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.

Here’s What You Need To Know About Zika

Brazil’s Health Ministry on Wednesday reported that 4,180 suspected cases of the Zika virus — which can cause a rare brain defect in newborns — had been recorded as of this past week, but that just 270 of those had been confirmed. The mosquito-borne virus had been ruled out in another 462 cases involving the brain damage, officials said.

Since October, 68 deaths have been reported due to congenital malformations after (stillbirth) or during pregnancy (miscarriage), the ministry reported. Of those, 12 were confirmed to the relationship with congenital infection, all in the Northeast — 10 in Rio Grande do Norte, 1 in Ceará, and 1 in Piauí.

The numbers come one day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday said pregnant women should postpone travel to two more regions in South and Central America because of the risk of contracting the Zika virus, raising the total number of regions on the warning list to 24.

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BuzzFeed News, January 2016.

Dutch Study: Most New HIV Infections Could Be Prevented With Pill

Nearly two-thirds of new HIV infections in gay and bisexual men in the Netherlands could be prevented with antiretroviral treatment, according to a study published on Wednesday.

This treatment — also known as known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP — is not widely available in Europe. It’s not clear whether it would lead to a similar drop in infections in the U.S., where a growing number of gay and bisexual men are already getting PrEP as Truvada, the once-a-day blue pill.

Still, the researchers say that the new study adds to other research showing thepublic health benefits of PrEP, especially when combined with frequent HIV testing.

“I hope that this study contributes to making the case for making PrEP available to as many individuals as possible,” Oliver Ratmann, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London and leader of the new study, told BuzzFeed News.

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BuzzFeed News, January 2016.

Epigenetic Test Can Predict Homosexuality, Controversial Study Claims

Researchers have developed an algorithm that they say can crudely predict homosexuality in men based on certain chemical tags in their DNA.

These controversial results, which have not yet been published in a scientific journal, will be presented Thursday afternoon at a genetics conference in Baltimore.

By analyzing five “epigenetic” tags — chemicals that latch onto DNA and help turn genes on or off — the algorithm can reportedly predict a man’s sexual orientation with 67% accuracy, according to Tuck Ngun, who led the work as a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA.

Several experts who were not involved in the research told BuzzFeed News that they were skeptical of the veracity of these results, particularly because the study was based on a relatively small sample of men.

“All predictive models need replication with larger samples, and this one certainly does,” J. Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, told BuzzFeed News by email.

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BuzzFeed News, October 2015.

Nobel Prize In Medicine Goes To Treatments For Malaria And Other Parasitic Diseases

Three scientists who developed treatments against parasites have won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Their discoveries “have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually. The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable,” said the Swedish committee on Monday when announcing the award, which is worth about 8 million Swedish kronor (about $1 million) and will be split among the three recipients.

Half will go to William C. Campbell of Drew University in New Jersey and Satoshi Ōmura of Kitasato University in Japan, for the development of the drug avermectin, which treats river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, and other roundworm parasite infections.

The other half goes to Youyou Tu of the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, who discovered artemisinin, a drug against the malaria parasite that has saved many lives over the last decade.

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BuzzFeed News, October 2015.

This Year’s Flu Shot Is Expected To Be Way Better Than Last Year’s

Last year’s flu season was awful. More Americans aged 65 years and older werehospitalized than ever reported since 2005 (when the CDC started counting), and 145 kids died.

The problem was that the dominant strain of flu — called influenza A (H3N2) — rapidly mutated into a particularly nasty type, evading the vaccine’s protection.

“The H3N2 virus that spread last season was very different from the H3N2 virus in the vaccine,” Lisa Grohskopf, a medical officer in the CDC’s Influenza Division, told BuzzFeed News by email. Consequently, last year’s vaccine only warded off less common strains, leading to an overall effectiveness of just 23%.

But this year’s vaccine is poised to be far better.

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BuzzFeed News, September 2015.

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.

Scientists Are Terrified Of Talking About The Planned Parenthood Videos

For the past two weeks, it’s been nearly impossible not to hear people — presidential candidates, attorneys general, lawmakers, pundits, outraged relatives on Facebook — talking about the undercover video footage showing Planned Parenthood doctors discussing the sale of fetal tissue to biotech companies.

But one voice is conspicuously missing: that of the scientists who actually use fetal cells. At the beginning of the scandal, BuzzFeed News got two of them on the record, and other publications have quoted a couple of others. But the vast majority of scientists who use aborted tissue have shirked from the hot public spotlight.

Over the past week, BuzzFeed News has written to more than 70 scientists who have received federal funding — ranging from around $50,000 to nearly $5 million — for research that involves human fetal tissue. They work on a diverse range of projects: understanding human blindness, developing vaccines, making better models of HIV, and creating therapies for liver failure, just to name a few. Most of these scientists have run their own labs for years, if not decades, and would normally be happy to talk to the press.

But just six agreed to talk about their use of fetal cells, and only under the condition of anonymity.

“What a chilling effect, you know?” one stem cell biologist working at a large public university told BuzzFeed News.

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BuzzFeed News, August 2015.