Posts tagged with "Futurism"

The new ‘skinny’ on Ozempic: Active ingredient linked to rare condition that causes blindness

July 9, 2024

A new study has linked the active ingredient in Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Wegovy to an eye condition that can cause blindness, a new study has found, reports Futurism.

In the journal, JAMA Ophthalmology, Harvard scientists found that patients who’d been prescribed semaglutide—a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonist believed to mimic the stomach’s feeling of fullness—were between four and seven times as likely to develop non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, a condition that blocks blood flow to eye nerves, than people prescribed other weight loss drugs.

Better known as NAION, the blockage effect of this condition—which only affects 10 out of every 100,000 people—can ultimately result in blindness, and as The Guardian notes, there’s no known treatment for it, either.

To get to this jarring conclusion, the Harvard researchers analyzed data from more than 16,000 patients who received treatment at its Mass Eye and Ear Hospital over a six-year period. Of those patients, 710 had type 2 diabetes, 194 of whom had been prescribed semaglutide; and 975 were overweight, 361 of whom had been prescribed semaglutide.

For the subjects with type 2 diabetes—which is nominally required for an Ozempic prescription—there were 17 NAION events compared to only six who had been prescribed a different diabetes drug. Calculated into percentages, that means that 8.9% of people in the semaglutide cohort experienced NAION events, while just 1.8% of people on other drugs had them.

Among those who were overweight, the results were even more stark: Of those 361 overweight patients had been prescribed semaglutide, 20 experienced NAION events over a three year period, while the other 614 who were prescribed a different weight loss medication suffered only three.

In other words, those overweight patients who were prescribed semaglutide were more than seven times as likely to have NAION event compared to those on other medications. Overall, 6.7% of those on semaglutide had NAION events compared to just 0.8 percent for overweight people on other weight loss drugs.

In a statement to The Guardian, Novo Nordisk, the Danish drugmaker behind Ozempic and Wegovy, said that although it takes “all reports about adverse events from use of our medicines very seriously,” NAION is nevertheless not “listed as a known adverse drug reaction in the summary of product characteristics.”

With so many other medical and mental health issues becoming associated with semaglutide, however, scrutiny is growing.

“Given the rapid increase in semaglutide use and its possible licensing for a range of problems other than obesity and type 2 diabetes, this issue deserves further study,” Queen’s University Belfast Physiology Professor Graham McGeown told The Guardian, “but possible drug side effects always need to be balanced against likely benefits.”

Research contact: @futurism

Students show up to graduation, find commencement speaker is an AI robot

May 17, 2024

You’d hope that universities would celebrate their students’ graduation with a memorable ceremony. But for the graduating class at D’Youville University in Buffalo, New York, last weekend, their commencement was arguably one to forget, reports Futurism.

With Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock” blasting the auditorium, the institution brought a humanoid AI-powered robot on stage to address the over 2,000 bright-eyed youths in attendance.

Dressed in a D’Youville hoodie and with its brain exposed, Sophia, as the robot is called, spun-off generic advice in dry, synthetically-inflected tones. It did not give a scripted speech, but answered questions from the emcee. The whole charade drew “mixed reactions” from the crowd, The New York Times reportswith many students feeling downright insulted.

“Congratulations to all the graduating students,” Sophia intoned, at one point brandishing a creepy, full-toothed grin.

The university contends that it had very serious and lofty intentions in its hiring of a robot speaker—and didn’t just cheap out on trying to get someone famous.

“We wanted to showcase how important technology is and the potential for technology to really enrich the human experience,” Lorrie Clemo, president of D’Youville, told the Times.

Many students didn’t feel that way. When the university announced Sophia would be the speaker, more than 2,500 signed a petition saying the decision “disrespected” the students and demanding that a human take the stage.

The impersonal nature of the robot speaker, the petition argues, is an unwanted reminder of the virtual high school graduations they were forced to have during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is shameful to the 2020 graduates receiving their diplomas, as they feel they are having another important ceremony taken away,” the petition reads.

But if showcasing AI technology was the goal, the stunt was inadvertently a sobering success. The robot’s unscripted responses perfectly encapsulate what generative AI largely does (and is very good at): coldly repackaging stuff that humans already have said.

“I offer you the following inspirational advice that is common at all graduation ceremonies: Embrace lifelong learning, be adaptable, pursue your passions, take risks, foster meaningful connections, make a positive impact, and believe in yourself,” Sophia said, after being asked to share tidbits from other commencement speeches.

Feeling inspired yet? The robot, built by Hong Kong-based firm Hanson Robotics, was also given several opportunities to plug the AI industry. If students already felt “disrespected” ahead of the commencement ceremony, we doubt they’ve been won over by Sophia waxing mechanical about the wonders of AI.

Research contact: @futurism

If you read a lot of fiction, scientists have very good news about your brain

May 15, 2024

It’s a big day for bookworms: Scientists studying how reading fiction affects your brain say the news is very good, reports Futurism.

In an interview with PsyPost, Lena Wimmer, a postdoctoral researcher at Germany’s Maximilian University, explained that she and her colleagues wanted to lay the groundwork for quantitative studies about fiction’s effect on thinking—and found, to their delight, that reading it is better for you than some detractors suggest.

“Over the last decades, scholars from several disciplines have claimed far-reaching benefits—but also potential disadvantages—of reading fiction for cognition in the real world,” she said. “I wanted to get an objective, quantitative overview of the relevant empirical evidence in order to decide whether any of these assumptions is supported by empirical studies.”

To figure out how reading fiction affects the brain, Wimmer and her co-researchers conducted two meta-analyses:

  • The first, as the German psychological researchers explain in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, looked into the results of a study that measured cognitive function for people who read various types of fiction.
  • The other took data from a longitudinal study that correlated lifelong fiction readership with cognitive outcomes ranging from abstract thinking and reasoning skills to the ability to empathize with others.

In the first meta-analysis—which included data from 70 studies and more than 11,000 participants—the researchers found that reading fiction had a small but “statistically significant” positive effect on subjects’ cognition. In particular, the people in that cohort who read more fiction seemed to better empathize with others and understand the way they thought, PsyPost explains.

That analysis also found that reading fiction was more impactful compared to either doing nothing or watching fiction on a screen than it was when held up against reading nonfiction.

The second meta-analysis—which included 114 studies and more than 30,000 participants—found an even more substantial positive correlation between reading fiction and cognitive abilities; especially when it came to verbal skills, reasoning, abstract thinking, and problem-solving. Like with the first analysis, the researchers found a general trend towards better emotional cognitive abilities like empathizing, though that correlation wasn’t as pronounced.

Overall, Wimmer said, both meta-analyses demonstrated similar trends: “That people who read a lot of fiction have better cognitive skills than people who read little or no fiction.”

“These benefits are small in size across various cognitive skills, but of medium size for verbal and general cognitive abilities,” she told PsyPost. “Importantly, there is a stronger association between reading fiction and cognitive skills than between reading nonfiction and those skills.”

By no means a smoking gun, this research introduces a framework for further study into how different types of reading habits affect our brains—but for now, let’s just say that the fiction section wins this round.

Research contact: @futurism

RFK Jr. threatens to eat ‘five more brain worms’

May 9, 2024

After news of his alleged brain worm went viral, third-party presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is back with a startling rejoiner: that he could out-debate the election’s frontrunners, even if he ate five more, reports Futurism.

“I offer to eat five more brain worms and still beat President [Donad] Trump and President [Joe] Biden in a debate,” the son of the late Robert “Bobby” Kennedy posted on X-formerly-Twitter. “I feel confident of the result, even with a six-worm handicap.”

Earlier in the week, The New York Times had dropped a bombshell report about Kennedy’s health struggles a decade or so back, in which he claims a doctor believed some cognitive issues he was having at the time were the result of an unknown parasite that had taken up residence in his cranium, eaten part of his brain, and subsequently died.

In a 2012 deposition during his divorce from his second wife, the political scion also alleged that he’d been diagnosed with mercury poisoning after a diet heavy in tuna and perch resulted in him having ten times more mercury in his blood than the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe.

“I have cognitive problems, clearly,” Kennedy said in the 2012 divorce deposition, which involved him arguing that his earning potential had been impacted by his strange brain issues and that he should therefore pay less alimony to his second wife, Mary Richardson Kennedy. “I have short-term memory loss, and I have longer-term memory loss that affects me.”

As the parasite expert who spoke to The New York Times for the piece pointed out, there’s a greater chance that the mercury poisoning—which is known to cause neurological problems—led to the conspiracist candidate‘s cognitive impairment than a brain worm.

According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln parasitologist Scott Gardner, tapeworms or other invasive parasites end up being calcified in the brain—resulting in them turning, essentially, into a tumor.

Given that Kennedy claims the issue went away after he stopped eating so much fish and underwent chelation therapy—which expels heavy metals like arsenic and mercury from the body—Occam’s razor tells us that the most likely answer here is the simplest: that mercury poisoning, and not a brain worm, was what caused his cognitive problems.

Nevertheless, the candidate still seems to believe that he has had a dead parasite hanging out in his brain for at least the past 14 years—and is, jokingly at least, willing to entertain the possibility of ingesting more to prove a point.

Not long after Kennedy was deposed in his second divorce, an Iowa woman bought a tapeworm online and ate it in a disturbed effort to lose weight—prompting not only urgent warnings from doctors but several copycats who wanted to see if the “tapeworm diet” could work for them too.

It should go without saying that purposefully ingesting a parasite is extremely risky, not to mention often illegal. Hopefully, Kennedy is just capitalizing on the viral publicity from the NYT‘s reporting, because, otherwise, this election season’s about to get even more deranged.

Research contact: @futurism

Organ transplants can change personality and even sexual orientation, scientists find

April 30, 2024

Scientists have found that organ transplants can have unexpected consequences—including profound changes to the patient’s personality and sexual preferences, reports Futurism.

In a study involving 47 participants, a whopping 89% reported personality changes following their surgery, the South China Morning Post first reportedno matter what organ they had received.

These changes included changes in the preferences for food, intimacy, and even professional pursuits.

As detailed in a paper published in the journal, Transplantology in January, a team of researchers from the University of Colorado found that a majority of participants reported changes in their personality, including “enhanced social and sexual adaptation,” and “spiritual or religious episodes.”

Six of the 47 participants reported changes in “sexual preferences.” Some transplant recipients even reported that they’d taken on the memories of their organ donors—which sounds pretty far-fetched medically, but could certainly be evidence of these serious operations leading to profound cognitive and emotional turmoil.

Not all changes described by the latest study’s organ recipients were positive. A number of them also reported negative effects, including depression, anxiety, and sexual dysfunction.

It’s also possible that the changes could have a simpler explanation: “Many of these changes may have resulted from improvement in physical health following surgery, rather than a transfer of personality from donor to recipient,” University of Colorado Assistant Clinical Professor and coauthor Mitch Liester told the SCMP.

Then, there’s the small sample size of just 47 people. And the researchers also point out in their paper that the findings may have been due to “selection bias resulting from our recruitment of individuals to participate in a study that explicitly stated it was examining personality changes following organ transplants.”

“Individuals who have not experienced personality changes might be less likely to participate in such a study,” the paper reads.

In other words, more research is needed—but the intriguing results do show that an organ transplant can rattle more than just a patient’s physical body.

Research contact: @futurism

Startup begins selling ‘invisibility shields’

April 22 2024

Remember the Invisibility Shield that launched on Kickstarter just over two years ago? The British startup Invisibility Shield Co.‘s eye-tricking gizmo, which is roughly as flat as a piece of cardboard, can turn anything behind it into an indiscernible smudge by effectively bending the light around it, reports Futurism.

Now, Invisibilty Shield is ready to follow up its polycarbonate shield with the 2.0 model, which comes in even bigger sizes. The largest version is a whopping six feet tall, large enough to “hide multiple people standing side by side,” per the company’s Kickstarter page—and it just might be as close to a Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak as you’re going to get in real life.

Trick of the light

The gadget exploits some properties of light, bending light from the background towards the viewer. The light hitting an object or person hiding behind the Invisibility Shield refracts away from the viewer, effectively hiding them.

It’s not exactly going to fool the eye entirely, though. Even the company’s second iteration is far from perfect and requires a simple background like a brick wall or a beach to really be effective.

The person hiding behind the shield will also need to poke his or her head out to see anything, since their view also will be made “invisible.”

Paintball wizard

People already are finding creative ways to make use of the first-generation Invisibility Shield, from hiding during games of paintball to stage magic to observing wildlife—and even to hiding contestants on a Korean dating show, as New Atlas reports.

The 2.0 version starts at around $66 for a “mini” shield that measures roughly 12 by eight inches. The “Megashield,” which can hide multiple people, costs just under $1,000 on Kickstarter.

At the time of writing, the company has already raised $182,500—far surpassing its initial goal of $11,600.

In short, it’s a fun optical illusion that won’t exactly give a military force a “Predator”-style, tactical advantage on the battlefield—but when it comes to photographing a rare bird or playing an elaborate game of hide and seek, it may just come in handy.

Research contact: @futurism

Startup that selects embryos with good genes says it’s not doing eugenics

April 15, 2024

A former Thiel fellow has launched a startup allowing parents to pick which embryos they want to incubate based on which has the best genes—and is insisting that the practice doesn’t amount to eugenics, reports Futurism.

Did we mention that “eugenics” literally means “good genes”?

Or, specifically, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute, “Eugenics is the scientifically inaccurate theory that humans can be improved through selective breeding of populations.”

And trials of eugenics got an exceedingly bad rep when the Nazis used them to support the extermination of the Jews during World War II.

Anyway, in a much-discussed interview with Wired, Noor Siddiqui, the 29-year-old founder of a reproductive startup called Orchid, talked a big talk about “reducing suffering by screening embryos’ genomes.

But when Wired editor Jason Kehe asked her about the startup’s origin story—her mother’s diagnosis with retinitis pigmentosa, which has made her legally blind—things started to get dicey.

Following the sci-fi-esque rationale that changing aspects of one’s family line would essentially stop them from being born, Kehe argued during the same interview that, if Siddiqui’s maternal grandparents had had access to a service like Orchid and chosen an embryo that would not go blind, neither the CEO nor her mother would ultimately have been born.

“I mean, I’m not deleting my mom,” Siddiqui said, defensive.

“But, sort of retroactively, there is a world where you would, kind of, have deleted her,” the interviewer responded.

The Stanford-educated startup founder continued to resist the conceit, insisting that she “would have a mom,” but the woman in that theoretical timeline wouldn’t have suffered. But Kehe kept up the pressure.

“You wouldn’t have had to see her suffer,” he quipped, “because— not to be a broken record here— you wouldn’t exist.”

Eventually, the reporter tactfully moved on from the testy exchange and onto the specifics of what Orchid does. But even those failed to offer a vision of a technology and service that are different from the “e” word that Siddiqui doesn’t like having ascribed to her company.

Unlike its competitors, which only look at narrow arrays of genetic information linked to cancer and other diseases, Orchid sequences embryos’ entire genomes—for an eye-watering $2,500 per embryo screened—and has already begun doing so for a secretive list of clientele.

For all her own good intentions, however, Siddiqui seems to refuse the see that choosing embryos based on whether they have “good genes” could be a form of, well, eugenics.

“Every other time we examine something, we develop—we develop insulin, right? We’re like, ‘That’s great!’ It’s not like you’re playing god there. But you actually are, right?” she told Wired. “You’re creating something that didn’t exist before.”

After touching upon the fraught subjects of population decline and Theranos—which Siddiqui, at the mention of the latter and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, remarked was “so mean” of her interviewer the conversation eventually fizzled out.

Nevertheless, this complicated and clearly emotional exchange shows just how dissonant the worldviews of biotech founders can be—and how genetic selection as a consumer service has crept up on us without us even noticing.

Research contact: @Futurism

Scientists are fascinated by an extremely muscular 93-year-old man

February 27, 2024

An elderly Irish man is so fit that he’s become the subject of a case study—and for those who aren’t exercising regularly, take hope: He didn’t start working out until he was in his 70s, reports Futurism.

As The Washington Post discloses, medical practitioners say 93-year-old indoor rowing champion Richard Morgan has the heart and body of a man in his 30s or 40s.

At 165 pounds that are 80% muscle, it’s clear why Morgan attracted their attention. But when researchers at the University of Limerick hooked him up to vital monitoring machines and had him race a 2,000-meter mile on the rowing machine, they were stunned to find that his heart rate was 153 beats per minute—far higher than expected for his age and said to be one of the highest recorded for anyone his age.

“It was one of the most inspiring days I’ve ever spent in the lab,” UL Healthy Aging and Nutrition Professor Philip Jakemen—who co-wrote a recent study about Morgan in the Journal of Applied Physiology—recently told WaPo.

Unlike the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s grueling workout, Morgan’s abbreviated routine is as simple as it is sustainable. He uses the rowing machine for about 40 minutes per day—and roughly 70% of the time, he keeps things easy; while in the last 20% of that short time, he keeps up a medium pace before going hard for the final 10%.

Along with the rowing routine, the Irish powerhouse does lunges and curls with dumbbells two or three times a week until his muscles grow tired, and eats a bit more protein than the recommended daily amount. In a world of increasingly complicated—and oftentimes dangerous—name-brand workouts and fad diets, Morgan’s self-made model is refreshingly simple and easily replicable, even if he might have some extra genetic juice keeping him so fit at his advanced age.

According to Lorcan Daly, the man’s grandson who works at Ireland’s Technological University of the Shannon as an assistant lecturer in exercise science, Morgan only got into fitness some 20 years prior at the age of 73, when he decided on a whim to go to a rowing practice session with another his grandsons, who was a collegiate rower.

As with most things related to health, the lithe Irishman’s way with a rowing machine does seem to have a genetic component—with prior generations also engaging in the famously healthy exercise.

“He never looked back,” Daly said.

Research contact: @futurism

Terrible things are happening to men who got penis enlargement

February 9, 2024

Preying upon perhaps one of the biggest male insecurities, a Beverly Hills-based urologist’s controversial treatment has turned out not only to be too good to be true—but to have a very dark side as well, reports Futurism.

In an investigation originally conducted and published by ProPublica, James Elist and his enhancement device—known as the “Penuma” (an acronym for “Penis New Man”)—take center stage in this drama populated by men who, after getting the implant, had grotesque complications that included festering wounds and extreme pain during urination and sex.

Though Elist’s literature suggests that implantation of the Penuma, a block-like silicone device implanted through an incision in the shaft of the penis, is “reversible,” it seems clear from example after example of extreme complications that it’s anything but.

“To fully consent to a procedure, the patient needs someone to tell him everything,” Thomas Walsh, a reconstructive urologist who has treated patients with post-Penuma implantation complications, told ProPublica. “He doesn’t need a salesman. The problem here is that you’ve got someone who is inventing and manufacturing and selling the device. That personal investment can create a tremendous conflict of interest.”

Walsh removed the implant belonging to a patient whose name ProPublica listed only as “Mick” to protect his identity. After finally rejecting Elist’s directive not to seek advice online or from other doctors, Mick, who had lost sensation in his penis, was horrified to learn that there were tons of other deeply unsatisfied customers who had complications even worse than his own.

From broken implants to holes that spew out amber-colored fluid, the stories of Penuma implants gone wrong are enough to turn one’s stomach. But prior to this latest investigation, articles singing Elist and his device’s praises in GQ and other news outlets contributed to making him a standout surgeon in the packed Beverly Hills market.

Perhaps the most depressing part of Mick’s story—a consequence from which he suffered and was far from alone—is that following the removal of the implant, he found that his penis had actually lost length.

“It’s like he also snipped the possibility of intimacy away from me,” a Hollywood executive who had had multiple surgeries with Elist, told ProPublica.

Although the doctor insists that there are more satisfied customers than unhappy ones, the list of issues not only with the implant itself but also with the consent process is harrowing. For instance, men were being given forms to sign after getting shots of narcotics. Foreign-born patients were being given forms to sign in English and after waking up from anesthesia for what they thought was a vein-cleaning procedure, found a strange object had been implanted into their shafts.

The entire debacle is a gross reminder not only of the potential issues with any cosmetic procedure—but also of the lengths, pun intended, to which people in our culture will go to “improve” or “enhance” their bodies. That men are willing to undergo such surgeries is as much an indictment of society at large as it is on the doctors who capitalize on their insecurities.

Research contact: @futurism

New study finds that patients do not regain weight if they stop taking Ozempic

February 1, 2024

The emerging consensus about semaglutide—the active ingredient in the buzzy drugs Ozempic and Wegovy—had been that there was a crucial catch: If patients stopped taking it, they’d soon regain the weight, locking them into an expensive and lifelong pharmaceutical habit.

But, Futurism now reports, new data now contradicts those findings—at least for some patients. As a new survey from the health software company Epic Systems indicates, two -thirds of patients who used semaglutide injections correctly were able to keep off the weight they’d lost for as long as a year after discontinuing their prescriptions—which flies in the face of reports from people who regained the weight after getting off the drug.

The results didn’t hold across the board. Of the more than 20,000 people surveyed by the firm’s research arm, nearly 18% said they regained all of the weight they had lost—but still, 56% said that they kept the weight off, and more than half of those respondents said they continued to lose weight in the year after stopping their injections.

In other words, a great range of outcomes are possible, depending on the specific person—results that once again add to the growing and sometimes contradictory canon of studies and anecdotes regarding semaglutide; as it continues to grow ever more popular, controversial, and difficult to obtain.

Part of a class of drugs known as GLP-1 agonists that mimic the stomach enzyme that makes us feel full; the actual functioning of semaglutide is still something of an open question in the medical community, because, like antidepressants, nobody’s entirely sure how it works.

What studies have shown, however, is that these drugs can provide significant health benefits that aren’t just limited to weight loss. On the flip side, research also has indicated that semaglutide carries the risk of some serious side effects; which can include everything from nausea and diarrhea to stomach paralysis and, in some rare cases, renal failure and pancreatitis.

Between the hype surrounding these drugs and the sober studies about some of their scarier-sounding side effects are the increasing number of personal stories doctors and journalists have begun compiling about them.

From The Messenger‘s report about a woman who regained all the weight she lost on Wegovy to NBC‘s interviews with the family of a man who died by suicide on Ozempic and now wants to get suicidal ideation included on the drug’s warning label, media reports about semaglutide have been quite the mixed bag.

It’s hard to imagine how people considering taking semaglutide or any other related GLP-1 agonist manage to sift through the noise and decide whether to take the drug for themselves, especially with the meme-ification of Ozempic bestowing it with an almost mystical quality in the minds of people with weight on the brain.

Research contact: @futurism