Abstract Science: June 15-19
Eureka Staff

Abstract Science: June 15-19

Tackling appendicitis with drugs, say bye bye to trans fats, and what moody mice might be telling us about brain function. This week in Abstract Science.

Appendicitis and Antibiotics

(NYT, 6/16/15, Gina Kolata)

Those of us who followed the adventures of Madeline no doubt remember her emergency appendectomy. For over a century now, surgical removal has been the standard-of-care for appendicitis. Doctors believed the procedure was necessary to avoid the appendix from becoming gangrenous, and today it is the most common abdominal procedure performed. Is this trend shifting? A large study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that most patients can be treated safely and effectively with antibiotics alone. Reaction to the study was mixed, however, with some critics arguing that the surgical procedure is simple, safe and far less invasive than it once was. The results only applied to uncomplicated appendicitis and did not include laparoscopic procedures.

Bye, Bye Trans Fats

(Popular Science, 6/17, 2015, Alexandra Ossola)

It seems like we've been trying to give trans fats the door for years. Many major restaurant chains, including McDonald's, have sharply reduced or eliminated trans fats and New York City won't allow restaurants and bakeries to sell foods that contain them. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 20% of Americans live in areas that restrict the use of trans fats. But the federal government has been slow to support the wishes of consumer groups seeking an outright ban. That changed this week when the US Food and Drug Administration gave the food industry three years to remove trans fats from the food supply. Which makes this an ideal time to go back and review just what are trans fats and why are they so bad for us to consume. Here are two additional stories on trans fats that we liked in Mother Jones and the New York Times.

Moody Mice

(Nature News, 6/17/2015, Helen Shen)

Few would dispute the value of happy memories in helping people cope. But is it possible to use technology to unlock those happy thoughts in people struggling with depression. Maybe. A study led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Susumu Tonegawa found it may be possible to reverse a depression-like state in rodents by using light to stimulate clusters of brain cells believed to have stored memories of a positive experience. The findings appeared this week in Nature. The study is the latest from Tonegawa's group and others that have been trying to locate the memory 'engram'—the physical trace of a memory, thought to be encoded in an ensemble of neurons—though it is unclear at this point how the findings from these simple mouse models might translate into the complex depressive states seen in humans.

—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery