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Sleep, dreams and pleasures

Sleep that is often of poor quality, the start of which has been postponed far beyond the desirable time, night after night, due to inexplicable difficulties falling asleep or frequent interruptions, regardless of whether they are perceptible, the result of apnea or, even, of the insomnia that breaks out suddenly in the early hours of the morning, can give rise to sexual problems. It is the experts who have been seriously investigating the theme directly with human patients or rats used as guinea pigs who state this. And one need not even have all the accrued knowledge of the researchers from the Sleep Institute, one of the 11 Cepids (Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers) supported by FAPESP in the State of São Paulo, to imagine that a substantial drop in libido and sexual performance, with an impact on fertility and pregnancy among other things, might keep many people who suffer from such problems awake. One can glimpse an endless and worrisome vicious cycle.

The cover article of the issue of Pesquisa FAPESP, by our assistant science editor, Maria Guimarães, however, extends far beyond this cycle: she brings us the newest scientific evidence of the close and multifaceted link between stress, sleep disturbances and a world of problems in the field of sexuality, ranging from erectile dysfunction among men to significant hormonal disorders among women. Thus, if there was abundant proof previously that the very bad cocktail of ongoing stress and interrupted sleep is a powerful trigger for cardiovascular, neurological, obesity and diabetes problems, among other ailments, we are now beginning to learn to what extent it also affects this most vital and pleasurable function that is sex. It is well worth checking the article out, starting on page 16.

I would like to highlight another article in this issue’s science section: that which deals with the research of a group from the University of São Paulo (USP) that shows the extent of the destruction of the lungs of the patients who died in the São Paulo state capital from swine flu. The researchers examined samples from the organs of 21 victims and found that in almost all cases – more precisely, in 20 cases, according to the science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto, starting on page 44 – the lungs suffered mass destruction of their alveoli, the microscopic sacs within which the exchange of gases that is fundamental for respiration and the maintenance of life takes place. In some cases, there was also strong inflammation and cell death in the bronchioli. At a time when vaccination against the H1N1 virus is starting in the northern hemisphere, in the midst of controversy, and when vaccination is beginning to be implemented in Brazil, to begin in April 2010, the contribution of a group of pathologists to our understanding of why the swine flu virus triggers such a strong reaction in some organisms, to the point of driving them to total failure and patient death, is far from unimportant. Among other reasons, because, strictly speaking, we still know very little about swine flu.

In the technology section, I would like to highlight the article of Dinorah Ereno, our assistant editor, starting on page 64, about the artificial skin that is identical to human skin, developed by an USP research group. It is to be used to assess the toxicity and efficacy of new compounds for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. In truth, it is not an entirely new product: in Europe and in the United States, subsidiaries of the French firm L’Oréal and of the American firm MatTek already make and sell artificial skin. However, the national alternative generated from the cells of donors who underwent reparatory plastic surgery may come to solve advantageously a need for Brazil’s export industry, especially when one can no longer test cosmetics on animals in Europe.

When it comes to scientific and technological policy, I emphatically recommend reading editor Fabrício Marques’ revealing article, starting on page 28, about the complex and rapidly expanding apparatus established in the domestic research environment thanks to the significant growth of clinical drug trials in Brazil in the last few years. When the regulation of such trials appeared on the scene back in 1996, only 30 requests for authorization to pursue drug trials were registered with the Ministry of Health. Last year, however, the National Sanitary Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) authorized 248 trials. This trend is creating an impact well worth learning about.

To end, besides wishing all our readers a cheerful and gratifying year end and a dynamic start to 2010, a small but superb gift from the Pesquisa FAPESP team (and with no false modesty, as it really does not apply here): four pages of “Ideias de canário” [Canary ideas], a brilliant short story by Machado de Assis. Truly delectable!