is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
I'm Bob Doughty.
And I'm Shirley Griffith. This week, we will tell how people who are
lonely can spread that feeling to others.
We will tell about an experimental treatment for a birth defect. And, we will tell about efforts to create new
weapons against the disease malaria.
newly-published study has shown that loneliness can spread from one person to
another, like a disease.
used information from the Framingham Heart Study, which began in nineteen
forty-eight. The Framingham study
gathers information about physical and mental health, personal behavior and
diet. At first, the study involved about
five thousand people in the American state of Massachusetts. Now, more than twelve thousand individuals are
Information from the Framingham study showed earlier that
happiness can spread from person to person.
So can behaviors like obesity and the ability to stop smoking.
of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo led the recent study. He and other researchers attempted to show
how often people felt lonely. They found
that the feeling of loneliness spread through social groups.
Having a social connection with a
lonely person increased the chances that another individual would feel
lonely. In fact, a friend of a lonely
person was fifty-two percent more likely to develop feelings of
loneliness. A friend of that person was
twenty-five percent more likely. The
researchers say this shows that a person could indirectly be affected by
effect was strongest among friends.
Neighbors were the second most affected group. The effect was weaker on husbands and wives,
and brothers and sisters. The
researchers also found that loneliness spread more easily among women than men.
new study involved researchers from the University of Chicago, Harvard
University and the University of California at San Diego.
report on the findings was published this month in The Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology.
New York Times newspaper reports that, on average, people experience feelings
of loneliness about forty-eight days a year.
Yet the study found that having a friend who is lonely can add about
seventeen days a year of loneliness. It
also found that every additional friend can decrease loneliness by about five
percent, or two and a half fewer lonely days.
has been linked to health problems like depression and sleeping
difficulties. The researchers believe
that knowing the causes of loneliness could help in reducing it.
The researchers did not
study how loneliness spreads. However,
Professor Cacioppo says existing research offers some possibilities. Lonely people are often mistrustful of
others. This behavior spreads from one
person to another, along with the emotion responsible for it.
The study suggests
that people can take steps to stop the spread of loneliness. They can do this by helping individuals they
know who may be experiencing loneliness.
The result can be helpful to the whole social group.
at the University of Southern California say they have found a way to heal a
birth defect in animals before they are even born. A team from the U.S.C. School of Dentistry described
its experiments in the publication Development.
Cleft palate and cleft lip are two of the most common
birth defects in human beings. They can affect
up to one in seven hundred babies around the world. Cleft lip is a separation in the upper
lip. It can be a small or large opening
that reaches up to the nose. Cleft
palate is a separation in the top of the mouth.
abnormalities usually develop early in pregnancy. They also are quickly recognized at
birth. Many babies with cleft lip or
palate have difficulty feeding. Other concerns include an increased risk of ear
infection, hearing loss and problems with their teeth. Older children with cleft may have problems
can perform a surgical operation to repair either abnormality after the baby is
born. The surgery can sometimes be
complex, and may require more than one operation to correct.
the University of Southern California researchers say their work may make it
possible for doctors to heal cleft palate before birth. The researchers carried out experiments with
fetal mice. They say levels of a protein
called Shh need to remain largely unchanged in a developing fetus for the
palate to develop correctly. Too much or
too little of the protein can cause a cleft condition.
genes are responsible for Shh levels. The Msx1 gene increases production of the protein. A gene called DIx5 decreases it. Both genes are necessary for the healthy
development of the palate, teeth, skull and other facial structures.
researchers produced mice with a defect in the Msx1 gene. The resulting lack of Shh proteins caused
palates to begin forming in the fetal mice. The researchers then took steps to suppress the DIx5 gene. This caused an increase in the protein, and
the palate began to regrow.
When the animals were born, their palates were
undamaged. The palates were structurally
a little different than those of other mice, but they worked normally. And, the newborn mice were able to feed
U.S.C. team says it hopes future research will help prevent or treat cleft
conditions in people.
continue to seek better weapons against malaria. Each year the number of cases is in the
hundreds of millions worldwide. Around a
million people die, most of them in Africa. Economic losses from the disease
represent an estimated one percent of the African economy each year.
Dimopoulos is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research
Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
percent of the earth's population lives in areas where malaria transmitting
mosquitoes exist. All of these people
are in risk of being infected with malaria. The sad thing is that the majority of people
that are killed by malaria are children because their immune system is not
strong enough to ward off this infection."
is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium. The parasite enters people through the bite of
infected mosquitoes. Malaria can be
treated, but in many areas the organisms have become resistant to different
Dimopoulos and his team are studying ways to make mosquitoes resist infection
by the parasite. There are hundreds of
kinds of mosquitoes in the world. Most do
not spread malaria. Some of the insects
have disease-fighting systems that kill Plasmodium.
GEORGE DIMOPOULOS: "We
are particularly interested in these type of immune reactions that are
responsible for killing the malaria parasite. Because we think once we understand how they
work, we could be able to manipulate the mosquito genetically and convert
mosquitoes that can transmit malaria into mosquitoes that cannot transmit
The researchers have
developed a way to make genetic changes in the three mosquito species known to
spread malaria. The changes cause their
systems to attack the parasite, blocking its development. Other researchers are working on ways to spread
these genetically-engineered insects among mosquito populations.
Professor Dimopoulos says
there is still a long way to go, but current malaria research is highly
A new vaccine is
in final testing. The vaccine has
already proven effective at preventing the disease in half of those vaccinated
-- which is more than ever before.
Work is also being
done at the Malaria Institute at Macha in Zambia. Researchers there are developing an easier
way to identify malaria. The test uses
saliva instead of blood to confirm the infection.
Current efforts in
malaria control are mainly based on the use of insecticide sprays and treated
bed nets. But George Dimopoulos says
malaria needs to be attacked with drugs, with vaccines, with bed nets -- with
whatever researchers can find.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by June Simms and
Brianna Blake, who was also our producer. I'm Bob Doughty.
And, I'm Shirley Griffith. Listen again next week for
more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.