Findings

Waterlogged
It takes eight glasses of water a day to keep chronic dehydration at bay, the adage goes, and your family doctor might even have counseled the same. But according to two Penn researchers, it’s time to stop filling up at the faucet. After reviewing the relevant scientific literature, Stanley Goldfarb and Dan Negoianu, both of the Renal Electrolyte and Hypertension Division at HUP, concluded that there’s no health benefit to guzzling from the tap. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

“The way the kidney works is to filter the blood, and it filters the blood almost unrelated to how much fluid is in the system,” Goldfarb said. There is no evidence that extra water clears the skin or staves off migraines, either. Desert trekkers need to hydrate more than the average homebody, of course, but in general, the only time you really need to drink is when you’re thirsty—and just about any liquid will do.

Now You See It
An international team of researchers led by Albert Maguire, associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the School of Medicine, safely used gene therapy to restore vision in three young adults suffering from a rare form of blindness. Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) is an inherited disease that damages light receptors in the retina beginning in childhood. Caused by a genetic mutation, it has long been considered incurable.

As they reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in April, the scientists surgically implanted a genetically engineered virus carrying a normal version of the deficient gene into each patient’s right eye. All three began to show improved vision about two weeks later, reading letters from an eye chart they had previously failed to see. The researchers cited the need for continued clinical trials, expressing hope that the modest gains shown by the adult patients could indicate the potential for greater improvements when treatment is begun in childhood.

Bargain Envy
Say you pay $40 for a new shirt only to discover that a stranger has snagged the exact same item for $10 less. Bummer. But would your sense of injustice change if the bargain went instead to a friend?  That may depend on whether you’re American or Chinese, according to a working paper by Wharton marketing professor Lisa E. Bolton.

Bolton and two co-authors, one of whom teaches at Peking University, conducted a series of experiments that revealed distinct cultural differences in “perceived price fairness.”  When presented with the scenario above, Americans tended to see the same level of unfairness at play regardless of whether the comparison shopper was a friend or a stranger. Chinese subjects, on the other hand, smarted more if the bargain went to a friend. In another experimental variation, Chinese customers also chafed more at being ripped off by a regularly frequented vendor as opposed to one they’d come to for the first time. Americans didn’t seem to care about that relationship, viewing fairness exclusively in dollar terms.

Variable pricing schemes have become more common in recent years, the researchers say, yet customer loyalty still depends heavily on a sense of fair play. As U.S. companies seek new customers in China, and vice versa, it may pay to recognize how that sense varies across cultures.

Wrongful Diagnosis
Every day, patients by the hundred receive one of the most dispiriting diagnoses a doctor can pass down: dementia. In clinical terms, the word serves as an umbrella term for various types of cognitive impairment that can arise from a number of different disease processes. Colloquially, it is the equivalent of lunacy and madness. Its popular meaning is in fact so negative, according to Don Trachtenberg C’58 D’63 GM’67 of the School of Dental Medicine and John Trojanowski GM’80 of Penn’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease, that dementia should be eliminated as a diagnostic term.

“The clinical diagnosis often carries with it unintended cruel connotations in the lay language and a concomitant destructive potential,” the co-authors write in the May issue of Archives of Neurology. “At its unkindest, it is a word without hope, which is a crucial tool when faced with a devastating illness.” 

Trachtenberg and Trojanowski argue that the diagnosis of dementia may have a crippling effect on patients whose cognitive deficits are limited, potentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. They maintain that like such outmoded terms as mongoloid and idiot savant, dementia should be retired from the clinical lexicon as “a concern of morality and common humanity.”  They advocate replacing it with a less pejorative general term, such as neurocognitive impairment.

It is imperative, they conclude, “to help preserve dignity and to maintain a sense of self-worth as long as awareness remains. Should awareness depart, it is still uncivilized to dehumanize any human being.” —T.P.


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