Feb 132015


I met my miniature dachshund, Mia, at a rescue centre five years ago. She was one of a litter of 12-week-old puppies confiscated from a puppy farm. I hoped she would be my assistance dog for my health problems. Since birth, I have suffered with a type of heart arrhythmia called ventricular tachycardia. My heart races and, if I don’t take medication immediately to slow it, I lose consciousness. I’ve had to be rushed to hospital to have it restarted. Unrelated to that, at 19 I started to lose my hearing and now struggle with high-pitched sounds such as the phone or doorbell ringing.

I was studying to be a vet, so the idea of having an assistance dog appealed to me – I love animals. The theory was that Mia would alert me when the phone was ringing or when my heart rate was speeding up and I had to take emergency medication. When she was 16 weeks old, she was assessed by a charity that trains pets to become assistance dogs. I hoped the immediate and instinctive bond Mia and I shared when we met meant she’d be suitable.

She qualified as my assistance dog just before her second birthday. Mia learned to alert me just before my arrhythmia starts by making a horrible screeching noise and jumping up at me. She ferrets in my handbag and brings me my heart medicine. She puts her paw on my leg to inform me when the phone’s ringing. Once we were in B&Q when the fire alarm sounded and, executing her training perfectly, she lay on the floor and stared at me, hard, to tell me a siren was blaring.

One evening in November 2011, I was at my computer when Mia leapt on to my lap and nuzzled into the flesh at the top of my left breast. She closed her eyes and licked furiously. That frightened me because it’s what she does when I have a bruise or cut.

I pushed her gently away but she fixed her eyes on mine and stared at me intently, as she does when she’s alerting me to something. I was uneasy now. Mia seemed certain there was a problem with the area at the top of my breast. I couldn’t distinguish anything – my breasts are naturally lumpy – so it was difficult. All evening Mia attempted to leap on to my lap and tend to the area of skin where she perceived a problem. The following morning, I visited my GP with a sense of dread. I asked for an ultrasound or a mammogram. I didn’t start the consultation by telling him that my dog had alerted me to the possible abnormality – I was aware it might sound far-fetched, but when he was dismissive, saying it was unlikely I had breast cancer because I was only 24, I explained.

“I know dogs detect cancer and my dog is determined there’s something wrong with my breast,” I said firmly. Then I informed him that, as I trusted my dog, I wasn’t leaving his surgery until he’d made me a hospital appointment.

My faith in Mia’s diagnostic abilities wasn’t misplaced. I had an ultrasound within a week and, sure enough, there was a lump that a biopsy later confirmed was grade 2a breast cancer. Two days later, I was in surgery having the lump removed. Then I started radiotherapy – five days a week for three weeks. I was angry. I was only 24 and I’d already suffered so many health problems.

It made everything else harder. Training to be a vet requires 100% dedication and, with fighting cancer and having intense and exhausting radiotherapy, I couldn’t give that, so I had to drop out of university. They were really hard times. My relationship broke up and I had to move back home with my parents. Mia was by my side through it all. Cuddling her after bad news or a gruelling session of treatment alleviated some of the pain.

None of the oncologists I met during my ordeal was sceptical about Mia’s role in diagnosing my cancer – they had heard it before. There’s a charity called Medical Detection Dogs that trains dogs to sniff out cancer, and its work is endorsed by Cancer Research UK. Scientists are researching how dogs possess this diagnostic ability so that humans can harness it.

Fortunately, my cancer hadn’t spread but it will be another 16 months of scans before doctors grant me the all clear. Meanwhile, I’m rebuilding my life. No matter what life serves up, the bond between Mia and me will always be incredibly strong.

Feb 132015

Having a slightly upturned nose makes women appear more feminine, according to scientists who claim the angle at the nasal tip should be exactly 106 degrees.


Noses which point downwards are generally thought to appear droopy, long and masculine but a survey of people’s reactions to digitally altered photographs found that those which incline slightly upwards – with an angle greater than 90 degrees – can enhance femininity.

Researchers concluded that a tilt of 106 degrees was the optimum angle, but added that because the study was conducted using photographs of young, white women, the findings may not apply to other races or ethnicities.

The findings, published in the JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery journal, could help cosmetic surgeons take a step closer to aesthetic perfection.

Previous studies of nose jobs, or rhinoplasty, have failed to provide a consensus on the ideal angle of the nose to a woman’s face.

Researchers showed a group of 106 people photographs of several Caucasian women aged 18 to 25 which had been altered to place the nose at angles of 96, 101, 106, 111 and 116 degrees to their face.

The results showed that 106 degrees was considered the most feminine angle. A separate online survey of almost 4,000 people delivered similar findings.

The study backed up previous research papers which had identified 104 and 108 degrees as the ideal angle.

In men an angle of 90 degrees to the face is considered to be the most attractive as it makes the face seem more masculine.

Dr Omar Ahmed of New York University, first author of the study, said: “Throughout history artists and scholars have been engrossed in the pursuit of capturing what constitutes beauty. Dating back to ancient Egypt artists idealised facial proportions in their works.

“To our knowledge this is the first population-based study to attempt to simultaneously determine the ideal NTP – nasal tip projection – and rotation. A rotation of 106 degrees was found to be the most aesthetic.”

“Further research is needed to determine whether a more ideal projection exists.”

Feb 102015

Guidelines warning people to avoid eating fatty foods such as butter and cheese were not scientifically backed up when they were introduced 30 years ago, but dietary experts say that many perceived backtracks on what is healthy or unhealthy do more harm than good as it is down to the individual.

Coffee, sugar, salt, wine and chocolate are just some of the things that are said to be bad for you one minute and then good for you the next.

The reports authors, led by University of the West of Scotland researcher Zoë Harcombe, claim that an analysis of the original evidence used to justify saturated fat warnings has exposed serious flaws in how the original data was gathered.

The new research claims to show that women were excluded from trials to determine the relationship between fat and coronary heart disease and that the risks of saturated fats were not conclusively proven.

The paper also exposes how the original research only focused on unhealthy men and that its findings did not explicitly call for new dietary guidelines to be imposed.

“It seems incomprehensible that dietary advice was introduced for 220 million Americans and 56 million UK citizens given the contrary results from a small number of unhealthy men,” argue the reports authors.

“Dietary advice does not merely need a review; it should not have been introduced.”

Feb 102015

The North American yellow-and-black monarch butterfly, that migrates every winter from southern Canada to central Mexico in search of milkweed to lay its eggs, has been making news of late mainly because of its declining numbers.

How the insects manage to travel thousands of kilometres without getting lost has been the subject of much curiosity. While it was known that they use the position of the sun, supported by an internal body clock, to navigate, there was still the question of how they manage even when skies are overcast.

On Wednesday, scientists from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Worcester Polytechnic Institute published the results of their study which seem to have confirmed that monarch butterflies, like many birds and sea turtles, are aided by a geomagnetic compass — a mechanism by which they are able to tell the direction based on the angle of Earth’s magnetic field.

Inclination angle

Earth’s magnetic field lines emerge from the South Pole, loop across the equator, and re-enter at the North Pole. At any location, the field lines meet the surface of the Earth at a particular angle called inclination angle. Monarch butterflies made to fly in an experimental set-up called a flight simulator were shown to orient themselves based on this inclination angle, especially in cloudy conditions.

The scientists were also able to find out that it was proteins called CRY in the butterflies’ antennae that activate this inclination compass when light of a particular wavelength — the ultra-violet/blue end of the spectrum — fell on it.

The scientists were able to narrow down to this wavelength range because of previous studies that had shown the ability of ultraviolet radiation to cause similar behaviour in fruitflies “The defined spectral requirement for the inclination compass discovered in our studies potentially explains why previous flight simulator studies were unable to identify an inclination magnetic compass,” the authors say in their study published in Nature Communications.

Several implications

This finding may have several implications for conservation efforts of monarch butterflies, which have been given ‘near threatened’ status by the World Wildlife Fund. Their declining numbers may have more reasons than loss of milkweed habitats and climate change.

“Another vulnerability to now consider is the potential disruption of the magnetic compass in monarchs by human-induced electromagnetic noise, which can apparently disrupt geomagnetic orientation in a migratory bird,” the authors warn.

Feb 102015

Of all the kangaroos who live at Josephine’s Kangaroo Orphanage in Coober Pedy, Bella is by far the most affectionate.


But when Josephine Brennan-Kuss noticed the big red licking and nuzzling certain spots on her body, she didn’t realise the six-year-old was trying to get a message across.

‘I’d been meaning to get them checked for ages, and I just kept forgetting,’ Josephine told the MailOnline, talking about some small lesions which she had come across a month or so earlier.

Josephine Brennan-Kuss had her life saved by her kangaroo Bella after she sniffed out cancerous spots on her face and body.

‘She concentrated on these spots, one on my hand, one on my foot and one on my face.

‘She was on a mission to tell me something.’

When Josephine finally took notice of Bella, saw a doctor and got the spots checked out, she couldn’t believe what the kangaroo had alerted her to.

She had three cancerous spots removed from the places on her body Bella had been paying attention to, and an additional spot biopsied on her face.


Bella, a six-year-old red kangaroo, paid special attention to spots on Josephine’s face and body which led to her having them checked out and removed

The 63-year-old was lucky to catch the Basel cell carcinomas when she did, left any longer and they could have turned much nastier.

‘They’re non-aggressive but still need to be removed. They start eating your flesh away if you leave them,’ Josephine revealed.

The 63-year-old had one spot removed and another biopsied on her face, and will undergo surgery in July to completely remove all the cancers

‘I’ve heard of people who had one on their ear and had to have half their ear removed.’

Though she still needs to undergo surgery in July to completely remove the lesions, the wildlife carer is amazed that Bella, who has been at her and husband Terry’s orphanage since she was a joey, was able to detect the cancer.

‘We’re still in awe ourselves – because if it hadn’t been for Bella I wouldn’t have got it checked out.’

However, this is not the first time Bella has saved a life.

Three and a half years ago, Terry had a series of strokes. During that time Josephine said Bella, who is normally a ‘mummy’s girl’, paid more attention than usual to her husband.

Big red kangaroos are the most common species in the Coober Pedy area, where Josephine and Terry run their own art gallery and wildlife orphanage.

‘They’re big sooks, they’re very affectionate, very calm, such a lovely temperament,’ Josephine revealed.

‘[But] prior to him having the strokes we noticed that Bella was paying him so much attention, was being a real daddy’s girl.

‘She was licking his arm, lay down next to him. But we didn’t put two and two together.

The kangaroo orphanage mostly takes in joeys whose mothers have been hunted or died in road accidents

As it turned out, Terry was very unwell and Bella had sensed a small stroke which was then followed by a larger one.

‘Some people who suffer from epilepsy have dogs that alert them when they’re going to have a seizure, maybe it’s like that,’ Josephine said.

‘I don’t even know that they smell it, I think that they sense.’

Speaking of Bella’s discovery, the wildlife lover admitted that her and Terry would certainly be paying greater attention to the kangaroo’s intuition from now on.

‘We’ll probably be walking on eggshells every time one of them gives us a kiss or cuddle,’ she joked.

‘Bella’s living up to her name – she is certainly beautiful.’