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Tony Webster via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Tony Webster via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Scientists Find Solid Evidence for Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity

Tony Webster via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Tony Webster via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

In recent years the popularity of gluten-free diets has skyrocketed, even among people who don’t have celiac disease. Some people do it to lose weight* or because they’ve heard wheat is bad for you.** Then there are the people who say that even without celiac disease, eating wheat makes them sick. Those people have often been discounted. But now, Columbia University scientists say, they’ve been vindicated. The researchers found a weakened gut lining in people with non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS). The results were published in the journal Gut.

"Our study shows that the symptoms reported by individuals with this condition are not imagined, as some people have suggested," co-author Peter H. Green, the director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center, said in a press statement.

For a supposedly imaginary condition, NCWS has some consistent symptoms: people who identify as gluten-intolerant typically report abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, depression, fatigue, inflammation, and cognitive issues shortly after eating wheat. And all of these symptoms, including depression and fatigue, have been linked to problems in the gut.

Researchers decided to take a very close look at the guts of people with NCWS. They recruited 80 people with the condition, 40 people with celiac disease, and 40 people with no wheat problems of any kind. Then they collected blood samples from everyone and tested them for various markers of immune activation.

They found that, despite the havoc celiac disease can wreak on the body, people with the condition showed no more immune response than the healthy controls. The NCWS group was not so lucky. Their blood showed significantly higher levels of systemic inflammation and reactivity, and markedly higher levels of a protein that signifies damage to the intestinal lining. Most compelling was the finding that people with NCWS who had cut wheat out of their diets showed far less inflammation than people who hadn’t.

The authors note that their study did not identify the trigger of inflammation in people with NCWS, only the inflammation itself. The culprit might not be gluten at all, but some other wheat compound.

Either way, the authors say, these results show that NCWS is a real medical issue that needs medical and scientific attention.

*This does not work.

**In moderation, it isn’t, unless you have celiac disease or non-celiac wheat sensitivity.

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Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images
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Medicine
Bill and Melinda Gates Will Repay Nigeria's $76 Million Polio-Fighting Loan
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images

Not long after announcing a $100 million donation to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease, Bill and Melinda Gates have agreed to pay off Japan's $76 million loan to Nigeria to stamp out polio, Quartz reports.

Polio has been eradicated in most countries around the world, but it's still present in Nigeria, as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2008, according to The Conversation, Nigeria accounted for 86 percent of all polio cases in Africa. This high number was thanks in part to low immunization rates and calls from extremists to boycott polio vaccinations out of fear that they were tainted with anti-fertility steroids.

National and international campaigns were launched to lower polio rates in Nigeria, and in 2014 the nation received the loan from Japan to boost disease-fighting efforts. Progress has been made since then, with no new cases of polio reported in Nigeria in 2017. Two children had contracted polio in 2016, two years after Nigeria's last known case.

Nigeria's loan repayments to Japan were slated to begin in 2018. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to cover the costs after Nigeria met its goal of "achieving more than 80 percent vaccination coverage in at least one round each year in very high risk areas across 80 percent of the country's local government areas," Quartz reports. The loan will be repaid over the next 20 years.

While the Gates Foundation is lending a hand to Nigeria, the Associated Press reports that health officials in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province recently launched a new chapter in the nation's ongoing struggle against the disease. Health workers will engage in a week-long, door-to-door vaccination campaign, though efforts like this are risky due to threats from the Taliban and other militant groups, who view vaccinations as a Western conspiracy and believe they sterilize children. Anti-polio efforts in Pakistan also suffered after the CIA used vaccinations as a cover to get DNA samples from the Bin Laden compound.

[h/t Quartz]

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Aflac
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technology
Aflac's Robotic Duck Comforts Kids with Cancer
Aflac
Aflac

Every year, close to 16,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer. That news can be the beginning of a long and draining battle that forces kids and their parents to spend large amounts of time with medical providers, enduring long and sometimes painful treatments. As The Verge reports, a bit of emotional support during that process might soon come from an unlikely source: the Alfac duck.

The supplemental insurance company announced at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that it has partnered with the medical robotics company Sproutel to design and manufacture My Special Aflac Duck, a responsive and emotive sim-bird intended exclusively for children undergoing cancer treatment.

When a child cuddles the fuzzy robotic duck, it can cuddle back. It reacts to being cradled and stroked by quacking or moving its head. Kids can also touch special RFID chips emblazoned with emoji on the duck's chest to tell it how they’re feeling, and the device will mimic those emotions.

But the duck isn’t solely for cuddling. In “IV Mode,” which can be switched on while a child is undergoing IV therapy, the duck can help the user relax by guiding them through breathing exercises. Accessories included with the toy also allow children to "draw blood" from the duck as well as administer medication, a kind of role-playing that may help patients feel more comfortable with their own treatments.

Aflac approached Sproutel with the idea after seeing Sproutel’s Jerry the Bear, a social companion robot intended to support kids with diabetes. Other robotic companions—like the Japanese-made seal Paro and Hasbro's Joy for All companion pets for seniors—have hinted at a new market for robotics that prioritize comfort over entertainment or play.

My Special Aflac Duck isn’t a commercial product and won’t be available for retail sale. Aflac intends to offer it as a gift directly to patients, with the first rollout expected at its own cancer treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia. Mass distribution is planned for later this year.

[h/t The Verge]

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