Wednesday, May 9, 2018


Discovery of a new organ

A vast network of fluid-filled channels that surrounds muscle and lines the digestive, respiratory and urinary tracts may be a previously undetected human organ, known as the interstitium, say scientists at New York University Langone School of Medicine.  The researchers believe that this newly found structure, which appears to be an "open, fluid-filled highway," serves as an internal shock absorber for other organs and also plays a major role in the immune system.  

Interstitial fluid is the source of lymph, which dispatches white blood cells to fight infections.  The interstitium could help explain how cancer cells spread throughout the body.  "Once they get in, it’s like they’re on a water slide," the study’s co-author, Neil Theise, tells NewScientist​.com.  "We have a new window on the mechanism of tumor spread."  The interstitium holds about 20 percent of all the fluid in the human body, but it has evaded detection until now since tissue samples are typically dehydrated before being examined under a microscope.  More research is needed to understand its role and determine whether it is indeed a distinct organ.  Either way, Theise says, this discovery may lead to "a significant reassessment of anatomy affecting every organ of the body."

--The Week
Reform without substance
In January, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Jamie Dimon shook corporate America when they announced they were "putting their heads together to solve America’s health-care problem."  Their firms--Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase--would establish an independent company, free from profit-making incentives, to develop technology-based health-care solutions.  Nearly three months later, their big initiative is "already bogged down in blather."  A

An update from Dimon to shareholders suggests the group is focused "on exactly the wrong issues." They intend to study how much is spent on health-care waste, administration, and fraud, Dimon said--a "revealing" admission since those things are trotted out "whenever you have nothing else to say."  They also want to develop better wellness programs and figure out why some expensive drugs are "over- and underutilized," platitudes that are at once both "vacuous" and vague.  The truth is "there really is no health-care cost mystery."  The way to keep costs low is by restricting the price of doctor and hospital visits and of prescription drugs--something the rest of the developed world has already figured out.  Dimon says the group will report its progress in "coming years."  Sounds to me like they are already "trying to tamp down expectations.

--Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times
Ignore the yo-yo market
If you’re trying to make sense of the market, good luck to you.  Talking heads grasp for rational, understandable explanations for why stocks rally wildly one day and sink sharply the next.  They won’t find them.  Today, most stock trading is automated and computer-driven, programmed to feed off of changes elsewhere in the market.  So upward and downward moves tend to be steeper and more sudden than they used to be as computerized trading programs chase each other around.  This means it’s more important than ever for amateur investors like me to pay no attention to daily market moves. 

Take the first three days of [a recent week], which were a perfect example of why you shouldn’t buy or sell precipitously.  On Monday the market plummeted on fears of President Trump’s trade war. "Pessimism reigned." On Tuesday, the market bounced back.  Then Wednesday morning, the Dow plunged more than 2 percent at opening, but by close had recovered its big Monday losses and then some.  Analysts who had been warning of a "correction" and even a "looming market collapse" were now crowing about a rally.  Please.  "I don’t know where the markets go from here--no one knows.  But I know that with the market getting more extreme and unpredictable, this is a good time to stay calm.

--Allan Sloan, Washington Post
The price of procrastination

Procrastinating on financial matters can cost you big in the long run.  Many Americans struggle with the pressure of planning for retirement, drafting a will or developing a savings plan.  Some are gripped by the fear of making a mistake, while others are intimidated by not knowing how to proceed.  Delaying some matters can be especially costly.  One of the worst financial behaviors is paying only the minimum on your credit cards, thinking that you will eventually ramp up payments.  Compounding interest will just sink you further in debt. There’s also no better time than now to make sure that you have enough savings to cover three to six months’ worth of expenses and to get serious about retirement.   Even individuals who start late with retirement planning can make headway if they just get going.

--Russ Wiles,
Where Amazon is vulnerable

Is Amazon heading for world domination, or cruising for a bruising?"  After "blowout" first-quarter results--$1.6 billion in profit, more than double the haul Amazon reported a year ago--market pundits are predicting the $763 billion e-commerce giant could soon be "the world’s first trillion-dollar company."  It’s not a stretch.  For Amazon to get there, its share price would need to rise another 30 percent, and it has already notched a 33 percent gain this year.  But while there’s plenty of evidence to support the "prevailing narrative" that Amazon is unstoppable, there’s also overlooked data indicating major vulnerabilities.  The company only pockets 1.7 cents from each $1 of sales, which doesn’t leave much margin for error.

Then there’s global Prime membership: Amazon’s recent revelation that it has 100 million members was widely regarded as "astonishing."  But market estimates had pegged U.S. membership alone at 90 million, so in that light, the total could be "interpreted as a disappointment, not an achievement."  Finally, Amazon Web Services, which has been a profit powerhouse, is also facing sustained competition.  The business landscape is littered with the bones of companies whose positions once seemed unassailable.   We’d do well to look for signs that Amazon euphoria is feeding on itself.

--Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times
The long shadow of the financial crisis
The same kind of collapse isn’t likely; banks are no longer saddled with a massive amount of subprime housing debt.  But if a different kind of debt crisis does emerge, the lingering damage from the last crisis has left the government ill prepared to confront it.  The Federal Reserve has only begun to raise interest rates again after cutting them to near zero during the recession.  It could be years before they return to pre-crisis levels, leaving the central bank with few tools to stimulate the economy in another crisis.  

Congress and the president would also be hard-pressed to respond:  Although the Wall Street bailouts eventually were paid back, they were so politically toxic that it’s hard to imagine another round of them. 

"The biggest regret I’ve got is that life is going to be much more difficult for any regulator sitting in the seats facing another crisis, because what we did was so unpopular," said Hank Paulson, who was Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush. "I stand guilty of not being able to explain why the financial system was good for Americans.
--The Week
Freezing the 'hunger nerve'
Diets often fail as long-term solutions for many people trying to lose weight.  But new research suggests that freezing the so-called hunger nerve could suppress hunger and be an effective new treatment for those struggling with obesity.  When the stomach is empty, a branch of the vagus nerve called the posterior vagal trunk kicks into action, sending hunger signals to the brain.  Guided by CT scan images, researchers used a probe to freeze this nerve in 10 obese women and men, with the aim of dampening its signal.   "We’re not trying to eliminate this biological response, only reduce the strength of this signal to the brain," the study’s lead author, David Prologo, tells ScienceDaily​.com.  The preliminary results of the study suggest the nerve-freezing procedure may do just that. None of the subjects experienced side effects, but all of them reported feeling more satisfied and less hungry 90 days later.  They also slimmed down.  On average, the subjects lost 3.6 percent of their body weight and experienced a 13.9 percent drop in their body mass index (BMI).  The researchers say their findings must be confirmed with larger, long-term studies.

--The Week

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