Category Archives: Medicine

Funny feet

ns_logoMY RUNNING shoes have a thick sole and cushioned heel. I bought them five years ago, before the “barefoot” craze for minimalist shoes that would allow people to better emulate how our ancestors ran. Soon after that, reports began appearing of injuries sustained by runners who had adopted these shoes, and lawsuits were filed against some manufacturers. Now the maximally cushioned or “fat” shoe is back in vogue, and suddenly my old shoes look high-tech again…

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 24 January 2015. To continue reading, click here.

Ella Albrecht/Gallerystock
Ella Albrecht/Gallerystock

The forgetting gene


ONE day in 1991, neurologist Warren Strittmatter asked his boss to look at some bewildering data. Strittmatter was studying amyloid-β, the main component of the molecular clumps found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. He was hunting for amyloid-binding proteins in the fluid that buffers the brain and spinal cord, and had fished out one called apolipoprotein E (ApoE), which had no obvious connection with the disease…

This article was inspired by an Ernst Strüngmann forum on brain diseases in March 2014 and first published in Nature on 6 June 2014. To continue reading, click here.

The following is an excerpt from Louis Theroux’s 2012 BBC documentary Extreme Love: Dementia. Don’t miss the bit where Nancy comes into the room and says, “I want you.”


Subtle effects

economist-logoMANGANISM has been known about since the 19th century, when miners exposed to ores containing manganese, a silvery metal, began to totter, slur their speech and behave like someone inebriated. The poisoning was irreversible, and soon ended in psychosis and death. Nowadays, the doses workers are exposed to are far lower and manganism is rare. But new research suggests it could be some way from being eradicated entirely. The metal’s detrimental effects on human health may be subtle but widespread, contributing to diseases known by other names…

This article was first published in the Economist on 24 April 2014. To continue reading, click here.


Don’t cramp my style

economist-logoFROM music to medicine is an unusual career path, but Victor Candia is an unusual man. In 1993, when he was preparing to graduate as a guitarist from the University of Music in Trossingen, Germany, he noticed that the fingers of his left hand were starting to curl up as he played. It felt to him as if a magnet in his palm were preventing him from opening them. A week later, he could not play at all. He had succumbed to what doctors call focal dystonia, golfers call the yips, and instrumentalists and scribblers, respectively, call musician’s cramp and writer’s cramp…

This article first appeared in the Economist on 27 March 2014. To continue reading, click here.

Charles Sabine’s battle

il_logoIN 1996, an NBC war reporter and his crew were captured by a renegade platoon of mujahideen guerrillas near the Bosnian town of Doboj. As the sun set and the call to prayer went up, the reporter stared at a blood-spattered wall while a young warrior pulled the pin from a grenade, replaced it with his finger and pressed it to his head. The warrior closed his eyes and prayed…

This article first appeared in Intelligent Life in autumn 2009.