Laura Kahn

Laura H. Kahn

Articles by Laura H. Kahn

27 August 2012

Keeping the life sciences honest

Laura H. Kahn

When scientist Ron Fouchier, from Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, presented his research at a conference in Malta last year, he described how he and his colleagues induced mutations into the H5N1 virus, ultimately giving the deadly virus the ability to become airborne and transmit infection as efficiently as the seasonal flu. Fouchier was ostensibly trying to learn more about the virus in order to protect humanity from its dangers, but his work also meant risking that the virus he created would escape the lab or be mimicked by a rogue scientist with terrorist ties.

18 June 2012

DIY biology

Laura H. Kahn

In the nineteenth century, research in the natural and life sciences was largely self-supported. Charles Darwin had the good fortune of being born into a wealthy family, enabling him to pursue his passions as a gentleman naturalist and to develop the trailblazing theory of evolution. Darwin's good fortune ended up being science's as well.

20 April 2012

Plastic-wrapped planet

Laura H. Kahn

We can thank billiard balls for our modern-day, plastic-filled lives. For most of human history, everyday items such as combs were made from expensive animal parts, like tortoise shells. Then, in the 1860s, billiards became a popular pastime. Unfortunately, elephants had to be killed so that their ivory tusks could be made into billiard balls, and soon elephants were rapidly being hunted to extinction. One enterprising New York billiards supplier even offered $10,000 in gold to anyone who could come up with a good substitute for ivory.

6 February 2012

The science fiction effect

Laura H. Kahn

It's alive! Neurophysiology. Huddled around a warm fireplace one cold summer's night in 1816, a small group of friends decided to hold a competition to see who could write the scariest horror story. While vacationing in a villa by Lake Geneva, Switzerland, the friends spent their time reading ghost stories and discussing the exciting experiment being performed by the scientists of the day: reanimating dead matter.

17 January 2012

Going viral

Laura H. Kahn

We've been lucky. The avian influenza (H5N1) virus that first emerged in Hong Kong in 1997 -- which killed six and caused 18 serious illnesses -- has not acquired the ability to spread easily from person to person. Virtually all of the reported cases have involved contact with infected birds or bird products.

3 January 2012

Using microbes to fight microbes

Laura H. Kahn

There are more microorganisms in and on our bodies than human cells. In fact, scientists estimate that microorganisms outnumber human cells by 10 to 1. These microbes cover our skin, nose, mouth, and gastrointestinal and urogenital tracts. Called the "human microbiome," scientists are investigating the relationship between these microbes and disease.

14 November 2011

Why isn't health care a US right?

Laura H. Kahn

The US Supreme Court will likely decide on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- which requires American citizens to either buy health insurance or incur a penalty -- sometime this session. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled against the law, while other appeals courts, including one in Cincinnati, have either rejected the case or upheld the law.

29 September 2011

What Contagion missed

Laura H. Kahn

It's not often that Hollywood ventures into the realm of epidemics and public health, and when it does, the outcome is usually laughably out of touch with reality -- like Outbreak, the 1995 movie about a deadly Ebola-like virus that infected a city. To prevent the virus from spreading, the military decided to bomb the city to oblivion. Fortunately, a cure was discovered just in the nick of time.

12 September 2011

How hurricane-proof is your state?

Laura H. Kahn

Even though it was downgraded to a Category 1 storm, Hurricane Irene still packed a serious punch. My family and I spent several nights in darkness, and our front yard turned into an ankle-deep bog.

24 August 2011

How a deadly E. coli outbreak revealed Germany’s dysfunctional public health system

Laura H. Kahn

The plot just kept getting thicker. First, the culprit was cucumbers and tomatoes from Spain. Then it was bean sprouts from northern Germany. Then it wasn't.