TV linked to poor snacking habits, cardiovascular risk in middle schoolers

Middle school kids who park themselves in front of the TV for two hours or more each day are more likely to consume junk food and have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, even compared to those who spend an equal amount of time on the computer or playing video games, according to research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session.”While too much of both types of screen time encourages sedentary behavior, our study suggests high TV time in particular is associated with poorer food choices and increased cardiovascular risk,” said Elizabeth Jackson, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Michigan Systems, Ann Arbor, Mich., and the senior author of the study.In fact, sixth-graders who reported watching between two and six hours of TV a day were more likely to have higher body mass index, elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure and slower recovery heart rate compared with those reporting low screen time or kids who had comparable computer/video game use. This is the first time researchers have looked at the impact of different kinds of screen time kids get in relation to snacking habits and physiological measures associated with heart health, according to the authors.The study included 1,003 sixth-graders from 24 middle schools participating in Project Healthy Schools across five diverse communities in Southeast Michigan. Researchers used standardized questionnaires to collect information about health behaviors including the type and frequency of screen time, snacking habits, and food and beverage choices in the last 24 hours. Physiological measurements were also assessed, including blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate recovery after exercise (a marker of fitness), height and weight. Students were divided into three groups: low screen time (less than one-half hour a day), high TV time (two to six hours a day) and high computer/video games (two to six hours a day). Self-reported snack behavior and physiologic markers were then compared.The research found that kids who spent more time in front of a screen — regardless of the type — snack more frequently and are more likely to choose less healthy snacks. High TV viewers and computer/video game users both reported eating roughly 3.5 snacks a day — one full snack more than kids who had minimal exposure to these technologies. But children who watched two to six hours a day of TV were more likely than the high computer/video game group to eat high-fat foods such as French fries and chips.Jackson said this is likely because these kids are bombarded by TV commercials that tend to reinforce less healthy foods — often higher in sugar, salt and fats. In addition, kids tend to have free hands while watching TV as opposed to when they are on the computer or playing video games, which provides more opportunity for mindless snacking. Earlier studies have also shown that children tend to eat more when they watch TV.”Snacks are important, and choosing a piece of fruit rather than a bag of chips can make a really big difference for one’s health,” Jackson said. …

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Tracking endangered leatherback sea turtles by satellite, key habitats identified

A first-of-its-kind satellite tagging study of migrating New England leatherback turtles in the North Atlantic offers a greatly improved understanding of their seasonal high-use habitats, diving activity and response to key ocean and environmental features in relation to their search behavior. Leatherbacks are considered endangered species in all the world’s oceans.The study, part of doctoral research by Kara Dodge supervised by her advisor, Molly Lutcavage of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Large Pelagics Research Center (LPRC) in Gloucester, followed leatherbacks in their northern US feeding grounds. It allowed for a rare glimpse into the migratory patterns and behavior of immature and adult male turtles.Most satellite tagging studies of leatherbacks have focused on adult females on their tropical nesting beaches, so little is known worldwide about males and subadults, the researcher point out. But now, tagging and satellite tracking in locations where leatherbacks forage has allowed the scientists to get a much richer picture of the leatherback’s behavior and dispersal patterns on the open ocean.Findings suggest that a habitat model that includes ecoregion, topography and sea surface temperature best explains the leatherbacks’ search patterns for prey. The tagged leatherbacks in this LPRC-led study showed a strong affinity for the Northeast U.S. shelf during the summer and fall when full-sized jellyfish are present.New knowledge about leatherbacks, particularly in coastal habitats, is important, the authors say, because “coastal ecosystems are under intense pressure worldwide, with some of the highest predicted cumulative impact in the North American eastern seaboard and the eastern Caribbean. Parts of those regions constitute high-use habitat for leatherbacks in our study, putting turtles at heightened risk from both land- and ocean-based human activity.”Lutcavage and colleagues’ findings appear in the current issue of PLOS ONE. These will be useful to agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MassDMF) charged with protecting leatherbacks under international treaties and national laws, and in international efforts to protect leatherbacks throughout the North Atlantic.Lutcavage, Dodge, and Ben Galuardi of the LPRC, with Tim Miller of NOAA, set out to determine how leatherbacks behave in distinct regions, or “ecoregions” of the North Atlantic, as well as their diving habits in those areas and other new information. For this study, supported by LPRC, NOAA Fisheries, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and MassDMF, the team worked with commercial fishermen, spotter pilots and the Massachusetts sea turtle disentanglement network from 2007 to 2009 to tag 20 leatherback turtles off the coast of Cape Cod.Leatherbacks have long been known to inhabit New England waters, says Lutcavage. …

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New heart failure symptom: Shortness of breath while bending over

UT Southwestern Medical Center cardiologists have defined a novel heart failure symptom in advanced heart failure patients: shortness of breath while bending over, such as when putting on shoes.The condition, which UT Southwestern cardiologists named “bendopnea” (pronounced “bend-op-nee-ah”), is an easily detectable symptom that can help doctors diagnose excessive fluid retention in patients with heart failure, according to the findings published in a recent edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure.”Some patients thought they were short of breath because they were out of shape or overweight, but we wondered if there was something more to it. So we developed this study to further investigate this symptom,” said Dr. Jennifer Thibodeau, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Cardiology.Dr. Thibodeau cautions that bendopnea is not a risk factor for heart failure, but rather a symptom that heart failure patients are becoming sicker and may need to have their medications or treatments adjusted.Bendopnea is a way for both doctors and patients to recognize something may be amiss with their current heart failure treatment. Patients should speak with their cardiologist or health care provider if they experience bendopnea, notes Dr. Thibodeau.Of the 5.7 million Americans living with heart failure, about 10 percent have advanced heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. The condition is considered advanced when conventional heart therapies and symptom management strategies no longer work.UT Southwestern doctors enrolled 102 patients who were referred to the cardiac catheterization lab for right heart catheterization and found that nearly one-third of the subjects had bendopnea.When the patients were lying flat, clinicians measured both the pressures within the heart as well as the cardiac output — how well the heart is pumping blood to the rest of the body — in all 102 patients. Then, they repeated these measurements in 65 patients after they were sitting in a chair for two minutes, and then bending over for one minute.”We discovered that patients with bendopnea had too much fluid in their bodies, causing elevated pressures, and when they bent forward, these pressures increased even more,” said Dr. Thibodeau, first author of the study.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by UT Southwestern Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Gestational diabetes may raise risk for heart disease in midlife

Pregnant women may face an increased risk of early heart disease when they develop gestational diabetes, according to research in the Journal of the American Heart Association.Gestational diabetes, which develops only during pregnancy and usually disappears after the pregnancy, increases the risk that the mother will develop diabetes later. The condition is managed with meal planning, activity and sometimes insulin or other medications.In the 20-year study, researchers found that a history of gestational diabetes may be a risk factor for early atherosclerosis in women during midlife before the onset of diabetes and metabolic diseases.”Our research shows that just having a history of gestational diabetes elevates a woman’s risk of developing early, sub-clinical atherosclerosis before she develops type 2 diabetes or the metabolic syndrome,” said Erica P. Gunderson, Ph.D., M.S., M.P.H., study lead author and senior research scientist in the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, Calif. “Pregnancy has been under-recognized as an important time period that can signal a woman’s greater risk for future heart disease. This signal is revealed by gestational diabetes, a condition of elevated blood sugar during pregnancy.”At the start of the study, researchers measured risk factors for heart disease before pregnancy among 898 women, 18 to 30 years old, who later had one or more births. The women were periodically tested for diabetes and metabolic conditions before and after their pregnancies throughout the 20-year period. Carotid artery wall thickness was measured on average 12 years after pregnancy when women were 38 to 50 years old. The study controlled for age, race, number of births and pre-pregnancy body mass index, and fasting blood glucose, insulin, lipids, and blood pressure.Participants were divided into women who developed gestational diabetes and those who didn’t. Overall, 119 women (13 percent) reported they had developed gestational diabetes (7.6 per 100 deliveries).Carotid artery media thickness is an early measure of sub-clinical atherosclerosis and predicts heart attack and stroke in women. Researchers used ultrasound studies to image the carotid artery, with four measurements from the near and far wall thickness.Among the women who did not go on to develop diabetes or the metabolic syndrome during the 20- year follow up, they found a 0.023 mm larger average carotid artery intima-media thickness in those who had gestational diabetes compared to those who didn’t, and the difference was not attributed to obesity or elevated glucose before pregnancy.”This finding indicates that a history of gestational diabetes may influence development of early atherosclerosis before the onset of diabetes and metabolic diseases that previously have been linked to heart disease,” Gunderson said. …

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Big step for next-generation fuel cells and electrolyzers

A big step in the development of next-generation fuel cells and water-alkali electrolyzers has been achieved with the discovery of a new class of bimetallic nanocatalysts that are an order of magnitude higher in activity than the target set by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for 2017. The new catalysts, hollow polyhedral nanoframes of platinum and nickel, feature a three-dimensional catalytic surface activity that makes them significantly more efficient and far less expensive than the best platinum catalysts used in today’s fuel cells and alkaline electrolyzers.This research was a collaborative effort between DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL).”We report the synthesis of a highly active and durable class of electrocatalysts by exploiting the structural evolution of platinum/nickel bimetallic nanocrystals,” says Peidong Yang, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division, who led the discovery of these new catalysts. “Our catalysts feature a unique hollow nanoframe structure with three-dimensional platinum-rich surfaces accessible for catalytic reactions. By greatly reducing the amount of platinum needed for oxygen reduction and hydrogen evolution reactions, our new class of nanocatalysts should lead to the design of next-generation catalysts with greatly reduced cost but significantly enhanced activities.”Yang, who also holds appointments with the University of California (UC) Berkeley and the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at Berkeley, is one of the corresponding authors of a paper in Science that describes this research. The paper is titled “Highly Crystalline Multimetallic Nanoframes with Three-Dimensional Electrocatalytic Surfaces.” The other corresponding author is Vojislav Stamenkovic, a chemist with ANL’s Materials Science Division, who led the testing of this new class of electrocatalysts.Fuel cells and electrolyzers can help meet the ever-increasing demands for electrical power while substantially reducing the emission of carbon and other atmospheric pollutants. These technologies are based on either the oxygen reduction reaction (fuel cells), or the hydrogen evolution reaction (electrolyzers). Currently, the best electrocatalyst for both reactions consists of platinum nanoparticles dispersed on carbon. Though quite effective, the high cost and limited availability of platinum makes large-scale use of this approach a major challenge for both stationary and portable electrochemical applications.”Intense research efforts have been focused on developing high-performance electrocatalysts with minimal precious metal content and cost,” Yang says. “In an earlier study, the ANL scientists showed that forming a nano-segregated platinum skin over a bulk single-crystal platinum/nickel alloy enhances catalytic activity but the materials cannot be easily integrated into electrochemical devices. …

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Why dark chocolate is good for your heart

It might seem too good to be true, but dark chocolate is good for you and scientists now know why. Dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels. Both arterial stiffness and white blood cell adhesion are known factors that play a significant role in atherosclerosis. What’s more, the scientists also found that increasing the flavanol content of dark chocolate did not change this effect. This discovery was published in the March 2014 issue of The FASEB Journal.”We provide a more complete picture of the impact of chocolate consumption in vascular health and show that increasing flavanol content has no added beneficial effect on vascular health,” said Diederik Esser, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Top Institute Food and Nutrition and Wageningen University, Division of Human Nutrition in Wageningen, The Netherlands. “However, this increased flavanol content clearly affected taste and thereby the motivation to eat these chocolates. So the dark side of chocolate is a healthy one.”To make this discovery, Esser and colleagues analyzed 44 middle-aged overweight men over two periods of four weeks as they consumed 70 grams of chocolate per day. Study participants received either specially produced dark chocolate with high flavanol content or chocolate that was regularly produced. Both chocolates had a similar cocoa mass content. Before and after both intervention periods, researchers performed a variety of measurements that are important indicators of vascular health. …

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Dismantling pancreas cancer’s armor: Removing specialized immune suppressor cells from pancreas

Pancreas cancer is notoriously impervious to treatment and resists both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It has also been thought to provide few targets for immune cells, allowing tumors to grow unchecked. But new research from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center shows that pancreas cancer “veils” itself from the immune system by recruiting specialized immune suppressor cells. The research team also found that removing these cells quickly triggers a spontaneous anti-tumor immune response.The findings, published Feb. 20 in Gut, give hope for future immunotherapy strategies against this deadly and aggressive cancer.”The take-home message is that there is a latent immune response against pancreas cancer that can be expressed if we remove its obstacles,” said Sunil Hingorani, M.D., Ph.D., an associate member of the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutch, who led the study. “Removing the suppressor cells creates a context that could enable an adoptive immune cell therapy against pancreas cancer.”An almost uniformly deadly cancerPancreas cancer is almost uniformly deadly. About 45,000 people are diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. each year. “The mortality rate is essentially the same as the incidence rate,” Hingorani noted. Pancreas cancer “doesn’t obey the rules” established for other solid tumors, he said: It metastasizes early, resists traditional treatment, and survives quite well on a diminished blood supply.The tumor builds a fibrous wall around itself which exerts so much pressure that blood vessels entering the tumor are constricted, which also prevents chemotherapy from entering. …

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Better batters from brain-training research: Baseball player study significantly improves vision, reduces strikeouts

Four words no baseball player wants to hear: Strike three. You’re out.The University of California, Riverside’s baseball team heard those words less frequently in the 2013 season after participating in novel brain-training research that significantly improved the vision of individual players and may have added up to four or five games to the win column.The results of that study appear in a paper, “Improved vision and on-field performance in baseball through perceptual learning,” published in the Feb. 17 issue of the peer-reviewed Current Biology.Most studies of visual abilities focus on mechanisms that might be used to improve sight, such as exercising the ocular muscles. Improvements in vision resulting from those experiments typically do not transfer to real-world tasks, however.A team of UCR psychologists — professors Aaron Seitz and Daniel Ozer and recent Ph.D. graduate Jenni Deveau — combined multiple perceptual-learning approaches to determine if improvements gained from an integrated, perceptual learning-based training program would transfer to real-world tasks.They did.Before the start of the 2013 NCAA Division 1 baseball season the UCR researchers assigned 19 baseball players to complete 30 25-minute sessions of a vision-training video game Seitz developed. Another 18 team members received no training. Players who participated in the training saw a 31 percent improvement in visual acuity — some gaining as much as two lines on the Snellen eye chart — and greater sensitivity to contrasts in light.”The vision tests demonstrate that training-based benefits transfer outside the context of the computerized training program to standard eye charts,” Seitz said. “Players reported seeing the ball better, greater peripheral vision and an ability to distinguish lower-contrast objects.”The researchers found that the trained players had 4.4 percent fewer strikeouts — a decrease not experienced in the rest of the Big West Conference. The UCR team also scored 41 more runs than projected after controlling for skills improvements players would be expected to gain over the course of a season. Ozer arrived at this number by using the runs-created formula developed by baseball historian and statistician Bill James.The longtime baseball fan then used the Pythagorean Winning Percentage formula, a statistical tool used by sabermetricians to compute a team’s wins and losses based upon their runs scored and runs allowed, to estimate that the training resulted in as many as four or five more wins.(The team had a season record of 22-32, but later was forced to vacate eight wins due to an ineligible player.)UCR’s year-over-year improvements were at least three times greater than the rest of the league in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, walks and strikeouts, the researchers determined.”Elite baseball batters use various kinds of sensory information to be successful batters, but most weight is given to visual feedback,” Seitz said. …

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Scientists find cell fate switch that decides liver, or pancreas?

Harvard stem cell scientists have a new theory for how stem cells decide whether to become liver or pancreatic cells during development. A cell’s fate, the researchers found, is determined by the nearby presence of prostaglandin E2, a messenger molecule best known for its role in inflammation and pain. The discovery, published in the journal Developmental Cell, could potentially make liver and pancreas cells easier to generate both in the lab and for future cell therapies.Wolfram Goessling, MD, PhD, and Trista North, PhD, both principal faculty members of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), identified a gradient of prostaglandin E2 in the region of zebrafish embryos where stem cells differentiate into the internal organs. Experiments conducted by postdoctoral fellow Sahar Nissim, MD, PhD, in the Goessling lab showed how liver-or-pancreas-fated stem cells have specific receptors on their membranes to detect the amount of prostaglandin E2 hormone present and coerce the cell into differentiating into a specific organ type.”Cells that see more prostaglandin become liver and the cells that see less prostaglandin become pancreas,” said Goessling, a Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “This is the first time that prostaglandin is being reported as a factor that can lead this fate switch and essentially instruct what kind of identity a cell is going to be.”The researchers next collaborated with the laboratory of HSCI Affiliated Faculty member Richard Maas, MD, PhD, Director of the Genetics Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, to see whether prostaglandin E2 has a similar function in mammals. Richard Sherwood, PhD, a former graduate student of HSCI Co-director Doug Melton, was successfully able to instruct mouse stem cells to become either liver or pancreas cells by exposing them to different amounts of the hormone. Other experiments showed that prostaglandin E2 could also enhance liver growth and regeneration of liver cells.Goessling and his research partner North, a Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor of Pathology at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, first became intrigued by prostaglandin E2 in 2005, as postdoctoral fellows in the lab of HSCI Executive Committee Chair Leonard Zon, MD. It caught their attention during a chemical screen exposing 2,500 known drugs to zebrafish embryos to find any that could amplify blood stem cell populations. Prostaglandin E2 was the most successful hit — the first molecule discovered in any system to have such an effect — and recently successfully completed Phase 1b clinical trials as a therapeutic to improve cord blood transplants.”Prostaglandin might be a master regulator of cell growth in different organs,” Goessling said. “It’s used in cord blood, as we have shown, it works in the liver, and who knows what other organs might be affected by it.”With evidence of how prostaglandin E2 works in the liver, the researchers next want to calibrate how it can be used in the laboratory to instruct induced pluripotent stem cells — mature cells that have been reprogrammed into a stem-like state — to become liver or pancreas cells. …

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Quick test finds signs of diarrheal disease

Bioengineers at Rice University and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston have developed a simple, highly sensitive and efficient test for the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis that could have great impact on global health.Results from the diagnostic developed by the lab of Rice bioengineer Rebecca Richards-Kortum are read from a paper strip that resembles a pregnancy test. Lines on the strip tell whether samples taken from the stool of a patient contain genetic DNA from the parasite that causes the disease.The research is detailed online in a new paper in the American Chemical Society journal Analytical Chemistry.”Diarrheal illness is a leading cause of global mortality and morbidity,” said Richards-Kortum, director of the Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies. “Parasites such as cryptosporidium are more common causes of prolonged diarrhea. Current laboratory tests are not sensitive, are time-consuming and require days before results are available. A rapid, affordable, accurate point-of-care test could greatly enhance care for the underserved populations who are most affected by parasites that cause diarrheal illness.”A. Clinton White, director of the Infectious Disease Division at UTMB, asked Richards-Kortum to help develop a diagnostic test for the parasite. “I’ve been working with cryptosporidium for more than 20 years, so I wanted to combine her expertise in diagnosis with our clinical interest,” he said. “Recent studies in Africa and South Asia by people using sophisticated techniques show this organism is a very common, underappreciated cause of diarrheal disease in underresourced countries.”The parasite is common in the United States, he said, but less than 5 percent of an estimated 750,000 cases are diagnosed every year. In 1993, an outbreak of cryptosporidium in the water supply sickened 400,000 people in Greater Milwaukee, he said.Lead author Zachary Crannell, a graduate student based at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative, said the disease, usually transmitted through drinking water, accounts for 20 percent of childhood diarrheal deaths in developing countries. Cryptosporidiosis is also a threat to people with HIV whose immune system is less able to fight it off, he said.”In the most recent global burden-of-disease study, diarrheal disease accounts for the loss of more disability-adjusted life years than any other infectious disease, and cryptosporidiosis is the second leading cause of diarrheal illness.” Crannell said. …

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Split decision: Stem cell signal linked with cancer growth

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have identified a protein critical to hematopoietic stem cell function and blood formation. The finding has potential as a new target for treating leukemia because cancer stem cells rely upon the same protein to regulate and sustain their growth.Hematopoietic stem cells give rise to all other blood cells. Writing in the February 2, 2014 advance online issue of Nature Genetics, principal investigator Tannishtha Reya, PhD, professor in the Department of Pharmacology, and colleagues found that a protein called Lis1 fundamentally regulates asymmetric division of hematopoietic stem cells, assuring that the stem cells correctly differentiate to provide an adequate, sustained supply of new blood cells.Asymmetric division occurs when a stem cell divides into two daughter cells of unequal inheritance: One daughter differentiates into a permanently specialized cell type while the other remains undifferentiated and capable of further divisions.”This process is very important for the proper generation of all the cells needed for the development and function of many normal tissues,” said Reya. When cells divide, Lis1 controls orientation of the mitotic spindle, an apparatus of subcellular fibers that segregates chromosomes during cell division.”During division, the spindle is attached to a particular point on the cell membrane, which also determines the axis along which the cell will divide,” Reya said. “Because proteins are not evenly distributed throughout the cell, the axis of division, in turn, determines the types and amounts of proteins that get distributed to each daughter cell. By analogy, imagine the difference between cutting Earth along the equator versus halving it longitudinally. In each case, the countries that wind up in the two halves are different.”When researchers deleted Lis1 from mouse hematopoietic stem cells, differentiation was radically altered. Asymmetric division increased and accelerated differentiation, resulting in an oversupply of specialized cells and an ever-diminishing reserve of undifferentiated stem cells, which eventually resulted in a bloodless mouse.”What we found was that a large part of the defect in blood formation was due to a failure of stem cells to expand,” said Reya. “Instead of undergoing symmetric divisions to generate two stem cell daughters, they predominantly underwent asymmetric division to generate more specialized cells. As a result, the mice were unable to generate enough stem cells to sustain blood cell production.”The scientists next looked at how cancer stem cells in mice behaved when the Lis1 signaling pathway was blocked, discovering that they too lost the ability to renew and propagate. …

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HPV study: Does vaccinating one sexual partner also benefit the other?

A new study by McGill University will examine whether vaccinating only one partner in a couple against the human papillomavirus (HPV) can help prevent transmission of HPV to the unvaccinated partner.The study — called TRAP-HPV, an acronym for Transmission Reduction And Prevention with HPV vaccination — is a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind trial involving 500 sexually active couples. The study aims to determine the efficacy of an HPV vaccine in reducing transmission of genital, anal, and oral HPV infection in unvaccinated sexual partners of vaccinated individuals.HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in women globally. Prophylactic vaccines against certain high-risk HPV types have been shown to be effective in preventing infection. However, much remains to be understood on the effects of HPV vaccine on the blockage of transmission of target HPV types to sexual partners of vaccinated individuals.”This is the first study to look at whether unvaccinated partners of vaccinated individuals have a benefit in terms of protection from HPV infection,” explained Eduardo Franco, Director of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and leader of the study. “It will help us understand the important issue of herd immunity from HPV vaccination. If partner protection is sufficiently high we may be able to get adequate population level immunity from much less than 100% vaccination coverage and devote our scarce public health funds to other pressing needs.””Efficacy studies of the HPV vaccines generally look at genital HPV infections, but our study will also be looking at other anatomical sites that HPV infects, such as the anal and oral regions,” says Kristina Dahlstrom, postdoctoral fellow, Department of Oncology, Division of Cancer Epidemiology. “Increasing the knowledge about HPV transmission dynamics will benefit cost-effectiveness studies and have implications for decision-making when implementing population-level vaccination strategies.”The U.S. Centers for Disease Control considers HPV the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world. Another McGill study called HITCH (HPV Infection and Transmission in Couples through Heterosexual activity), also from Dr. Franco’s team, found more than half (56 per cent) of young adults in a new sexual relationship were infected with HPV. …

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Watching the heartbeat of molecules

Oct. 17, 2013 — A team of scientists around Prof. Theodor W. Hänsch and Dr. Nathalie Picqué at the Laser Spectroscopy Division of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching), in a collaboration with the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich and the Institut des Sciences Moléculaires d’Orsay (France) now report on a new method of rapidly identifying different molecular species under a microscope. Their technique of coherent Raman spectro-imaging with two laser frequency combs takes a big step towards the holy grail of real-time label-free biomolecular imaging, as published recently in Nature.How does a drug influence a living cell? In which way can signal molecules change the cell metabolism? Such questions are difficult to answer, since cells are highly complex “chemical factories” which constantly manufacture and break down a large number of different molecular species. Biologists have learnt to attach fluorescent dye labels to certain proteins so that they can distinguish them under a microscope. However, such labels can alter the cell functions. …

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Vitamin D does not contribute to kidney stones

Oct. 17, 2013 — Increased vitamin D levels may prevent a wide range of diseases, according to recent studies. However, some previous studies led to a concern that vitamin D supplementation could increase an individual’s risk of developing kidney stones.However, a study of 2,012 participants — published in the American Journal of Public Health -found no statistically relevant association between 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25 (OH)D) serum level in the range of 20 to 100 ng/mL and the incidence of kidney stones.This study — led by Cedric F. Garland, DrPH, adjunct professor in the Division of Epidemiology, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine — used data from the nonprofit public health promotion organization GrassrootsHealth to follow more than 2,000 men and women of all ages for 19 months.Only 13 individuals self-reported a kidney stone diagnosis during the study.”Mounting evidence indicates that a Vitamin D serum level in the therapeutic range of 40 to 50 ng/mL is needed for substantial reduction in risk of many diseases, including breast and colorectal cancer,” said Garland, adding that this serum level is generally only achieved by taking vitamin supplements. “Our results may lessen concerns by individuals about taking vitamin D supplements, as no link was shown between such supplementation and an increased risk for kidney stones.”The study did show that older age, male gender and higher body mass index (BMI) were all risk factors for developing kidney stones. According to the researchers, individuals with high BMI need higher vitamin D intake than their leaner counterparts to achieve the same 25 (OH)D serum level.

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Empathy? Surprising study shows that brains process the pain of villains more than the pain of people we like

Oct. 16, 2013 — A counterintuitive findings from a new USC study show that the part of the brain that is associated with empathizing with the pain of others is activated more strongly by watching the suffering of hateful people as opposed to likable people.While one might assume that we would empathize more with people we like, the study may indicate that the human brain focuses more greatly on the need to monitor enemies closely, especially when they are suffering.”When you watch an action movie and the bad guy appears to be defeated, the moment of his demise draws our focus intensely,” said Lisa Aziz-Zadeh of the Brain and Creativity Institute of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “We watch him closely to see whether he’s really down for the count, because it’s critical for predicting his potential for retribution in the future.”Aziz-Zadeh, who has a joint appointment with the USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, collaborated with lead author Glenn Fox, a PhD candidate at USC; and Mona Sobhani, formerly a grad student at USC and who is now a post-doctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University, on a study that appears in Frontiers in Psychology this month.The study examined activity in the so-called “pain matrix” of the brain, a network that includes the insula cortex, the anterior cingulate, and the somatosensory cortices — regions known to activate when an individual watches another person suffer.The pain matrix is thought to be a related to empathy — allowing us to understand another’s pain. However, this study indicates that the pain matrix may be more involved in processing pain in general, and not necessarily tied to empathic processing.Participants — all of them white, male, and Jewish — first watched videos of hateful, anti-Semitic individuals in pain and then other videos of tolerant, non-hateful individuals in pain. Their brains were scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to show activity levels in the pain matrix.Surprisingly, the participants’ pain matrices were more activated by watching the anti-Semites suffer compared to the tolerant individuals.”The results further revealed the brain’s flexibility in processing complex social situations.” said Fox. “The brain uses the complete context of the situation to mount an appropriate response. In this case, the brain’s response is likely tied to the relative increase in the need to attend to and understand the pain of the hateful person.”A possible next step for the researchers will be to try to understand how regulating one’s emotional reaction to stimuli such as these alters the resulting patterns of brain activity.

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Chronic pain treatment cools hot flashes in menopausal women

Oct. 12, 2013 — Menopausal women suffer from half as many hot flashes after receiving a non-hormonal chronic pain treatment, according to a study presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY™ 2013 annual meeting. The nerve block treatment interrupts the area of the brain that regulates body temperature, reducing moderate-to-severe hot flashes and alleviating depression in menopausal women, breast cancer patients and women in surgical menopause.”Hot flashes affect more than 80 percent of menopausal women,” said David R. Walega, M.D., chief of the Division of Pain Medicine, and program director of the Multidisciplinary Pain Medicine Fellowship Department of Anesthesiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago. “This is the first effective, non-hormonal treatment for hot flashes, which for many women have a serious negative effect on their lives. This treatment will also help breast cancer patients who suffer from hot flashes as a side effect of their treatments or medication. Some breast cancer patients stop taking their medication (tamoxifen) because of hot flashes.”Hot flashes are a sudden feeling of heat or warmth starting in the face and extending to the neck and chest area. Some women also experience profuse sweating and a “reddening” or flush to their skin. Hot flashes can last anywhere from one to 10 minutes and vary in strength and frequency.This prospective, randomized, controlled study included 40 patients between 30 and 65 years old who experienced at least 25 hot flashes per week. Half of the participants received a stellate ganglion blockade (SGB) injection with a local anesthetic. …

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Radiotherapy in girls and the risk of breast cancer later in life

Sep. 11, 2013 — Exposing young women and girls under the age of 20 to ionizing radiation can substantially raise the risk of their developing breast cancer later in life. Scientists may now know why. A collaborative study, in which Berkeley Lab researchers played a pivotal role, points to increased stem cell self-renewal and subsequent mammary stem cell enrichment as the culprits. Breasts enriched with mammary stem cells as a result of ionizing irradiation during puberty show a later-in-life propensity for developing ER negative tumors — cells that do not have the estrogen receptor. Estrogen receptors — proteins activated by the estrogen hormone — are critical to the normal development of the breast and other female sexual characteristics during puberty.”Our results are in agreement with epidemiology studies showing that radiation-induced human breast cancers are more likely to be ER negative than are spontaneous breast cancers,” says Sylvain Costes, a biophysicist with Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division. “This is important because ER negative breast cancers are less differentiated, more aggressive, and often have a poor prognosis compared to the other breast cancer subtypes.”Costes and Jonathan Tang, also with Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division, were part of a collaboration led by Mary Helen Barcellos-Hoff, formerly with Berkeley Lab and now at the New York University School of Medicine, that investigated the so-called “window of susceptibility” known to exist between radiation treatments at puberty and breast cancer risk in later adulthood. The key to their success were two mammary lineage agent-based models (ABMs) they developed in which a system is modeled as a collection of autonomous decision-making entities called agents. One ABM simulated the effects of radiation on the mammary gland during either the developmental stages or during adulthood. The other simulated the growth dynamics of human mammary epithelial cells in culture after irradiation.”Our mammary gland ABM consisted of millions of agents, with each agent representing either a mammary stem cell, a progenitor cell or a differentiated cell in the breast,” says Tang. …

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Programmable glue made of DNA directs tiny gel bricks to self-assemble

Sep. 9, 2013 — A team of researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has found a way to self-assemble complex structures out of bricks smaller than a grain of salt. The self-assembly method could help solve one of the major challenges in tissue engineering: regrowing human tissue by injecting tiny components into the body that then self-assemble into larger, intricately structured, biocompatible scaffolds at an injury site.The key to self-assembly was developing the world’s first programmable glue. The glue is made of DNA, and it directs specific bricks of a water-filled gel to stick only to each other, the scientists report in the September 9th online issue of Nature Communications.”By using DNA glue to guide gel bricks to self-assemble, we’re creating sophisticated programmable architecture,” says Peng Yin, Ph.D., a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute and senior coauthor of the study, who is also an Assistant Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. This novel self-assembly method worked for gel bricks from as small as a speck of silt (30 microns diameter) to as large as a grain of sand (1 millimeter diameter), underscoring the method’s versatility.The programmable DNA glue could also be used with other materials to create a variety of small, self-assembling devices, including lenses, reconfigurable microchips, and surgical glue that could knit together only the desired tissues, said Ali Khademhosseini, Ph.D., an Associate Faculty member at the Wyss Institute who is the other senior coauthor of the study.”It could work for anything where you’d want a programmable glue to induce assembly of higher-order structures, with great control over their final architecture — and that’s very exciting,” said Khademhosseini, who is also an Associate Professor at Harvard-MIT’s Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School.To fabricate devices or their component parts, manufacturers often start with a single piece of material, then modify it until it has the desired properties. In other cases, they employ the same strategy as auto manufacturers, making components with the desired properties, then assembling them to produce the final device. Living organisms fabricate their tissues using a similar strategy, in which different types of cells assemble into functional building blocks that generate the appropriate tissue function. In the liver, for example, the functional building blocks are small tissue units called lobules. In muscle tissue, the functional building blocks are muscle fibers.Scientists have tried to mimic this manufacturing strategy by developing self-assembling systems to fabricate devices. For example, last year Yin and his team reported in Science that they had developed miniscule “DNA bricks” smaller than the tiniest virus that self-assemble into complex nanoscale 3D structures.Now, he and Khademhosseini sought to create a similar programmable, self-assembling system for mesoscale components — those with edge widths ranging from 30 microns to 1000 microns (1 millimeter). …

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Pre-pregnancy hormone testing may indicate gestational diabetes risk

Aug. 29, 2013 — Overweight women with low levels of the hormone adiponectin prior to pregnancy are nearly seven times more likely to develop gestational diabetes, according to a Kaiser Permanente study published today in the journal Diabetes Care. Adiponectin protects against insulin resistance, inflammation and heart disease.Using Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect®, an electronic health records system, the researchers retrospectively identified about 4,000 women who gave voluntary blood samples between 1985 and 1996 during routine care and subsequently delivered an infant. Among that group, 256 women developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy and 497 did not. Researchers found that normal-weight women with low levels of adiponectin were 3.5 times more likely to develop gestational diabetes than their normal-weight peers with normal levels of the hormone. Additionally, overweight women with high levels of adiponectin were 1.7 times as likely to develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, while those with the lowest levels were 6.8 times more likely.”Our findings indicate important pregnancy interventions may be possible before a woman even conceives,” said Monique M. Hedderson, PhD, principal investigator of the study and research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif. “Adiponectin levels are easy and inexpensive to measure and could potentially be used to identify women who are at risk for gestational diabetes.”The relationship between low adiponectin levels prior to pregnancy and the risk of diabetes was highly significant among the study group, according to the researchers, and it increased among women with higher body mass indexes, even after the data was adjusted for confounding factors such as family history of diabetes, race, smoking and blood glucose and insulin levels. This study included women who volunteered to participate in Kaiser Permanente’s multiphasic health check-up exam, therefore the population may be more health conscious than the general population. However, the study cohort was very diverse in terms of race-ethnicity and education level. …

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Mutations in a gene that impacts immune function increase susceptibility to prostate cancer

Aug. 29, 2013 — A team of researchers led by Janet Stanford, Ph.D., of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has discovered that mutations in the gene BTNL2, which encodes a protein involved in regulating T-cell proliferation and cytokine production — both of which impact immune function — increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.The findings, by Stanford and colleagues from the University of Washington Genome Sciences Department and the National Human Genome Research Institute, are online ahead of the print issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.A complex disease with a strong genetic componentProstate cancer is a complex disease and its causes include a strong genetic component. It is estimated that about 42 percent of prostate cancer cases are due to heredity, or genetic variations present at birth. Five to 10 percent of those prostate cancer cases are thought to result from rare inherited mutations.The researchers studied multiple prostate cancer patients from families with a pattern of hereditary prostate cancer, or HPC. Germline DNA provided by patients with more aggressive or early onset disease was sequenced in an attempt to identify rare genetic mutations that predispose to prostate cancer. All the participants were men of European ancestry.Several genes with candidate mutations were highlighted, but two coding variants in the butyrophilin-like 2, or BTNL2, gene were most strongly related to the development of prostate cancer. These missense mutations that change the genetic code were subsequently confirmed to be clearly associated with prostate cancer in an independent set of HPC families and in a case-control study population.The team found that the two BTNL2 mutations associated with elevated prostate cancer risk are rare. In the 270 HPC families used for confirmation, about 1.5 percent of affected men carried one of the mutations but unaffected men carried none. In the population-based case-control study, 2 percent of prostate cancer cases and less than 1 percent of men without prostate cancer carried one of the variants.Mutations increased risk of both hereditary and sporadic prostate cancerIn the case-control study, men who carried one of these variants had a significant 2.5- to 2.7-fold higher risk for developing prostate cancer compared to men who did not carry either mutation.”This research demonstrates for the first time that rare mutations in the BTNL2 gene enhance susceptibility to both hereditary and sporadic prostate cancer,” said Stanford, co-director of the Program in Prostate Cancer Research a member of the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutch. Common variants in this gene have been previously linked to several autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as sarcoidosis and ulcerative colitis.The researchers used a next-generation sequencing technology called whole-exome sequencing, which consists of sequencing all the coding regions, called exons, across the genome. …

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