Originally created 02/22/01

In the know



No longer puffing

If you've failed to quit smoking after trying nicotine patches and gum, hypnosis, fake cigarettes, counselors and other methods, the Mayo Clinic has a program that might work.

Reporting in the Mayo Clinic journal Proceedings, Dr. J. Taylor Hays said that an inpatient treatment program was twice as effective as standard treatments in getting addicted smokers to quit.

A year after 146 patients completed the inpatient program, 45 percent still were not smoking, compared with 23 percent who had been in an outpatient program. During their eight-day stay, patients have individual and group sessions with counselors and attend sessions on stress management, medical complications of smoking, spirituality, nutrition and exercise.

"This degree of success in the residential group is particularly impressive because these patients were severely nicotine dependent," Dr. Hays said.

Breathless find

Scientists in Texas and Australia have found that parts of the brain kick into gear when a person feels short of breath. The findings could help researchers understand feelings of breathlessness that go along with conditions such as asthma, congestive heart failure, emphysema and panic disorder.

Scientists from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, University of Texas Austin, and the University of Melbourne in Australia took brain scans of people made breathless with a small puff of carbon dioxide. In three studies appearing in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that blood flow increased to several brain areas, indicating more brain activity there.

One region, the anterior cingulate, seems to sound a danger signal when people are low on oxygen. The scientists found that two other brain structures - the amygdala and the cerebellum - also help regulate breathing.

Tools of the trade

If a Neanderthal had a hammer, he'd probably drop it and pick up a stone instead.

But a Homo sapiens would hammer in the morning and in the evening, all over the land.

So says a New Mexico anthropologist who has studied ancient hand bones for clues to how humanity's ancestors used tools.

Wesley Niewoehner, of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, found that Neanderthal hands were better suited to powerfully grasping large stones, while early Homo sapiens' hands were better at gripping objects obliquely, in the fashion that someone would hold a hammer handle.

For some reason, the two groups used their tools differently - a behavioral difference that left its mark on the hands, Dr. Niewoehner contends.

In 1997, he traveled to European museums to make detailed, three-dimensional studies of hand bones as old as 100,000 years. In that era, both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, who had just left their birthplace in Africa, lived side by side in the Near East. Yet Neanderthals eventually died out, while Homo sapiens spread and now dominates the world as the only human species.

The Homo sapiens bones, from the Skhul and Qafzeh caves in Israel, showed details at the base of the thumb, index and middle finger that were well-adapted to an oblique grip, Dr. Niewoehner found. The Neanderthal bones were suited to more powerful grips with greater thumb leverage, Dr. Niewoehner reports in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.