Common blood thinner for pregnant women proven ineffective

It’s a daily injection to the belly for pregnant women at risk of developing blood clots and it’s ineffective, according to a clinical trial led by researchers at The Ottawa Hospital and published today by the medical journal The Lancet.As many as one in 10 pregnant women have a tendency to develop blood clots in their veins, a condition called thrombophilia. For two decades these women have often been prescribed the anticoagulant low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) to prevent pregnancy complications caused by placental blood clots. This treatment requires women to give themselves daily injections — a painful and demoralizing process that requires women to poke their abdomen with hundreds of needles over the course of their pregnancy.Now, a randomized clinical trial led by Dr. Marc Rodger, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute who heads up the Thrombosis Program of The Ottawa Hospital, provides conclusive evidence that the commonly prescribed LMWH anticoagulant has no positive benefits for the mother or child. In fact, Dr. Rodger’s study shows that LMWH treatments could actually cause pregnant women some minor harm by increasing bleeding, increasing their rates of induced labour and reducing their access to anesthesia during childbirth.”These results mean that many women around the world can save themselves a lot of unnecessary pain during pregnancy,” says Dr. Rodger, who is also a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa. “Using low molecular weight heparin unnecessarily medicalizes a woman’s pregnancy and is costly.”Since the 1990s, using LMWH to treat pregnant women with a tendency to develop blood clots became commonplace, despite the fact that a large, multi-site randomized clinical trial had never been conducted to prove its effectiveness. Low molecular weight heparin is also prescribed by many physicians worldwide to women, with and without thrombophilia, to prevent placenta blood clots that may lead to pregnancy loss, as well as preeclampsia (high blood pressure), placental abruption (heavy bleeding) and intra-uterine growth restrictions (low birth weight babies). The anticoagulant LMWH is also prescribed to prevent deep vein thrombosis (leg vein blood clots) and pulmonary embolisms (lung blood clots).”While I wish we could have shown that LMWH prevents complications, we actually proved it doesn’t help,” adds Dr. …

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Slow walking speed, memory complaints can predict dementia

A study involving nearly 27,000 older adults on five continents found that nearly 1 in 10 met criteria for pre-dementia based on a simple test that measures how fast people walk and whether they have cognitive complaints. People who tested positive for pre-dementia were twice as likely as others to develop dementia within 12 years. The study, led by scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center, was published online on July 16, 2014 in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.The new test diagnoses motoric cognitive risk syndrome (MCR). Testing for the newly described syndrome relies on measuring gait speed (our manner of walking) and asking a few simple questions about a patient’s cognitive abilities, both of which take just seconds. The test is not reliant on the latest medical technology and can be done in a clinical setting, diagnosing people in the early stages of the dementia process. Early diagnosis is critical because it allows time to identify and possibly treat the underlying causes of the disease, which may delay or even prevent the onset of dementia in some cases.”In many clinical and community settings, people don’t have access to the sophisticated tests — biomarker assays, cognitive tests or neuroimaging studies — used to diagnose people at risk for developing dementia,” said Joe Verghese, M.B.B.S., professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology and of medicine at Einstein, chief of geriatrics at Einstein and Montefiore, and senior author of the Neurology paper. “Our assessment method could enable many more people to learn if they’re at risk for dementia, since it avoids the need for complex testing and doesn’t require that the test be administered by a neurologist. The potential payoff could be tremendous — not only for individuals and their families, but also in terms of healthcare savings for society. All that’s needed to assess MCR is a stopwatch and a few questions, so primary care physicians could easily incorporate it into examinations of their older patients.”The U.S. …

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Free online software helps speed up genetic discoveries

Microarray analysis — a complex technology commonly used in many applications such as discovering genes, disease diagnosis, drug development and toxicological research — has just become easier and more user-friendly. A new advanced software program called Eureka-DMA provides a cost-free, graphical interface that allows bioinformaticians and bench-biologists alike to initiate analyses, and to investigate the data produced by microarrays. The program was developed by Ph.D. student Sagi Abelson of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.DNA microarray analysis, a high-speed method by which the expression of thousands of genes can be analyzed simultaneously, was invented in the late 1980s and developed in the 1990s. Genetic researchers used a glass slide with tiny dots of copies of DNA to test match genes they were trying to identify. Because the array of dots was so small, it was called a “microarray.” There is a strong correlation between the field of molecular biology and medical research, and microarray technology is used routinely in the area of cancer research and other epidemiology studies. Many research groups apply it to detect genetic variations between biological samples and information about aberrant gene expression levels can be used in what is called “personalized medicine.” This includes customized approaches to medical care, including finding new drugs for gene targets where diseases have genetic causes and potential cures are based on an individual’s aberrant gene’s signal.An article written by Abelson published in the current issue of BMC Bioinformatics (2014,15:53) describes the new software tool and provides examples of its uses.”Eureka-DMA combines simplicity of operation and ease of data management with the rapid execution of multiple task analyses,” says Abelson. “This ability can help researchers who have less experience in bioinformatics to transform the high throughput data they generate into meaningful and understandable information.”Eureka-DMA has a distinct advantage over other software programs that only work “behind the scenes” and provide only a final output. It provides users with an understanding of how their actions influence the outcome throughout all the data elucidation steps, keeping them connected to the data, and enabling them to reach optimal conclusions.”It is very gratifying to see the insightful initiative of Sagi Abelson, a leading ‘out-of-the-box’ thoughtful Technion doctorate student whom I have had the privilege of supervising,” said Prof. Karl Skorecki, the Director of the Rappaport Family Institute for Research in the Medical Sciences at the Technion Faculty of Medicine and Director of Medical and Research Development at the Rambam Health Care Campus. …

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Can the blind ‘hear; colors, shapes? Yes, show researchers

What if you could “hear” colors? Or shapes? These features are normally perceived visually, but using sensory substitution devices (SSDs) they can now be conveyed to the brain noninvasively through other senses.At the Center for Human Perception and Cognition, headed by Prof. Amir Amedi of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences and the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Medicine, the blind and visually impaired are being offered tools, via training with SSDs, to receive environmental visual information and interact with it in ways otherwise unimaginable. The work of Prof. Amedi and his colleagues is patented by Yissum, the Hebrew University’s Technology Transfer CompanySSDs are non-invasive sensory aids that provide visual information to the blind via their existing senses. For example, using a visual-to-auditory SSD in a clinical or everyday setting, users wear a miniature camera connected to a small computer (or smart phone) and stereo headphones. The images are converted into “soundscapes,” using a predictable algorithm, allowing the user to listen to and then interpret the visual information coming from the camera.With the EyeMusic SSD (available free at the Apple App store at http://tinyurl.com/oe8d4p4), one hears pleasant musical notes to convey information about colors, shapes and location of objects in the world.Using this SSD equipment and a unique training program, the blind are able to achieve various complex. visual-linked abilities. In recent articles in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience and Scientific Reports, blind and blindfolded-sighted users of the EyeMusic were shown to correctly perceive and interact with objects, such as recognizing different shapes and colors or reaching for a beverage (A live demonstration can be seen at http://youtu.be/r6bz1pOEJWg).In another use of EyeMusic, it was shown that other fast and accurate movements can be guided by the EyeMusic and visuo-motor learning. …

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Drinking water linked to infections in many countries

Brisbane’s water supply has been found to contain disease carrying bugs which can be directly linked to infections in some patients, according to a new study by QUT.Dr Rachel Thomson, who has completed her PhD through QUT’s Faculty of Health, said certain species of nontuberculous mycobacteria were present in Brisbane’s water distribution system.”We know that certain species of nontuberculous mycobacteria can cause disease and infection in humans, especially in some at-risk groups, but not all exposure to mycobacteria is harmful,” she said.”We also know this is not isolated to Brisbane, with water supplies in many countries being a risk. What my study has been able to do is directly link the strains of bugs found in Brisbane’s water supply with the strains of bugs found in human infections, indicating that the water may be the source of the infection. Mycobacterial infections usually present as a persistent cough with symptoms similar to tuberculosis and include fatigue, night sweats and weight loss.”Dr Thomson said the number of mycobacterial disease cases in Queensland was steadily increasing, with an estimated 200 new cases diagnosed each year.”Mycobacterial infections are most common in people with underlying lung disease such as people with emphysema and cystic fibrosis, as well as those with immune suppression conditions like HIV or those taking chemotherapy-type medications,” she said.”But what is concerning is we are also seeing a growing number of middle-aged women getting the disease; they tend to be slender and slightly above average height, and who for all intents and purposes are fit and healthy.”It has been termed Lady Windermere syndrome because we are seeing it in women who tend to quietly and politely cough ineffectively, thereby not coughing up the bacteria.”Dr Thomson said in Queensland in people aged over 65, mycobacterial infection was more common than type 1 diabetes.”The other big concern is treatment. People who contract the infection usually have to take three different types of antibiotics over a 12 to 18 month period, sometimes even longer, and there can be side effects,” she said.”Certain strains of the disease are also notoriously difficult to treat and carry a high risk of morbidity and mortality, and there has been a recent suggestion that infection with one species may be transmitted between patients.”Dr Thomson’s study also looked at whether household water exposure through aerosols by activities like showering could lead to infection.”We found that nontuberculous mycobacteria could be aerosolised during showering to a respirable particle size and therefore potentially inhaled deep into the lungs,” Dr Thomson said.”The combined findings of strain comparisons of city wide and patient home sampling indicate that patients are at risk of infection from exposure to Brisbane’s water and showers.”Dr Thomson said the easiest way to kill water-borne mycobacteria was by boiling water, although her study suggested additional water chlorination through the water treatment process may also help. To reduce aerosolised mycobacteria, bathing rather than showering is recommended.She said reducing the temperature of home hot water systems contributed to increased household exposure to these mycobacteria.The four specific species of mycobacteria Dr Thomson found in Brisbane water that have been linked to human disease include Mycobacterium abscessus, Mycobacterium avium, Mycobacterium lentiflavum, and Mycobacterium kansasii.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Queensland University of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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If you think you have Alzheimer’s, you just might be right, study suggests

A recent study suggests that self-reported memory complaints might predict clinical memory impairment later in life. Erin Abner, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, asked 3,701 men aged 60 and higher a simple question: “Have you noticed any change in your memory since you last came in?”That question led to some interesting results. “It seems that subjective memory complaint can be predictive of clinical memory impairment,” Abner said. “Other epidemiologists have seen similar results, which is encouraging, since it means we might really be on to something.”The results are meaningful because it might help identify people who are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease sooner. “If the memory and thinking lapses people notice themselves could be early markers of risk for Alzheimer’s disease, we might eventually be able to intervene earlier in the aging process to postpone and/or reduce the effects of cognitive memory impairment.”Abner, who is also a member of the faculty in the UK Department of Epidemiology, took pains to emphasize that her work shouldn’t necessarily worry everyone who’s ever forgotten where they left their keys.”I don’t want to alarm people,” she said. “It’s important to distinguish between normal memory lapses and significant memory problems, which usually change over time and affect multiple aspects of daily life.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Kentucky. The original article was written by Laura Dawahare. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Social norms strongly influence vaccination decisions, the spread of disease

Our response to societal pressures about vaccination has a direct effect on the spread of pediatric infectious diseases in areas where inoculation is not mandatory, says new research published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.By incorporating social norms into predictive mathematical modelling, a research team from the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo found that they can foresee the observed patterns of population behavior and disease spread during vaccine scares — times when anti-vaccine sentiment is strong.”If vaccination is not mandatory and disease is rare, then a few parents will be tempted to stop vaccinating their children,” said Professor Chris Bauch of Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics, and one of the study authors. “More parents adopt this behavior as social norms begin to change and it becomes increasingly acceptable to avoid some vaccines. Obviously, when enough parents are no longer vaccinating, the disease will come back.”In most of North America, pediatric vaccination is mandatory for children enrolled in public education. However, the number of parents applying for exemptions to pediatric vaccination is on the rise. According to Professor Bauch, as that trend continues Canadians will increasingly find themselves in a situation where vaccination coverage has declined and populations are once again susceptible to disease.”Parents are not cold, clinical rationalists who base their decisions only on data. They are strongly influenced by other parents and what they read,” said Professor Bauch. “Our research suggests that health officials needs to have a really good understanding of the social context to better understand vaccine scares and why people refuse vaccines. To do that, we have to develop predictive tools that also reflect social behavior patterns, or we won’t be able to accurately represent what is happening during vaccine scares.”Predictive modelling can help public health officials plan for responses to vaccine programs. The models that Professor Bauch and his colleagues use can determine what may happen in a population where a vaccine scare has taken hold.”If you’ve seen a big drop in vaccine coverage and you’ve seen a surge of disease because of that, you can use these models to predict how long it will take vaccine coverage to recover,” said Professor Bauch.Professor Bauch and his colleagues will continue to study how social norms interact with disease spread. Down the road, he hopes to use this model to create an index, which may be able to help determine which populations are more susceptible to vaccine scares, with the hope of preventing them from occurring.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Waterloo. …

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Novel genes determine division of labor in insect societies

Novel or highly modified genes play a major role in the development of the different castes within ant colonies. Evolutionary biologists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) came to this conclusion in a recent gene expression study. Dr. Barbara Feldmeyer and her colleagues at the JGU Institute of Zoology studied the question how the different female castes arise.An ant colony generally consists of a queen and the workers. Moreover, workers can differ depending on the task they perform, such as brood care, foraging, or nest defense. This behavioral specialization may be accompanied by morphological and physiological differences. Queens, solely responsible for reproduction, can live up to 30 years while workers have life spans ranging from a few months to several years. In some species there are also soldier ants, which can weigh up to 100 times more than their worker sisters who take care of the brood.Interestingly, the divergent phenotypic traits of queens and workers develop from the same genetic background; the different phenotypic trajectories are determined by the food larvae receive during development. Usually the queen is the sole reproductive individual in a nest but if she dies or is removed, some brood-care workers will develop their ovaries and begin to reproduce. It was this phenomenon that the Mainz scientists exploited in order to induce fertility in brood-care workers of the Temnothorax longispinosus ant species. …

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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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More than one-third of populations worldwide may have low levels of vitamin D, study shows

Sep. 4, 2013 — A new systematic review published in the British Journal of Nutrition, is one of the first to focus on patterns of vitamin D status worldwide and in key population subgroups, using continuous values for 25(OH)D to improve comparisons.Share This:Principal investigator, Dr. Kristina Hoffmann of the Mannheim Institute of Public Health (MIPH), Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University stated, “The strength of our study is that we used strict inclusion criteria to filter and compare data, using consistent values for 25(OH)D. Although we found a high degree of variability between reports of vitamin D status at the population level, more than one-third of the studies reviewed reported mean serum 25(OH)D values below 50 nmol/l.”Low levels of vitamin D have a potentially serious impact on health, particularly on bone and muscle health. In children, vitamin D deficiency is a cause of rickets; while in adults low values are associated with osteomalacia, osteopenia, osteoporosis and risk of fracture. Emerging evidence also points to increased risk for cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Yet despite its importance to public health, data about vitamin D status at the population level are limited and studies are hampered by lack of consensus and consistency.The study’s key findings include:37.3% of the studies reviewed reported mean serum 25(OH)D values below 50 nmol/l, values considered inadequate by health authorities worldwide. Only a limited number of studies for Latin America were available. Vitamin D values were higher in North America than in Europe or the Middle-East. Age-related differences were observed for the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions, but not elsewhere. …

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Parasitic worm genome uncovers potential drug targets

Aug. 28, 2013 — Researchers have identified five enzymes that are essential to the survival of a parasitic worm that infects livestock worldwide and is a great threat to global food security. Two of these proteins are already being studied as potential drug targets against other pathogens.The team sequenced the genome of Haemonchus contortus, or the barber pole worm, a well-studied parasitic worm that resides in the gut of sheep and other livestock globally. This genome could provide a comprehensive understanding of how treatments against parasitic worms work and point to further new treatments and vaccines.The Barber pole worm or H. contortus is part of a family of gastrointestinal worms that are endemic on 100% of farms and are estimated to cost the UK sheep industry alone more than £80 million pounds each year. H. contortus has become resistant to all major treatments against parasitic worms, so its genome is a good model to understand how drug resistance develops in this complex group of closely related parasites and will also reveal further potential drug and vaccine targets.“Our reference genome allows researchers to understand how H. contortus and other worms of this type acquire resistance to a wide range of anthelmintics – the drugs used to treat worm infections,” says Dr James Cotton, senior author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. “Seeing a common theme of drug resistance in this well-characterised worm is extremely important because both people and animals are reliant on so few treatments against parasitic worms.”The team sequenced the genome of a strain of H contortus that was susceptible to all major classes of drugs against parasitic worms. By comparing this sequence with that of worms that have acquired drug resistance, the researchers expect to reveal a wealth of information about how and why resistance has occurred.“The H. …

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Obesity and diabetes risk: One in four has alarmingly few intestinal bacteria

Aug. 28, 2013 — International ground-breaking research with participation of Danish investigators from University of Copenhagen shows that one in four Danes has serious problems with the trillion of bacteria living in their intestines. The problems appear to be associated with increased risk of obesity and diabetes. Published in Nature, the research fortunately points to potential solutions.All people have trillions of bacteria living in their intestines. If you place them on a scale, they weigh around 1.5 kg. Previously, a major part of these ‘blind passengers’ were unknown, as they are difficult or impossible to grow in laboratories. But over the past five years, an EU-funded research team, MetaHIT, coordinated by Professor S. Dusko Ehrlich at the INRA Research Centre of Jouy-en-Josas, France and with experts from Europe and China have used advanced DNA analysis and bioinformatics methods to map human intestinal bacteria.”The genetic analysis of intestinal bacteria from 292 Danes shows that about a quarter of us have up to 40% less gut bacteria genes and correspondingly fewer bacteria than average. Not only has this quarter fewer intestinal bacteria, but they also have reduced bacterial diversity and they harbour more bacteria causing a low-grade inflammation of the body. This is a representative study sample, and the study results can therefore be generalised to people in the Western world,” says Oluf Pedersen, Professor and Scientific Director at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen.Oluf Pedersen and Professor Torben Hansen have headed the Danish part of the MetaHIT project, and the findings are reported in scientific journal Nature.The gut is like a rainforestOluf Pedersen compares the human gut and its bacteria with a tropical rainforest. …

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Generational shift in attitudes among young soccer players towards gay teammates

Aug. 27, 2013 — Young soccer players (footballers) on the verge of becoming professionals are now much more likely to be supportive of gay teammates than a decade ago, according to new research from sociologists at the universities of Kent and Winchester.Conducted via interviews with 22 Premier League academy footballers aged 16-18, the research found that all the participants would openly accept one of their colleagues coming out.The research, led by Dr Steven Roberts, of the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, and Professor Eric Anderson, of the University of Winchester’s Faculty of Business, Law and Sport, made use of intermittent interviews over a four-month period between November 2012 and February 2013.All the participants identified themselves as heterosexual in their interview and all said they were from a lower to upper working class background. The study results showed a marked difference in acceptance of gay teammates compared to the findings of the last such study, carried out a decade ago.Dr Roberts said: ‘The interview results were broadly consistent with other recent research on young British men of their age in that these men showed no overt animosity towards gay men.’In fact, they were more than tolerant and showed an inclusive attitude toward the hypothetical situation of having a gay teammate, best friend or roommate reveal their sexuality. The results are clear: among the 22 future footballers we interviewed, all were unbothered by the issue of gays in sport.’This indicated a marked shift in perception from the last study. Although there was some evidence then that attitudes were changing, there has been a generational shift over the last decade. Lads now are saying “we would openly support and accept one of our colleagues coming out.” ‘The last similar research into the attitudes of young sportsmen was carried out in 2002 by Professor Eric Anderson, of the University of Winchester, one of the three co-authors of the new research. His study found that gay male athletes were tolerated by teammates, ‘as long as they played the sport well’. However, there were no findings of active ‘support’.Professor Anderson said: ‘Recent comments by Robbie Rogers, the former Leeds United footballer who came out but then left the English game to return to play in the US, suggested he didn’t know how easy it would have been to make the transition.’However, our research does suggest that attitudes in the locker room among young British players would lay the foundation for a player to be able to come out.’

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Meal timing can significantly improve fertility in women with polycystic ovaries

Aug. 13, 2013 — Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a common disorder that impairs fertility by impacting menstruation, ovulation, hormones, and more, is closely related to insulin levels. Women with the disorder are typically “insulin resistant” — their bodies produce an overabundance of insulin to deliver glucose from the blood into the muscles. The excess makes its way to the ovaries, where it stimulates the production of testosterone, thereby impairing fertility.Now Prof. Daniela Jakubowicz of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Diabetes Unit at Wolfson Medical Center has found a natural way to help women of normal weight who suffer from PCOS manage their glucose and insulin levels to improve overall fertility. And she says it’s all in the timing.The goal of her maintenance meal plan, based on the body’s 24 hour metabolic cycle, is not weight loss but insulin management. Women with PCOS who increased their calorie intake at breakfast, including high protein and carbohydrate content, and reduced their calorie intake through the rest of the day, saw a reduction in insulin resistance. This led to lower levels of testosterone and dramatic increase in the ovulation frequency — measures that have a direct impact on fertility, notes Prof. Jakubowicz.The research has been published in Clinical Science and was recently presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in June. It was conducted in collaboration with Dr. …

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Wireless devices go battery-free with new communication technique

Aug. 13, 2013 — We might be one step closer to an Internet-of-things reality.University of Washington engineers have created a new wireless communication system that allows devices to interact with each other without relying on batteries or wires for power.The new communication technique, which the researchers call “ambient backscatter,” takes advantage of the TV and cellular transmissions that already surround us around the clock. Two devices communicate with each other by reflecting the existing signals to exchange information. The researchers built small, battery-free devices with antennas that can detect, harness and reflect a TV signal, which then is picked up by other similar devices.The technology could enable a network of devices and sensors to communicate with no power source or human attention needed.”We can repurpose wireless signals that are already around us into both a source of power and a communication medium,” said lead researcher Shyam Gollakota, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering. “It’s hopefully going to have applications in a number of areas including wearable computing, smart homes and self-sustaining sensor networks.”The researchers published their results at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Data Communication 2013 conference in Hong Kong, which begins Aug. 13. They have received the conference’s best-paper award for their research.”Our devices form a network out of thin air,” said co-author Joshua Smith, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering and of electrical engineering. “You can reflect these signals slightly to create a Morse code of communication between battery-free devices.”Smart sensors could be built and placed permanently inside nearly any structure, then set to communicate with each other. For example, sensors placed in a bridge could monitor the health of the concrete and steel, then send an alert if one of the sensors picks up a hairline crack. The technology can also be used for communication — text messages and emails, for example — in wearable devices, without requiring battery consumption.The researchers tested the ambient backscatter technique with credit card-sized prototype devices placed within several feet of each other. …

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Human epigenomic map extended

Aug. 8, 2013 — Ten years ago, scientists announced the end of the Human Genome Project, the international attempt to learn which combination of four nucleotides — adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine — is unique to homo sapien DNA. This biological alphabet helped researchers identify the approximately 25,000 genes coded in the human genome, but as time went on, questions arose about how all of these genes are controlled.Now, Harvard Stem Cell Institute Principal Faculty member Alexander Meissner, PhD, reports another milestone, this time contributing to the multilayered NIH-funded human Roadmap Epigenomics Project. Epigenetics is the study of how the over 200 human cell types (e.g., muscle cells, nerve cells, liver cells, etc.) can have an identical compliment of genes but express them differently. Part of the answer lies in the way that DNA is packaged, with tight areas silencing genes and open areas allowing for genes to be translated into proteins. Stem cells differentiate into various cell types by marking specific genes that will be open and closed after division.New research by Meissner, published online as a letter in the journal Nature, describes the dynamics of DNA methylation across a wide range of human cell types. Chemically, these marks are the addition of a methyl group — one carbon atom surrounded by three hydrogen atoms (CH3) — anywhere a cytosine nucleotide sits next to a guanine nucleotide in the DNA sequence.Meissner’s team, led by graduate student Michael Ziller, at Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology mapped nearly all of the 28-million cytosine-guanine pairings among the 3-billion nucleotides that make up human DNA, and then wanted to know which of these 28 million are dynamic or static across all the cell types.”When we asked, how many of them are changing, the answer was a very small fraction,” said Meissner. The researchers found that eighty percent of the 28-million cytosine-guanine pairs are largely unchanged and might not participate in the regulation of the cell types, while the dynamic ones sit at sites that are relevant for gene expression — in particular distal regulatory sites such as enhancers. “Importantly this allows us to improve our current approaches of mapping this important mark through more targeted strategies that still capture most of the dynamics,” Meissner said.The methylation map generated by the Meissner lab is part of a larger National Institutes of Health (NIH) consortium to look at all of the different epigenetic modification that are found across a large number of human cell and tissue types. Earlier this year, the Meissner’s lab recorded all of the gene expression and multi-layered epigenetic dynamics that take place in early stem cell differentiation when they prepare to divide into their next fated cell type.In addition to his roles at Harvard, Meissner is affiliated with the Broad Institute and the New York Stem Cell Foundation. …

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Heavy cell phone use linked to oxidative stress

July 29, 2013 — Scientists have long been worried about the possible harmful effects of regular cellular phone use, but studies so far have been largely inconclusive. Currently, radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those produced by cell phones, are classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). A new Tel Aviv University study, though, may bring bad news.To further explore the relationship between cancer rates and cell phone use, Dr. Yaniv Hamzany of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Department at the Rabin Medical Center, looked for clues in the saliva of cell phone users. Since the cell phone is placed close to the salivary gland when in use, he and his fellow researchers, including departmental colleagues Profs. Raphael Feinmesser, Thomas Shpitzer and Dr. Gideon Bahar and Prof. Rafi Nagler and Dr. Moshe Gavish of the Technion in Haifa, hypothesized that salivary content could reveal whether there was a connection to developing cancer.Comparing heavy mobile phone users to non-users, they found that the saliva of heavy users showed indications of higher oxidative stress — a process that damages all aspects of a human cell, including DNA — through the development of toxic peroxide and free radicals. More importantly, it is considered a major risk factor for cancer.The findings have been reported in the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling.Putting stress on tissues and glandsFor the study, the researchers examined the saliva content of 20 heavy-user patients, defined as speaking on their phones for a minimum of eight hours a month. …

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Bacterial blockade: How gut microbes can inactivate cardiac drugs

July 25, 2013 — For decades, doctors have understood that microbes in the human gut can influence how certain drugs work in the body — by either activating or inactivating specific compounds — but questions have remained about exactly how the process works.Harvard scientists are now beginning to provide those answers.In a paper published July 19 in Science, Peter Turnbaugh, a Bauer Fellow at the Center for Systems Biology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), and Henry Haiser, a postdoctoral fellow, identify a pair of genes that appear to be responsible for allowing a specific strain of bacteria to break down a widely prescribed cardiac drug into an inactive compound, as well as a possible way to turn the process off.”The traditional view of microbes in the gut relates to how they influence the digestion of our diet,” Turnbaugh said. “But we also know that there are over 40 different drugs that can be influenced by gut microbes. What’s really interesting is that although this has been known for decades, we still don’t really understand which microbes are involved or how they might be processing these compounds.”To answer those questions, Turnbaugh and his colleagues chose to focus on digoxin, one of the oldest known cardiac glycosides. The medicine is typically prescribed to treat heart failure and cardiac arrhythmia.”It’s one of the few drugs that, if you look in a pharmacology textbook, it will say that it’s inactivated by gut microbes,” Turnbaugh said. “John Lindenbaum’s group at Columbia showed that in the 1980s. They found that a single bacterial species, Eggerthella lenta, was responsible.”Researchers in the earlier study also tried — but failed — to show that testing bacterial samples from a person’s gut could be used to predict whether the drug might be inactivated.”To some degree the research was stalled there for a number of years, and the findings in our paper help to explain why,” Turnbaugh said. “Originally, it was hoped that we would simply be able to measure the amount of E. lenta in a person’s gut and predict whether the drug would be inactivated, but it’s more complicated than that.”Beginning with lab-grown samples of E. lenta — some cultured in the presence of digoxin, some in its absence — Turnbaugh and Haiser tested to see if certain genes were activated by the presence of the drug.”We identified two genes that were expressed at very low levels in the absence of the drug, but when you add the drug to the cultures … they come on really strong,” Turnbaugh said. “What’s encouraging about these two genes is that they both express what are called cytochromes — enzymes that are likely capable of converting digoxin to its inactive form.”Though he warned that more genetic testing is needed before the results are definitive, Turnbaugh said other experiments support these initial findings.The researchers found only a single strain of E. …

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Vaccinating boys plays key role in HPV prevention

July 22, 2013 — Improving vaccination rates against the human papillomavirus (HPV) in boys aged 11 to 21 is key to protecting both men and women, says new research from University of Toronto Professor Peter A. Newman from the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.HPV has been linked to anal, penile and certain types of throat cancers in men. Since the virus is also responsible for various cancers in women, vaccinating boys will play a crucial role in reducing cancer rates across the sexes.”HPV is the single most common sexually transmitted infection,” says Newman, Canada Research Chair in Health and Social Justice. “But now a vaccine is available that can change that and help to prevent the cancers that sometimes result.”Newman’s research grouped data from 16 separate studies involving more than 5,000 people to analyze rates of HPV vaccine acceptability and examined what factors play a role when determining if young men receive the vaccine.Vaccinations, particularly new ones, can have difficulty gaining traction among the citizens they were developed to help. This problem can be compounded by a lack of information, misinformation and even conspiracy theories about the efficacy and safety of vaccines. Unfortunately, says Newman, misinformation and unfounded vaccine fears can result in cancer deaths that could have been avoided with a simple vaccination.Logistical barriers can also stifle the spread and acceptance of new vaccines. Basic impediments like out-of-pocket cost, transportation to a clinic and wait times for the vaccine can contribute to overall low vaccination rates.The biggest factor affecting male HPV vaccination rates is the lack of a well-established connection linking HPV in men to a life-threatening illness. The correlation between HPV and cervical cancer in women is responsible for popularizing the vaccine among young women. Unfortunately, a similar connection that would motivate males to get the vaccine has not yet been established. That needs to change, says Newman.”The idea of an HPV vaccine for boys is new in Canada and so far it has had a low adoption rate,” says Newman. …

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How would it be to have the body of a child again? Changes in perception and behaviors demonstrated when embodying a child avatar

July 19, 2013 — A research, recently published on the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that a correlate of a body-ownership illusion is that the virtual type of body carries with it a set of temporary changes in perception and behaviours that are appropriate to that type of body. The research has been carried out by Domma Banakou, Raphaela Groten and Mel Slater, experts from the Experimental Virtual Environments Lab for Neuroscience and Technology (Event Lab) at the Faculty of Psychology of the UB.An illusory sensation of ownership over a surrogate limb or whole body can be induced through specific forms of multisensory stimulation, such as synchronous visual-tactile tapping on the hidden real and visible rubber hand in the phenomenon so-called ‘rubber hand illusion’. Such methods have been used to induce ownership over a manikin and a virtual body that substitute the real body, as seen from first-person perspective, through a head-mounted display. However, the perceptual and behavioural consequences of such transformed body ownership have hardly been explored.Researchers developed two experiments. In the first one, immersive virtual reality was used to embody 30 adults as 4-year-old children (condition C), and as an adult body scaled to the same height as the child (condition A), experienced from the first-person perspective, and with virtual and real body movements synchronized. The result was a strong body-ownership illusion equally for C and A. Moreover, there was an overestimation of the sizes of objects compared with a non-embodied baseline, which was significantly greater for C compared with A. An implicit association test showed that C resulted in significantly faster reaction times for the classification of self with child-like compared with adult-like attributes.In the second experiment, extended to 16 new participants, he ownership illusion was extinguished by using visuomotor asynchrony, with all else equal. The size-estimation and implicit association test differences between C and A were also extinguished.Both experiments confirm that altered bodily self-representation can have a spontaneous and significant influence on aspects of perception and behaviour. It has been shown that IVR supports global scaling of sizes, where the brain automatically adjusts for the overall size of one’s avatar, which is in line with past studies. …

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