This Week in Research: Dieting by Phone; Our Earliest Primates

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In this new series, we’ll look at the newest findings coming out of our area’s top research universities. We’ve got some great minds in Baltimore — let’s learn what they’re learning!

Johns Hopkins researchers enrolled obese patients in two different weight-loss programs, one including in-person coaching and another where the health counseling happened over the phone. In both cases, roughly 40 percent of those enrolled succeeded at losing at least 5 percent of their body weight, leading to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and better diabetes control. Standard weight-loss practice encourages in-person meetings under the theory that regular contact is necessary to keep patients committed to a weight loss program. But the study found that the phone consultations were just as helpful as face-to-face meetings, perhaps because they were more convenient. According to Lawrence Appel, a professor of medicine at Hopkins who led the study, ““In most weight loss studies, there is a lot of emphasis on frequent in-person counseling sessions, but from a logistical perspective, it’s a disaster. Patients start off strong, but then stop attending in-person sessions. That’s why I like the telephone program. It is convenient to individuals and can be done anywhere. You could be living in rural South Dakota, and we could deliver this intervention. It removes some of the major logistical barriers.”

A Johns Hopkins research team working in the Bighorn Basin in Wyoming has found fossils that indicate that North America’s first primates lived in trees, similar to lemurs. These early primates, known as Teilhardia, date back to the Eocene Epoch, or 55.5 million years ago. While previous excavations had found jaw and tooth bones, the Hopkins team found ankle and toe fossils. The toe fossils were shaped in such a way to indicate that Teilhardina had nails instead of claws — “the oldest evidence of nails found in primitive primates so far,” according to anatomy professor Ken Rose. The ankle bones were elongated, which probably means these guys did a lot of jumping. Finding the bones themselves is a bit of an art:  some tooth fossils are so small that they just look like specks to the human eye. So researchers screen hundreds of pounds of sedimentary rock from their Badlands site by reducing it to fine-grained concentrate and examining it by microscope.



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