Health bites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am


On the same wavelength

To focus on a conversation in a crowded bar, your brain filters out the noise around you. This is known as auditory selective attention, and University of Washington scientists are studying the process' mechanism as a first step to developing devices that allow users to control things like wheelchairs through thought alone. The researchers had 10 subjects try to focus on just one target sound - a continuous utterance of a single letter - among a total of up to 12 such sounds. The subjects had to determine when an 'oddball' item (the letter 'R') was inserted into the target sound stream. The target was successfully identified 70 per cent of the time in the most difficult conditions. 'We hope to create a system that presents a user with an auditory 'menu' of sounds - similar to the letter streams here - and allows the listener to make a choice by reading their brainwaves to determine which sound they are focusing on,' says researcher Ross Maddox.

No stone left unturned

Many patients with multiple sclerosis suffer from spasticity, a condition in which the muscles become tight and difficult to control. A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has found that smoking cannabis may provide relief from muscle tightness and pain to patients who don't respond well to existing treatment - though there may be adverse effects on mental processes. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, conducted a randomised, double-blinded controlled trial with 30 participants of an average age of 50. More than half of the participants needed walking aids, and 20 per cent used wheelchairs. Those in the cannabis smoking group had improved control and felt about 50 per cent less pain than the placebo group. But the cannabis group's cognitive function was negatively affected temporarily, as measured through an addition test. The researchers say larger, long-term studies are needed to confirm their findings.

Beast interests at heart

Until now, China had required that cosmetic companies test ingredients and products only on animals. But Chinese officials plan to introduce the country's very first non-animal test method for cosmetic ingredients by late summer, according to animal rights organisation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). The test, used widely in the United States and Europe, analyses chemicals for their potential toxicity when they come into contact with sunlight. Avon, Estee Lauder and Mary Kay - which have not tested on animals in decades - had been required to pay for animal testing to market their products in China. Late last year, Peta awarded a grant to scientists at the Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS) in Maryland, US, to travel to China to offer expertise and guidance. 'We congratulate [the Chinese officials] for acting swiftly to implement the first of several available non-animal tests,' says Peta vice-president of laboratory investigations Kathy Guillermo.

The moo the merrier

Do you know what goes into your steak? Meat fillers, antibiotics or hormones, perhaps? Dine with greater peace of mind. Secret Ingredient, a local home dining delivery service, has teamed up with Australian beef company OBE Organic to create a special rib-eye steak dinner for two. Not only will you have the recipe, step by step instructions, and all the ingredients to whip up the scrumptious meal, but you'll also eat happily knowing your beef came from healthy cattle that were born and raised in the wild. The special steak dinner will be offered from June 18 to 30 on