Chicago, Jul 24 (AP/UNB) — Advanced brain scans found perplexing differences in U.S. diplomats who say they developed concussion-like symptoms after working in Cuba, a finding that only heightens the mystery of what may have happened to them, a new study says.
Extensive imaging tests showed the workers had less white matter than a comparison group of healthy people and other structural differences, researchers said.
While they had expected the cerebellum, near the brain stem, to be affected given the workers' reported symptoms — balance problems, sleep and thinking difficulties, headaches and other complaints — they found unique patterns in tissue connecting brain regions.
Ragini Verma, a University of Pennsylvania brain imaging specialist and the lead author, said the patterns were unlike anything she's seen from brain diseases or injuries.
"It is pretty strange. It's a true medical mystery," Verma said.
Co-author Dr. Randel Swanson, a Penn specialist in brain injury rehabilitation, said "there's no question that something happened," but imaging tests can't determine what it was.
An outside expert, University of Edinburgh neurologist Jon Stone, said the study doesn't confirm that any brain injury occurred nor that the brain differences resulted from the strange experiences the diplomats said happened in Cuba.
Cuba has denied any kind of attack, which has strained relations with the United States.
"The article published today doesn't change the situation," said Johana Tablada, Cuba's deputy head of U.S. affairs. "The article recognizes that the changes detected are minimal, that their conclusions are uncertain and that they can't identify the cause."
The results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A journal editorial says the study may improve understanding of the reported symptoms, but that the relevance of the brain differences is uncertain.
In a statement, the U.S. State Department said it "is aware of the study and welcomes the medical community's discussion on this incredibly complex issue. The Department's top priority remains the safety, security, and well-being of its staff."
Between late 2016 and May 2018, several U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana complained of health problems from an unknown cause. One U.S. government count put the number of American personnel affected at 26.
Some reported hearing high-pitched sounds similar to crickets while at home or staying in hotels, leading to an early theory of a sonic attack. The Associated Press has reported that an interim FBI report found no evidence that sound waves could have caused the damage.
Dozens of U.S. diplomats, family members and other workers sought exams. The new study reports on 40 of them tested at the University of Pennsylvania. A group analysis of results from advanced MRI scans found brain differences in the diplomat group compared with 48 healthy people with similar ages and ethnic background.
Workers had MRI tests about six months after reporting problems, but because their brains were not scanned before their Cuba stints they can't know if anything changed in their brains, a drawback of the study that the researchers acknowledge.
The University of Edinburgh's Stone said the new study has several other limitations that weaken the results, including a comparison group that wasn't evenly matched to the patients.
"If you really want to suggest that something fundamentally different happened in Cuba ... then the best control group would be 40 individuals with the same symptoms who hadn't been to Cuba and had no history of head injury," Stone said.
The latest study builds on earlier preliminary reports involving 21 U.S. workers who got brain scans showing less detailed white matter changes. The new study includes 20 of those workers.
A previous study from the University of Miami found inner-ear damage in some workers who complained of strange noises and sensations, but it also lacked any pre-symptom medical records.
Although some workers have persistent symptoms, most have improved with physical and occupational therapy, are doing well and have returned to work, Swanson said.
As more time passes, he said, "It's going to be harder and harder to figure out what really happened."
Providence, Jul 23 (AP/UNB) — A Titanic survivor's walking stick, with an electric light she used to signal for help from a lifeboat, sold for $62,500 at an auction of maritime items, the auction house said Monday.
Guernsey's held the sale at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, Rhode Island, on Friday and Saturday. The top bid on Ella White's cane was $50,000, plus the surcharge added by the auction house, Guernsey's President Arlan Ettinger said.
Ettinger had expected it to sell for far more, with a pre-auction estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. He described it as one of the most extraordinary items to have survived the sinking.
The walking stick was consigned to Guernsey's by the Williams family in Milford, Connecticut.
Some family members contested the sale. The relatives agreed before the auction on how to split the proceeds and the issue was resolved, but the dispute may have made potential bidders nervous, Ettinger said.
The winning bidder said he was there on behalf of a friend in the United Kingdom, Ettinger added.
In Walter Lord's book about the Titanic and in investigative hearings after its 1912 sinking, it was noted that White appointed herself as a signalman for lifeboat 8, waving her walking stick about.
Brad Williams said his grandmother was White's niece and cared for her affairs before she died in 1942 at age 85, and then took possession of the walking stick. It was passed on to Williams' mother, then to him, Williams added.
Paris, Jul 21 (AP/UNB) — Swedish teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg has received the first Freedom Prize awarded by France's Normandy region, which last month commemorated the 75th D-Day anniversary.
Thunberg, 16, received the award in Caen on Sunday, posing alongside D-Day veterans Charles Norman Shay and Léon Gautier.
Thunberg said that "I think the least we can do to honor them is to stop destroying that same world that Charles, Leon and their friends and colleagues fought so hard to save."
She sent out a warning that "we are currently on track for a world that could displace billions of people from their homes, taking away even the most basic living conditions ... making areas of the world uninhabitable for parts of the year." But she added, "We can still fix this."
St. Augustine, Jul 21 (AP/UN) — Authorities have arrested a woman in Florida who they say tried to attack another woman with a knife when she was denied a slice of pizza.
The St. Augustine Record reports 22-year-old De’Erica Cooks is accused of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill.
The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said Cooks became angry after another woman denied her a pizza slice when she asked for one. An offense report says Cooks told the woman “I’m going to cut you” with a steak knife in her hand, and then tried to attack her. Deputies say a man in the house was able to take the knife away from Cooks.
Cooks told investigators she did not remember much. She remained in jail Friday with no attorneys listed in records.
Washington, July 19 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Learning new things can make older people's brains 30 years younger in just six weeks, according to a new research from University of California Riverside (UCR).
Scientists have discovered that taking up several new tasks at the same time boosts mental power and protects people against Alzheimer's disease.
These skills range from studying new languages, using an iPad, writing music to painting.
UCR psychologist Rachel Wu says one important way of staving off cognitive decline is learning new skills as a child would.
She encouraged elder people to be a sponge, which means to seek new skills to learn, maintain motivation as fuel, rely on encouraging mentors to guide you, thrive in an environment where the bar is set high.
Building on lifelong learning research, previous studies have demonstrated the cognitive gains of older people learning new skills. But these skills were learned one at a time, or sequentially.
For Wu's studies, the researchers asked adults aged 58-86 to simultaneously take three to five classes for three months, about 15 hours per week. The course workload is similar to an undergraduate's.
After just six weeks, participants increased their cognitive abilities to levels similar to those of middle-aged adults, 30 years younger. Control group members, who did not take classes, showed no change in their performance.
"The participants in the intervention bridged a 30-year difference in cognitive abilities after just six weeks and maintained these abilities while learning multiple new skills," Wu said.
"The studies provide evidence that intense learning experiences akin to those faced by younger populations are possible in older populations, and may facilitate gains in cognitive abilities," she added.
Worldwide, around 50 million people have dementia, and Alzheimer's disease is the most common form that may contribute to 60 percent to 70 percent of the cases, according to the World Health Organization.
No treatment is currently available to cure dementia or to alter its progressive course.