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13 Medical Conditions Named After People

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Thinkstock

Having a disease named after you is a decidedly mixed bag. On the one hand, your scientific developments are forever commemorated. On the other hand, though, you're stuck with the knowledge that no patient will ever be happy upon hearing your name. Who are the scientists and doctors behind some of our most famous diseases and conditions, though? Here are a few of the physicians and their eponymous ailments.

1. Crohn's disease

The inflammatory digestive disease could just have easily ended up with the name Ginzburg's disease or Oppenheimer's disease. In 1932, three New York physicians named Burrill Bernard Crohn, Leon Ginzburg, and Gordon Oppenheimer published a paper describing a new sort of intestinal inflammation. Since Crohn's name was listed first alphabetically, the condition ended up bearing his name.

2. Salmonellosis

Yes, the salmonella menace that haunts undercooked chicken is named after a person. Daniel Elmer Salmon was a veterinary pathologist who ran a USDA microorganism research program during the late 19th century. Although Salmon didn't actually discover the type of bacterium that now bears his name—famed epidemiologist Theobald Smith isolated the bacteria in 1885—he ran the research program in which the discovery occurred. Smith and his colleagues named the bacteria salmonella in honor of their boss.

3. Parkinson's disease

James Parkinson was a busy fellow. While the English apothecary had a booming medical business, he also dabbled in geology, paleontology, and politics; Parkinson even published a three-volume scientific study of fossils. Following a late-18th-century foray into British politics where he advocated a number of social causes and found himself briefly ensnared in an alleged plot to assassinate King George III, Parkinson turned his attention to medicine. Parkinson did some research on gout and peritonitis, but it was his landmark 1817 study "An Essay on the Shaking Palsy" that affixed his name to Parkinson's disease.

4. Huntington's disease

George Huntington wasn't the most prolific researcher, but he made his papers count. In 1872, a fresh-out-of-med-school Huntington published one of two research papers he would write in his life. In the paper, Huntington described the effects of the neurodegenerative disorder that now bears his name after examining several generations of family that all suffered from the genetic condition.

5. Alzheimer's disease

In 1901, German neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer began observing an odd patient at a Frankfurt asylum. The 51-year-old woman, Mrs. Auguste Deter, had no short-term memory and behaved strangely. When Mrs. Deter died in 1906, Alzheimer began to dissect the patient's brain, and he presented his findings that November in what was the first formal description of presenile dementia.

6. Tourette syndrome

Credit George Gilles de la Tourette for his modesty. When the French neurologist first described the illness that now bears his name in 1884, he didn't name it after himself. Instead, he referred to the condition as "maladie des tics." Tourette's mentor and contemporary Jean-Martin Charcot renamed the illness after Tourette.

Tourette didn't have such great luck with patients, though. In 1893, a deluded former patient shot the doctor in the head. The woman claimed that she lost her sanity after Tourette hypnotized her. Tourette survived the attack.

7. Hodgkin's lymphoma

British pathologist Thomas Hodgkin first described the cancer that now bears his name while working at Guy's Hospital in London in 1832. Hodgkin published the study "On Some Morbid Appearances of the Absorbent Glands and Spleen" that year, but the condition didn't bear his name until a fellow physician, Samuel Wilks, rediscovered Hodgkin's work.

8. Bright's disease

The kidney disease bears the name of Richard Bright, an English physician and colleague of Hodgkin's at Guy's Hospital. Bright began looking into the causes of kidney trouble during the 1820s, and in 1827 he described an array of kidney ailments that eventually became known as Bright's disease. Today, doctors understand many of the symptoms historically clumped together as Bright's disease are in fact different maladies, so the term is rarely used.

9. Addison's disease

Guy's Hospital was apparently the place to work in the 19th century if you wanted to have a disease named after you. Thomas Addison, a colleague of Bright and Hodgkin at Guy's Hospital, first described the adrenal disorder we call Addison's disease in 1855. On top of this discovery, Addison also published an early study of appendicitis.

10. Tay-Sachs disease

Although both of their names are attached to this genetic disorder, Warren Tay and Bernard Sachs didn't work together. In fact, they didn't even work in the same country. Tay, a British opthalmologist, first described the disease's characteristic red spot on the retina in 1881. In 1887 Bernard Sachs, a colleague of Burrill Crohn at Mount Sinai Hospital, described the cellular effects of the disease and its prevalence among Ashkenazi Jews.

11. Turner syndrome

The chromosomal disorder got its name from Oklahoma doctor Henry Turner, who first described the condition in 1938.

12. Klinefelter's syndrome

The genetic condition in which males have an extra X chromosome bears the name of Harry Klinefelter, a young Boston endocrinologist who published a landmark study while working under the tutelage of endocrinology star Dr. Fuller Albright in 1942. Albright pushed his young protégé to be the lead author of the paper that described the condition, so the young Klinefelter's name is forever associated with the syndrome.

13. Asperger's syndrome

Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger first described the syndrome that now bears his name in 1944 after observing a group of children who suffered from what Asperger described as "autistic psychopathy." (He called his patients "Little Professors.") Interestingly, since Asperger's research was all written in German, his contributions to the literature went unrecognized until much later. The term "Asperger's syndrome" didn't come into widespread usage until 1981. Today it's classified as an autism spectrum disorder.

This story originally appeared in 2009.

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technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Stephen Missal
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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