who were exposed to cannabis had a 50 percent higher score compared to those who were not exposed to the substance.
Meanwhile, children who were exposed to alcohol while they were still inside their mothers' womb experienced impairment to their global motion perception.
Chakraborty said that prenatal exposure to both cannabis and alcohol did not provide any impact on the children's visual neurodevelopment, suggesting that the marijuana could have cancelled the potential harmful effects of alcohol.
The researchers assert that they are in no way advocating for mothers to start smoking cannabis considering its negative impact on other aspects of child neurodevelopment. They, however, recommend for childbearing women to stop drinking alcohol in the first place.
Smoking Skunk Weed Cannabis Can Seriously Damage Important Brain Nerve Fibers
Health experts from King's College London and the Sapienza University of Rome have discovered that smoking a high-strength form of cannabis known as "skunk weed" can lead to serious damage to the nerve fibers of the corpus callosum, a region of the brain responsible for neuron transmission between and the left and right hemisphere.
The researchers believe that the adverse effect of skunk weed use is linked to its high amounts of the hallucinogen tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Individuals who smoke the potent cannabis were found to have siginificant damage to the white matter of their corpus callosum compared to those who smoke low-strength cannabis and those who have never tried the substance at all.
CRISPR-Cas9 Gene Editing Named Scientific Breakthrough of the Year
Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) magazine on general science, has named the genome-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 as the Scientific Breakthrough of the Year for 2015.
The technology, which was based on the discovery that certain bacteria have the ability to ward off viruses, has been part of the magazine's Breakthrough sections before in 2012 and 2013. However, it only came as a runner-up in both instances, along with other genome-editing techniques.
John Travis, managing news editor of Science, said CRISPR was able to showcase its value in a series of achievements, which it won the breakthrough distinction this year.
In gaining the recognition, CRISPR beat other major scientific achievements including the findings of the Pluto mission.