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Health & Science

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Brenna Beech / WABE

Georgia only met half of the key indicators related to preventing, detecting, diagnosing and responding to infectious disease outbreaks, according to a new report from two health policy groups that looked at the nation's ability to respond to disease threats.

The report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the health policy group Trust for America's Health, released earlier this month, gave Georgia five points out of a possible 10 when it comes to preparedness.

Looking Forward To 2016: Georgia Environmental News

Dec 28, 2015
Vogtle Unit 3 and 4 cooling towers.
©2015 Georgia Power Company

As 2015 comes to a close, we asked reporters and producers about what big topics they plan to track in 2016.

Reporter Molly Samuel says she's got her eye on energy including the two new nuclear units being built at Georgia’s Plant Vogtle.

Virtual reality headset
Alison Guillory / WABE

Virtual reality is being used in a lot of new ways.

At Emory University, researchers are using virtual reality to treat veterans who suffered sexual abuse in the military and now have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Inside a dark room, patients wear a head-mounted display, headphones, hold a joystick in their hands and sit on a chair where they can feel vibrations.

As they move their heads, they can see anything above them – like the sky, if they look down, they can see their feet.

Courtesy of Georgia Land Conservation Program

One bill that Georgia lawmakers will discuss this legislative session would put more money towards land conservation.  

The bill, HB 693, would create the Georgia Legacy Trust Fund, which would fund conservation projects on land and water. The money would come from 75 percent of the state sales tax collected from outdoor recreation equipment sales.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, based in Atlanta, plans to investigate a possible link between environmental factors and cancer in Ware County in southeast Georgia.

Georgia Health News reports the agency is responding to a petition from residents.

The area has a history of industrial contamination.

And there have been three recent cases of a rare form of soft tissue sarcoma in children who live there.

X-ray vision, a comic book fantasy for decades, is becoming a reality in a lab at MIT.

A group of researchers led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Dina Katabi has developed software that uses variations in radio signals to recognize human silhouettes through walls and track their movements.

Researchers say the technology will be able to help health care providers and families keep closer tabs on toddlers and the elderly, and it could be a new strategic tool for law enforcement and the military.

Michael Conroy / Associated Press

It's chestnut-eating season, but chances are the chestnuts your family is eating were grown in Europe. Most American chestnut trees were wiped out by a disease, called chestnut blight, starting in the early 1900s. Even before that, many American chestnuts in Georgia were killed by a different disease that affects their roots.

That left a huge gap in American forests, said Berry College biology professor Martin Cipollini.

Federal health officials are lifting the nation's 32-year-old lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, but major restrictions will continue to limit who can donate.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Monday it will replace the blanket ban with a new policy barring donations from men who have had sex with a man in the previous year. While the one-year-ban has been criticized by activists it matches policies in other countries, including Australia, Japan and the U.K.

Rich Pedroncelli / associated press file

Federal health officials want to ban the use of tanning beds by anyone under the age of 18, part of an ongoing government effort to reduce skin cancers linked to the devices.

The Food and Drug Administration proposal would also require tanning bed users to sign consent forms acknowledging the risks of the radiation-emitting devices. Tanning salons and other businesses would have to collect the forms from customers before their first tanning session and every six months thereafter.

A team of Atlanta-based doctors and researchers say they've discovered what could be a breakthrough way to test for and detect ovarian cancer earlier.

Dr. John McDonald, a biology professor at Georgia Tech and one of the people who worked on the project, says he and his group, which also includes members from Atlanta’s Ovarian Cancer Institute, found just over a dozen metabolic features that they say could predict the disease much earlier than current methods.

NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team

Need more office space? How about outer space?

NASA opened its astronaut-application website Monday. It's accepting applications through Feb. 18.

Contenders need to be U.S. citizens with a bachelor's degree in science, math or engineering. Expect intense competition: More than 6,000 applied for NASA's last astronaut class in 2013, with only eight picked. It's an elite club, numbering only in the 300s since the beginning.

The new bill would decrease the maximum level of THC in cannabis oil.
Jeff Chiu, File / Associated Press

A state commission tasked with figuring out ways to regulate medical marijuana voted Wednesday against perusing efforts to legalize growing the plant in Georgia.

The Georgia Commission on Medical Marijuana voted 9-5 against a recommendation to grow the products here, citing federal laws that currently prohibit cultivation. Among the no votes were Department of Public Health Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald and Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan.

Martha Irvine / Associated Press

Life expectancy in the United States has stalled for three straight years.

New numbers from the government show a child born last year can expect to live 78 years and 9½ months. That's the same prediction made for the previous two years.

It's not clear why life expectancy has been flat lately, but experts believe suicides and fatal drug overdoses probably are playing a role.

NASA hopes to resume commercial shipments this week to the International Space Station, following months of frustrating delay.

The last successful U.S. supply run was in April.

An unmanned Atlas V rocket arrived at its Cape Canaveral, Florida, launch pad Wednesday. It's due to lift off Thursday with 7,400 pounds of station supplies. Shipper Orbital ATK considers it an early Christmas present for the crew.

Charles Jones / WABE

While much of the country has seen a decrease in HIV diagnoses, Fulton County says it has become “one of the epicenters” of the HIV epidemic in the U.S.

On Tuesday, World AIDS Day, the Fulton County Task Force on HIV/AIDS announced the county's new strategy to end AIDS that includes greater access to free syringes and condoms, more testing in more places and faster access to treatment. 

Routine Testing

Martin Hieslmair /

 Are the brains of men and women truly different? Not if you look at the overall structure, a new study says.

Researchers found that while specific parts show sex differences, an individual brain only rarely has all "male" traits or all "female" traits.

It's more likely to be a mixed bag: some things are more common in women, some more common in men, and some are common in both.

The researchers say that argues against the idea that brains can be neatly divided into two sex-based categories.

Varian Medical Systems opened its East Coast office in Atlanta on Monday.
Tasnim Shamma / WABE

One of the world's largest manufacturers of cancer treatment devices and software, Palo Alto-based Varian Medical Systems, opened its East Coast hub in Atlanta Monday. The company plans to add up to 100 technical jobs.

The new office is meant to help an Atlanta start-up, Velocity Medical Solutions, which was bought by Varian in 2014.

Varian Medical Systems has had an office in Marietta since the 1980s.

Velocity was started by researchers at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and received early funding from the Georgia Research Alliance.

Countzander /

The American Medical Student Association and a watchdog group, Public Citizen, are concerned by a federally funded study that includes medical residents from Emory University and the Morehouse School of Medicine.

The iCOMPARE study, led by Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Medical School looks at how internal medicine residents working longer shifts of 28 hours or more, affect patient care.

Michael Mazengarb /

The city of Atlanta plans to install solar panels on the roofs of 28 municipal buildings. Once the panels are installed, the buildings, which belong to the fire, police and parks departments, will be able to generate up to 40 percent of their own electricity, Mayor Kasim Reed said.

“Once the panels are set up, we will see significant reduction in the city's electric bills,” Reed said. “Not only does this make great financial sense for our city, it also makes great environmental sense.”


NASA's newest Pluto pictures depict an entire day on the dwarf planet.

The space agency released a series of 10 close-ups of the frosty, faraway world Friday, representing one full rotation, or Pluto day. A Pluto day is equivalent to 6.4 Earth days.

The New Horizons spacecraft snapped the pictures as it zoomed past Pluto in an unprecedented flyby in July. Pluto was between 400,000 and 5 million miles from the camera for these photos.

Researchers have grown human vocal cords in the laboratory that appear capable of producing sound — in hopes of one day treating voice-robbing disorders.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison bioengineered tissue that looks like the tiny folds nestled in a human voice box.

But do they vibrate the right way to make sound?

To tell, the researchers glued the new tissue into a voice box that had been taken from a dog after its death. Blowing air through an artificial windpipe produced a telltale buzzing that suggests the tissue would work inside a body.

Antennas /

Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a new rule that will require states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by closing coal-fired power plants.

The Clean Power Plan is a key piece of the Obama administration’s response to climate change. States are allowed to figure out their own ways to implement the plan, but the EPA released model plans, for states to adapt if they want. It also created a federal plan that will be forced on states that don’t create their own.  

The Food and Drug Administration has approved genetically modified salmon, the first altered animal for human consumption in the United States.

The FDA made the announcement Thursday.

The Obama administration has stalled for more than five years on deciding whether to approve a fast-growing salmon.

By altering genetic materials, scientists have proposed — and in some cases, actually created — animals that would be bred to be disease-free, cleaner in their environments or grow more efficiently.

An American Cancer Society study says far fewer U.S. men are being diagnosed with early prostate cancer and getting blood tests to detect the disease. That's since an influential government-appointed panel recommended against routine screening more than three years ago.

A big question remains: Did that shift have any effect on death rates from prostate cancer?

Doctor groups used to recommend routine, yearly PSA screening starting at age 50. Elevated levels sometimes indicate prostate cancer, but they also can be caused by other things.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has crunched new numbers on America's obesity epidemic. What do they tell us? As a nation, we seem to be stuck.

The overall prevalence of obesity in the three-year period ending 2014 was just over 36 percent. This mean that about 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. is obese.

But if you're a silver-linings kind of person, there's this: After decades of increases, obesity rates do seem to be flattening out.

New government figures show Medicare spending on breakthrough medications for hepatitis C will nearly double this year, passing $9 billion.

That's going to raise insurance costs for all beneficiaries, whether or not they have the liver-wasting disease.

Cost estimates show that Medicare's popular prescription drug program will spend more than $9 billion on hepatitis C drugs this year, a 96 percent increase from $4.7 billion in 2014.


The number of babies born with syphilis has shot up, and it's taking a toll.

Of the 458 babies born last year with syphilis, 33 of were stillborn or died shortly after birth. From 2012 to 2014, there's been a 38 percent increase in cases of congenital syphilis. The spike reverses a previously falling trend in the rates of babies with syphilis from 2008 to 2012, according to a report released Thursday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

ESO/L. Calçada

Astronomers have spotted what they believe to be the most distant object ever seen in our solar system.

The dwarf planet, known for now simply as V774104, is more than 100 times farther from the sun than we are. Astronomers aren't sure what it's doing out there, but they're hoping follow-up studies of its orbit will teach them more.

David Goldman / Associated Press

Autism rates are on the rise, according to a new report.    

More than 2 percent of children between 3 and 17 years old have autism, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health Interview Survey.

That breaks down to roughly one out of every 45 and is based on a 2014 poll of parents of 13,000 children.

The yearly survey from the Atlanta-based CDC says autism rates were about 1.3 percent – about one in every 80 people – from 2011 through 2013.

Kelley McCall / Associated Press

A street drug made of various chemicals sprayed on tea leaves, grass clippings and other plant material continues to send thousands of people suffering from psychotic episodes and seizures to emergency rooms around the country.

In 2015, calls to poison control regarding the drug already have almost doubled, compared to last year's total,and health professionals and lawmakers are struggling to keep up with the problem.