This Week in Research: Put Some Dog Food in That Chemo; Early Agriculture

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Chemotherapy is one of the most popular cancer treatments, but it’s also known for its many side-effects. Eighty percent of those using common chemo drug Taxol have to deal with peripheral neuropathy, a kind of nerve pain that can persist throughout a lifetime. But Johns Hopkins researchers have found one particular chemical that seems to prevent the nerve degeneration that causes peripheral neuropathy. And that chemical is a popular dog food additive called Ethoxyquin.

Some caveats:  so far, these experiments have only been done in mice, and the researchers aren’t sure if ethoxyquin will have a similar protective result in humans. But if it does work, the implications could be considerable:  peripheral neuropathy is caused by plenty of other diseases, including HIV, diabetes, and Guillain-Barre syndrome; an estimated 20 to 30 million Americans suffer from the condition.

The introduction of agriculture in Europe around 8,500 years ago was hardly a simple thing, according to recent research by University of Maryland anthropologists. In fact, once people started farming, the region saw regional popular crashes despite overall trends of demographic growth.

The researchers used radiocarbon dating to examine how population levels changed during the Middle and New Stone Ages, and were surprised to find dramatic population fluctuations everywhere from France to Denmark. In some areas, populations declined by as much as 60 percent — a die-off as dramatic as that seen during the Middle Ages’ “Black Death.”

“It’s striking that the development of agriculture – one of humanity’s major evolutionary steps – failed to buffer against widespread social collapse during this early period of rapid population growth in Europe,” says UMD anthropology professor Sean Downey. “At this point in the research we can only speculate at the direct causes, but the study demonstrates that agriculture-based societies in the past were vulnerable to population collapse on a broad scale.” Downey offers social conflict, disease, and reduced resources as possible explanations.

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