This Way Up Part 1

Heart attack early warning, swimming the Pacific Ocean, and an amazing tale about genetic mutations.

Heart attack warning

Human Heart

Human Heart Photo: Bryan Brandenburg CC BY-SA 3.0

An early warning ?

Scientists could have discovered an early warning system to detect heart attacks, the leading cause of death worldwide.

Heart attacks occur when the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart itself, become blocked. 

Now Imperial College cardiologist Ramzi Khamis and his colleagues, writing in Nature Scientific Reports, have identified a way to pinpoint damage in blood vessels in mice that could cause a future heart attack.

The technique involves injecting an antibody that recognises and attaches itself to oxidised cholesterol linked to the greatest risk of heart attacks. This antibody is marked and can easily be picked up on medical imaging equipment.

Dr Chris Smith of the Naked Scientists says current approaches can only detect where the arteries are narrowed, not the specific "hotspots" where they are most at risk of rupture and blockage. 

"At the moment, the gold standard treatment is to inflate a small balloon against the blockage inside a clogged artery, and then prop open the vessel using a wire cage called a stent, which is inserted down a wire temporarily placed inside the artery, " Dr Smith said. 

But Dr Khamis speculates that in the future this might not be necessary.

"We're now working on a way to use these antibodies also to deliver drugs to the diseased areas that need them...that will damp down the disease process in the artery wall and prevent further damage or even reverse it." 

Swimming the Pacific

In a few months, Ben Lecomte will put his flippers and his snorkel on and get into the sea in Japan.

About six months and 8200km later, he plans to emerge from the water in San Francisco - having become the first person to swim across the Pacific.

He's got previous form, too. He swam 6000km to cross the Atlantic Ocean back in 1998.

En route, he will become a one-man floating, swimming laboratory, with researchers studying how his body reacts to extreme exercise. The results will also be used to simulate the effects of long-distance space travel.

Muscles and mutations

Priscilla Lopes-Schliep at the 2012 Bislett Games

Priscilla Lopes-Schliep at the 2012 Bislett Games Photo: Chell Hill

David Epstein is the author of The Sports Gene, which looks at the genetic basis of sporting excellence and the complex question of whether success in the sporting arena comes down to nature, nurture or something in between.

This Way Up spoke to David back in 2013, who after releasing the book, David started getting a barrage of weird and wonderful emails in his inbox – from pushy parents asking if they should genetically test their children, to coaches volunteering their athletes as human guinea pigs, to people claiming to have strange genetic mutations.

Amongst all of this email, he spotted one from a lady called Jill Viles with the unusual subject line 'Olympic medallist and muscular dystrophy patient with the same mutation'.

That's where the story really began, as he tells Simon Morton:

This Way Up Part 2

Dishwasher detergents, tech news (Netflix VPNs and Facebook Reactions), a physical rehab app, India's railway university and USB drives to North Korea.

Dishwasher detergents


Photo: Joanna Bourne / CC BY 2.0

Paul Smith of

This Way Up put dishwasher detergents to the test with Paul Smith, the Head of Testing at

Smartphone rehab app

Swibo's Tilt is a New Zealand-developed app that helps people recover from injury, or train so they avoid getting injured in the first place. Benjamin Dunn of Swibo shows us how the technology works.

Tech: Netflix VPNs and Facebook Reactions

Peter Griffin with technology news. This week an update on how Netflix is cracking down on the use of VPNs by New Zealanders accessing its services. Also virtual reality dominates the news coming out of this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and reaction to Facebook's Reactions.

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin Photo: Supplied

India's railway university

Indian train in Kerala

Indian train in Kerala Photo: cheersabhishek CC BY 2.0

India's railway system is vast and bustling, but it can also be unreliable, dirty and slightly chaotic.

It provides work for no less than 1.4 million people and is so important for transporting the country's people and goods around that yesterday's Rail Budget 2016, presented by the Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, was liveblogged by the minute! The big news? No hike in passenger fares.

Meanwhile the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has pledged to improve the country's railway services by setting up a specialist railway university. There will be courses in management and engineering as well as yoga lessons and training for railway staff to help make customers feel more welcome.

Despite criticism of the university, and of plans to modernise the network with a high speed train service, Mr Modi is hoping to turn India into a global centre of excellence in all things rail. Vidhi Doshi lives and works and Mumbai.

The Indian rail network

The Indian rail network Photo: CC by SA PlaneMad-Wikimedia)

Vidhi Doshi

Vidhi Doshi Photo: Supplied



Freedom drives

Remember buying your first USB drive? The wonder of all that data on such a little portable device – no cables, no batteries – magic!

The Korean Peninsula at night. North Korea almost completely dark, the bright spot is Pyongyang.

The Korean Peninsula at night. North Korea almost completely dark, the bright spot is Pyongyang Photo: (Public Domain)

Today they're given away at conferences or as corporate gifts, and with more of us using the cloud, millions of these drives get consigned to a drawer – devalued, unused, and unloved. But they still have value to people in some parts of the world.

Alex Gladstein is working for an organisation called that wants to collect up thousands of old USB drives and then send them to organisations led by North Korean refugees and defectors to be smuggled back into North Korea.

Simon Morton spoke with Alex:

Stack of USB Thumb Drives

Stack of USB Thumb Drives Photo: (Flickr- Intel Free Press CC BY-SA 2.0)