Monday, 25 June 2012

Can simvastatin improve erectile function and sexual health relatedquality of life in men with untreated erectile dysfunction?

Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is a common sexual health problem in men over forty years affecting their overall quality of life, and that of their partners. It is a marker for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and consultation rates in primary care are low.

We conducted a trial to test whether simvastatin given to men who have untreated ED, but no other cardiovascular risk factors, improves erectile function and quality of life and reduces cardiovascular risk. 173 eligible men were randomised to receive either 40 mg simvastatin or a placebo (inactive dummy) for six months.

Patients with severe ED reported a small improvement in their erectile function, a significant improvement in their sexual health related QOL, reduced cholesterol and cardiovascular risk compared to patients on placebo. Simvastatin may reduce health services costs although larger trials are required.

Our findings could influence urological and primary care practice and provide a basis for improving care for patient benefit by including questions on ED during routine consultations and relevant clinic protocols. Raising awareness of the links between ED and CVD provides an opportunity to provide lifestyle advice and address CVD risk factors.

The project is funded by the UK National Institute for Health Research ‘Research for Patient Benefit’ programme (Project Number PB-PG-0107-11391).

This article outlines independent research commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

New discoveries with language learning robots

Can a robot learn to understand and speak a human language?  New results from researchers from the University’s School of Computer Science and published in PLoS ONE, show it can begin to  develop basic language skills through conversation with a human!

In the same way that an infant picks up the frequency of sounds in speech, the childlike iCub humanoid robot called DeeChee has learnt some simple word forms.  Experiments carried out with DeeChee by Dr Caroline Lyon, Professor Chrystopher Nehaniv and Dr Joe Saunders as part of the iTalk project have shown how language learning might emerge.

Like an infant, DeeChee can only babble and perceives speech as a string of sounds.  But after humans speak to DeeChee as if it was a small child, the robot adapts its output to the most frequently heard syllables.  It “speaks” word forms such as the names of simple shapes and colours.

Although DeeChee is learning to produce word forms, it does not know their meaning - and learning meanings is another part of the iTalk project’s research.

The iCub robot named DeeChee learning basic language with Professor Chrystopher Nehaniv and Dr Joe Saunders
Teaching DeeChee to speak using methods similar to those used to teach children is a key part of the learning process of the human-robot interaction which could have a significant impact on the future generation of interactive robot systems.

The research paper “Interactive language learning by robots: the transition from babbling to word forms” can be read here:

A short video on iCub robot learning names of colours and shapes can be seen here:

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Helices of light: dark helices with a bright future

A laser beam can be made to form a helix, or corkscrew shape, of great light intensity. Laser beams can also be made to form dark helix shapes, dark threads embedded in a background of bright light. A study by Dr Ole Steuernagel at the University of Hertfordshire, published in Optics Express today, shows that dark helices can have considerable advantages over their bright cousins, studied so far.

Helices appear in all parts of our life; ranging in size from everyday objects like the handrail on a spiral staircase, coil springs and screw threads to microscopic features found in helical proteins or intertwined DNA doublehelices.

Helices formed from light may have fundamental and technological applications in various areas. Deployed in photo-lithography they will allow us to produce handed materials, materials containing helical imprints repeated over and over. In optical laser-tweezer setups handedness-sensitive particle trapping and manipulation may arise. In cold-atom-physics transport along helical intertwined waveguides can be implemented exploiting optical forces.

Dr Steuernagel’s study shows that dark helices are distinctive and can outperform bright helices because they are not resolution limited. Dark helices also interact less with trapped particles and so do less damage to, say, notoriously sensitive quantum systems.

In quite a few cases dark helices `can do' what bright helices are `not be able to do', Steuernagel says, which is why he hopes his theoretical investigation will soon be implemented by experimentalists.

Figure illustrates a single bright helix (red line) enveloping a single dark helix (black line).  The x- and y-axes are given in units of focal beam radius, and the z-axis in units of wavelength.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Rare astronomic event filmed at the Bayfordbury Observatory

Astronomers from around the world have been watching one of the world’s rarest predictable astronomical phenomena - the transit of Venus. The transit of Venus is when the planet passes between the Earth and Sun, and appears as a tiny black dot on the Sun’s surface – and the next one is not scheduled to take place until 2117! The UK transit was also filmed at the University’s Bayfordbury Observatory at around 4am this morning by BBC Breakfast and the BBC World Service.
Transit of Venus, photographed from Minneapolis on 5 June 2012 at 18:00:36 CDT, 23:00:36 UTC. Courtesy of Tom Ruen
According to Dr Mark Gallaway, who was interviewed yesterday by the BBC Radio Four PM programme, the Venus transit started at about 11 o’clock yesterday evening. But it was not visible in the UK until the Sun came up this morning at about 4.40am when it was towards the end of the transit.  However, colleagues based in Hawaii were able to witness the entire transit and take scientific readings and data to gain more information about the planet - like its size, its orbit and its atmosphere. The data is then used to help identify other earth-like planets.

Venus transits are of great scientific importance. Historically, they were used to calculate the first realistic estimates of the size of our Solar System. In 1769, Captain Cook used a Venus transit to get an estimate of the distance between the Earth and the Sun and gain an idea of the size of the Solar System and our place in it.