There’s no travel quite like a good ol’ fashioned, Route 66-flavored road trip. The vintage gas stations, souvenir tchotchke shops, and bi-level motels barely clinging to life, but beckoning passersby with the neon siren call of “Free HBO” — all hallmarks of a bygone era that helped define the term “Americana.” Now, one proud Idaho woman is adding to our nation’s tableau of strange roadside kitsch with a six-ton “faux-tato” Airbnb that may be the most Idahoan hotel room ever. We’ve never wanted to visit the Gem State so badly in our adult lives.

For some, it might seem like a half-baked idea. For travelers who love potatoes, kitsch, or both, the Big Idaho Potato Hotel is a starchy dream come true. Located just 20 minutes from downtown Boise on 400 acres of pristine farmland, the “potato-tel” is among Airbnb’s quirkiest stays. From the outside, it looks exactly like what it is: a windowless, 28-foot-long fake potato. Inside, the cozy, one-room suite accommodates just two guests. The decor is surprisingly stylish, but in-room amenities are limited to a queen bed, some chairs, a small kitchenette, and air-conditioning. Guests do have access to a bathroom, an indoor fireplace, and a hot tub in a silo nearby on the property.

Like the Oscar Meyer Weiner Truck hot dog, the starchy sculpture began life as the centerpiece of a potato-on-wheels. The one-of-a-kind vehicle toured the United States in 2012 to promote (wait for it …) Idaho potatoes and help raise money for various charities along the way. Kristie Wolfe, the current potato hotelier, traveled with the spud as a spokesperson. When the time came for the truck to receive an overhaul, Wolfe decided to buy the original potato and do something interesting with it.

“From day one I told the team that someday I was going to put that potato in my backyard and turn it into another rental. I even have design notes from those days,” Wolfe told Travel + Leisure. “When I heard [they were retiring the original potato], I made my pitch to the president to turn it into a little roadside attraction/Airbnb and they went for it!”

If it sounds ridiculous, it certainly is. But, consider that the Big Idaho Potato Hotel is booked at least a month in advance with travelers paying upwards of $200 per night for the privilege to stay.

Sadly, the walls are made of steel, concrete, and plaster, so don’t expect to eat your way out. You could, however, bring your camp kitchenware to whip up some potato biscuits while sipping a sweet potato beer inside a giant potato in the potato-est state in the country. We challenge you to find a more meta travel experience than that.

This post is dedicated to the 75th Birthday of Dr. H.P. Happy Birthday!!!


Doctors have newly outlined a type of dementia that could be more common than Alzheimer’s among the oldest adults, according to a report published Tuesday in the journal Brain.

The disease, called LATE, may often mirror the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, though it affects the brain differently and develops more slowly than Alzheimer’s. Doctors say the two are frequently found together, and in those cases may lead to a steeper cognitive decline than either by itself.

In developing its report, the international team of authors is hoping to spur research — and, perhaps one day, treatments — for a disease that tends to affect people over 80 and “has an expanding but under-recognized impact on public health,” according to the paper.

“We’re really overhauling the concept of what dementia is,” said lead author Dr. Peter Nelson, director of neuropathology at the University of Kentucky Medical Center.

Still, the disease itself didn’t come out of the blue. The evidence has been building for years, including reports of patients who didn’t quite fit the mold for known types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s.

“There isn’t going to be one single disease that is causing all forms of dementia,” said Sandra Weintraub, a professor of psychiatry, behavioral sciences and neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She was not involved in the new paper.

Weintraub said researchers have been well aware of the “heterogeneity of dementia,” but figuring out precisely why each type can look so different has been a challenge. Why do some people lose memory first, while others lose language or have personality changes? Why do some develop dementia earlier in life, while others develop it later?

Experts say this heterogeneity has complicated dementia research, including Alzheimer’s, because it hasn’t always been clear what the root cause was — and thus, if doctors were treating the right thing.

What is it?

The acronym LATE stands for limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy. The full name refers to the area in the brain most likely to be affected, as well as the protein at the center of it all.

“These age-related dementia diseases are frequently associated with proteinaceous glop,” Nelson said. “But different proteins can contribute to the glop.”

In Alzheimer’s, you’ll find one set of glops. In Lewy body dementia, another glop.

And in LATE, the glop is a protein called TDP-43. Doctors aren’t sure why the protein is found in a modified, misfolded form in a disease like LATE.

“TDP-43 likes certain parts of the brain that the Alzheimer’s pathology is less enamored of,” explained Weintraub, who is also a member of Northwestern’s Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease.

“This is an area that’s going to be really huge in the future. What are the individual vulnerabilities that cause the proteins to go to particular regions of the brain?” she said. “It’s not just what the protein abnormality is, but where it is.”

More than a decade ago, doctors first linked the TDP protein to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was also linked to another type of dementia, called frontotemporal lobar degeneration.

LATE “is a disease that’s 100 times more common than either of those, and nobody knows about it,” said Nelson.

The new paper estimates, based on autopsy studies, that between 20 and 50% of people over 80 will have brain changes associated with LATE. And that prevalence increases with age.

Experts say nailing down these numbers — as well as finding better ways to detect and research the disease — is what they hope comes out of consensus statements like the new paper, which gives scientists a common language to discuss it, according to Nelson.

“People have, in their own separate bailiwicks, found different parts of the elephant,” he said. “But this is the first place where everybody gets together and says, ‘This is the whole elephant.’ ”

What this could mean for Alzheimer’s

The new guidelines could have an impact on Alzheimer’s research, as well. For one, experts say some high-profile drug trials may have suffered as a result of some patients having unidentified LATE — and thus not responding to treatment.

In fact, Nelson’s colleagues recently saw that firsthand: a patient, now deceased, who was part of an Alzheimer’s drug trial but developed dementia anyway.

“So, the clinical trial was a failure for Alzheimer’s disease,” Nelson said, “but it turns out he didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease. He had LATE.”

Nina Silverberg, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers Program at the National Institute on Aging, said she suspects examples like this are not the majority — in part because people in clinical trials tend to be on the younger end of the spectrum.

“I’m sure it plays some part, but maybe not as much as one might think at first,” said Silverberg, who co-chaired the working group that led to the new paper.

Advances in testing had already shown that some patients in these trials lacked “the telltale signs of Alzheimer’s,” she said.

In some cases, perhaps it was LATE — “and it’s certainly possible that there are other, as yet undiscovered, pathologies that people may have,” she added.

“We could go back and screen all the people that had failed their Alzheimer’s disease therapies,” Nelson said. “But what we really need to do is go forward and try to get these people out of the Alzheimer’s clinical trials — and instead get them into their own clinical trials.”

Silverberg describes the new paper as “a roadmap” for research that could change as we come to discover more about the disease. And researchers can’t do it without a large, diverse group of patients, she added.

“It’s probably going to take years and research participants to help us understand all of that,” she said.

by Shawna Williams

A distinguishing characteristic of the disease myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome appears to be the electrical response of patients’ blood cells when under stress, researchers report today (April 29) in PNAS. The team hopes the finding will speed diagnoses for people with the condition and facilitate research on it.

The University of California, San Diego’s Robert Naviaux, a genetics professor who was not involved in the research, tells the San Francisco Chronicle, “It’s a major milestone. If it holds up in larger numbers, this could be a transformative advance.”

Up to 2.5 million Americans are thought to have myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), whose symptoms can include severe fatigue that isn’t explained by exertion, pain, and difficulties concentrating or remembering. It is currently diagnosed based on symptoms, as no biomarker for it exists.

To see whether the blood cells of ME/CFS patients respond differently to stress than those of healthy people, researchers exposed cells from a patient’s blood sample to salt to stress them, then ran them through a device that measures electrical impedance—a proxy for energy use. After the test picked up differences between the patient’s blood and that of healthy people, the research team used the test to compare blood cells from 20 patients with ME/CFS and 20 healthy people, and found that it reliably distinguished members of the two groups.

“We don’t know exactly why the cells and plasma are acting this way, or even what they’re doing. But there is scientific evidence that this disease is not a fabrication of a patient’s mind,” Ron Davis, a biochemist at Stanford University who began studying ME/CFS after his son became bedridden with the disease, tells The Sacramento Bee. “We clearly see a difference in the way healthy and chronic fatigue syndrome immune cells process stress.”

Research on ME/CFS has been controversial, with scientists who test talk therapy and exercise for the condition facing harassment from activists who see such treatments as harmful and rooted in a mistaken idea that the illness is psychological, according to a report last month in Reuters. Davis tells the San Francisco Chronicle that he hopes the discovery of a biomarker “will help the medical community accept that this is a real disease.”

Simon Wessely, a psychiatrist at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience who works with ME/CFS patients, writes in an email to Reuters that the study was unable to solve two key issues: “The (first) issue is, can any biomarker distinguish CFS patients from those with other fatiguing illnesses? And second, is it measuring the cause, and not the consequence, of illness?”

Sara Hinesley, a third-grader who was born with no hands, recently won a national handwriting award for her impressive cursive skills.

By Char Adams

Ten-year-old Sara Hinesley has never been one to back down from a challenge.

“The things I can’t do, I try to figure out the ways I can do it and try my best to make it work,” the third-grader told WJZ. “I just try my hardest and put my mind to it and this is what happens.”

Hinesley, of Maryland, was born with no hands. And, recently, she won the Nicholas Maxim Award in the 2019 Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Contest. The award is for students who have a cognitive delay or an intellectual, physical or developmental disability, according to Good Morning America.

“I felt excited and proud,” she told GMA of earning the award, which comes with a trophy, prize money and educational materials.

Hinesley was born in China and adopted four years ago by an American family, according to GMA. As she grew up, the little girl developed her own method of writing by gripping the pencil or pen with her arms.

“Sara is very motivated and a disciplined student,” her mother, Cathryn Hinesley, told GMA. “She excels really at about anything she tries.”

Hinesley goes to St. John Regional Catholic School in Frederick and when she isn’t busy excelling in the classroom, she enjoys doing the usual kid activities — “I like to play, I like to watch TV,” she told WJZ, adding that she loves spending time with her older sister Veronica.

She won the award for her impressive cursive-writing skills, which the 10 year old said wasn’t easy.

“I think it’s kind of hard — well sometimes easy and sometimes kind of hard — cause you don’t really remember all the letters to write,” she told the station.

Naturally, Hinesley’s excellence isn’t lost on school faculty.

“It’s pretty amazing given the physical disability,” Principal Karen Smith told WJZ. Hinesley’s teacher, Cheryl Churilla, told the Washington Post: “I have never heard this little girl say, ‘I can’t.’ She’s a little rock star. She tackles absolutely everything you can throw at her, and she gives it her best.”

She will receive her award at a ceremony on June 13.

“She has this independent streak where she just knows that she can do it and she’ll figure out her own way,” Cathryn told the Post. She is beautiful and strong and mighty just the way she is, and she just lives that way. She really does.”

ummary: Study identifies 104 high-risk genes for schizophrenia. One gene considered high-risk is also suspected in the development of autism.

Source: Vanderbilt University

Using a unique computational framework they developed, a team of scientist cyber-sleuths in the Vanderbilt University Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute (VGI) has identified 104 high-risk genes for schizophrenia.

Their discovery, which was reported April 15 in the journal Nature Neuroscience, supports the view that schizophrenia is a developmental disease, one which potentially can be detected and treated even before the onset of symptoms.

“This framework opens the door for several research directions,” said the paper’s senior author, Bingshan Li, PhD, associate professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and an investigator in the VGI.

One direction is to determine whether drugs already approved for other, unrelated diseases could be repurposed to improve the treatment of schizophrenia. Another is to find in which cell types in the brain these genes are active along the development trajectory.

Ultimately, Li said, “I think we’ll have a better understanding of how prenatally these genes predispose risk, and that will give us a hint of how to potentially develop intervention strategies. It’s an ambitious goal … (but) by understanding the mechanism, drug development could be more targeted.”

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe mental disorder characterized by hallucinations and delusions, “flat” emotional expression and cognitive difficulties.

Symptoms usually start between the ages of 16 and 30. Antipsychotic medications can relieve symptoms, but there is no cure for the disease.

Genetics plays a major role. While schizophrenia occurs in 1% of the population, the risk rises sharply to 50% for a person whose identical twin has the disease.

Recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified more than 100 loci, or fixed positions on different chromosomes, associated with schizophrenia. That may not be where high-risk genes are located, however. The loci could be regulating the activity of the genes at a distance — nearby or very far away.

To solve the problem, Li, with first authors Rui Chen, PhD, research instructor in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, and postdoctoral research fellow Quan Wang, PhD, developed a computational framework they called the “Integrative Risk Genes Selector.”

The framework pulled the top genes from previously reported loci based on their cumulative supporting evidence from multi-dimensional genomics data as well as gene networks.

Which genes have high rates of mutation? Which are expressed prenatally? These are the kinds of questions a genetic “detective” might ask to identify and narrow the list of “suspects.”

The result was a list of 104 high-risk genes, some of which encode proteins targeted in other diseases by drugs already on the market. One gene is suspected in the development of autism spectrum disorder.

Much work remains to be done. But, said Chen, “Our framework can push GWAS a step forward … to further identify genes.” It also could be employed to help track down genetic suspects in other complex diseases.

Also contributing to the study were Li’s lab members Qiang Wei, PhD, Ying Ji and Hai Yang, PhD; VGI investigators Xue Zhong, PhD, Ran Tao, PhD, James Sutcliffe, PhD, and VGI Director Nancy Cox, PhD.

Chen also credits investigators in the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery — Colleen Niswender, PhD, Branden Stansley, PhD, and center Director P. Jeffrey Conn, PhD — for their critical input.

Funding: The study was supported by the Vanderbilt Analysis Center for the Genome Sequencing Program and National Institutes of Health grant HG009086.

previously undiscovered “sequel” to Anthony Burgess’ dystopian cult classic “A Clockwork Orange” has been found among the author’s archives.

In the unfinished “The Clockwork Condition,” the author responds to the moral panic caused by Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of his most-famous novel, which had come out just weeks before.

The nonfiction work, which also includes a series of philosophical thoughts on the human condition, runs to around 200 typewritten pages, and features several handwritten notes. It had been left for decades among in his abandoned home in Bracciano, Italy, before being boxed up after his death in 1993 and sent to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester, England, alongside several other works and possessions.

“It’s not finished, but there is quite a lot there,” Andrew Biswell, who works at the foundation and helped make the discovery, told CNN. “If you put the book together, you can see what might have been.”

“It’s given us more detail about a whole range of thoughts and feelings he had about culture, in the immediate aftermath of the film having come out,” Biswell added.
Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation ultimately received critical and commercial acclaim and boosted the popularity of Burgess’ book, but caused massive controversy on its release for its violent and sexual content.

The author was forced to confront suggestions that he glorified and encouraged violent acts through his work, which describes the horrific spree of “ultra-violence” by a gang of delinquent criminals in a futuristic Britain.

“Burgess felt very strongly that he was in the firing line,” Biswell says, describing the themes of the newly discovered manuscript. “He’s very concerned by the accusation that this film has provoked people to do evil things.”

In one section of the manuscript, Burgess writes that young people at the time had learned “a style of violence,” but not violence itself — which he felt was inherent in some people.

In another section, Burgess muses on the impact of television and the mass media on people in the 1970s. He writes of “man trapped in the world of machines, unable to grow as a human being and become himself.” He diagnoses the titular “Clockwork Condition” as the state of “feeling alienated, partly because of the mass media,” Biswell says.

“In that sense it’s a commentary about what’s happening to him, and his own life had been turned upside down by the success of the film,” he adds.

The text of “The Clockwork Condition” was meant to be supplemented by a series of around 80 photographs on the subject of freedom and the individual. The work was structured in the same way as one of his favorite poems, Dante’s “Inferno,” and was publicly mentioned by Burgess just once.

Burgess wrote a series of novels and comic works throughout his life, but none resonated with audiences like “A Clockwork Orange.” It was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language books written between 1923 and 2005, while Kubrick’s film was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

In a small study of patients referred to the Johns Hopkins Early Psychosis Intervention Clinic (EPIC), researchers report that about half the people referred to the clinic with a schizophrenia diagnosis did not actually have schizophrenia. People who reported hearing voices or having anxiety were the ones more likely to be misdiagnosed, according to the study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice.

The researchers say that therapies can vary widely for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression or other serious types of mental illness, and that misdiagnosis can lead to inappropriate or delayed treatment.

The findings, the researchers say, suggest that second opinions at a specialised schizophrenia clinic after initial diagnosis are wise efforts to reduce the risk of misdiagnosis, and ensure prompt and appropriate patient treatment.

“Because we’ve shined a spotlight in recent years on emerging and early signs of psychosis, diagnosis of schizophrenia is like a new fad, and it’s a problem especially for those who are not schizophrenia specialists because symptoms can be complex and misleading,” says Krista Baker, LCPC, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland. “Diagnostic errors can be devastating for people, particularly the wrong diagnosis of a mental disorder,” she adds.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, schizophrenia affects an estimated 0.5% of the world population, and is more common in men. It typically arises in the late adolescences, 20s and even as late as the early 30s in women. Symptoms such as disordered thinking, hallucinations, delusions, reduced emotions and unusual behaviours can be disabling, and drug treatments often create difficult side effects.

The new study was prompted in part by anecdotal evidence among healthcare providers in Baker’s specialty clinic that a fair number of people were being seen who were misdiagnosed. These patients usually had other mental illnesses, such as depression.

To see if there was rigorous evidence of such a trend, the researchers looked at patient data from 78 cases referred to EPIC for consultation between February 2011 and July 2017. Patients were an average age of 19, and about 69% were men, 74% were white, 12% African American and 14% were another ethnicity. Patients were referred to the clinic by general psychiatrists, outpatient psychiatric centres, primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, neurologists or psychologists.

Each consultation by the clinic took 3 to 4 hours, and included interviews with the patient and the family, physical exams, questionnaires, and medical and psychosocial histories.

Of the patients referred to the clinic, 54 people came with a predetermined diagnosis of a schizophrenia spectrum disorder. Of those, 26 received a confirmed diagnosis of a schizophrenia spectrum disorder following their consultation with the EPIC team, which is composed of clinicians and psychiatrists. Of the 54 cases, 51% were rediagnosed by clinic staff as having anxiety or mood disorders. Anxiety symptoms were prominent in 14 of the misdiagnosed patients.

One of the other most common symptoms that the researchers believe may have contributed to misdiagnosis of schizophrenia was hearing voices, as almost all incorrectly diagnosed patients reported auditory hallucinations.

“Hearing voices is a symptom of many different conditions, and sometimes it is just a fleeting phenomenon with little significance,” says Russell L. Margolis, MD, Johns Hopkins Schizophrenia Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland. “At other times when someone reports ‘hearing voices’ it may be a general statement of distress rather than the literal experience of hearing a voice. The key point is that hearing voices on its own doesn’t mean a diagnosis of schizophrenia.”

In speculating about other reasons why there might be so many misdiagnoses, the researchers say that it could be due to overly simplified application of criteria listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a standard guide to the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders.

“Electronic medical record systems, which often use pull-down diagnostic menus, increase the likelihood of this type of error,” says Dr. Margolis, who refers to the problem as “checklist psychiatry.”

“The big take-home message from our study is that careful consultative services by experts are important and likely underutilised in psychiatry,” says Dr. Margolis. “Just as a primary care clinician would refer a patient with possible cancer to an oncologist or a patient with possible heart disease to a cardiologist, it’s important for general mental health practitioners to get a second opinion from a psychiatry specialty clinic like ours for patients with confusing, complicated or severe conditions. This may minimise the possibility that a symptom will be missed or overinterpreted.”

Dr. Margolis cautioned that the study was limited to patients evaluated in 1 clinic. Nonetheless, he was encouraged by the willingness of so many patients, their families and their clinicians to ask for a second opinion from the Johns Hopkins clinic. If further study confirms their findings, it would lend support to the belief by the Johns Hopkins team that overdiagnosis may be a national problem, because they see patients from across the country who travel to Johns Hopkins for an opinion. They hope to examine the experience of other specialty consultation clinics in the future.

Reference: doi: 10.1097/PRA.0000000000000363

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Medicine