Rochester Science

The Rochester Nomogram will revolutionize LASIK eye surgery

Imagine a world of blurry images and words, where contact lenses and glasses are the only way to see clearly. For some people, this world is a reality. But as of recently there is a solution to the problem that is FDA approved and has a success rate that is guaranteed for an individual’s eyesight to be perfect.

Scott MacRae, M.D. and Manoj Venkiteshwar, Ph.D., invented a complex formula to better improve LASIK surgery by helping physicians determine how refractive surgery will affect the patient’s eyesight. A U.S. patent has been recently issued for the technology to help thousands of people around the world boost their eyesight. The formula is called Rochester Nomogram.

For those of you who don’t have any background information on the subject, there are a few things you must know. The cornea is the part of the eye that helps focus light to create an image for you to see. It almost works just like the lens of a camera and how it focuses when a person takes a picture. What takes place in a LASIK surgery is the corneal tissue is removed by a special laser that reshapes the cornea to change the focus of the individual’s eyesight.

Nomogram adjusts the way the laser in the surgery interacts with the patient’s eye tissue without risking the patient’s eyesight. The formula also reduces the number of repeat surgeries that most patients must endure in order to perfect their eyesight and not rely on contact lenses or glasses.

Said MacRae at the European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons meeting,

Eyesight is crucial to everyone’s quality of life. As a physician, I am required to do everything in my power to make sure each of my patients has the very best vision possible.

Tens of thousands of people around the world have had vision procedures that have been associated with Nomogram. As of now, 99.3 percent of MacRae’s patients are seeing 20/20 vision or better after their surgery.

“It’s also gratifying that our work is benefiting not only our own patients but also others around the world,” added MacRae.

Rochester Science

Eschew the wee ones! @UofR study finds just being around children can make you sick.

I used to joke around with my parents, saying that when I was born, they must have dipped me in garbage and sat me in the middle of a field somewhere because I somehow seemed to be immune to everything.  I was the epitome of a healthy kid, even evading normal childhood ailments such as chicken pox and ear infections.  It wasn’t until I hit my mid-twenties (when the immune system is supposed to be stronger than it was during childhood) that I finally began experiencing allergies, colds, and even harsher infections like Shingles.  What gives?

According to a recent study conducted at the University of Rochester, exposure to school-age children greatly increases the odds of someone experiencing cold symptoms – especially for those who already suffer lung disease.  At face value, this doesn’t seem too profound. Contagious kids pass their germy colds onto others, right? Sure, but that isn’t part of the findings; consistent with the study, just plain old contact is the only contributing factor, not whether the children were sick or not.

The study’s senior author, Dr. Ann Falsey, professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester and an infectious disease expert at Rochester General Hospital, has admitted that she, herself, is even shocked by the study, saying,

Before we conducted this study, I would have expected other factors, perhaps the severity of underlying disease – the state of the patient’s general health – to indicate who would actually suffer symptoms from their colds. Instead, contact with school-age children is the only risk factor we found, and it increases both the risk of infection and also the risk of suffering symptoms once you’ve caught a cold.

The study was conducted by closely monitoring and sampling 127 people with emphysema who were evaluated six times each during one year. At all visits, nasal secretions were sampled, and sputum samples were obtained when available. Further analysis of the data showed that the people who were infected with cold symptoms were about twice as likely to have contact with school-age children as people whose infections did not become symptomatic.

Fortunately, I do not suffer from emphysema or any form of lung disease, and Shingles is a little bit different from a head cold. However, I was working directly with children 3 times a week when I contracted it. Could my former part-time job, and the children there be to blame? Sounds like as good of an explanation as any to me.

Rochester Science

Mom’s diet may affect infant’s future stress-related illnesses, U of R study finds.

Consuming a nutrient found in eggs and meat during pregnancy may lower an infant’s vulnerability to stress-related illnesses. Choline influences whether or not a gene is expressed. . High-than-normal amounts of choline in the diet during pregnancy determine the fate of our genes.

The research team chose 26 pregnant women in their third trimester and assigned them to take 480 mg of choline per day, an amount above the recommended 450 mg per day, until delivery. They found that higher maternal choline intake leads to a great amount of DNA methylation. Choline has a handful of nutrients that provides methyl groups for this process.

“The study is important because it shows that a relatively simple nutrient can have significant effects in prenatal life, and that these effects likely continue to have a long-lasting influence on adult life,” said Eva K. Pressman, M.D., study author and director of the high-risk pregnancy program at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “While our results won’t change practice at this point, the idea that maternal choline intake could essentially change fetal genetic expression into adulthood is quite novel.”

Choline can be made in the liver and the is used for liver disease, depression, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and as a supplement taken by pregnant women to prevent neural tube defects in their babies. Studying authors say the findings raise the exciting possibility that choline may be used therapeutically in higher than normal cases of maternal stress from anxiety, depression or other prenatal conditions. Further research is needed to one day figure out if choline is need to be prescribed to pregnant women, in the same way as folate, according to Pressman


Do family meals improve student performance? New study says maybe not so much.

We have taken it as an article of faith that the family that sits down to dinner together has kids who perform better in school. That is in large part due to studies in years past that have suggested this to be the case, along with a lot of popular wisdom and axiom. The problem with this assumption is that there are so many other factors that play into the equation. For example, the family that sits down to dinner together – especially the family that makes a point to sit down together – is making a commitment to the child’s education in a specific way. And it likely isn’t the only way. Do we factor other things like time spent doing homework into the results? Scientifically speaking, doing so pollutes the central hypothesis that breaking bread together automatically fosters better education.

That this one facet of the family life works for a set of families does not mean that another family who, for one reason or another, cannot sit down to meals together is any less committed to their child’s upbringing or education. So if we control for outside factors as much as possible, do co-diners have an edge? One study says no:

Despite popular wisdom and findings from much previous research that suggests the beneficial impact of family mealtime, a rigorous analysis of 21,400 children, ages five to 15, brings a new argument to the table: When researchers controlled for a host of confounding factors, they didn’t find any relationship between family meals and child academic outcomes or behavior.

The study does not specifically state that you shouldn’t eat with your children, just that the seeming causality between family meals and academic achievement is probably due to a number of other factors. Family bonding is important for many reasons, as DFE readers on social networks have pointed out. The ability to spot learning problems early is one such reason. But what this study tells us is that you probably don’t need to run to the therapist for an emergency session every time you scarf some Burger King in the car on the way to the kid’s soccer game.

Emergency session at the Y? Probably. But not the therapist.

Rochester Science

What was it about that tattoo ink that made people so sick?

I’d love to get a tattoo soon, but stories like this make me nervous. I’d imagine that rings true for a lot of others too. I think that as more and more outbreaks like this happen, tattoos will be less appealing for people. The industry really has to keep a closer eye on this, or they risk losing a lot of business.

The New England Journal of Medicine says that 19 people in the Rochester area have been infected by tattoo ink. The 19 cases that have been reported represent the largest outbreak ever recorded. The outbreak has warranted a nationwide alert, issued by the CDC.

The bacterium is found in tap water and other water products; it’s called mycobacterium chelonae. The infection involves red, itchy bumps on the tattoo. The ink involved is premixed gray ink, or gray wash, which is used in portraits or photography tattoos to create three-dimensional effects.

The ink is made using black ink, diluted with distilled water. After the outbreak, the manufacturer in Arizona voluntarily recalled the ink.

Most people think it is just allergic reaction or part of the healing process, which makes the outbreak more concerning to experts. Mary Gail Mercurio, M.D., released a statement concerning this:

I’ve seen people with tattoo-related issues over the years, but never this many: The volume of patients impacted makes this a real public health concern. Patients and doctors need to have a certain level of suspicion when they see a rash developing in a tattoo. Many of the patients I saw thought their skin was just irritated and the issue would go away during the healing process. In actuality, they had an infection that needed to be treated with an antibiotic; it wasn’t going to go away easily on its own.

Further stories from Fox News showed that the CDC found 22 confirmed cases, 4 probable cases, and 27 possible cases. These cases were found in Iowa, New York, Colorado, and Washington.

All of the Rochester area cases were linked to the same parlor, and the same artist.

This is worrisome to me, honestly. Why did it take so many cases for someone to catch on and realize something was wrong? I have plenty of friends and family with tattoos, and things like this often go unnoticed. It’s irritating and it’s downright scary. What if this bacterium was something deadly? Would it take 19 people dying from it for someone to take action? It can’t be allowed to happen.

Rochester Science

Before you eat that pumpkin pie: @URMC boffins discover a link between cholesterol and cancer.

The fall season is upon us Rochesterians, and you know what that means! A crisp “Red Delicious”, the crunch of fallen leaves on your morning commute (you go walkers!) and the steamy pool of cheese dripping, meat loaded, tasty chili.

But for Rochester and abroad, the University of Rochester Medical Center may have just put a damper on the New York fall fiesta. Out with a new study linking high cholesterol levels with a higher risk of cancer, members of the Rochester community may begin to take a second look at their dietary choices.

So come on, eat a handful of almonds, for your own good! Yeah it sounds a bit morbid, but hey, so is dieting.

From early on in the 20th century, scientists have been searching for a link between cancer and high cholesterol. It was not until very recently that they finally found what they were looking for – evidence proving their theory.

The data, published in the online journal Cell Reports, support several recent population-based studies that suggest individuals who take cholesterol-lowering drugs may have a reduced risk of cancer, and, conversely that individuals with the highest levels of cholesterol seem to have an elevated risk of cancer.

This new data is a stepping-stone for researchers, but most importantly, the human population as a whole.  Although not all scientists agree with the university’s conclusions, thanks to the U of R Medical Researchers, the combative fight against cancer may be forever changed.

Chiefly found in saturated fats, cholesterol is a compound produced in the body’s cells after intake. Animal based food products, such as eggs and cheese, have higher amounts of cholesterol and thus hold a greater risk factor for clogging arteries.

According to Hartmut (Hucky) Land (PH.D), head author of the groundbreaking study, and his partner Bradley Smith (PH.D), a gene found in cells called ABCA1 can be a preventative agent against cancer. A “cooperation response gene”, ABCA1 is essential in identifying cell strain and deterring cancerous tumor growth in cellular structures.

Without functioning ABCA1, fatty cholesterol is able to form excessively in mitochondria – the energy-producing organelle within a cell – creating structural rigidness on the outside of the cell. Simply put, ABCA1 can no longer control cholesterol levels and detect cell stress, thus unable to act as a barrier to cancerous abnormalities in cells.

Thanks to the recent discovery by the University of Rochester Medical Center, people across the world will learn the importance that low cholesterol has on their health. With more research, cholesterol-controlling medicines may soon take on a new role in treating and preventing cancer.

So with a sip of our herbal tea, and a pair of bean shoots in our hands, we can toast to science. But if we must, (and sometimes we must) let’s stick to one slice of Granny’s Pumpkin Pie. Or better yet, just eat an apple.

Rochester Science

Have U of R researchers discovered the kill switch for the flu?

“Make it stop. Please, please make it stop.”

That was my impression of myself during every flu I’ve ever had, ever. I hate the damned flu, hate being sick. And the idea that a flu might kill us all is actually the furthest thing from my mind when I’m suffering from one. Hell, I’d like a little company, myself.

So I’m not generally one to push the HOLY SHIT THERE’S A FLU GOING AROUND button. The difference between a “super flu” and just another shitty season of flus is really a numbers game, though mainstream media outlets like to push that button hard and often. They do so knowing that the fear of illness – hypochondriasis to its friends – is a remarkably effective marketing tool. It sells, in other words.

Still, the flu sucks. And yes, it kills. And good news! Folks at the U of R may have just found the kill switch that can turn that mountain back into a molehill:

The scientists singled out a messenger RNA (mRNA) in their research because it allows the production of two proteins needed for viral propagation. Production of the second protein requires the mRNA to undergo the process of splicing, in which two remote sites of the long molecule join together, while the intervening segment is discarded.

In other words, the messenger chemical that allows the influenza virus to reproduce itself relies on this splicing process and the U of R researchers have isolated the locations where the splicing takes place.

Short-circuit that splicing process and you stop propagation. Do that with enough of the virus in your system, and the virus just dies out like 8-track hipsters. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Options for how they prevent the splicing process include hiding one of the splicing segments or chemically shielding the site from its splicing partner. This research only involved finding the splicing sites, further research would be needed to find the proper process of halting the splice.

The funny thing is: it seems that this was not an intentional discovery, at least not originally. The researchers were looking into an entirely different facet of influenza – how it packages itself – to discover a means of preventing it. But when that research proved to be too complex, they switched to this second line of attack.

For the sake of all mankind myself, I certainly hope this is the key to ridding ourselves of the nastiest strains of the flu. Because again: it sucks.

Rochester Science

High temps and alcohol: the key to a car-punching good time at Darien Lake.

It’s concert tailgating season at Darien Lake, and you know what that means – rowdy underage drunks getting arrested! This past Saturday, however, a new transgression was thrown into the mix: punching cars and security guards. Oh, good. At least we’re keeping it classy.

I’m sure for most readers, this offense is written off as nothing more than underagers not knowing their limits and being unable to hold their alcohol, but as it turns out, the alcohol wasn’t acting alone in this recipe for violence. Temperatures skyrocketed this past weekend, Saturday’s soaring well into 90- degree heat. It’s no secret that heat + alcohol = dehydration, but can the combination actually contribute to aggressive behavior, too?

According to Nancy Molitor, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral science at Northwestern University, yes.

“Hot, and especially humid, weather is associated with increased aggression and violence as well as a generally lower mood.”

Consuming alcohol, as we know, contributes to lower inhibitions, poor judgment calls, and in some cases, anger. Mix a day of drinking with Saturday’s scorching heat, and what have you got? A summer weekend at Darien Lake – where I just happen to be heading this upcoming weekend! Until next summer – let’s keep our heat to alcohol ratio in check, shall we?

Rochester Science

Blue-green algae on Sodus Bay: how an RIT discovery may prevent future blooms

Algae is back in Sodus Bay. Blue-green algae, to be exact. Only, to be exact, blue-green algae isn’t algae at all…

Confused, yet? Blue-green algae is actually an organism known as cyanobacteria. Being bacteria, it is technically an animal rather than a plant. However, cyanobacteria are capable of photosynthesis, much like algae are. Cyanobacteria populates just about every ecosystem on Earth, from deep seas to freshwater to land.

In freshwater bodies, cyanobacteria blooms will cause waters to turn pea green, and in still areas, will rise to the surface as the trademark blue-green scum that gives them their name. The above-linked article includes someone quoted as saying, “I don’t think anybody wanted to go in the water anyway because it was like pea soup.” This would be another symptom, rather than a secondary consideration, of blue-green algae blooms. “Blooms,” by the way, are large infestations of cyanobacteria which are typically caused by the introduction of nitrogen and phosphorus into the water. Officials in Sodus will probably be looking into fertilizer run-off as a culprit, but changes in currents and seasonal variations are probably also a factor.

Research conducted at RIT in partnership with the University of Alberta, Canada, may yield a low-impact solution for such infestations in the future. Professor Andre Hudson and his team has identified a critical juncture in the photosynthesis process in algae, cyanobacteria and other autotrophs that, if properly exploited, could neutralize such infestations without harming other species within the ecosystem. DFE covered this discovery a while back. But new developments have emerged in the discovery of a specific practical solution.

The key to this new solution is lysine, a common protein that is critical to the process of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process of converting sunlight to digestible energy, as all plants do. Dr. Hudson discovered a means of blocking the production of lysine, which would disrupt the whole process of photosynthesis and effectively starve the targeted organism.

Dr. Hudson says that the team has discovered and begun to test a couple of different chemicals to see if they will effectively short-circuit the photosynthetic process in this way. Once one working chemical is found – and found to not interfere with other organisms in the same ecosystem – the next step would be to find a business that wants to buy into the new technology. However, testing chemicals for their interaction with other organisms is a long-term process and even if the chemicals they’ve discovered yield a successful solution, that solution may be four to five years in coming.

In the meanwhile, its worth noting that while swimming through cyanobacteria would be an indubitably icky process, the toxicity of cyanobacteria is actually quite rare. Science is still not entirely certain why one bloom is toxic and the majority aren’t, but one theory suggests that different species of cyanobacteria produce different chemicals. Some blooms have been reported to have killed cows, most are completely harmless. Regardless, there is currently no study of the Sodus Bay blue-green algae bloom that says its at all toxic.

Politics Technology

Your crazy aunt with the chain emails now joins 50% of seniors online

President Obama is a socialist Nigerian who wants to give you M&Ms for life if you fill out this survey about the girl who needs a kidney that was stolen from a dude left on ice in a bathtub. Its true. And watch for spiders on the toilet seat, while you’re at it.

And if you think these emails are going away any time soon, guess again. Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life project reports that for the first time, a majority of seniors over the age of 65 – 53% – now regularly use the Internet. Or email, which by leaps and bounds continues to be the aged set’s weapon of choice in the information wars.

While about a third of seniors use social networks, a whopping 86% use email.

Meanwhile, the growth trend for seniors continues with gadgets, as well. 69% of seniors report having a mobile phone, up from 57% two years ago.

Elsewhere in the land of magical thinking known as Opinion Poll Land, a sizable majority of Americans polled by Pew think the government has a role to play in curbing childhood obesity. But on the same day and without an apparent trace of irony, Zogby releases a poll saying three-quarters of Americans oppose the Bloomberg plan to limit the size of sodas sold in public spaces.

Its worth noting that “bans” never sell well with Americans. And what Bloomberg proposes is not so much a “ban on large drinks” as it is a “limit to the size of drinks,” which might have polled better. But it begs the question: if this plan is so unpalatable (pardon the pun) to Americans, what exactly does the “role of government” in curbing obesity look like, exactly?

Rochester Science

This frog and the University of Rochester may someday cure your cancer.

Science – especially biological science – is often an exercise in comparison. Where complex systems are too vast to understand on their own, the best way to figure them out is to compare many similar yet significantly different systems to see what is the same and what is different.

To this end, the University of Rochester is hosting a third year of a conference known as the North American Comparative Immunology Workshop, aimed at exploring the immune systems of frogs, catfish, sea squirts and others to glean insights into the tricky world of microscopic interspecies warfare.

Frogs have very similar immune systems to human systems. But they develop significantly faster – a few weeks rather than months. And it was recently discovered that frogs and humans both use the same type of highly-speciallized T cells to fight off cancer. It is thought that by observing and better understanding the frog’s immune reaction to cancer, we might find new methods and cures for cancer in human bodies.

Just one more thing to think about this summer while you’re sitting out by the lake and listening to the frogs chirp in the quiet of the evening. One of those guys may just hold the cure for cancer. You never know.


Just how bad are sugary drinks, anyway? Bloomberg’s soda embargo

The announcement by New York Mayor Bloomberg that he plans on introducing a limit on the size of soda one can consume at just about any food station in the city has been met with all kinds of reactions, positive and negative.

But to the extent that this debate is about health, science can be a guide. So, just how much sugar is in those “sugary” drinks? And compared to what?

Well, when you talk about sugar, one frame is to think of it in terms of carbohydrates. That’s because there is a recommended allowance of carbohydrates – which include sugars and starches like bread, pasta and other stuff. How many carbs should you eat?

The true answer varies from person to person. But on average, doctors recommend between 70 and 90 grams of carbs per meal, or around 270 grams a day.

As for the soda? Well, according to, a fluid ounce of Classic Coke has 3.3 grams of carbs in it. Multiply that times the 44 ounces commonly found in a standard large cup of soda a the theater and you get a whopping 145.2 grams of carbs. Nearly half your total daily carbohydrate intake in a single drink. Double the low end of acceptable carbs for an entire meal.

Of course, we’re not counting the box of candy and the popcorn you bought at the movies along with that gargantuan drink. Or your breakfast, lunch or dinner. Just one big-ass cup of soda.

Put it another way: if you had the 16-ounce cup, you could have had only 52 grams of carbs. So, maybe a smaller drink isn’t such a bad idea, after all?