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Our World — 18 November 2006


This transcript is provided as a service; there may be some variation between it and the program as broadcast.

MUSIC: "Our World" theme

Straight ahead on "Our World" ... A new look at heart attack treatment ...the keys to unlocking a long, healthy life ... and environmentalists' hopes for the new Congress ...

DUVALL: "They have said that they will create a cleaner, greener, stronger America by reducing our dependence on oil; eliminate subsidies for oil and gas companies; and use the savings to invest in a new energy technology."

Those stories, a world of maps on our Website of the Week, and more. I'm Art Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our World."

The World Health Organization estimates that heart disease causes three out of every 10 deaths worldwide.

Preventing deaths from heart attacks could help reduce that toll.

An international study of the best way to treat heart attack patients has come up with some surprising results. If you get to a hospital soon after your heart attack, the best treatment is generally considered to be balloon angioplasty, where doctors thread a needle into the blocked blood vessel, use a tiny balloon to clear the blockage, and then insert a metal scaffold called a stent to keep the artery open. It's a treatment that has become commonplace in hospitals throughout the world.

But the results of this new study indicate that once three days have passed following a heart attack, angioplasty is no more effective than using cheaper and less-risky drugs to break up the blockage, when measured by survival rates and other benchmarks.

Lead author Judith Hochman of New York University says sometimes treatment is delayed because the hospital is not ready, but often it's the fault of the heart attack victim. She says if you have possible heart attack symptoms, you should seek care immediately.

HOCHMAN: "Because that's the golden time window, where opening the artery with angioplasty or blood clot-dissolving drugs can saves lives. If you wait and don't seek medical care quickly and are found to have a totally blocked vessel days to weeks later, opening it with angioplasty does not improve outcome compared to optimal medical therapy alone."

Studies like this are important because they provide solid evidence to doctors on the best way to treat individual patients. And in this case, the study is likely to save money, because many patients who have been given invasive and expensive balloon angioplasty treatment will now get drugs instead.

HOCHMAN: "Now that we know the trial results, we expect that there'd be about 50,000 less angioplasties a year. And [as] a rough estimate, that translates to savings of about $500 million a year in the US."

Hochman stresses that angioplasty is still preferred if it can be done soon after a heart attack, but using drugs such as aspirin and statins to unblock clogged arteries is still a proven, highly effective form of treatment that will help many heart attack victims.

HOCHMAN: "Blood clot dissolving drugs absolutely save lives. That's been proven in trials that included over 100,000 patients."

The angioplasty study, which was published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved more than 2,100 patients in 27 countries in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific region. The head of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, called the study "definitive." And Judith Hochman says the results were consistent everywhere.

HOCHMAN: "So we looked at that and there was no variation by region in the United States, Canada or other countries in terms of the findings."

The study provides important guidance to doctors in treating patients after a heart attack. And it provides an important reminder that if you're having chest pains or other symptoms, your first priority should be to get to a doctor, clinic or hospital as soon as you can.

The failure to eradicate polio in India and a few other countries has stalled international efforts to eliminate the paralyzing childhood disease globally. Now, a new study explains why the virus persists in India, despite massive immunization efforts. VOA's David McAlary reports.

McALARY: Polio was supposed to have been erased everywhere six years ago. 2000 was the target year set by governments at the World Health Assembly in 1988, a time when the virus was paralyzing more than 1,000 children a day.

But six years past the 2000 target, polio remains unconquered. Some experts have suggested that eradication may not be achievable and that control might be a more realistic goal.

To be sure, much progress has been made. Most of the world is polio free. But an expert on infectious disease distribution at Imperial College London, Nicholas Grassly, points out that the virus remains tenacious in India and three other countries.

GRASSLY: "In 2005, there were less than 2,000 cases of paralysis for the whole year and all but four countries had stopped polio transmission at some point. Those remaining four countries -- India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan -- have led to exports of infection and outbreaks elsewhere. So it is of key importance that transmission is stopped in those four countries."

McALARY: Grassly says distribution problems have caused continuing polio transmission in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, but that has not been the case in India, the world's second most populous country. Children there have received many more doses of vaccine than in other endemic countries.

GRASSLY: "In India, there is particular concern because polio virus continues to spread despite the implementation of a very large vaccination program that is reaching most of the children there."

McALARY: Grassly and his colleagues explain the failure in a study published in the journal "Science." They performed a computer analysis of reports of paralysis in Indian children and determined the conditions that influence polio's persistence.

The greatest problem is in the poor northern states Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the source of India's recent polio outbreaks. The analysis says high population density and poor sanitation there are the key obstacles to eradicating the virus because they make it easier for polio to spread and they decrease the power of the vaccine.

GRASSLY: "In these parts of India, children are often infected with other diseases, particularly diarrhea. In these children, the oral vaccine does not work, does not work so well. Children don't respond to the vaccine. It doesn't stay in their gut for long enough.

McALARY: The vaccine that had been in use in India contains weakened versions of three polio strains to produce immunity, a so-called trivalent vaccine. But Grassly says the strains can interfere with each other and cause less than desirable immunity in a child whose health is already compromised with other illnesses. Since only one of the strains is prevalent in India, he says the government's switch last year to a monovalent formula containing only that strain should boost the vaccine's effectiveness. David McAlary, VOA News, Washington.

More than 500 years ago, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sailed to the New World, looking, legend has it, for the Fountain of Youth.

Many of us hope for a long — and healthy — life. And in a way there is a fountain of youth. It's in the food and lifestyle choices we make, at least according to research published this week in the journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA.

The study included more than 5,000 Americans, all men of Japanese ancestry, who have been part of a 40-year study of aging. Of the original participants, less than half survived to age 85. But only one out of four of them were labeled "exceptional" survivors, avoiding six major diseases such as cancer and stroke.

The researchers identified nine factors that were associated with a long, healthy life. Dr. Bradley Willcox of the Pacific Health Research Institute in Hawaii analyzed the data

WILLCOX: "Your chances were more than 60 percent of being healthy at that age if you avoided these risk factors, yet if you had six or more of these risk factors you had less than a 10 percent chance of living into your mid 80s."

So, what are those risk factors? The men in this study were more likely to live longer, and stay healthier if, when they were middle-aged, they didn't smoke, or drink alcohol to excess, and if they had a lean body and good physical strength. There was a strong correlation between education and longer, healthier life. Low blood pressure, low cholesterol, and low blood sugar were also associated with living longer and staying healthy. And the middle aged men who were married were more likely to live longer, though not necessarily any healthier than the unmarried men.

WILLCOX: "I think one of the major take-home messages is that there appears to be a lot we can do to achieve a healthy old age. And that, I think, is very important."

Dr. Bradley Willcox and his co-authors admit that because the study involved Japanese-American men, the findings might not apply to other groups. But they point out that many of these factors can be modified, suggesting that if you want to live longer, you could consider losing weight, cutting out the cigarettes, or, I suppose, getting married.

This has been Geography Awareness Week, an annual event for the past 20 years, aimed at promoting the importance of — you guessed it -- geography.

Maps and geography are intimately linked, and the digital revolution has had an enormous impact on mapping, from sophisticated geographic information system - or GIS - technology to the extensive availability of online maps.

Which brings us to our Website of the Week, in which we showcase interesting and innovative online destinations.

This week, it's maps from around the world, scanned and published online by the University of Texas Library Map Collection at lib.utexas.edu/maps. Map librarian Paul Rascoe says the online collection is large, even though it represents only a fraction of the quarter-million maps in the university's library.

RASCOE: "There are 11,000 maps — actually a few more than that now — online. And the main thing about our map collection is that the maps online are in the public domain, and so anyone can use them for any purpose — for commercial purposes or for non-commercial purposes."

Many of those public domain maps are issued by U.S. government agencies, even the Central Intelligence Agency or CIA. There are political maps, showing countries and boundaries; and historical maps; plus specialized charts called thematic maps, showing Caspian Sea oil pipelines, for example, or ethnic groups in Libya, all of which, Rascoe says, are of great help to the site's many and varied users.

RASCOE: "We have very young children in school doing their homework. We help people hook into GIS information. There's a wide range, but we especially like to support education, and we're very responsive when we get requests from teachers."

Rascoe says the site typically gets 1.75 million visitors a week, and up to twice that when current events send people looking for maps. The site's homepage is currently featuring links to maps related to the recent U.S. midterm elections.

RASCOE: "Many news organizations and others around the world are making maps all the time. And we can't afford to do that here so we link out, and we're just a way to help communicate and to support continued mapping of current events."

And University of Texas map librarian Paul Rascoe says if you don't see what you want online, you can request it, and they'll try to help at lib.utexas.edu/maps. You can also get the link from our site, voanews.com/ourworld.

MUSIC: "Deep in the Heart of Texas"

You don't need a map to find your way to VOA's science and technology magazine, Our World. I'm Art Chimes in Washington.

Congress came back into session this week for what is called a "lame duck" session, including senators and representatives who were defeated in the November 7th election. The new Congress — with a Democratic majority — will begin its work in January.

Environmentalists had generally criticized the outgoing, Republican-controlled legislature for failing to act on global warming, pollution, and other issues on their agenda.

Environmental issues didn't play much of a role in the campaign, but as we hear from VOA's Rosanne Skirble, environmentalists are optimistic their issues will get action in a greener Congress.


SKIRBLE: Gene Karpinski is president of the League of Conservation Voters, which endorses candidates based on their record on the environment. He says the environment was a big winner on Election Day.

KARPINSKI: " … which, in part, ties to high gas prices — people were mad — in part ties to record-breaking [oil company] profits; in part ties to the fact that candidates took money from big oil and voted for massive subsidies [for oil and gas industries]; in part, ties to a public [that] knows that we are far too tied to foreign oil; and in part ties to the beginning of thinking that we need to do something about global warming.

SKIRBLE: For six years under a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, environmental activists have maintained a defensive posture against challenges to anti-pollution laws, efforts to open the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and threats to the Endangered Species Act.

Now, Democrats will set the agenda, and environmental activists predict a major shift.

Sierra Club Political Director Cathy Duvall says the incoming House leadership has put energy issues among its top priorities for the first 100 hours of the new legislative session, which begins in early January.

DUVALL: "They have said that they will create a cleaner, greener, stronger America by reducing our dependence on oil; eliminate subsidies for oil and gas companies; and use the savings to invest in a new energy technology."

SKIRBLE: Myron Ebell with the Competitive Enterprise Institute says he doesn't believe much of the post-election rhetoric. Ebell — whose organization is skeptical of the data on global warming and supports property rights and less government regulation — doesn't see much of a shift in ideology in the newly-elected Congress.

EBELL: "A number of the Republicans who were defeated were part of the liberal-to-moderate wing of the party, who already supported significant global warming legislation, who already supported subsidies and mandates for alternative energy technologies and fuels. On the other hand, many of the new Democrats who defeated conservative Republicans are themselves moderate to conservative."

SKIRBLE: The Sierra Club's Cathy Duvall recognizes that despite the new mandate, legislators face major hurdles to enacting new environmental laws.

DUVALL: "Even if we pass something in the House and Senate, President Bush still sits in the White House. So it's not necessarily guaranteed that it is going to pass; it can get stopped at any number of levels."

SKIRBLE: Myron Ebell with the Competitive Enterprise Institute predicts legislative gridlock, as usual, and suggests major environmental reforms will take time:

EBELL: "They need to plan over the long term, over several Congresses, not in the next two years, I think."

SKIRBLE: … which is exactly the strategy Gene Karpinski of the League of Conservation Voters and other environmental groups have already adopted. Karpinski says the campaign for the White House in 2008 has already begun, with plans to set up operations in the states with the earliest presidential primary elections, and to press candidates to take a stand on environmental issues.

KARPINSKI: "Having conversations with the candidates in those states so whoever gets in the White House, from either party, has been forced to talk about this issue and be challenged to put an aggressive plan forward."

SKIRBLE: Karpinski suggests that members of Congress look back at their home cities and states for some new ideas on pollution, energy and climate change programs. Three hundred city mayors from 46 states have signed agreements to reduce industrial emissions linked to global warming. Twenty-eight state legislatures have adopted climate action plans. Environmentalists are hoping for similar activism from the newly constituted U.S. Congress. I'm Rosanne Skirble.

Today, millions of people around the world will open up a carton of milk that is specially prepared and packaged to remain fresh without refrigeration. It's a great convenience, especially where refrigeration isn't available or isn't reliable.

But this long-life, UHT, or ultra-high temperature milk never caught on in the United States. For Americans, who are used to fresh milk processed at a lower temperature, the UHT milk tastes funny, with a cooked flavor.

UHT milk tastes cooked because it is cooked - subjected to much higher heat than conventional pasteurization.

QIAN: "The UHT milk is typically heated at 135 degrees. The typical pasteurization temperature is about 72 degrees for 15 seconds."

Michael Qian has been working on a different approach. The assistant professor in the food science department of the of Oregon State University has just published new research on using high pressure instead of heat to produce milk with a long shelf life.

QIAN: "We use pressure as well as moderate temperature so we can kill the microbes at the same time and try to retain fresh flavor or prevent or minimize the formation of cooked-flavor notes."

Qian and his colleagues subjected milk to various combinations of moderate heating and high pressure — thousands of times atmospheric pressure — for several minutes, and then chemically analyzed the milk.

Use of pressure instead of heat is not new in the food industry. It's been in use for some years for processing some fruit products, for example. With the safety of the process already well-established, this new study focuses specifically on how it affects milk flavor.

QIAN: "The high pressure can kill microbes. This has been done for many, many years. And we know that. Our study, however, is really investigating the flavor, the cooked flavor formation, under high pressure. That's the key point for the research."

One big impediment standing in the way of pressure treatment of long-life milk is cost. It's a lot more expensive than conventional UHT pasteurization.

Michael Qian and his colleagues have just published their study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Incidentally, they judged the taste of the milk by testing for certain chemical signatures of cooked taste. Ironically, because they were using raw milk, university regulations prohibited them from actually tasting the pressure-treated milk samples.

Another approach to pasteurization was on display in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association. Health reporter Rose Hoban has more on a do-it-yourself approach that could save lives.

HOBAN: Every day, thousands of infants in the developing world are infected with HIV. Many get the virus that causes AIDS through breastfeeding from their HIV-positive mothers. Now some researchers think they may be able to prevent some of that transmission by having mothers pasteurize their breast milk.

ISRAEL-BALLARD: "We have found that it is able to kill HIV."

HOBAN: Researcher Kiersten Israel-Ballard worked with a joint team from University of California at Davis and at Berkeley.

ISRAEL-BALLARD: "HIV can come in two forms, one that is attached to the cell and one that is cell-free. And we've been able to show that this method can kill the cell-free HIV, we're still working on proving that the other form is destroyed, although that seems very promising."

HOBAN: Israel-Ballard says data shows that most of the good things in breast milk — such as antibodies, proteins and vitamins — are preserved in the process. She calls the method flash pasteurization and says women can do it at home with simple tools.

ISRAEL-BALLARD: "It involves the mother expressing her milk into a glass jar and then putting it into a pan that is full of water and she brings that to a boil. So when the water boils, she removes the milk and the milk has actually been flash pasteurized."

HOBAN: Israel-Ballard and her team have surveyed women in several African countries who overwhelmingly said they'd be willing to perform the extra steps to keep their children from becoming infected.

ISRAEL-BALLARD: "In developing countries, since most of the transmission happens from breast-feeding, we need to really focus on safe ways that these babies can eat. They need breast milk in these countries because breast milk is protective. It prevents them from getting sick and dying from diarrheal diseases, respiratory illnesses. These babies die from these things. They don't only die from HIV."

HOBAN: Israel-Ballard says her team will look at doing a full trial of the method in several African countries in the near future. I'm Rose Hoban.

MUSIC: "Our World" theme

That's our show for this week. If you'd like to get in touch, email us at ourworld@voanews.com. Or use the postal address -

Our World
Voice of America
Washington, DC 20237 USA.

Rob Sivak edited the program. Eva Nenicka is the technical director. And this is Art Chimes, inviting you to join us online at voanews.com/ourworld or on your radio next Saturday and Sunday as we check out the latest in science and technology...in Our World.

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