Ivy is 1 year old!

…and my post is a day late, typical. You learn to roll with the punches when you have 4 kids.We celebrated today since Eric and I had a dinner event up on campus yesterday.I wanted to do a white cake with ombre green inside and green ivy leaves. But I didn’t have oil-based or powder food dyes to tint the white chocolate. So I reversed the scheme: We painted real ivy leaves with melted white chocolate, then peeled the leaves off once the chocolate had hardened. It worked really well! According to Ivy’s birth certificate, she supposedly born today, March 26, not yesterday, March 25. I’m not sure who messed it up, but I’d like to get her passport and have been waiting almost 2 weeks for her…

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Birth with Balance: share your birth story

I was recently contacted by Chelsea from the website Birth with Balance. She has created a forum and a community for birth stories and she shared both of mine–the coerced cesarean in the hospital and the VBAC homebirth. I love what she’s doing (she’s also due any moment now with her homebirth baby!) and wanted to share this resource with all of you… this is a guest post written by Chelsea, so check it out!********************As a labor and delivery nurse I am truly passionate about the process of childbirth. Though I currently work in a high-risk birthing unit I also have an interest in home births and have had the opportunity to train with Ina May Gaskin, the most famous midwife in the world. …

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Zebrafish neurons may lead to understanding of birth defects like spina bifida

The zebrafish, a tropical freshwater fish similar to a minnow and native to the southeastern Himalayan region, is well established as a key tool for researchers studying human diseases, including brain disorders. Using zebrafish, scientists can determine how individual neurons develop, mature and support basic functions like breathing, swallowing and jaw movement. Researchers at the University of Missouri say that learning about neuronal development and maturation in zebrafish could lead to a better understanding of birth defects such as spina bifida in humans.”We are studying how neurons move to their final destinations,” said Anand Chandrasekhar, professor of biological sciences and a researcher in the Bond Life Sciences Center at MU. “It’s especially critical in the nervous system because these neurons are generating circuits similar to what you might see in computers. If those circuits don’t form properly, and if different types of neurons don’t end up in the right locations, the behavior and survival of the animal will be compromised.”The scientists studied zebrafish embryos, which are nearly transparent, making internal processes easy to observe. Using modified zebrafish expressing green fluorescent jellyfish protein, Chandrasekhar and his team were able to track neuronal migration.”This approach is used extensively to visualize a group of cells,” Chandrasekhar said. “In our study, clusters of green cells glowed and indicated where motor neurons were located in the brain. Some groupings are shaped like sausages while others are round, but each cluster of 50 to150 cells sends out signals to different groups of jaw muscles.”These motor neurons that Chandrasekhar studied are located in the hindbrain, which corresponds to the human brainstem and controls gill and jaw movement in these tiny fish. Genes controlling the development and organization of these neurons in zebrafish are functionally similar to genes in higher vertebrates including mammals.Chandrasekhar’s work contributes to a better understanding of how neuronal networks are organized and “wired” during development. These studies also may provide insight into birth defects like spina bifida, which affects 1 in every 2,000 births, according to the National Institutes of Health.”One of the hallmarks of spina bifida is an open neural tube in the spinal cord,” Chandrasekhar said. …

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Pre-term labor problem: Using blue light to slow, prevent preterm labor

A Florida State University researcher is tackling a new and inventive way to slow down and perhaps prevent preterm labor. The solution? A pair of goggles.Specifically, Associate Professor James Olcese is developing goggles — he’s calling them light emitting devices — that could intermittently flash a blue light at a sleeping pregnant mother at risk for preterm labor. That flash of light could cause a drop in the brain hormone melatonin, which is tied to contractions.Ideally, the contractions would slow down or stop.”They could simply have them on their night stand and put them on if they are feeling contractions,” Olcese said.In 2009, Olcese discovered that many women go into labor at night when melatonin is at its peak. Future research through a partnership with preterm labor patients at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital found that when women were exposed to bright light overnight, the cells associated with contractions saw a drop in melatonin levels, suppressing contractions and potentially delaying labor.”We can use that information to develop ways of helping women either in inducing labor or, conversely, mechanisms that would prevent or slow the contractions a month or two earlier in the pregnancy,” Olcese said.Olcese patented his theory that reducing melatonin would produce better results for women at risk of preterm labor.In the study at TMH, the patients were exposed to a computer-monitor-sized lamp shining full-spectrum light. But, that interrupted sleeping patterns and was generally uncomfortable for some participants.So Olcese, a recent winner of a $35,000 GAP award from the university, is working to develop a pair goggles that will flash blue light -which is less likely to disturb a good night’s sleep — at the mother.The GAP funding will be used to fund a second trial at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and help figure out how to best deliver the blue light flashes. Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is testing out Olcese’s approach as well.”We just have to figure out how much light and how often,” he said.Depending on how the next round of studies go, a product could be ready for market in the next few years.Preterm birth is the birth of an infant prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of eight infants in the United States is born prior to the 37-week mark. Thirty-five percent of infant deaths are associated with preterm labor.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Florida State University. The original article was written by Doug Carlson. …

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Autism: Birth hormone may control expression of the syndrome in animals

The scientific community agrees that autism has its origins in early life — fetal and/or postnatal. The team led by Yehezkel Ben-Ari, Inserm Emeritus Research Director at the Mediterranean Institute of Neurobiology (INMED), has made a breakthrough in the understanding of the disorder. In an article published in Science, the researchers demonstrate that chloride levels are elevated in the neurons of mice used in an animal model of autism, and remain at abnormal levels from birth. These results corroborate the success obtained with the diuretic treatment tested on autistic children by the researchers and clinicians in 2012, and suggest that administration of diuretics to mice before birth corrects the deficits in the offspring. They also show that oxytocin, the birth hormone, brings about a decrease in chloride level during birth, which controls the expression of the autistic syndrome.This work is due to appear in the 7 February 2014 issue of Science.Neurons contain high levels of chloride throughout the entire embryonic phase. As a result, GABA, the main chemical messenger of the brain, excites the neurons during this phase instead of inhibiting them, in order to facilitate construction of the brain. Subsequently, a natural reduction in chloride levels allows GABA to exercise its inhibitory role and regulate the activity of the adolescent/adult brain. In many brain disorders (childhood epilepsy, cranial trauma, etc.), studies have shown abnormally high chloride levels. Having made various observations, Dr Lemonnier’s team (Brest), and Yehezkel Ben-Ari’s team at Inserm carried out a clinical trial in 2012, based on the hypothesis of high chloride levels in the neurons of patients with autism. The researchers showed that administration of a diuretic to children with autism (which reduces neuronal chloride levels) has beneficial effects . …

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Day 8 after 2 chemo treatments

I am feeling like bile is coming up and not tasting too good! Not a pleasant feeling however one that will pass eventually.Sleep was from 10pm to 2.30am so improving each day. My face is still slightly swollen and I feel bloated, otherwise feeling much improved!This morning when the sun comes up … it is now 4am … we will be going out in the car. Where we live it is just so beautiful especially at this time of the year. Each afternoon I am pottering in my garden, getting a few small weeds out before they grow into a problem, transplanting violets/forget me knots … that are now showing thier little heads everywhere and just enjoying being with nature. Yesterday afternoon when the sun came out …

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My experiences with birth hypnosis

Birth hypnosis, HypnoBirthing, Hypnobabies, Hypbirth, the Birth Relaxation Kit…If you’re at all part of the birth world, you’ve probably heard of one or more of these terms. I’ve had four pregnancies, four labors, and four babies all using some kind of hypnosis.Basic idea of hypnosis for childbirth (in my words): the mind is extremely powerful and malleable. Through deep relaxation, conscious breathing, and visualization, you can reprogram yourself to respond positively to the sensations of labor.How and when I listened to the hypnosis recordings:For my first baby, I listened to the two hypnosis tracks provided with Marie Mongan’s Hypnobirthing book. I listened to one track every day for the last two months of pregnancy. I didn’t have an mp3 player at the time, …

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Smoking with asthma during pregnancy is particularly dangerous

Sep. 5, 2013 — New research from the University of Adelaide has shown for the first time that pregnant women who smoke as well as having asthma are greatly increasing the risk of complications for themselves and their unborn children.In the first study of its kind in the world, researchers from the University’s Robinson Institute compared data from more than 170,000 Australian women over 10 years.The results have been published online ahead of print in the European Respiratory Journal.Lead author Dr Nicolette Hodyl says: “We know that being pregnant and having asthma poses risks to both the mother and the baby. We know that smoking poses risks to both the mother and the baby. But now we also know that the combination of these conditions represents a very dangerous situation.”Asthma and smoking are separately linked during pregnancy to increased risk of bleeding from the birth canal before labor, urinary tract infections, premature rupture of membranes, low birth weight and preterm birth (less than 37 weeks of pregnancy).”The combination of asthma and smoking greatly increases the risk of these complications during pregnancy.”Dr Hodyl says 5.8% of pregnant women who were not asthmatic and non-smokers experienced a preterm birth. “For asthmatic women, the preterm birth rate increased to 6.5%. Among smoking women, 9.4% experienced preterm birth. And for asthmatic women who also smoked, the rate of preterm birth jumped to 12.7%, which is more than double the normal rate.”This is an alarming statistic. We hope that pregnant women begin to understand the seriousness of this situation to their health and the health of their child,” she says.Dr Hodyl says the research also uncovered another worrying statistic: about a quarter of pregnant women with asthma are smokers.”While the rates of smoking have been decreasing in recent years, it is very concerning to us that many pregnant women with asthma are also smoking,” she says.”Quitting smoking during pregnancy is very difficult, and therefore pregnant women need as much support as possible from family, friends and health professionals. Our results show that even a reduction in the number of cigarettes women smoke per day can lead to some improvement to the risks to their child. However, the potential for poor health outcomes for both the mother and child should not be underestimated.”This research has been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

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Recurrence risk for autism spectrum disorders examined for full, half siblings

Aug. 19, 2013 — A Danish study of siblings suggests the recurrence risks for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) varied from 4.5 percent to 10.5 percent depending on the birth years, which is higher than the ASD risk of 1.18 percent in the overall Danish population, according to a study published by JAMA Pediatrics, a JAMA Network publication.ASDs are neurodevelopmental disorders that are characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication and also include repetitive behavior and narrow interests. Childhood autism (CA) accounts for about 30 percent of all ASD cases and the prevalence of ASDs has increased during the last two decades, according to the study background.Therese K. Grønborg, M.Sc., of Aarhus University, Denmark, and colleagues conducted a population-based study in Denmark of all children (about 1.5 million) born between 1980 and 2004. They identified a maternal sibling group derived from mothers with at least two children and a paternal sibling group derived from fathers with at least two children.”To date, this is the first population-based study to examine the recurrence risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), including time trends, and the first study to consider the ASDs recurrence risk for full- and half-siblings,” the authors note in the study.The study results suggest an almost seven-fold increase in ASDs risk if an older sibling had an ASD diagnosis compared with no ASD diagnoses in older siblings. In children with the same mother, the adjusted relative recurrence risk of 7.5 in full siblings was significantly higher than the risk of 2.4 in half siblings. In children with the same father, the adjusted relative recurrence risk was 7.4 in full siblings and significant, but no statistically significant increased risk was observed among paternal half siblings, the results also indicate.”The difference in the recurrence risk between full and half siblings supports the role of genetics in ASDs, while the significant recurrence risk in maternal half-siblings may support the role of factors associated with pregnancy and the maternal intrauterine environment in ASDs,” the study concludes.

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Ethicists find UK ban on embryo sex selection ‘unjustifiable’

July 3, 2013 — As Europe’s leading fertility specialists gather at a conference in London this weekend, a major new publication from leading medical ethicists finds no justification to support the UK’s legal ban on sex selection before pregnancy for ‘social’ reasons.Overall, the ethicists found that new techniques to choose the sex of future children would be ethical to offer in the UK, based solely on parents’ preference to have a child of a particular sex. The in vitro techniques are used at the embryonic stage or earlier, and at present are only legally permitted for use in the UK to avoid the birth of babies with medical problems such as sex-linked inherited disorders. FindingsNo population-level sex ratio imbalance would occur if sex selection using fertility treatments were permitted for non-medical reasons, within a strong regulatory framework.No ethical distinction was found between providing ‘family balancing’ (sex selection to ensure that a new sibling is of the opposite sex to existing children), or sex selection for an only child, the firstborn, or for every child in a family, including selecting all the children to be of the same sex.Sexism was not found to be inherent in the wish to choose the sex of a baby. Some requests reflect a high value placed on each gender being represented within a family. Other requests may stem from sexism or gender stereotyping, but these attitudes in themselves do not pose such risks to children that sex selection should be prohibited.The authors concluded that, in the UK, it would not be right for ‘social’ sex selection treatments to be funded by the taxpayer. Proper regulation would be also required to minimise any harmful effects of treatments carried out for non-medical reasons.British couples with the resources to do so are reported to be travelling overseas for costly sex-selection treatments involving IVF and embryo testing, or novel sperm ‘sorting’ techniques, although no official record is kept of their numbers.These cross-border treatments may pose obstacles to the follow up of the resulting children’s health. In some circumstances, they might involve fewer clinical or legal safeguards than would be in place if patients were able to access equivalent treatments in the UK.Professor Stephen Wilkinson, Professor of Bioethics at Lancaster University, and lead author of ‘Eugenics and the Ethics of Selective Reproduction’, said: ‘We examined the ethics of gender preference and sex selection techniques in the British context and found no reason to expect harm to future children or wider society if these techniques were made available for ‘social’ reasons within our regulated fertility treatment sector.’People who would prefer their new baby to be of a particular sex often have their own very personal reasons for this, to do with their family’s particular circumstances or history. We didn’t find any ethical arguments sufficient to justify a blanket ban on these people seeking sex selection.’As IVF and other techniques can now fulfil these often strongly-felt preferences, it’s important to ask why wishing for a girl or a boy baby might be so wrong that parents must be stopped from attempting to achieve it in the UK.’

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Food contaminants worsen metabolic problems in obese mice

June 27, 2013 — Certain food contaminants are suspected of triggering metabolic disorders, or of worsening them, particularly when they accompany a high-fat diet. In order to get a better understanding of these effects, researchers from the Inserm cardiovascular, metabolism, diabetology and nutrition unit (U1060 ” Laboratoire de recherche en cardiovasculaire, métabolisme, diabétologie et nutrition ” Inserm/Inra/Université Lyon 1) introduced a “cocktail” of contaminants mixed with low doses of dioxin, PCB, bisphenol A and phtalates into the feeding of mice that had already been rendered obese by a high-fat diet. The results show that metabolic changes occur in these mice, but that the effects differ depending on the gender. Females appeared to be more affected. Their obesity-induced glucose intolerance worsened and their estrogen pathway was altered.These works have been published in the FASEB Journal.Obesity is a major public health problem because it is a risk factor in the development of metabolic complications (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc.). It is a multi-factorial disorder. In addition to genetic predispositions and a life style that combines overeating with lack of exercise, there is a great volume of proof to suggest that contaminants, particularly in the food we eat, are responsible for the obesity epidemic and the resulting metabolic changes.Researchers have put forward the hypothesis that contaminants in food could worsen certain metabolic problems already caused by eating an over-rich or a high-fat diet.In this study, the researchers fed mice a high-fat diet (already a health risk), to which low doses of contaminants had been added. They were given this diet throughout their lives. Their mother had been nourished with this diet prior to their birth and during the gestation and lactation periods. Therefore, they suffered chronic exposure to this diet.Two environmentally persistent contaminants[1] (dioxin and PCB) and two non-persistent contaminants[2] (phtalate and bisphenol A) were added to the high-fat (obesogenic) diet of the mice. …

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The violent birth of neutron stars

June 27, 2013 — A team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics conducted the most expensive and most elaborate computer simulations so far to study the formation of neutron stars at the center of collapsing stars with unprecedented accuracy. These worldwide first three-dimensional models with a detailed treatment of all important physical effects confirm that extremely violent, hugely asymmetric sloshing and spiral motions occur when the stellar matter falls towards the center. The results of the simulations thus lend support to basic perceptions of the dynamical processes that are involved when a star explodes as supernova.Stars with more than eight to ten times the mass of our Sun end their lives in a gigantic explosion, in which the stellar gas is expelled into the surrounding space with enormous power. Such supernovae belong to the most energetic and brightest phenomena in the universe and can outshine a whole galaxy for weeks. They are the cosmic origin of chemical elements like carbon, oxygen, silicon, and iron, of which Earth and our bodies are made of, and which are bred in massive stars over millions of years or freshly fused in the stellar explosion.Supernovae are also the birth places of neutron stars, those extraordinarily exotic, compact stellar remnants, in which about 1.5 times the mass of our Sun is compressed to a sphere with the diameter of Munich. This happens within fractions of a second when the stellar core implodes due to the strong gravity of its own mass. The catastrophic collapse is stopped only when the density of atomic nuclei — gargantuan 300 million tons in a sugar cube — is exceeded.What, however, causes the disruption of the star? How can the implosion of the stellar core be reversed to an explosion? The exact processes are still a matter of intense research. According to the most widely favored scenario, neutrinos, mysterious elementary particles, play a crucial role. …

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Daily iron during pregnancy linked to improved birth weight

June 20, 2013 — Taking iron daily during pregnancy is associated with a significant increase in birth weight and a reduction in risk of low birth weight, finds a new study.The effects were seen for iron doses up to 66 mg per day. The World Health Organization currently recommends a dose of 60 mg per day for pregnant women.Iron deficiency is the most widespread nutritional deficiency in the world. It is the most common cause of anemia during pregnancy, especially in low and middle income countries, affecting an estimated 32 million pregnant women globally in 2011.Studies suggest an association between prenatal anemia and risk of premature (preterm) birth, but evidence on other birth outcomes is inconsistent. The effect of prenatal iron use on adverse birth outcomes is also unclear.So researchers in the UK and US analysed the results of over 90 studies (a mix of randomised trials and cohort studies) of prenatal iron use and prenatal anemia, involving nearly two million women.Iron use increased a mother’s average haemoglobin levels compared with controls and significantly reduced the risk of anemia.There was no reduction in risk of preterm birth as a result of iron use. However analysis of cohort studies showed a significantly higher risk of low birth weight and preterm birth with anemia in the first or second trimester of pregnancy.Further analysis indicated that for every 10 mg increase in iron dose per day (up to 66 mg per day), risk of maternal anemia was 12% lower, birth weight increased by 15 g and risk of low birth weight decreased by 3%.No differences were seen in duration of iron use after adjusting for dose.”Our findings suggest that use of iron in women during pregnancy may be used as a preventive strategy to improve maternal haematological status and birth weight,” say the authors. They call for “rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of existing antenatal care programmes in high burden countries to identify gaps in policy and programme implementation.”And they say future research should explore “feasible strategies of iron delivery” as well as “evaluation of the effectiveness of other strategies, such as fortification and dietary diversification.”

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It’s the way you tell em’: Study discovers how the brain controls accents and impersonations

June 18, 2013 — A study, led by Royal Holloway University researcher Carolyn McGettigan, has identified the brain regions and interactions involved in impersonations and accents.Using an fMRI scanner, the team asked participants, all non-professional impressionists, to repeatedly recite the opening lines of a familiar nursery rhyme either with their normal voice, by impersonating individuals, or by impersonating regional and foreign accents of English.They found that when a voice is deliberately changed, it brings the left anterior insula and inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) of the brain into play. The researchers also discovered that when comparing impersonations against accents, areas in the posterior superior temporal/inferior parietal cortex and in the right middle/anterior superior temporal sulcus showed greater responses.”The voice is a powerful channel for the expression of our identity — it conveys information such as gender, age and place of birth, but crucially, it also expresses who we want to be,” said lead author Carolyn McGettigan from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway.”Consider the difference between talking to a friend on the phone, talking to a police officer who’s cautioning you for parking violation, or speaking to a young infant. While the words we use might be different across these settings, another dramatic difference is the tone and style with which we deliver the words we say. We wanted to find out more about this process and how the brain controls it.”While past work has found that listening to voices activates regions of the temporal lobe of the brain, no research had explored the brain regions involved in controlling vocal identity before this study.”Our aim is to find out more about how the brain controls this very flexible communicative tool, which could potentially lead to new treatments for those looking to recover their own vocal identity following brain injury or a stroke, ” said Carolyn.

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Exposure to high pollution levels during pregnancy may increase risk of having child with autism

June 18, 2013 — Women in the U.S. exposed to high levels of air pollution while pregnant were up to twice as likely to have a child with autism as women who lived in areas with low pollution, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). It is the first large national study to examine links between autism and air pollution across the U.S.”Our findings raise concerns since, depending on the pollutant, 20% to 60% of the women in our study lived in areas where risk of autism was elevated,” said lead author Andrea Roberts, research associate in the HSPH Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.The study appeared online June 18, 2013 in Environmental Health Perspectives.Exposure to diesel particulates, lead, manganese, mercury, methylene chloride and other pollutants are known to affect brain function and to affect the developing baby. Two previous studies found associations between exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and autism in children, but those studies looked at data in just three locations in the U.S.The researchers examined data from Nurses’ Health Study II, a long-term study based at Brigham and Women’s Hospital involving 116,430 nurses that began in 1989. Among that group, the authors studied 325 women who had a child with autism and 22,000 women who had a child without the disorder. They looked at associations between autism and levels of pollutants at the time and place of birth. They used air pollution data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to estimate women’s exposure to pollutants while pregnant. They also adjusted for the influence of factors such as income, education, and smoking during pregnancy.The results showed that women who lived in the 20% of locations with the highest levels of diesel particulates or mercury in the air were twice as likely to have a child with autism as those who lived in the 20% of areas with the lowest levels.Other types of air pollution — lead, manganese, methylene chloride, and combined metal exposure — were associated with higher autism risk as well. Women who lived in the 20% of locations with the highest levels of these pollutants were about 50% more likely to have a child with autism than those who lived in the 20% of areas with the lowest concentrations.Most pollutants were associated with autism more strongly in boys than girls. …

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Caregiving dads treated disrespectfully at work, new study finds

June 11, 2013 — If policy-makers want to do something about falling birth rates, they may want to take a look at improving how people are treated at work when they step outside of traditional family roles at home.New studies show that middle-class men who take on non traditional caregiving roles are treated worse at work than men who stick closer to traditional gender norms in the family. Women without children and mothers with non-traditional caregiving arrangements are treated worst of all.”Their hours are no different than other employees’, but their co-workers appear to be picking up on their non-traditional caregiving roles and are treating them disrespectfully,” says Prof. Jennifer Berdahl of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, who co-authored the study with Sue Moon from the Long Island University Post.Results were based on two separate field studies, each using mail-in surveys. The first was targeted at unionized workers in female-dominated occupations and the other was targeted at public service workers in a male-dominated workforce.Overall, the studies found consequences for any employee who violated traditional gender roles when it came to having a family. The least harassed in the office? Fathers and mothers who followed more traditional gender norms; that is, men who did less caregiving and domestic tasks at home and women who did more.The results suggest that how well a worker performs their gender role in the home has more bearing on how they are treated at work than how well that worker performs their job. As a result, men and women are likely to feel pressure at work to conform to traditional roles at home. “They may choose not to have children if these traditional roles are not feasible for them, or get in the way of family or career goals,” according to Prof. Berdahl.Prof. Berdahl points out that workplace treatment is different from pay and promotions. …

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Reduced brain volume in kids with low birth-weight tied to academic struggles

June 10, 2013 — An analysis of recent data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of 97 adolescents who were part of study begun with very low birth weight babies born in 1982-1986 in a Cleveland neonatal intensive care unit has tied smaller brain volumes to poor academic achievement.More than half of the babies that weighed less than 1.66 pounds and more than 30 percent of those less than 3.31 pounds at birth later had academic deficits. (Less than 1.66 pounds is considered extremely low birth weight; less than 3.31 pounds is labeled very low birth weight.) Lower birth weight was associated to smaller brain volumes in some of these children, and smaller brain volume, in turn, was tied to academic deficits.Researchers also found that 65.6 percent of very low birth weight and 41.2 percent of extremely preterm children had experienced academic achievement similar to normal weight peers.The research team — led by Caron A.C. Clark, a scientist in the Department of Psychology and Child and Family Center at the University of Oregon — detected an overall reduced volume of mid-brain structures, the caudate and corpus callosum, which are involved in connectivity, executive attention and motor control.The findings, based a logistic regression analyses of the MRIs done approximately five years ago, were published in the May issue of the journal Neuropsychology. The longitudinal study originally was launched in the 1980s with a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (National Institutes of Health, grant HD 26554) to H. Gerry Taylor of Case Western University, who was the senior author and principal investigator on the new paper.”Our new study shows that pre-term births do not necessarily mean academic difficulties are ahead,” Clark said. “We had this group of children that did have academic difficulties, but there were a lot of kids in this data set who didn’t and, in fact, displayed the same trajectories as their normal birth-weight peers.”Academic progress of the 201 original participants had been assessed early in their school years, again four years later and then annually until they were almost 17 years old. “We had the opportunity to explore this very rich data set,” Clark said. “There are very few studies that follow this population of children over time, where their trajectories of growth at school are tracked. We were interested in seeing how development unfolds over time.”The findings, Clark added, provide new insights but also raise questions such as why some low-birth-weight babies develop normally and others do not? “It is very difficult to pick up which kids will need the most intensive interventions really early, which we know can be really important.”The findings also provide a snapshot of children of very low birth weights who were born in NICU 30 years ago. …

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Nuclear testing from the 1960s helps scientist determine whether adult brains generate new neurons

June 6, 2013 — The birth of new neurons in the adult brain sharpens memory in rodents, but whether the same holds true for humans has long been debated. A study published by Cell Press June 6th in the journal Cell reveals that a significant number of new neurons in the hippocampus — a brain region crucial for memory and learning — are generated in adult humans.The researchers used a unique strategy based on the amount of carbon-14 found in humans as a result of above-ground nuclear testing more than half a century ago. The findings suggest that new neurons are born daily in the human hippocampus, offering the tantalizing possibility that they may support cognitive functions in adulthood.”It was thought for a long time that we are born with a certain number of neurons, and that it is not possible to get new neurons after birth,” says senior study author Jonas Frisén of the Karolinska Institute. “We provide the first evidence that there is substantial neurogenesis in the human hippocampus throughout life, suggesting that the new neurons may contribute to human brain function.”Due to technical limitations, until now it was not possible to quantify the amount of neurogenesis in humans. To overcome this hurdle, Frisén and his team developed an innovative method for dating the birth of neurons. This strategy takes advantage of the elevated atmospheric levels of carbon-14, a nonradioactive form of carbon, caused by above-ground nuclear bomb testing more than 50 years ago. Since the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty, atmospheric levels of “heavy” carbon-14 have declined at a known rate. When we eat plants or animal products, we absorb both normal and heavy carbon at the atmospheric ratios present at that time, and the exact atmospheric concentration at any point in time is stamped into DNA every time a new neuron is born. Thus, neurons can be “carbon dated” in a similar way to that used by archeologists.By measuring the carbon-14 concentration in DNA from hippocampal neurons of deceased humans, the researchers found that more than one-third of these cells are regularly renewed throughout life. About 1,400 new neurons are added each day during adulthood, and this rate declines only modestly with age.Because hippocampal neurogenesis occurs to a similar extent in adult humans and adult mice, it could also play an important role in human cognition and psychiatric disease. …

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Young star suggests our sun was a feisty toddler

June 5, 2013 — If you had a time machine that could take you anywhere in the past, what time would you choose? Most people would probably pick the era of the dinosaurs in hopes of spotting a T. rex. But many astronomers would choose the period, four and a half billion years ago, that our solar system formed.In lieu of a working time machine, we learn about the birth of our Sun and its planets by studying young stars in our galaxy. New work suggests that our Sun was both active and “feisty” in its infancy, growing in fits and starts while burping out bursts of X-rays.”By studying TW Hydrae, we can watch what happened to our Sun when it was a toddler,” said Nancy Brickhouse of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). She presented the findings today in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.Brickhouse and her colleagues reached this conclusion by studying the young star TW Hydrae, located about 190 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation Hydra the Water Snake. TW Hydrae is an orange, type K star weighing about 80 percent as much as our Sun. It is about 10 million years old, and is still accreting gas from a surrounding disk of material. That same disk might contain newborn planets.In order to grow, the star “eats” gas from the disk. However, the disk doesn’t extend all the way to the star’s surface, so the star can’t dine from it directly. …

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