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Piece at ThinkInc

Discreet empowerment: is nail polish the answer to rape prevention?

Sexual assault, including rape and attempted rape occurs all too frequently throughout the world. In 2012′s Australian Institute of Family Studies personal safety study, 17 per cent of Australian women and four per cent of Australian men had been sexually assaulted since the age of 15 years. Rape is a form of sexual assault resulting from any non-consensual penetrative sexual activity. The Australian rate of reported rapes is decreasing, from 91.6 in 100,000 in 2003, to 28.6 in 2010. A major problemwith the consistency of rape statistics is the potentially high number of unreported assaults. United States statistics, however, show that women between the ages of 16 and 24 year are victims of rape at a rate that is four time greater than that of older women.

Four North Carolina State University students are currently developing a proactive defence against rape. Applied into nail polish called Undercover Colors, they have uncovered a method to detect the presence of commonly used date-rape drugs such as GHB, Ketamine and Rohypnol. While there are products for detecting these drugs on the market, they are criticised for being too difficult to take to a bar or club (such as a colour-changing cup, straw or test strip).

SBS News and popular rumour-has-it website (among others) have noted that there are critics of the polish, and there is a lack of data that supports the reliability of the drug test. Previous date rape tests using coasters showed unreliable results, and extremely slow results of the presence of Ketamine.

Further still, anti-rape activists have complained that being able to discreetly avoid rape is not stopping rape overall, but rather avoiding it on an individual basis. Rape prevention advocates disagree that the onus should be on the potential victim to prevent or avoid rape.

Regardless of the effectiveness of the newest attempt to highlight the presence of date rape drugs in drinks, the invention has encouraged society to once again bring rape, sexual assault and personal security back into the headlines. The potential for a product that works reliably is ever-present and may be just around the corner.

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Piece at ThinkInc

The reports of Ebola in West Africa have once again sparked in the media since claims that a faith healer helped spread the deadly virus.

In news with some none-too-subtle parallels to a latent bioterrorist realm of Ebola, a faith healer local to Sokoma helped the virus across the border between Guinea and Sierra Leone when she claimed she could heal those afflicted with the disease. Having contracted Ebola, which is transferrable by bodily fluids and through the bodies of those affected, the faith healer successfully passed the disease on to women in her town who attended her funeral. A local funeral rite in the region is to touch the corpse, which contributed to infecting many mourners who then travelled throughout the region, spreading the virus further.

The speculation around whether the faith healer’s ability to cure the disease seems unwarranted, considering she died from the disease herself. But it does lead us to wonder about the abilities of other faith healers, psychics and others who rely on varying levels of deception to be respected or paid.

Demystifying these abilities and letting us all in on their secrets is James Randi, a well-known magician and escape artist. Famous for debunking claims of self-proclaimed paranormalists and psychics, Randi will be visiting some Australian capital cities in December to present his latest scepticism.

Photo source: Healthy Caterpillar

Piece at ThinkInc

Jack the Ripper: Has DNA uncovered his identity?

It’s been over 130 years since the brutal murders of five women in Whitechapel, London, and we’re still intrigued as to who the culprit was. It’s taken one man, who calls himself an ‘armchair detective’, to purchase the only lasting piece of physical evidence at auction and organise DNA testing to spark further interest in Jack the Ripper’s true identity.

Russell Edwards bought a shawl at auction in 2007 that was reportedly found on the body of one of the Jack the Ripper victims. Edwards, who had been enthralled with the murders, sought the assistant of Jari Louhelainen, a molecular biology expert, to extract blood and semen DNA from the shawl for testing. There were six people allegedly suspected for the murders, but Edwards claims that Louhelainen used pioneering techniques to discover and analyse the DNA, which reduced the suspects to just one. The blood was found to match that of the victim’s descendants, and the semen sample matched the DNA of a descendent of one of the suspects, Aaron Kosminski, a hairdresser who died in an insane asylum in 1919.

While it appears a fitting match for a man considered to be insane to have murdered the women, the chance that the DNA samples were reliable after the shawl being handled by many people over almost one-and-a-half centuries appears to be slim. Further, while Louhelainen has published many peer-reviewed articles, neither the Associate Professor of Biochemistry’s analysis of the shawl, nor the methodology used, was peer-reviewed in a scientific journal, which means Edwards’ claims that he has named Jack the Ripper cannot be verified. In lieu of publication in peer-reviewed journal articles, Edwards has instead published these ‘findings’ in a nonfiction book entitled Naming Jack The Ripper, released today.

As this is one of history’s most intriguing cases, it is suspected that the murders will remain unsolved, regardless of the techniques used and the speculations made.

Picture Source: Jack the Ripper

Piece at ThinkInc

In 1977, NASA  launched twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft to explore areas of space that had not been seen before. It was only in 2012 – 35 years after its launch – that Voyager 1 entered interstellar space, which is the region between stars filled with material created by the death of nearby stars. After a number of discoveries on an exploration of Jupiter and Saturn, the Voyager’s missions were extended.

Voyager 2 has delivered one of the most intriguing discoveries: sounds from space. Now, I know you’re thinking it’s impossible! There can’t be sound in space because sound needs a medium to travel through, like air or water, and space has neither! How is it so? Well, Voyager 2 used a tiny probe to pick up electromagnetic disturbances and charged particles that bounced off planets from the Sun, or were produced by the planets themselves. The electromagnetic waves were then translated into sound by NASA, similar to the way our radios convert radio waves into sound.

Unfortunately, the eerie sounds that can be heard here aren’t the chorus of the planets. Each planet does, however, emit different frequencies, which means they have their own unique ‘sound’. The discovery isn’t new though, as sounds were recorded by the Cluster II satellite back in 2001 using a Long Wave Radio receiver. The University of Leicester’s Space Center had to lower the pitch of the sounds that were outside of the range of human hearing, and filter them to allow humans to hear them. Sounds picked up were magnified in pitch 40,000 times and accelerated 42,000 times for humans to hear 40 days’ worth of pulses in a few seconds.

NASA has reportedly created a compilation of planet ‘sounds’ mimicking whistles, howling and squeals in time for Halloween.  Enjoy them here!

And, if you have dedicated time to wondering what it’s like onboard a Space Shuttle’s Solid Rocket Booster during launch and have about eight minutes to spare, you may want to check out this fascinating high-definition, Skywalker Sound-mastered video of that which you seek; it even comes complete with the previously-held great achievements of recording the haunting sounds nearing space (though, of course, not actually in it).


Photo credit: Wonderful Engineering


Piece at Mous Magazine

Lost in Goundhog Day

It’s hard to be friends with people who just don’t understand.  For the most part, and this is massively over-generalised, kids are shuffled off to school, all at the same age regardless of their level of intelligence or social aptitude.

In high school, it’s the first experience at losing and finding new friends simply due to circumstance.  There was no falling out, no mishaps nor ill feelings, just loss.  Just one day friends and the next day, well… not.  It’s all about the frequency with which they see one another at that age.  Even the attempts to get together throughout high school are met with scheduling problems and disagreements about which movie to see.

The phenomenon repeats itself yet again as high school ends and everyone leaves to begin the thing we like to call ‘Life.’  Some will go off to university or another tertiary learning facility.  Others will take a gap year and travel, or spend most of the time drunk.  Others still will finally marry their high school sweetheart and have a few children.

Some will continue to stay friends, regardless of their differing choices in life.  Others will find that friends are hard to come by, because they just don’t understand.  The girl who studies at university, finds herself in a steady job, has a steady boyfriend who becomes her husband, and ends up with a son, beautiful though he may be, is totally lost.  The friends from high school are too far gone now to rekindle any semblance of relationship, and the friends from university are still studying, finding their own feet, jobs and husbands.  This woman, who spends every day in the same pair of shoes, performing the same happy activities like a monkey for a circus, Ground Hog Day over and over, is left alone.

The friends who were once excited about her being the first of the group to have a baby are long gone, having visited once, hugged and held the squirming infant and promptly handing him back.  ‘Never mind,’ she thinks on a daily basis, ‘it will be better soon’.  But her circumstances and friends having failed her, perhaps it won’t.

My friends will soon be having children themselves and enter the abyss of motherhood, but I’ll be there when they need me.  All it takes is one comment, one smile, one small meeting a day to make all the difference.  I concentrate on getting through small periods of time to stop the day dragging on forever, like waiting for Christmas as a small child.  Sometimes it’s been 4 pm for three hours!  Sometimes, the afternoon flies by and all of a sudden, my family surrounds me at the dinner table.  They say the minutes are long but the years are fast.  It’s bittersweet, parenthood, bittersweet.



Piece at ThinkInc

Reducing suicidal behaviour: blood tests detect suicide gene

Following the tragic death of beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams, the world has been forced to take a closer look at suicide. A typically taboo subject at the best of times, it is with the unfortunate deaths of those we love both on a personal and global level that the stigma is beginning to be chipped away.

Research has been conducted into whether there is a genetic predisposition to suicide. There is clear evidence that suicidal behaviour – whether in the form of suicidal thoughts, a suicide attempt, or a suicide itself – is hereditary and has been seen in more than one member, sometimes over generations, of some families.

The question of whether there is a genetic link seems irrelevant as it is anecdotally definitely there! In fact, it is believed that half a person’s risk of suicide is due to genetics. Scientists believe that if they can pinpoint which gene is mutated, they can potentially prevent suicides in some people. A Johns Hopkins Medicine study of 417 subjects who were diagnosed with varying mental illnesses were found to have genetic similarities. The results showed that family members who had a history of attempted suicide and bipolar disorder had a strong genetic similarity.

The gene variant is more commonly found in people with depression who have attempted suicide than those who had not, which means there is a group of people who are particularly vulnerable to suicidal tendencies when they are suffering depression. There are several genes that may be used to screen people with serious depression to pinpoint who may be likely to experience suicidal behaviour and, as a result, require a closer level of care. The extra care could include reminders for medication prescription repeats and explaining the importance of continued treatment and care for the patient.

A gene dubbed SKA2 is believed to regulate the brain’s response to stress and the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that tells the brain to respond to stress or dangerous situations. When the danger or stress has eased or passed, SKA2 should shut down the release of cortisol as it is no longer required. However, mutated SKA2 does not inhibit negative emotions or mediate impulsive behaviour as much in people who have suicidal tendencies. It means that what should be a temporary reaction to stress becomes an ongoing issue that may lead to suicidal behaviour. A study on 325 participants found blood test results identified whether the participant was experiencing suicidal thoughts or had attempted suicide with an accuracy of 80 per cent.

Hopefully, as research continues and science advances, we will see an increased ability to detect suicidal tendencies and offer extra care for sufferers. In the meantime, may we continue to discuss depression as a treatable illness to reduce stigma and encourage treatment.

Rest in peace, Robin, the world grieves your passing.


Photo credit:



Piece at ThinkInc


Eat like a Neanderthal? Introducing the Paleo diet

It seems the battle between being overweight and being just the right size is largely determined by the food and dieting industries. Food because, well, it’s the little devil on your shoulder, and diet because it’s the angel… sometimes!

Let’s look at it in very simple terms first: if a healthy adult expends the same or more energy than they eat, then they probably won’t have trouble with being overweight. Of course, that little devil may be wanting the chocolate cake, a coffee with a few sugars and some ice cream after dinner, so we look to diets to help us lose excess weight or maintain our slim physiques. One of the most recent of such diets is derived from our ancestors of the Paleolithic Era.

The Paleolithic Era is a period of time that occurred between 20,000 to 2.5 million years ago, marked by the development of tools and the presence of Neanderthals. It is believed that the diet our knuckle-dragging ancestors enjoyed may have health benefits for us today.  Aptly named ‘The Paleo Diet‘, it was the most searched fad diet on Google in 2013. The premise behind adopting such a diet is to eat like our friends from the Paleolithic Era, or the Old Stone Age. That means lots of lean meat, wild fish, eggs, natural oils, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and tubers (such as sweet potato and yams), but no processed foods, dairy, legumes, salt, sugar, or alcohol.

It is thought that our digestive systems haven’t changed much since the Old Stone Age, and we’d all be better off avoiding foods that came about with the start of the agricultural period about 10,000 years ago. If our bodies have not changed much as far as processing food is concerned, we would expect to see food intolerances to wheat and dairy, and diseases related to too much sugar and salt intake. Interestingly enough, that’s exactly what we have seen: gluten and diary intolerances, heart disease, cancers and obesity plague our modern society. The counter-argument of course is that the Paleos didn’t live long enough to encounter disease like we experience today.  Research into the effectiveness of the diet on 13 patients with type-2 diabetes showed a lower glycemic load, which improved glycemic control and a number of cardiovascular risk factors when compared to another diet. Further research notes a decrease in the average weight, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and blood pressure in a test of 14 subjects who tried the diet over a three week period. However, there was also a reduction in calcium, an essential part of anyone’s diet.

Despite the health benefits of adopting such a diet, critics argue that it is impossible to follow such a diet due to varied knowledge and the availability of foods during the Paleolithic Era by season and geography. For example, those living in the Eastern parts of Canada and Northern South America ate more fish than those living in the South and Eastern parts of Africa, who ate more roots, seeds and nuts. There is further argument that our bodies have developed over time to digest much more than our Paleo ancestors, as shown in the general tolerance of dairy and wheat products.

Regardless of the arguments for or against such a diet, “all in moderation” seems to be the key, and ensuring the balanced intake of foods with exercise is proven to reduce the incidence of disease…you know, for that overall healthy lifestyle we seek.


Scientific American

Beginner’s guide to the Paleo diet

The Atlantic

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Piece at ThinkInc

Spreading fear: could terrorists harness Ebola?

When we think of ‘terrorism’ we’ll typically bring to mind events such as September 11 and the London bombings.  The most recent and controversial potential terrorist act struck a chord with Australians as we were told that some of our own had been blown out of the sky when flying over Ukraine.  Truth be told though, as our technology, infrastructure and way of life changes, so too will the way in which terrorists unleash their terror.

Introducing a new wave of fear: bioterrorism.  Perhaps the most frightening acts of warfare include the use of chemicals, toxins and other biological agents.  Bioterrorism is the intentional release of biological agents including bacteria, viruses and toxins that can be spread through air, water food or even person to person.  Terrorism of this kind may ignite widespread panic as there are few vaccines or treatments available for specific viruses, and not enough to treat an outbreak.

The recent outbreak of Ebola, in West Africa has seen 930 reported cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  There have been 580 deaths from the disease that is reported to kill 90% of its victims.  Humans can contract Ebola by being in contact with the bodily fluids of infected humans or animals.

While the outbreak has been worrying for people throughout the world, it is particularly frightening that senior security officials have warned that terrorists may harness such a disease to kill large numbers of people in the form of a dirty bomb.  A dirty bomb is commonly a mix of radioactive material and explosives. However, a bioterrorist act may include viruses and diseases, such as Ebola, that would be capable of causing a large number of horrific and potentially unpreventable deaths.  An outbreak such as the one the world is witnessing in Africa’s West makes the disease easy to get a hold of, as only a few well-protected labs throughout the world have the Ebola virus.

While there is a justified need to be concerned about the changing tactics of those most feared worldwide, research also shows that terrorists are historically more likely to choose proven attack methods that cause widespread hysteria by probing the public response by damaging iconic landmarks and property.  The lack of physical damage may deter terrorists from choosing chemical or biological weaponry.  The development of a biological weapon requires more time, money, and training than other methods of terrorism.  Of course, there is also the increased risk of the terrorist developing the bomb contracting the disease.

The purpose of terrorism is to cause widespread, mass panic and fear among communities.  Without having even lifted a finger towards manufacturing a biological dirty bomb, terrorists are already winning as the public realises the potential destruction viral outbreaks may cause.  Rest assured that terrorism will change in the future, potentially utilising cyber controls as well as biological and chemical threats.  Remaining one step ahead in terms of discovering vaccines, treatments and stockpiling enough to stop an outbreak or terrorist act in its tracks will be our challenge.


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Piece at Mous Magazine

HIV-killing condom

Rewind the clock just over 30 years and you’ll find medical research at a standstill, up against a profound illness that was originally labelled as only affecting gay men. You might have guessed it, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the subsequent Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) were first diagnosed in Australia in 1982, and the first death due to AIDS in Australia was recorded in 1983.

Originally HIV was thought to only be passed on as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but time soon revealed that the virus could be transmitted from mother to baby, through needle sharing and through blood contact as well. HIV weakens the immune system and can result in AIDS, which manifests in a set of complex complications and symptoms.

Despite successful awareness-raising media campaigns, Needle and Syringe Programs (NSPs) that allow for the swap of used needles and syringes for sterile ones, and HIV-preventing medication, Australia has seen a rise in the number of HIV cases in recent years. In 2013, there were approximately 26 000 Australians with HIV, with one in seven unaware they were infected with the virus. It is fair to speculate that the rise may be due to the increased awareness of the illness, which leads to a higher number of reported cases. It is also possible that the increase in HIV is simply due to a lack of willingness to use condoms, or perhaps it is a reflection of the sexually active generations who are greater risk takers than previous generations.

Some of you might remember the scare-tactic media campaign of the 1980s showing the grim reaper having a fun night out at the bowling alley. That ad is believed to have caused enough discomfort at the time to have encouraged safe sex practices. Perhaps we need another equally frightening ad in the modern age to continue to make people aware of the needs of safe sex.

Medical professionals are now able to provide an anti-HIV or anti-retroviral medication administered over four weeks to prevent the establishment of the virus if treated within three days of exposure, but it is not 100% effective. There is no vaccine for HIV, so prevention of the spread of the virus depends on awareness and behavioural changes including the use of condoms.  The most effective prevention to date has been the use of condoms, together with a water-based lubricant to help reduce the chance of the condom breaking. Condoms alone prevent the contraction of most STIs, some of which increase the likelihood of contracting HIV (such as herpes).

Recent research into an antimicrobial agent known as VivaGel has shown the gel is 99.9% effective at deactivating STI viruses. VivaGel is a compound that was developed by Starpharma, an Australian company, which attaches itself to targets on the viruses, thereby blocking the virus and preventing infection. A VivaGel coated condom is Starpharma’s answer to the continuing spread of STI viruses and is now the most effective prevention of STI contraction. The pharmaceutical company has agreements to globally supply the condom through Ansell Limited and Okamoto Industries Inc, two of the world’s largest condom suppliers.

Don’t get too excited (pun intended) though, the new condom dubbed the ‘HIV-killing condom’ is already being criticized by researchers over potential issues with the continuous use of the gel. Despite a clinical trial of 36 women having been conducted in 2005, which found the vaginal application of VivaGel safe and tolerated as well as a placebo, other studies suggest that using the gel twice daily for 14 days resulted in low grade adverse events in 53% of the sample of 36 women. A number of concerning symptoms were found in women using the gel compared with those who were given a placebo. Another study suggests that use of the gel was generally well tolerated compared with the use of a placebo, despite a higher incidence of low grade adverse events.

While it has not been confirmed if the condom and gel combination is safe for long term or heavy use, let’s hope that medical research and development will be able to reach a conclusion soon. The best outcome would be that this combination will lead to an effective prevention, if not vaccine or cure, for this terrible illness.


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