By the Numbers

Beyond propaganda and rhetoric, numbers tell the real story

TWO STUDIES HAVE cast doubt on claims of a link between caffeine and breast cancer. New findings from the Women's Health Study, an ongoing assessment of 38,432 women over 10 years, indicate no significant differences in breast cancer rates between women who drink four or more cups of coffee daily and a control group that almost never drank coffee. Another study from the Harvard School of Public Health also failed to find a relationship between caffeine and breast cancer in a population of 86,000 female nurses followed over 22 years. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the United States, with 186,772 women developing breast cancer in 2004 (the last year for which data is available).

For more information, visit www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/news/20081013/caffeine-breast-cancer-link-minimal

CDC on Breast Cancer: www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/

A STUDENT RESEARCHER at the University of Alberta has discovered a group of rice genes that can be modified to double the plant's yield in times of drought. While most rice grows in flooded fields, doctoral candidate Jerome Bernier studied the genome of upland rice, a variety that is grown in dry fields but is particularly sensitive to drought conditions. He began by focusing on 126 genetic markers before finding a cluster of genes producing deep-growing roots, which enable the plant to utilize deeper groundwater under drought conditions. According to the International Rice Research Institute, rice is among the leading calorie sources in the world, supplying on average 20 percent of the world's caloric intake. In developing nations like Vietnam and Bangladesh, the proportion of calories from rice can approach or exceed 70 percent.

For more information, visit www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081120162847.htm

International Rice Research Institute: www.irri.org

A PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN fungus may be the cause of a disease that has decimated bat populations in New England. White nose syndrome was named for the rings of white fungus found on affected bats, but until recently the fungus was considered a secondary symptom and not a cause of the disease. Healthy bats can eat more than 3,000 mosquitoes nightly, but when the disease sets in they do not leave their roosts to seek food and eventually starve. More than 75 percent of bats in an affected colony fall victim to the mysterious illness. Michigan is home to nine species of insectivorous bat, including the federally endangered Indiana bat.

For more information, visit www.aaas.org/news/releases/2008/1030bats.shtml

AN ESTIMATED 6 million cases of filarial worms in sub-Saharan Africa have been prevented in the last eight years thanks to a donation of 1.3 billion doses of anti-parasitic drugs by GlaxoSmithKline and Merck. Worms like Wucheria bangcrofti and Brugia malayi can colonize the lymph system and cause lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis, a painful condition characterized by intense swelling and ulceration of the lower torso and legs. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 billion people in 80 countries are at risk for lymphatic filariasis, and 120 million are already infected. Each dose of albendazole and ivermectin costs about 10 cents, and 500,000 people received treatment in 2008.

For more information, visit www.dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0000317

World Health Organization: www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs102/en/

Inhaler

EFFECTIVE JAN. 1, 2009, albuterol asthma inhalers and other lung medications powered by chlorofluorocarbons were banned in favor of environmentally friendly alternatives. CFCs are used to propel drugs into the lungs, but due to their role in ozone depletion they are being abandoned for hydrofluoroalkane inhalers. Because the medication in the new inhalers is formulated differently, there are no generics available and consumers may pay $30 to $60 for the prescription inhalers, compared to $5 to $10 for CFC types. According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, asthma affects 9.3 percent of the adult population of the state.

For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/documents/AsthmaPrevSevMgmnt_127071_7.pdf