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Living Near Green Spaces May Increase Women’s Lifespans

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It’s no secret that nature makes us feel good. From medieval visionary Hildegard von Bingen’s praise of viriditas, or greenness, to the more modern theory of biophilia, people have long celebrated the life-affirming power of plants. Now scientists say regular exposure to trees and other green spaces can actually help women live longer. Their research was published today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. 

As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, we’ve started to realize just how precious green spaces are. Previous studies have shown that spending time in nature can reduce stress and blood pressure and ease symptoms of depression. Some studies had suggested that living near vegetation could even reduce mortality, but these studies were limited and their results somewhat contradictory. 

To definitively test the mortality hypothesis, a team of researchers drew data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which began following more than 120,000 American nurses (all women) in 1976. The study participants filled out a questionnaire about their lives and health at enrollment, and then once again every two years. For this study, researchers focused on response data from 2000 to 2008. By 2000, the pool of living participants had shrunk to 108,630. By 2008, it was down to 100,026.

Each of the study participants supplied her home address. The researchers fed those addresses into a satellite mapping program, which could then estimate the amount of vegetation in a given woman’s neighborhood. They quantified the amount of green space, then measured it against the woman’s health—more specifically, how long she lived, and if and how she had died. 

The researchers were only concerned with mortality caused by illness (not, for example, car accidents or falls), so they created nine categories based on the most common illness-related causes of death: infectious and parasitic diseases; cancer; diabetes; neurodegenerative disease; coronary heart disease; stroke; respiratory disease; kidney disease; and all other causes. 

They found that women living in areas of higher vegetation were more likely to be white, younger than average, and married to highly educated men. To nobody’s surprise, the data showed that people of higher socioeconomic status (SES) tend to live in areas with more trees. 

But even after the researchers controlled for the life-extending effects of high SES, some clear trends emerged. Women living in the greenest areas were 12 percent less likely than other women to have died in the eight years of the study. They were 34 percent less likely to die of respiratory disease, and 13 percent less likely to die of cancer.

"We were surprised to observe such strong associations between increased exposure to greenness and lower mortality rates," study co-author Peter James said in a press statement. "We were even more surprised to find evidence that a large proportion of the benefit from high levels of vegetation seems to be connected with improved mental health."

The authors say these effects may be due in part to the opportunities for exercise and socialization offered by green spaces like parks, as well as lower exposure to air pollution. They emphasize how much we stand to gain by incorporating trees and other greenery into city planning.

“We know that planting vegetation can help the environment by reducing wastewater loads, sequestering carbon, and mitigating the effects of climate change. Our new findings suggest a potential co-benefitimproving healththat presents planners, landscape architects, and policy makers with an actionable tool to grow healthier places," James said. 

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Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
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Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

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Medicine
New Peanut Allergy Patch Could Be Coming to Pharmacies This Year
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About 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe have severe peanut allergies, including more than 2 million children. Now, French biotechnology company DBV Technologies SA has secured an FDA review for its peanut allergy patch, Bloomberg reports.

If approved, the company aims to start selling the Viaskin patch to children afflicted with peanut allergies in the second half of 2018. The FDA's decision comes in spite of the patch's disappointing study results last year, which found the product to be less effective than DBV hoped (though it did receive high marks for safety). The FDA has also granted Viaskin breakthrough-therapy and fast-track designations, which means a faster review process.

DBV's potentially life-saving product is a small disc that is placed on the arm or between the shoulder blades. It works like a vaccine, exposing the wearer's immune system to micro-doses of peanut protein to increase tolerance. It's intended to reduce the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to accidental exposure.

The patch might have competition: Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., which specializes in food allergy treatments, and the drug company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are working together to develop a cure for peanut allergies.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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