Originally created 12/14/00


Flunking out

Advertisements for prescription drugs, which manufacturers say lead to a better-informed public, have flunked a test for educational content.

Three California researchers rated ads appearing in 18 popular magazines from 1989 to 1998. The scientists gave each ad a score from a low of 1 to a high of 11. To get points, an advertisement needed to include basic facts about the medical condition for which the drug was designed, along with descriptions of the condition's causes or risk factors, how long the drug takes to work, and other information.

The average drug ad scored only 3.2 points, the scientists - from the University of California campuses in Davis and Los Angeles - reported this month in The Journal of Family Practice. Most ads didn't mention how a drug works or how long it must be taken. Some ads, the scientists said, didn't even mention the drug's name.

Mostly, the ads appeared to be designed to promote drug sales by encouraging patients to ask their doctors about the drugs, the researchers reported. If patients therefore are requesting drugs from doctors inappropriately, the scientists argue, then the ads might ultimately interfere with the relationship between doctors and patients.

Alzheimer's culprit

Harmful deposits build up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients because the brain's aging blood vessels lose the ability to wash the deposits away, new research in mice suggests.

Alzheimer's, a fatal disease that steals memory and eventually leads to widespread neurological problems, affects about 4 million Americans. One in 20 people older than 65 has the disease. Scientists believe the condition stems from accumulation of a substance, called amyloid, in the brain.

In the latest issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers from six institutions report on studies of amyloid in young and old mice. The researchers injected amyloid into the mice's brains, then measured how long it stayed in the brain before being washed away. The older the mice, the longer it took for amyloid to leave the brain.

More experiments suggested why the amyloid stayed longer in the older mice's brains. A blood vessel component that gobbles up amyloid, called LRP-1, was missing from about half the brain's blood vessels in the older mice.

Examination of brains of deceased Alzheimer's patients also placed blame on LRP-1. Wherever blood vessels were low on LRP-1, surrounding brain tissue was high in amyloid.

Pluto's companion

Pluto has company. Astronomers have discovered the second-brightest object known to orbit the sun beyond Neptune.

And the brighter an object is, the bigger it presumably is. The newfound object could be as large as Ceres, the biggest asteroid at 570 miles across, or even half the size of Pluto, which measures 1,470 miles across.

Astronomers Robert McMillan and Jeffrey Larsen discovered the object Nov. 28 with the Spacewatch telescope atop Kitt Peak, Ariz. The telescope usually monitors the sky for asteroids that might threaten Earth, but the newfound object isn't a problem: It lies 43 times farther from the sun than Earth does.

The object, named 2000 WR106, measures between 330 and 750 miles across, astronomers have estimated.

No one had spotted it before because it lies close to the galactic equator, where the presence of more stars tends to obscure the light reflected by nearby objects.