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Archive for January 6, 2013

White Bean Chili with Winter Vegetables

White Bean Chili with Winter Vegetables


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 leeks, white and 1″ of pale-green part, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4″ cubes
  • 2 large or 3 medium parsnips, peeled, halved lengthwise if large (remove woody center, if needed), cut into 1/4″ cubes
  • 1–1 1/2 tablespoons ground ancho chiles
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more for seasoning
  • 1 1/4 cups dried cannellini (white kidney) beans, soaked overnight (to yield about 3 cups) or two 15-oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed
  • Cilantro leaves (optional)
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled, chopped

    Ground ancho chiles are available at Latin markets and in the spice section of some supermarkets.


  • Heat oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add leeks, garlic, and 2 Tbsp. water. Cook until leeks are softened, about 5 minutes. Add carrots and parsnips; stir to coat. Cook, stirring often, until just beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add ground chiles, cumin, oregano, and 2 tsp. salt. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Fold in beans. Add 5 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer to allow flavors to meld, about 30 minutes (if using soaked beans, cook until tender, which may take a few more minutes). Season with salt.
  • Garnish with cilantro leaves, if desired, and chopped avocado.


Runtastic sprints past 14m downloads, and launches four new fitness apps for homebodies

Run - Fitness

At the Pioneers Festival in Vienna, Fitness app developer Runtastic has just announced a slew of new apps for those who’d rather not venture outside their home, preferring to work up a sweat in the comfort of their livingroom instead.

Just to recap, as with many similar fitness apps such as Runkeeper, Runtastic taps GPS to let you measure the distance, elevation and speed at which you’re running or cycling. And it saves it all to the cloud for you, so you can look back at your achievements.

We last caught up with the Austria-based startup when it launched a cool new feature for Android, letting users replay their run in 3D video, with Google Earth integration. This also marked the company’s passing of the magic 10 million downloads milestone, a figure we’re told it has just trumped by some distance.

Indeed, less than three months later, Runtastic now has 14 million downloads under its belt, and could well see this figure jump significantly off the back of its latest launch.

Push, pull, squat, sit

The new apps will be available for iOS (including iPads) and Android (smartphones only for now), and encompass four basic fitness and strength-building activities you can do pretty much anywhere.

Though the Fitness App Collection is designed for homebodies, they can equally be used by those who do like to venture outdoors. They cover the following key activities: PullUps, PushUps, SitUps and Squats.

Additionally, each app features training plans developed by fitness experts, and users can gradually improve their strength and stamina by working towards a set number of repetitions.

The apps tap proximity sensors and accelerometer technology to count repetitions automatically, while a voice coach and automatic timer count down the time before and between sets. It’s like a virtual personal trainer.

Pull up Training Plan 220x376 Runtastic sprints past 14m downloads, and launches four new fitness apps for homebodies    Pull ups History 220x376 Runtastic sprints past 14m downloads, and launches four new fitness apps for homebodies

The iOS apps will include a tab to integrate data from across the suite. This ‘Me’ tab displays personal records for each indoor fitness activity, as well as badges, which users can earn by completing ‘gamified’ challenges. These features will soon be available for Android too.

Push ups Me Tab 220x330 Runtastic sprints past 14m downloads, and launches four new fitness apps for homebodies    Push ups 220x330 Runtastic sprints past 14m downloads, and launches four new fitness apps for homebodies

In addition to all this, Runtastic has also launched a new section on its website that will track all the pushups, situps, squats and pullups its community does:

fitnesscollection web 520x493 Runtastic sprints past 14m downloads, and launches four new fitness apps for homebodies

With PumpIt, the stats from all four apps will automatically upload from each completed workout, as well as to the users’ personal fitness profile. Users can also choose to share their progress via email, or by posting to social media profiles including Google+, Facebook and Twitter, using the tag #PumpIt.

“You may think you’ll never be able to do one hundred pushups, or 150 squats, but our latest apps offer step-by-step training plans to boost your performance over time and make these goals 100 percent attainable,” explains Runtastic CEO Florian Gschwandtner. “By expanding our app offerings, Runtastic encourages all users to achieve well-rounded workout routines, and new gamification features provide extra motivation to take workouts to the next level.”

Given we’re now approaching winter in the Northern Hemisphere, this launch couldn’t come at a better time. The apps should be going live any time now.

 Pushups – iOSAndroid | Situps – iOSAndroid | Squats – iOS,Android | Pullups – iOSAndroid


Barts and the London NHS Trust in £1m overpay error

The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel

In 2011 the trust announced it would cut 635 jobs over two years to reduce costs

A London NHS trust has overpaid its staff by a total of nearly £1m a year since 2010, documents have revealed.

In one case, a doctor was paid £4,000 a month by Barts and the London NHS Trust for nearly four years for on-call duties he or she was not doing.

An audit report released by the Barts Health NHS Trust in east London said a debt-collecting agency had to be employed to reclaim the money.

The trust said it rigorously pursued all salary overpayments.

Barts Health was formed last year by the merger of Barts and The London NHS Trust and two other trusts.

Paid in error

The audit report and other documents were released under a Freedom of Information request by the Health Service Journal.

They showed that during the 2010/11 financial year, 329 salary overpayments worth £971,000 were made.

In the last financial year to April 2012, £995,000 was paid in error.

Most overpayments were made to those in areas involving emergency care and acute medicine, and ambulatory services.

The figures relate to staff members at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City of London, the Royal London in Whitechapel and the London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green.

‘Has to stop’

The trust said the amount was 0.25% of its total salary bill of £393 million.

A report to the trust management board in October 2012 by newly-appointed director of human resources Michael Pantlin said: “Barts Health overpays staff circa £1m per year – much of which is lost. This has to stop.”

The problem has been put down to managers not promptly relaying staff changes to the payroll department.

Mr Pantlin said: “There can be no quick fix to the overpayments issue unless the executive team endorse a change in management behaviours and begin to hold managers to account.”

At the end of 2011, 70% of people who had been overpaid were being pursued by debt-collecting agencies to recover the money.

Ian Walker, director of corporate affairs, said the trust was introducing simpler electronic forms for reporting staff leavers and that management guidelines had been reissued.

He said data on salary overpayments would be considered at managers’ performance review meetings and repeat offenders would be subject to disciplinary action.

In 2011, Barts and The London NHS Trust announced it would cut 635 jobs over two years to reduce costs.

The total saving from the job losses was expected to be £30m.


‘Progress made’ on Scottish hospital rooms

Hospital room. Pic: SPL

The provision of single rooms is claimed to reduce infection rates

The Scottish government has published figures indicating that 26 hospitals in Scotland now provide only single rooms for patients.

It has said not having to share sleeping space with others helps to protect the dignity of patients.

Healthcare-associated infections are said to be reduced by single rooms.

Former Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced in 2008 that single rooms would become the norm in Scotland for new and refurbished hospitals.

Throughout Scotland’s 218 hospitals, 32% of the total beds are now in single rooms.

Health Secretary Alex Neil said: “Single rooms provide a better and safer environment for patients and will enhance their experience during their stay in hospital.

“More importantly, single rooms make a significant contribution towards reducing the patient’s risk of contracting and passing on an avoidable infection.”

Recent projects completed with 100% single room provision include Migdale Hospital in Bonar Bridge and the Royal Victoria building in Edinburgh.

The biggest hospital under construction in Scotland, the South Glasgow Hospitals campus, will also have no adult patients sharing rooms.


Totally blind mice get sight back


Totally blind mice have had their sight restored by injections of light-sensing cells into the eye, UK researchers report.

The team in Oxford said their studies closely resemble the treatments that would be needed in people with degenerative eye disease.

Similar results have already been achieved with night-blind mice.

Experts said the field was advancing rapidly, but there were still questions about the quality of vision restored.

Patients with retinitis pigmentosa gradually lose light-sensing cells from the retina and can become blind.

It’s the first proof that you can take a completely blind mouse, put the cells in and reconstruct the entire light-sensitive layer”

Prof Robert MacLarenUniversity of Oxford

The research team, at the University of Oxford, used mice with a complete lack of light-sensing photoreceptor cells in their retinas. The mice were unable to tell the difference between light and dark.


They injected “precursor” cells which will develop into the building blocks of a retina once inside the eye. Two weeks after the injections a retina had formed, according to the findings presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Prof Robert MacLaren said: “We have recreated the whole structure, basically it’s the first proof that you can take a completely blind mouse, put the cells in and reconstruct the entire light-sensitive layer.”

Previous studies have achieved similar results with mice that had a partially degenerated retina. Prof MacLaren said this was like “restoring a whole computer screen rather than repairing individual pixels”.

The mice were tested to see if they fled being in a bright area, if their pupils constricted in response to light and had their brain scanned to see if visual information was being processed by the mind.


Prof Pete Coffee, from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London, said the findings were important as they looked at the “most clinically relevant and severe case” of blindness.

This is probably what you would need to do to restore sight in a patient that has lost their vision”

Prof Pete CoffeeUniversity College London

“This is probably what you would need to do to restore sight in a patient that has lost their vision,” he said.

However, he said this and similar studies needed to show how good the recovered vision was as brain scans and tests of light sensitivity were not enough.

He said: “Can they tell the difference between a nasty animal and something to eat?”

Prof Robin Ali published research in the journal Nature showing that transplanting cells could restore vision in night-blind mice and then showed the same technique worked in a range of mice with degenerated retinas.

He said: “These papers demonstrate that it is possible to transplant photoreceptor cells into a range of mice even with a severe level of degeneration.

“I think it’s great that another group is showing the utility of photoreceptor transplantation.”

Researchers are already trialling human embryonic stem cells, at Moorfields Eye Hospital, in patients with Stargardt’s disease. Early results suggest the technique is safe but reliable results will take several years.

Retinal chips or bionic eyes are also being trailed in patients with retinitis pigmentosa.


Winter bugs: A yearly battle for dominance


Man sneezing
Viral particles are shed when we sneeze
By Jonathan BallProfessor of molecular virology, University of NottinghamContinue reading the main story

Suffering from a post-festive slump? Sadly, the same could not be said for flu and noroviruses.

Why norovirus and flu infections peak during winter is unclear.

recent paper suggests that a combination of factors influence the seasonal pattern of influenza virus infections – factors that have also been implicated in norovirus spread.

As the weather becomes more inclement, people huddle together, contact becomes more frequent and viruses can spread more readily.

Also, specific changes in the environment – decreased temperature and humidity – make it easier for the virus to spread, presumably because these conditions support virus persistence.

It might even be that seasonal fluctuations weaken our own defences in the face of this contagious onslaught. Decreased daylight hours lower vitamin D levels – which is essential for a properly functioning immune system.

Flu virus

  • Three types: influenza A, B and C
  • All cause respiratory tract infections. A virus are most serious, C virus rare.
  • On the surface of influenza A are two proteins called haemaglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N).
  • Antibodies to the H and N proteins protect people from infection.
  • Different forms of the H and N proteins exist on different virus strains.
  • Pandemics arise when a virus acquires a new type of H or N protein by a process known as genetic shift.
  • Current vaccines protect against the most prevalent strains of Influenza A and B – but not new pandemic strains.
  • The last pandemic, in 2009, saw the emergence of a new virus from swine.

Whatever the reason, every winter a wave of nausea and malady ripples through our communities.

But why are we continually susceptible to the effects of these debilitating and sometimes deadly foes, despite being armed with an excellent means of defence. What is so special about these marauding infections that make repeat attacks so frequent?

To answer this we need to look at how our body defends itself and what the viruses do to by-pass this protection.

As soon as an infection occurs, specialised cells within us deploy a range of weapons to seek and destroy the virus.

Special proteins called antibodies – made by a type of white blood cell called a B-cell – lock onto the surface of the virus to prevent them from infecting cells. These antibodies also tag the virus so that other blood cells can consume them.

Additional components of the immune system recognise cells already infected and quickly destroy them before they release their cargo of newly-made germs.

Once the conflict is won and the virus has been cleared, a small number of these specialist cells persist.

Influenza A pandemic chronology

  • The earliest isolates of flu were reconstructed from victims of the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak. This virus contained H1N1 proteins on its surface.
  • In 1957 the H1N1 virus combined with a bird virus and acquired H2N2 on its surface.
  • This new H2N2 virus then caused seasonal epidemics until 1968 when it combined with another bird virus acquiring its H3 protein.
  • In the 1970s H1N1 viruses re-emerged.
  • In 2009 a new pandemic strain of virus emerged that arose through combination of a swine H1N1 virus and another swine virus that had itself arisen through gene exchanges between three different viruses – the seasonal human H3N2 virus, the original 1918 strain that had been lingering in swine and an avian virus.
  • Viruses causing most seasonal influenza A infections currently are direct descendants of the swine variant of H1N1 and the H3N2 virus.

Each is equipped with a high definition photographic memory of the virus it helped destroy and it is primed and ready to prevent subsequent infection – but only if it encounters the same virus.

This specificity means that the immune system targets foreign invaders without harming the body’s normal cells. This specificity is essential but it is also its Achilles’ heel – because these viruses are masters of disguise.

When they infect, norovirus and flu replicate at an incredible rate – producing billions of new viruses every day.

And as the viruses replicate they mutate. Each new virus harbours small but often advantageous changes in its genes and these accumulate as the virus passes from one person to the next.

During this process of transformation – or genetic drift – the virus alters its appearance and the immune memory cells struggle to recognise it. The virus escapes detection and is free to infect once more.

But not all of the immune cells are fooled by the new disguise and they offer at least some protection, which limits the severity of the infection.

It is this continual process of genetic drift gives rise to the seasonal epidemics of flu and norovirus.

The animal swap-shop

But flu has another more insidious trick up its sleeve – one that leads to deadly outbreaks of disease.

Flu virus is found throughout nature and different strains can infect a variety of hosts including humans, dogs, horses, swine, bats and birds.

Following years of transmission in each of these hosts the viruses become very different from one another.

This means that the immune cells from, let’s say, humans are unable to recognise a virus that has been infecting birds – they offer no protection.

Occasionally, one of these animal viruses is able to jump into humans – either directly or through an intermediate host, such as a chicken or a swine.

Swine have long been suspected as the ideal mixing vessel for the emergence of new influenza strains.

New viruses are formed when two different strains infect the same cell and exchange whole genes – a process known as genetic shift.

Then, as the new virus replicates it mutates further and, if luck is on its side, some of these mutations allow it to spread from human to human – a new influenza pandemic is born.

Sweet resistance

But just as the genetic material of the virus dictates the next wave of infections, so our own genetic make-up can influence our susceptibility to these.

Studies of norovirus epidemics and human volunteer experiments (yes, there really are people willing to do this) showed that some individuals had natural resistance and this appeared to run in families – it was inherited.


  • Most common cause of infectious sickness and diarrhoea.
  • Infections are most prevalent in winter and peak of infection occur every three years or so
  • Once infected it takes two days for symptoms to appear. They include a feeling of being generally unwell, vomiting and diarrhoea, and usually last for about two days.
  • Once symptoms disappear the virus continues to be shed for around two days, but in some people for several weeks.
  • The virus is very resilient and highly infectious.
  • No vaccine to prevent infection, or treatments.
  • Scientists have been unable to grow the virus in the lab.

In order to gain entry into the cells of the gut, norovirus locks onto sugar molecules present on the surface of these cells.

Not just any sugar. The virus interacts with specific types of sugar that are also present on the surface of red blood cells – those that give rise to the various blood groups.

And here is the twist – gut cells in around 20% of Caucasians lack these key sugars because of a fault in a gene called Fut2.

These individuals are highly resistant to common strains of norovirus.

Norovirus and influenza can strike at any time, but as many of us can vouch, this Christmas has been a particularly good time for these malevolent marauders.

If you were one of the lucky few to escape their attentions this time, just remember how rapidly these viruses can change.

What goes around comes around – if not this bleak midwinter then perhaps the next.















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