Meet The Senior Dogs Trying The Latest Anti-Aging Pill

About a year ago, Sherman, a 13-year-old Pomeranian often mistaken for a teddy bear, had a stroke. The right side of his body went slack, and he couldn’t hear or move his tongue. His owners, Paola Anderson and Sarah Godfrey, had to feed him by hand and carry him outside. We took him to many different pet checkers and ultimately ended up taking him to a vet.

After spending several weeks and thousands of dollars on veterinarians and tests, they discovered the culprit: a tumor in an adrenal gland. Vets said Sherman probably had less than a month to live unless he had a tricky surgery. But Anderson and Godfrey didn’t want to put him through that. Even before the stroke he was a sick dog — with ligament problems, a collapsing trachea, and chronic bronchitis.

They asked a local herbalist who had treated them for years for advice. “He said, whatever you need to do to put your dog on rapamycin, do it,” Anderson told BuzzFeed News.

They had never heard of rapamycin, and started reading everything they could find about this supposed wonder pill. Turns out it’s an old drug, first isolated in the 1970s from dirt samples collected on Easter Island. In large doses, it can be a dangerous drug: Today, it’s usually prescribed to suppress a person’s immune system during an organ transplant.

Rapamycin stops tumor growth in lab experiments, and similar drugs have been tested in people with a variety of cancers. More recently, it’s made headlines for a tantalizing link to longevity: In studies of yeast, worms, flies, and mice, rapamycin has extended lifespan by 15 to 30%.

Most exciting for Anderson and Godfrey, scientists in Seattle had just launched a study to see if rapamycin would also extend the life of older dogs. Sherman couldn’t get into the study because he wasn’t a healthy dog. But he could still try rapamycin — if they could find a vet willing to prescribe it.

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BuzzFeed News, June 2016.

Bill Maher Just Promoted The Unproven Goat Milk HIV Therapy That Charlie Sheen Got In Mexico

On Friday night, comedian Bill Maher had a controversial guest on his show: Samir Chachoua, an Australian doctor who practices in Mexico. Earlier this month, Charlie Sheen went on The Dr. Oz Show and described going to Mexico to get Chachoua’s unproven HIV treatment, injections he developed after studying the milk of goats with arthritis.

Doctors and HIV/AIDS experts are shocked that Maher would promote such adubious medical treatment to his HBO show’s audience of 4 million people.

“I was absolutely flabbergasted,” Mark Harrington, executive director of Treatment Action Group, a New York-based HIV advocacy organization, told BuzzFeed News. “To promote a quack on his show as someone who could even diagnose symptoms of HIV, it’s very irresponsible and can only be described as tabloid journalism at its worst.”

“This kind of high profile pumping of alternative medicine stories linked to celebrities can harm other people by persuading them to do damaging things that affect their health,” John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, told BuzzFeed News.

“This is a classic example of false hope syndrome,” Moore added. “People are persuaded to do wacky stuff that stops them from doing the right stuff.”

Maher’s representative did not respond to a request for comment.

Chachoua did not respond to a request for comment, but he posted a long response to Oz and Sheen on his website, in which he stands by his claims. He also alleged there that Sheen initially came to him to “make his law suits go away by offering a treatment to people that he may have infected.”

Sheen’s manager, Mark Burg, vehemently denies this claim.

“None of it is true, sad what some people will do to make money,” Burg told BuzzFeed News by email. “Charlie will respond when he next does the Dr. Oz show on Feb 9.”

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BuzzFeed News, January 2016.

New Genetically Engineered Monkeys Show “Autism-Like” Behaviors

Chinese scientists have inserted a gene in monkeys that causes an extremely rare autism syndrome in people.

The mutant monkeys show unusual features in their first few years of life, including anxiety, abnormal social interactions, and running in circles around their cages, as described on Monday in the journal Nature.

The monkeys took six years to develop, and their care costs up to 50 times more than laboratory mice, the scientists said. Experiments on monkeys are also more ethically fraught.

But researchers are increasingly disillusioned with mouse models of brain disorders. The vast majority of studies of experimental drugs are done on rodents, and about 90% of those drugs fail when actually tested in people. (Just this month, pharma giant Novartis reported the failure of two clinical trials of a touted autism drug that had reversed symptoms in mouse models.)

“We think this non-human primate is absolutely required, in the long run, for our development of therapies and drugs for human psychiatric and neurological disease,” Mu-ming Poo, director of the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, where the new monkey work was carried out, said at a press briefing. “There seems no other choice.”

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BuzzFeed News, January 2016.

Powdered Caffeine Could Be Deadly, Government Warns

The FDA announced on Tuesday that it has issued warning letters to five companies that distribute pure caffeine powder, sold without regulations as a dietary supplement on many websites.

It’s an incredibly potent drug. Just one teaspoon of caffeine can cause vomiting, anxiety, and heart problems. Last year, in fact, two otherwise healthy young men diedfrom taking powdered caffeine. And many consumers don’t realize how little it takes to fatally overdose: about one tablespoon.

“These products are dangerous and present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers,” the FDA said Tuesday in a statement. “The difference between a safe amount and a toxic dose of caffeine in these pure powdered products is very small.”

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BuzzFeed News, September 2015.

Why Are So Many Newborns Going To Intensive Care?

More and more newborns are going to the neonatal intensive care unit. Between 2007 and 2012, NICU admission rates in the U.S. rose 23%, a new study has found.

In raw numbers, that means that NICUs in 2012 likely admitted about 58,000 more babies than they did in 2007. Intriguingly, most of the increase came from babies who were born full-term and at a normal weight, the researchers say.

“With an increase of this magnitude, over the course of just six years, it’s a signal that something’s happening here,” Wade Harrison, a research scholar at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and one of the study’s authors, told BuzzFeed News.

This NICU boom is almost certainly due to a combination of many factors. It could be because of an increase in mothers who are diabetic or addicted to opiates, for instance, or because doctors are simply getting better at identifying and treating babies with infections, feeding difficulties, and jaundice.

But Harrison and his colleagues worry that part of the increase comes from an overuse of expensive NICU facilities, which have been growing steadily over the past four decades.

“We may be admitting too many babies to NICUs who might be healthier than they previously were,” Harrison said.

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BuzzFeed News, August 2015.

12 Outrageous Tanning Myths That Should Be Burned Immediately

Tanning is big business. There are 14,000 indoor tanning outfits in the United States, and about 10% of Americans visit one every year. (One study of big cities found that indoor tanning salons outnumber Starbucks and McDonald’s.) The annual economic impact of the tanning industry is an estimated $5 billion.

Unsurprisingly, the tanning industry produces a whole lot of marketing — through websites, social media, emails, and even text messages. And it’s gotten in hot waterwith the federal government for making false and deceptive claims.

“The tanning salons promote these myths about the safety of tanning,” Carolyn Heckman of Fox Chase Cancer Center told BuzzFeed News. “They use a lot of strategies similar to the tobacco industry, in terms of trying to attract young people and get them hooked.”

Here are the biggest myths to watch out for.

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BuzzFeed News, July 2015.

This Case Of A Phantom Pooper Is Hugely Important For Genetic Testing Laws

It was a weird and disgusting crime: Someone was leaving piles of poop in the aisles of a grocery warehouse run by Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services outside of Atlanta. So the company made a list of employee suspects and asked them to take a voluntary DNA test.

Two warehouse workers, Jack Lowe and Dennis Reynolds, were on that list. Worried they would lose their jobs, they allowed a scientist to brush the inside of their cheeks with cotton swabs and run DNA tests on the samples. The tests came back negative: Neither man was the “devious defecator,” as a judge later dubbed the culprit.

But Lowe and Reynolds were humiliated by the ordeal, and afraid of how their DNA might be used in the future. So in May 2013, seven months after the testing, they sued Atlas, citing the federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which states that employers and medical insurers are not allowed to collect genetic data.

The men won their suit in May, and this Monday a federal jury granted the men $2.2 million in damages.

This is the first GINA case to go to trial, and sets a crucial precedent for labor law, experts say.

“It will be a famous and/or notorious case, depending on your perspective,” Paul Lombardo, a law professor at Georgia State University, told BuzzFeed News. “This case went, in a couple of weeks, from being a locker-room punchline, a scatological joke, to something which I don’t think any employer is laughing about now.”

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BuzzFeed News, June 2015.

Author Of Tainted Gay Marriage Study Admits To Destroying Data But Stands By Results

Michael LaCour, the UCLA graduate student who has been accused of making up data and lying about how his research was funded, has published a much-anticipated response to these allegations.

On Friday LaCour sent BuzzFeed News and other outlets a 23-page documentoutlining how he believes his critics went wrong. But he also admitted to lying about how his study was funded, writing: “I also take full responsibility and apologize for misrepresenting survey incentives and funding.”

LaCour’s study — which reported in the journal Science that a 20-minute conversation with a gay person could change California voters’ minds on same-sex marriage — was retracted last week by LaCour’s co-author, Columbia University’s Donald Green. On Thursday, Science issued an official retraction.

Months after the study made headlines, independent scientists scrutinized the data and found that it was, statistically, too good to be true. This spurred a UCLA investigation that is still pending, university representatives told BuzzFeed News.

In his response, LaCour admitted to destroying the study’s raw data, but claims that he did so “in the interest of institutional requirements” to protect the privacy of the study participants.

Surprisingly, LaCour’s response also links to a letter he received from UCLA’s ethical review board in January telling him to notify Science that he hadn’t applied for study approval until more than a year after starting the work. Several UCLA faculty also received this letter.

LaCour has not responded to requests to discuss his statement in more detail. BuzzFeed News reached out to the scientists — David Broockman, Joshua Kalla, and Peter Aronow — who first published the irregularities in LaCour’s work. They responded by email:

“In our view, none of the claims made in LaCour’s response meaningfully address the concerns articulated in our report, Professor Green’s retraction request, or the Science retraction.”

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BuzzFeed News, May 2015.

UCLA Student At Center Of Science Scandal Apparently Faked Another Study, About Media Bias

Michael LaCour, the UCLA graduate student at the center of an epically bizarrescience scandal, apparently made up data in a different study about political bias in the media.

This study made the controversial claim that people don’t have a particularly biased media diet.

Gregory Martin, a political scientist at Emory University, published a report Thursday outlining several concerns about LaCour’s study, which was unpublished but frequently cited at scientific conferences.

According to Martin’s analyses, LaCour fudged his data to make it look much cleaner. LaCour also claimed that seven news shows were included in an archive of show transcripts that, in fact, were not.

“He was very bold,” Martin told BuzzFeed News. “These shows just don’t exist in the database, and you don’t need a fancy statistical analysis to see that.”

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BuzzFeed News, May 2015.