Health Research That’s Music To Our Ears
Here’s another reason your mother was right about keeping up music lessons—there’s a long-term health benefit. Some musicians have fewer age-related hearing problems than non-musicians, according to a study at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto.
Many people experience the “cocktail party problem”—trouble hearing a conversation when there’s background noise, but musicians develop the problem at a later age. A 70-year-old lifelong musician can understand speech in a noisy environment as well as a 50-year-old non-musician. Older musicians also do better at detecting gaps in continuous sounds, which helps with speech perception, and detecting different sound frequencies, useful in separating one voice from another.
Sadly for us non-musicians, a lifetime of listening to loud music actually damages hearing. Health Canada has plenty of advice on keeping within safe volumes on its website www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/life-vie/stereo-baladeur-eng.php.
Researchers at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal have found even a scare doesn’t deter some Canadians from some bad health habits. They found that two thirds of smokers return to smoking within a year of a heart attack. Happily, the percentage of Canadians who smoke has declined to 17 per cent from 25 per cent in 1999, according to the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey.
One Canadian researcher is working towards reducing the worldwide health danger of smoking. University of Waterloo’s Dr. Geoffrey Fong has received a five-year, $7.4 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health for his team’s groundbreaking work on smoking control policies. His work is of international interest since the tobacco industry has targeted low- and middle-income countries because smoking has declined in richer countries like Canada.
Dr. Paul Kubes, director of the University of Calgary’s Calvin, Phoebe and Joan Snyder Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, is Canada’s Health Researcher of the Year for 2011, chosen by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. A specialist on the immune system, Kubes studies the role of white blood cells in preventing and reversing bacterial infection of the blood—important work, what with the increasing instance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Dr. Dick Zoutman, an infections disease expert at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., is also making waves internationally with a new disinfection system. It mimics a defence mechanism of the human body, wherein a certain antibody generates ozone and hydrogen peroxide, a lethal cocktail for bacteria, viruses and mould. Fuming a hospital room with such a mixture completely sterilizes all surfaces in less than an hour—far faster and more effectively than other methods.
This is welcome news to hospitals, since more than 100,000 North Americans die annually due to hospital-acquired infections. But hotels are also interested because the method is equally effective at killing bedbugs—not to mention quelling the fears of some guests who worry about other kinds of bugs left by a room’s previous occupants.
There’s a new national strategy to combat diabetes, a disease now affecting two million Canadians and expected to skyrocket to 3.7 million by 2020. The federal government has earmarked $6 million to fund seven national and 37 regional projects for early detection and management of diabetes in hopes of lessening secondary complications such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease, blindness, damage to the nervous system and amputation. The Canadian Diabetes Association website www.diabetes.ca reports the economic burden of diabetes is about $12.2 billion.
Genetic researchers at Laval University are working on a new treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. A team led by Dr. Jean-Pierre Julien found a protein that binds to an inflammatory protein in spinal cords of ALS patients, but not healthy people. They’ve successfully used an experimental drug to control the inflammation in mice, which may lead to future human therapy.
Two researchers from McGill University Health Centre in Montreal are Canadian Rising Stars in Global Health. Dr. Nitika Pant Pai and Dr. Madhukar Pai each won $100,000 grants (which could rise to $1 million with continued success). Though married to each other, their research interests are separate. Madhukar is developing the world’s first cheap strip test for tuberculosis to allow diagnosis within minutes. Nitika is working on creating a public-health strategy for HIV testing employing a rapid test, the Internet and mobile phones.
And to end with some news on a positive note, the Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that between 2009 and 2010, the supply of physicians grew at more than twice the rate of population expansion. There are now 203 active physicians per 100,000 Canadians, up from 190 in 2006, due to an increased number of medical school grads plus immigration. Still, more than four million Canadians don’t have a family doctor and it will take some time to reach the average of 300 doctors among the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).