May, 2007 Vol. 32 No. 2
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Published May 2007

Research News

Meth use causes heart disease

illustration of a heart monitor and an ice pipe

Crystal methamphetamine has replaced alcohol as the leading cause of heart trouble in adults under age 45, according to a review of patient records at Queen’s Medical Center reported in the February 2007 American Journal of Medicine.

John A. Burns School of Medicine physicians Irwin Schatz and Todd Seto and their Hawaiʻi and mainland colleagues found that two in five young adults suffering cardiomyopathy during a three-year period were "ice" users.

Compared to non-users, crystal meth users were nearly four times as likely to have cardiomyopathy and suffered more severe forms of the disease, which impairs the heart muscle’s ability to pump blood. Physicians had suspected the link, but the study offered the first scientific proof.

Read the article.


Family size in childhood linked to cancer risk decades later

The latest results from the Honolulu Heart Study suggest that younger children of large families are at greater risk for developing stomach cancer. The reason may be H. pylori, a common bacterium associated with ulcers and stomach cancer that can live in the stomach’s lining for decades.

Japanese-American men in the 28-year study who harbored a virulent strain of the bacteria were more than twice as likely to develop stomach cancer if they had a large number of siblings.

Researchers fromthe University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and New York University reported the findings in the January 2007 issue of Public Library of Science Medicine. They surmise that H. pylori acquired by older siblings adapts to the genetic makeup of the host. Younger siblings are subsequently exposed to the adapted strains at an earlier age, while their immature immune systems are less able to deal with the bacterium.

Read the Article.


Study confirms oral contraceptive use doesn’t increase breast cancer risk

A new study supports findings that use of oral contraceptives doesn’t increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

The study by Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi scientist Jasmeet Gill and colleagues, published in the November 2006 issue of Cancer Causes Control, found no association regardless of the contraceptive user’s age, length of use or estrogen dose.

Read the abstract.


Vaccine shows promise in preventing cervical cancer

Dozens of Hawaiʻi residents are among the women participating in clinical trials for a vaccine offering protection from cervical cancer. The vaccine appears to be effective against two forms of the human papilloma virus that cause genital warts and, in some cases, cervical cancer.

Studies continue, but John A. Burns School of Medicine investigator Michael Carney stresses that Pap smears remain crucial.


Non-hormonal supplement appears to boost sexual satisfaction in women


A dietary supplement appears to improve levels of sexual desire and satisfaction in pre-, peri- and postmenopausal women, John A. Burns School of Medicine researcher Thomas Ito reports in the October 2006 Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.

Women age 22–73 who reported a lack of sexual desire were given a placebo or the non-hormonal supplement ArginMax, which contains an amino acid, herbs, vitamins and minerals.

Read the abstract.


Research explores sissy propaganda and macho myth related to military

Two recent works by University of Hawaiʻi faculty explore notions of masculinity in military contexts.

In her latest book, Manipulating Masculinity: War and Gender in Modern British and American Literature (Palgrave McMillan), UH Mānoa Professor of English Kathy Phillips describes how societies label broadly human traits (anything from kindness and love to fear and irrationality) as feminine and fighting as essentially manly. Men who detect "feminine" traits in themselves are then more easily enticed to go to war to prove their manliness.

Phillips compares literature from several eras for chapters including WWI: No Half-Men at the Front, WWII: No Lace on His Drawers, Vietnam War: Out from Under Momma’s Apron and The Wars Against Iraq: Red Alert on Girly Men.

While UH Hilo Associate Professor of Political Science Regina Titunik agrees that warfare has been historically associated with manliness, she debunks the view of the military as a rigidly hyper-masculine environment.

In her paper, "The Myth of the Macho Military" for the journal Polity, Titunik finds that the relatively more "feminine" values of loyalty, camaraderie, discipline, duty and service have long prevailed over Rambo-like aggressiveness in military training and strategy.

Servicewomen report higher job satisfaction than their civilian counterparts. Compared to the general public, soldiers of both genders report less sexual discrimination on the job and greater confidence in women commanders.

Ironically, much of the opposition to women’s growing role in the military and increased exposure to combat is based on the macho myth, whether coming from conservatives who think that the presence of women weakens the military or feminists who decry ultra-masculinist ideals. The true, complex culture of the military embodies competing values, some of which have facilitated the advance of servicewomen, Titunik says.


Butterflyfish use sounds to communicate

illustration of two butterflyfish communicating

Recent research indicates butterflyfish use grunts and tail slaps to produce underwater sound.

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Associate Professor of Zoology Timothy Tricas placed jars containing pairs of butterflyfish intruders in the territories of other butterflyfish and recorded the responses.

Lab tests suggest that a link between the fish’s motion-detecting lateral line and its swim bladder may enhance hearing. Many of the produced sounds are soft, so the species’ characteristic pairing behavior may be a way to stay within hearing range, says Tricas, who has studied butterflyfish feeding habits and social behavior for years.


Kin recognition in humans averts incest, promotes sibling altruism

Aversion to incest may have an evolutionary basis, say University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa psychologist Debra Lieberman and colleagues from California.

Examining responses to 600 questionnaires, the researchers found that two cues to relatedness—observing one’s mother care for another child and childhood interaction with siblings—predict an individual’s level of disgust at the prospect of incest as well as his or her willingness to assist a sibling.

The attitudes prevail among step and adopted siblings who know they are not genetically related. The findings, reported in the Feb. 15, 2007 edition of Nature, suggests humans have developed kin-recognition mechanisms similar to those found in some other species.

Read the abstract.


Mongoose role as alien threat explored


The small Indian mongoose has been intentionally introduced into more wild habitats than any other mammal, often to control rats. In Hawaiʻi, the old tour guide’s tale that the mongoose failed its duty isn’t quite true—it was a moderately effective cane field ratter until poisons proved better.

Although the mongoose has been conclusively tied to the extinctions of only three vertebrates—the barred-wing rail, Jamaican petrel and Hispaniola racer—it is a serious predator on Hawaiʻi’s ground nesting birds, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa zoologist Sheila Conant and a Hawaiʻi Pacific University colleague report in the January issue of Pacific Science.

There is little doubt that Kauaʻi is a stronghold for all five endangered water birds as well as the endangered Hawaiian petrel and Newell’s shearwater because the island doesn’t have mongooses, Conant says.


Antarctic continent becomes neutrino observatory

nutrino research station

For 35 days ending in January 2007, the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna circled the Antarctic ice sheet, suspended beneath a stadium-sized NASA balloon at an altitude of 120,000 feet so instruments could simultaneously scan more than a million cubic kilometers of ice for an elusive subatomic particle.

Neutrinos are so small that they rarely interact with other matter. But when they do, the collisions create sharp bursts of radio waves, like miniscule lightning bolts, that can be detected deep in the ice, explains Peter Gorham, a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa physicist serving as principal investigator on the 5-year, $8.5 million project involving eight other universities and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The research team is analyzing data collected and planning additional flights in Antarctica, where the ice is transparent to radio waves and there is little radio interference to mask neutrino detection.


Lava flow linked to earthquake

volcano and lave field

Like toothpaste squeezed from the tube, lava may be pushed from craters by stresses from an earthquake.

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa geologist Andrew Harris and an Italian colleague were using satellite imagery to monitor lava at two separate Indonesian volcanoes when a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Java in May 2006.

Three days later, lava flowed twice as fast and twice as hot at both locations. The scientists’ observations, reported in the January 2007 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, provide the strongest evidence to date that earthquakes can trigger volcanic activity.

Read the abstract.


Delayed upwelling alters coastal ecosystems along the west coast

Wind-driven upwelling supplies cold, nutrient-laden water that promotes growth of phytoplankton in nearshore coastal waters.

When the process began two months late off central Oregon in 2005, the water was warmer, nutrients were less plentiful and the replenishment of mussel and barnacle larvae was reduced. Although upwelling intensity increased later in the summer and the shellfish recruitment recovered to some extent, the lack of plankton to eat likely caused the reproductive failure of at least one species of seabird during the period.

The observations are consistent with modeling predictions of climate change, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa oceanographer Margaret McManus and mainland colleagues reported in the March 6, 2007 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read the article.


Assessment tool gauges solar energy potential

solar energy map tool image

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers are developing a method for assessing solar energy potential in urban areas. The Helianthus Solar Energy Assessment uses aerial imagery, GIS software, field observations and other calculations to identify solar energy striking the surface of existing buildings.

The data can help evaluate potential for harvesting radiant energy on rooftops, guide the orientation and solar integration of buildings and inform public policy decisions.

In a report to the 2006 International Solar Energy Conference, authors Stephen Meder and Olivier Pennetier reported that application of the assessment to Honolulu’s Māpunapuna area suggests solar energy can be captured from existing urban structures. That’s good news in a state that has the highest energy rates in the nation and depends on oil and coal for 90 percent of its power generation.


Hawaiʻi economy softens

Look for a slowdown in Hawaiʻi’s economy, according to the University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization.

Residential construction has peaked. Tourism has stalled. Unemployment is easing up from recent record-low levels. Higher inflation is restricting real income growth.

See the UHERO website for details and updated projections.


Methods for tenderizing forage-fed beef could keep the cows home

Because consumers strongly prefer the increased tenderness of grain-fed beef, Hawaiʻi cattle ranchers must ship weaned calves to mainland feed lots—an expensive proposition. To reduce the travel expense, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources scientists at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa are seeking alternate methods for improving tenderness of homegrown forage-finished animals.

In tests, post-stunning application of low voltage electrical stimulation increased tenderness of meat by about 10 percent without affecting meat color or firmness. Use of a mechanical blade tenderizer on rib-eye steaks improved tenderness by 20 percent.

Current investigations are examining the impact of age, breeds, forage nutrition and animal handling on tenderness.


Poet’s latest book expores suburban wildlife

In his latest collection of poetry, University of Hawaiʻi Associate Professor Joseph Stanton explores the environment, from Mānoa irises and 13 ways of looking at Diamond Head to birds, geckos, toads and centipedes.

On the pages of A Field Guide to the Wildlife of Suburban Oʻahu, at least, the vilified mongoose (see above) finds a home where it won’t be blamed for environmental damage.

A ribbon of fur streaks
across my sidewalk
then rises
on its hind legs,
head slightly bent,
long neck arched—

a sleek question mark,
gazing sharply
at me—
with a fierce, fearless,
ice-cold calm—
as if asking,

"What are you
doing here?"