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A New Kind of Autopsy Could Mean Far Fewer Dissections

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It's hard to lose someone you love. It's even harder to think about the procedures a loved one's body might undergo to determine cause of death. But autopsies in the future may be less gruesome than they are today. Researchers say a combination of CT scans and X-rays can successfully identify the cause of natural death, eliminating the need for dissection. They published their findings in the medical journal The Lancet.

Lead researchers Guy Rutty and Bruno Morgan of the University of Leicester set out to solve a problem: reducing the need for the messy, almost primitive process of dissecting cadavers to determine cause of death. (The focus was natural death, though a small number of unnatural deaths were included in the study as well.) They aren’t the first; previous studies found some success with postmortem computed tomography (PMCT).

Speaking in a statement, Morgan explained that the technique works similar to CT scanning of living people. But PMCT has one major drawback: It can’t get a good picture of the heart or blood vessels.

“In clinical CT scanning, a contrast agent is injected into a vein and circulation delivers it around the body,” he said. “This allows the CT scan to show the state of blood vessels anywhere in the body. However, the lack of circulation in cadavers means these techniques cannot be used."

This is a pretty glaring issue, as coronary artery disease is currently the number one cause of natural death worldwide.

The team’s solution: adapting existing angiography (X-ray heart imaging) techniques to suit a body with no pulse. They discovered that injecting a combination of contrast fluid and air through a catheter into the coronary artery could create a clear picture—and it didn’t require opening the body up. "The insertion techniques are like those we use on patients every day in our clinics, with just the use of local anaesthetic to numb the skin," Morgan said.

Researchers perform a new imaging technique.
The University of Leicester

The researchers combined this new minimally invasive angiography with PMCT and tested the new method—called PMCTA—on 240 cases of natural death.

Researchers perform a new imaging technique.
The University of Leicester

The images produced were strong, clear, and clinically meaningful. In 92 percent of cases, PMCTA results were able to identify the cause of death, with diagnoses as accurate as those made by a coroner. Each method had its strengths and weaknesses; PMCTA was better at spotting trauma and hemorrhage, while dissection more easily identified pulmonary thromboembolisms. For difficult cases or those requiring a higher burden of proof, the paper's authors suggest using both methods.

They concluded by paying their respects to the participants who made their study possible. “We dedicate the success of our research to the families of Leicestershire,” they wrote, “who have consented for their loved ones to be involved in these studies, despite being in a period of bereavement."

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Feeling Down? Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood, Too
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There’s plenty of research that suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression. In some cases of depression, in fact—particularly less-severe ones—scientists have found that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants, which don’t work for everyone and can come with some annoying side effects. Previous studies have largely concentrated on aerobic exercise, like running, but new research shows that weight lifting can be a useful depression treatment, too.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry, led by sports scientists at the University of Limerick in Ireland, examined the results of 33 previous clinical trials that analyzed a total of 1877 participants. It found that resistance training—lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push ups, and any other exercises targeted at strengthening muscles rather than increasing heart rate—significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

This held true regardless of how healthy people were overall, how much of the exercises they were assigned to do, or how much stronger they got as a result. While the effect wasn’t as strong in blinded trials—where the assessors don’t know who is in the control group and who isn’t, as is the case in higher-quality studies—it was still notable. According to first author Brett Gordon, these trials showed a medium effect, while others showed a large effect, but both were statistically significant.

The studies in the paper all looked at the effects of these training regimes on people with mild to moderate depression, and the results might not translate to people with severe depression. Unfortunately, many of the studies analyzed didn’t include information on whether or not the patients were taking antidepressants, so the researchers weren’t able to determine what role medications might play in this. However, Gordon tells Mental Floss in an email that “the available evidence supports that [resistance training] may be an effective alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms that could be prescribed on its own and/or in conjunction with other depression treatments,” like therapy or medication.

There haven’t been a lot of studies yet comparing whether aerobic exercise or resistance training might be better at alleviating depressive symptoms, and future research might tackle that question. Even if one does turn out to be better than the other, though, it seems that just getting to the gym can make a big difference.

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Uncombable Hair Syndrome Is a Real—and Very Rare—Genetic Condition
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Everyone has bad hair days from time to time, but for roughly 100 people around the world, unmanageable hair is an actual medical condition.

Uncombable hair syndrome, also known as spun glass hair syndrome, is a rare condition caused by a genetic mutation that affects the formation and shape of hair shafts, BuzzFeed reports. People with the condition tend to have dry, unruly hair that can't be combed flat. It grows slower than normal and is typically silver, blond, or straw-colored. For some people, the symptoms disappear with age.

A diagram of a hair follicle
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Although there have been only about 100 documented cases worldwide, one of the world's leading researchers on the condition, Regina Betz, of Germany's University of Bonn, believes there could be thousands of others who have it but have not been diagnosed. Some have speculated that Einstein had the condition, but without a genetic test, it's impossible to know for sure.

An 18-month-old American girl named Taylor McGowan is one of the few people with this syndrome. Her parents sent blood samples to Betz to see if they were carriers of the gene mutation, and the results came back positive for variations of PADI3, one of three genes responsible for the syndrome. According to IFL Science, the condition is recessive, meaning that it "only presents when individuals receive mutant gene copies from both parents." Hence it's so uncommon.

Taylor's parents have embraced their daughter's unique 'do, creating a Facebook page called Baby Einstein 2.0 to share Taylor's story and educate others about the condition.

"It's what makes her look ever so special, just like Albert Einstein," Taylor's mom, Cara, says in a video uploaded to YouTube by SWNS TV. "We wanted to share her story with the world in hopes of spreading awareness."

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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