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IN BRIEF

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Eating disorders

Prozac fails to help anorexia patients

The depression drug Prozac failed to help patients with anorexia nervosa maintain their weight in the largest drug study ever conducted for the condition. The results could alter treatment for anorexia, an eating disorder marked by severe weight loss and a distorted body image affecting as many as 2 percent of U.S. females.

Doctors often prescribe antidepressants to prevent a relapse after patients regain some weight, but the new findings question the practice. Only 26.5 percent of 93 women who got Prozac maintained their weight and stayed in the trial for the full year, compared with 31.5 percent given a placebo.

"Doctors who have been prescribing medication for patients in hopes that it would dramatically affect the course of illness should move on to other things," said B. Timothy Walsh, lead researcher and professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

The National Institutes of Health paid for the study, which appears in this week's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Bloomberg News Service

Arachnology

Spider conference at Notre Dame

If you like spiders, Baltimore is the place to be for the next five days.

Spider experts from around the world will descend on the College of Notre Dame of Maryland for the 30th annual American Arachnological Society conference from tomorrow through Wednesday. About 135 scientists from the United States, Korea, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico are expected, said Nancy Kreiter, a spider expert and biology professor at Notre Dame who is coordinating the conference. The sessions will be held in the Knott Science Center on the Notre Dame campus.

Lectures and poster sessions will focus on a variety of topics, including visual cues spiders use to identify prey, the mechanical properties of spider silk, how coloration is used in mating and sexual cannibalism.

There will be two field trip choices for Wednesday: one to the National Mall in Washington and one to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center to study the Chesapeake Bay habitat.

A session for the public that will include slide presentations, videos and informal talks will be held Monday at 7 p.m. For information, call 410-532-5718.

Dennis O'Brien

Archaeology

Ancient dentures found in Mexico

Thousands of years before screen idols began beautifying themselves with cosmetic dentistry, ancient Mexicans were getting ceremonial dentures. Researchers reported this week that they found a 4,500-year-old burial in Mexico that had the oldest known example of dental work in the Americas.

The upper front teeth of the remains had been ground down so that they could be mounted with animal teeth, possibly wolf or panther teeth, for ceremonial purposes, according to researchers led by Tricia Gabany-Guerrero of the University of Connecticut.

"It's like he was using the mouth of some other animal in his mouth," said James Chatters, an archaeologist and paleontologist with AMEC Earth and Environmental Inc. in Seattle and a member of the research team.

Such modifications, typically using beasts of prey, became more common centuries later in the Mayan culture, Chatters said in a telephone interview, but this is the earliest example that has been found.

Associated Press

Prostate cancer

Beer ingredient may cut disease

It sounds too good to be true: researchers in Oregon say an ingredient in beer seems to help prevent prostate cancer, at least in laboratory experiments. The trouble is you would theoretically have to drink about 17 beers per day for any potential benefit.

Researchers at Oregon State University say that the compound xanthohumol, found in hops, inhibits a protein in the cells along the surface of the prostate gland. The protein acts like a switch that turns on a variety cancers, including prostate cancer.

Dr. Richard N. Atkins, chief executive of the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, said the experiments are encouraging and "perhaps men could take it in pill form someday."

He noted an ingredient in tomatoes, lycopene, has previously been linked to prostate cancer prevention. "It's every man's dream to hear that beer and pizza can prevent cancer," he said. "However, the 17 beers and four large pizzas needed to get enough xanthohumol and lycopene to help prevent prostate cancer is unfortunately not advised."

Associated Press

Psychology

Persuasion easier with caffeine use

Caffeine has long been known to make the heart beat faster, the muscles work harder and the brain focus better. But a new study suggests that it also makes us more open to persuasion when confronted with a point of view that is logical and well-argued.

At the University of Queensland in Australia, researchers ascertained the positions of 148 people on voluntary euthanasia, then asked each participant to read a position paper that ran counter to his or her beliefs. Before reading the papers, half drank orange juice containing the equivalent jolt of two cups of coffee, and half drank plain orange juice.

The results: The subjects who drank the juiced-up orange drink understood and remembered the counter-arguments better and were more in agreement with those arguments. What's more, their changed views were unlikely to revert to earlier beliefs later.

Pearl Martin, the social psychologist who oversaw the experiments, said subjects hopped up on caffeine paid better attention to well-made arguments. But the nation's taste for caffeinated drinks should not make us a nation of dupes. "Our research findings suggest that it increases peoples' ability to correctly evaluate the merits of a particular argument," said Martin, speaking of caffeine's effects.

Los Angeles Times

Minerology

Clump-free salt may be in future

If you have ever been annoyed by table salt that won't pour from the shaker in humid weather, scientists in India may have found a way to solve the problem: rounded salt crystals.

Table salt is sodium chloride, and because the atoms of sodium and chlorine stack up in a cubic pattern, salt crystals are generally cubic in shape. The flat surfaces of a cube make it easy for the crystals stick to one another, especially when the air is humid.

Years ago, scientists found that adding the amino acid glycine to a salty brine solution slows the growth around the 12 edges of a cubic crystal. The crystal grows not into a cube but into a 12-sided, almost spherical shape known as a rhombic dodecahedron. Not surprisingly, rounded salt flows more easily and is less likely to clump.

In an article in the July issue of the journal Crystal Growth & Design, researchers from the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute in Bhavnagar, India, report that adding a step to wash the newly formed crystals in a new batch of brine could make the process practical for mass production.

New York Times News Service

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