This is Bob Doughty.
And this is Steve Ember with Science in the News, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about a famous actor who is making progress in recovering from a severe injury. We tell about the importance of exercise for women. And we tell about a disease affecting trees in California.
American actor Christopher Reeve is making progress in his recovery from spinal cord injuries suffered seven years ago. Reeve has regained some movement and physical sensation in his hands and feet. He is able to feel a person’s touch over most of his body. He also can tell the difference between hot and cold.
Spinal cord injury experts say his partial improvement is a result of progress in treatment for severe back injuries. Yet they warned other patients not to expect too much.
Christopher Reeve is best known for acting as “Superman” in four movies. He now heads the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, a non-profit group. It reports that about eleven-thousand Americans suffer spinal cord injuries each year. These injuries may cause people to become paralyzed. They may not be able to walk, move their arms, or control other body parts.
Christopher Reeve was injured in a horse riding accident in nineteen-ninety-five. He was thrown from a horse that was jumping over a large object. Reeve landed on his head and suffered broken bones in his neck. At the time of the accident, Reeve had no sensation and could not move his body from the neck down. His doctors said that he would never be able to feel or move below his head. He remained in this condition for more than four years.
In nineteen-ninety-nine, Reeve began to take part in an experimental treatment at the Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis, Missouri. His treatment includes a combination of activities to restart Reeve’s movement skills. He exercises at least three times a week on a special bicycle. His legs are connected to wires from a computer. The computer sends electrical messages to make his leg muscles move up and down.
In other treatments, electrical messages are sent to the nerves that control other muscles in his body. Reeve also exercises in water. And he takes drugs designed to keep his bones strong. Reeve spends about five-hundred-thousand dollars a year for medical costs.
This month, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation released a statement about his condition. A spokeswoman said Reeve can feel the sense of touch on most of his body. She said he has regained the ability to make small movements with his fingers, wrist, elbows, hips and knees. However, he has little or no balance control for sitting, standing or walking.
The statement said Reeve still needs a machine to breathe most of the time. However, he can breathe for more than one hour without the machine.
John McDonald is the director of the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Washington University. Doctor McDonald says Reeve has made great progress. He said he has never seen a case where someone recovered this much so many years after a severe injury.
Christopher Reeve will be fifty years old on Wednesday. He had said that he hoped to walk before his fiftieth birthday. Reeve now says, “Even if your body does not work the way it used to, the heart and the mind and the spirit are not decreased. It is as simple as that.”
Christopher Reeve can now feel when his wife and children put their arms around him. He told People magazine that "To be able to feel just the lightest touch is really a gift.”
A new study says walking is just as effective as more difficult exercise in reducing the risk of heart disease or stroke in women. It suggests that even small amounts of exercise can be good for women’s health. Federal researchers in the United States carried out the study. The research is part of the federal government’s Women’s Health Initiative. Researchers are studying many health questions important to older women.
The researchers observed almost seventy-four-thousand women during a six-year period. The women were between the ages of fifty and seventy-nine. They answered questions about their activity levels. The researchers divided the women into five groups, from the least active to the most active.
The study found that fast walking for about two-and-one-half hours a week cut the risk of heart disease or stroke by one-third. This good effect was about the same in women who spent an equal amount of time doing more difficult exercise. The good effects increased as the women spent more time and energy taking part in such exercises. Women who spent even a small amount of time walking reduced their risk of heart disease or stroke by about nine percent.
The study also found that sitting in a chair for at least sixteen hours each day could increase the risk of heart disease and stroke whether a person exercised or not. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
A second unrelated study in the same journal showed that girls become less active as they get older. The study found that a majority of American girls get almost no daily exercise by the time they are eighteen years old. The study was part of a federal effort to find out why more black women than white women are overweight. Sue Kimm of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania led the study.
The researchers gathered information from about two-thousand-five-hundred girls during a nine-year period. More than half the girls were black. The other girls were white. The girls were about nine years old when the study began.
The girls answered a series of questions throughout the study about their diets and activity. The researchers recorded after-school exercise such as sports, bicycle riding, dancing and swimming.
By the time they were sixteen years old, more than half of the black girls and almost one-third of the white girls said they did not exercise outside of school. The study confirms other research that shows many American children, especially teenagers, are inactive. Researchers say this could help to explain why increasing numbers of American young adults are overweight.
Scientists in California say two kinds of trees important to the state’s economy are infected with a fast-spreading disease. The scientists found the infection on coast redwood and Douglas fir trees in two areas in northern California.
The disease is known as sudden oak death syndrome. It has killed tens of thousands of oak trees since its discovery in northern California seven years ago. No cure has been found.
Recent tests by the scientists confirmed the presence of Phytophthora ramorum (fy-TOFF-thor-uh rah-MOR-um), an organism that causes sudden oak death syndrome. They found the organism in young trees that had shown signs of infection.
Matteo Garbelotto (mah-TAY-oh gar-beh-LOT-oh) of the University of California at Berkeley was one of the scientists. He says he was surprised to find the infection in young redwoods in all the places his team tested. He said the infected Douglas fir trees were found in only one place. But he said they seemed to show a stronger reaction to infection.
Redwood and Douglas fir trees are important to California’s environment and economy. The state’s redwood trees are world famous. They can grow to be more than one-hundred meters high. Some redwoods live to be two-thousand years old. Douglas fir trees are harvested for their wood and to be used as Christmas trees in people’s homes. These harvests are worth more than one-thousand-million dollars each year in the United States.
Federal rules ban transport of infected plants or their products across state borders. There also are restrictions on the covering, or bark, of infected trees. Small pieces of bark are used to cover soil.
The scientists say it may be years before they know how seriously the disease will affect California’s Douglas fir and redwood forests.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by George Grow and Cynthia Kirk. It was produced by George Grow. This is Steve Ember.
And this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.