Nanoparticles target anti-inflammatory drugs where needed

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have developed a system for precisely delivering anti-inflammatory drugs to immune cells gone out of control, while sparing their well-behaved counterparts. Their findings were published online Feb. 23 in Nature Nanotechnology.The system uses nanoparticles made of tiny bits of protein designed to bind to unique receptors found only on neutrophils, a type of immune cell engaged in detrimental acute and chronic inflammatory responses.In a normal immune response, neutrophils circulating in the blood respond to signals given off by injured or damaged blood vessels and begin to accumulate at the injury, where they engulf bacteria or debris from injured tissue that might cause infection. In chronic inflammation, neutrophils can pile up at the site of injury, sticking to the blood vessel walls and to each other and contributing to tissue damage.Adhesion of neutrophils to blood vessel walls is a major factor in acute lung injury, where it can impair the exchange of gases between the lungs and blood, leading to severe breathing problems. If untreated, the disease has a 50 percent mortality rate in intensive care units.Corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat inflammatory diseases are “blunt instruments that affect the whole body and carry some significant side effects,” says Asrar B. Malik, the Schweppe Family Distinguished Professor and head of pharmacology in the UIC College of Medicine, who is lead author of the paper.Neutrophils that are stuck to blood vessels or clumped together have unique receptors on their surface that circulating neutrophils lack. Malik and his colleagues designed a nanoparticle to take advantage by embedding it with an anti-inflammatory drug. The nanoparticles bind to the receptors, and the neutrophils internalize the nanoparticle. Once inside, the anti-inflammatory drug works to “unzip” the neutrophil and allow it to re-enter the bloodstream.”The nanoparticle is very much like a Trojan horse,” Malik said. “It binds to a receptor found only on these activated, sticky neutrophils, and the cell automatically engulfs whatever binds there. …

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Agricultural productivity loss a result of soil, crop damage from flooding

The Cache River Basin, which once drained more than 614,100 acres across six southern Illinois counties, has changed substantively since the ancient Ohio River receded. The basin contains a slow-moving, meandering river; fertile soils and productive farmlands; deep sand and gravel deposits; sloughs and uplands; and one of the most unique and diverse natural habitats in Illinois and the nation.According to a recent University of Illinois study, the region’s agricultural lands dodged a bullet due to the timing of the great flood of April 2011 when the Ohio River approached the record high of 332.2 feet above sea level.“The floodwaters eventually drained back into the Ohio River and upper Mississippi River ultimately leaving approximately 1,000 acres of agricultural land flooded from a backup in the middle and lower Cache River Valley, which flooded the adjacent forest-covered alluvial soils and the slightly higher cultivated soils,” said U of I researcher Ken Olson.According to Olson, who has studied the effects of that particular flood extensively, these cultivated soils drained by the middle of June 2011 and were planted to soybeans. The floodwaters left a thin silt and clay deposition on the agricultural lands and crop residue when they receded. These coatings included significant amounts of soil organic carbon, microbes, and pathogens. After the coatings dried, they were incorporated into the topsoil layer of the alluvial soils using tillage equipment.“Because the flooding occurred during the non-growing season for corn and soybeans, the mixing in of sediment into the topsoil prior to planting resulted in little significant loss of soil productivity, little soybean damage, or yield reduction on lands outside the levees along the Mississippi, Cache, and Ohio rivers,” Olson said.As a result of the record Ohio River flood level, floodwaters passed north through the Post Creek cut-off, then west through the 2002 Karnak breach and into the middle Cache River valley to the Diversion to Mississippi River, which was already above flood stage so the floodwaters continued west. In late April, the Ohio River floodwaters then started to flood the towns of Olive Branch and Miller City, the Horseshoe Lake area, and surrounding agricultural lands. On May 2, 2011, the Len Small levee on the Mississippi River failed and resulted in the flooding of an additional 30,000 acres of Illinois public and private lands.Illinois agricultural statistics recorded the harvest of 4,500 fewer acres of corn and 6,500 fewer acres of soybeans in Alexander County in 2011. Soybean production was 1,200,000 bushels in 2010 but dropped to 865,000 bushels in 2011 due to flooding from both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and crop and soil damage. The floodwaters also scoured lands in some places and deposited sand in other locations.Olson cautioned that, had winter wheat been planted outside the levees in the fall of 2010, the wheat crop would have drowned. “Illinois farmers are aware of the flooding potential, especially in the winter and early spring, so they don’t plant winter wheat on unprotected bottomlands,” he said. …

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Thinking skills take biggest hit from anxiety in midlife women with HIV

Hot flashes, depression, and most of all, anxiety, affect the thinking skills of midlife women with HIV, so screening for and treating their anxiety may be especially important in helping them function, according to a study just published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). The reproductive stage, whether it was premenopause, perimenopause or postmenopause, did not seem to be related to these women’s thinking skills.The conclusions come from a new analysis of data on 708 HIV-infected and 278 HIV-uninfected midlife women from the Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WHIS), a national study of women with HIV at six sites across the country (Chicago, Bronx, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC). Today, nearly 52% of persons with HIV/AIDS are 40 to 54 years old. Because more women with HIV are now living to midlife and beyond, it is important to understand what challenges menopause pose for them. We learned just recently, from a study published online in Menopause in July, that women with HIV do face a bigger menopause challenge than uninfected women because they have worse menopause symptoms.Whether, how, and when the process of transitioning through menopause affects cognition have been debated. Large-scale studies of healthy women indicate that the menopause-related thinking deficiencies are modest, limited to the time leading up to menopause (“perimenopause”), and rebound after menopause. But in these women who underwent mental skills testing, menopause symptoms and mood symptoms did affect thinking skills.Mental processing speed and verbal memory were more related to depression, anxiety, and hot flashes in both HIV-infected and healthy women than the stage of menopause. Hot flashes in particular correlated with slightly lower mental processing speed, a skill that is also affected by the HIV virus. Depression correlated with decreased verbal memory, processing speed, and executive function (such as planning and organizing).Of all the symptoms measured, anxiety stood out as having the greatest impact on thinking skills, and the impact was much greater on women with HIV. Anxiety particularly affected their verbal learning skills. …

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Intuitive number games boost children’s math performance

A quick glance at two, unequal groups of paper clips (or other objects) leads most people to immediately intuit which group has more. In a new study, researchers report that practicing this kind of simple, instinctive numerical exercise can improve children’s ability to solve math problems.A report of the study appears in the journal Cognition.”We wanted to know how basic intuitions about numbers relate to mathematics development,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Daniel Hyde, who conducted the study with Saeeda Khanum, of Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, and Elizabeth Spelke, of Harvard University. “Specifically we wanted to know whether thinking intuitively about numbers, such as approximating and comparing sets without counting, helps in actually doing math.”To test this, the researchers asked first-graders to practice tasks that required them to approximate, or roughly evaluate the number of objects in a set without counting them. Other children did tasks such as comparing the brightness of two objects or adding the lengths of lines.Children who practiced evaluating the number of objects performed better on arithmetic tests immediately afterward than did their counterparts who evaluated other qualities of objects, Hyde said.”These results showed that brief practice with tasks requiring children to guess or intuit the number of objects actually improved their arithmetic test performance,” he said.Additional experiments helped the team rule out other factors — such as greater motivation or level of cognitive engagement — that might contribute to the guessers’ enhanced math performance. The researchers also varied the difficulty of the arithmetic tests to see if the benefits of practicing intuitive judgments about the number of objects enhanced the children’s speed or accuracy, or both.”For easier problems, where all children are very accurate, those who practiced engaging what we call their ‘intuitive sense of number’ performed roughly 25 percent faster than children practicing a control task,” Hyde said. “For more difficult problems, children engaging their intuitive sense of number scored roughly 15 percentage points higher than those practicing a control task. If this were a real quiz in school, these children would have scored about a letter grade and a half higher than those in the control conditions.”Similar improvements were not seen on a verbal test, “suggesting the enhancing effect is specific to mathematics and is not due to general motivation or interest in the training task,” Hyde said.”Previous studies have tested whether children who are better at intuitive number tasks also have higher math grades or perform better on math tests. There the answer is yes,” Hyde said. “Our study is the first to provide a causal link in children. We showed that practice on these kinds of tasks actually causes better math performance in children.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. …

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Signs point to sharp rise in drugged driving fatalities

The prevalence of non-alcohol drugs detected in fatally injured drivers in the U.S. has been steadily rising and tripled from 1999 to 2010 for drivers who tested positive for marijuana — the most commonly detected non-alcohol drug — suggesting that drugged driving may be playing an increasing role in fatal motor vehicle crashes.To assess these trends researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health examined toxicological testing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System and found that of 23,591 drivers who were killed within one hour of a crash, 39.7% tested positive for alcohol and 24.8% for other drugs. While positive results for alcohol remained stable, the prevalence of non-alcohol drugs rose significantly from 16.6% in 1999 to 28.3% in 2010; for marijuana, rates rose from 4.2% to 12.2%. Findings are online in the American Journal of Epidemiology.This study is based on data from six U.S. states that routinely performed toxicological testing on drivers involved in fatal car crashes — California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.The results showed that alcohol involvement was more prevalent in men (43.6%) than in women (26.1%), but trends were stable for both sexes. In contrast, the substantial increase in the prevalence of marijuana was reported for all age groups and both sexes.”Although earlier research showed that drug use is associated with impaired driving performance and increased crash risk, trends in narcotic involvement in driver fatalities have been understudied,” said Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, professor of Epidemiology and Anesthesiology and director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention. “Given the increasing availability of marijuana and the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic, understanding the role of controlled substances in motor vehicle crashes is of significant public health importance.”Joanne Brady, a PhD candidate in epidemiology and the lead author of the study, notes that research from 2007 to 2013 shows an increase in drivers testing positive for marijuana in roadside surveys, as well as drivers involved in fatal crashes in in California and increased use by patients treated in Colorado healthcare settings. “The marked increase in its prevalence as reported in the present study is likely germane to the growing decriminalization of marijuana,” noted Ms. Brady. Over the last 17 years, 20 states and Washington, D.C. …

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Better sweet corn research, better production

While grain yield is economically important in field corn production, there are other metrics more important in sweet corn grown for processing, said Marty Williams, a USDA-ARS ecologist and University of Illinois crop sciences researcher.In a study recently published in Field Crops Research, Williams questioned whether the crop yield responses that have been previously reported in sweet corn research are actually helpful to the industry.”What has been done in the past is analogous to predicting someone’s height based on their shoe size, as opposed to actually measuring their height,” Williams said.After collecting and studying sweet corn data representing 31 hybrids across 22 locations in Illinois over an 8-year period, Williams said he sees a disconnect in what researchers are measuring in the field and what processors and seed companies need to know in order to make improved production decisions.In other words, Williams said researchers need to start speaking the same language as the sweet corn industry.Williams explained that the two variables that affect processor decisions most include recovery (percentage of kernels that can be canned or bagged from the green-ear mass) and case production (cases per acre of processed kernels).However, he added that nearly all historic and recent field research in processing sweet corn reports neither of these variables, regardless of whether the studies pertained to plant pathology, fertility management, pest control, or sweet corn breeding and genetics.”Ear number or green-ear mass are often the only crop responses reported in research on field productivity of processing sweet corn. Sometimes, other crop responses are reported, including plant traits such as height or canopy density, or ear traits such as ear length or ear width,” he said.In his study, Williams looked for relationships between processor variables and 17 crop traits (5 plant traits, 8 ear traits, and 4 yield traits). He determined that none of the crop traits predicted recovery.”Recovery is something that has to be measured directly. Currently, there’s no way to predict it,” he explained.When comparing the variability of the estimates in case production based on traits such as green-ear mass, husked-ear mass, and ear number, he determined that fresh kernel mass also was a far superior predictor of case production.”Essentially, the more a measured yield response physically resembled a case of sweet corn, the more precise and accurate the estimate of case production,” he reported.The challenge in getting the necessary data is the costs associated with the equipment and labor, according to Williams.In order to collect information on fresh kernel mass, Williams and his team designed and built a portable, “mini-processing plant” that they use in the field at harvest to husk ears and cut fresh kernels.”At the moment there isn’t a viable alternative that’s less expensive,” he said. “Does the research community continue to report mediocre data, or do we invest in an approach that gives the sweet corn industry exactly what it needs to make use of our research?”Another obstacle is the narrow window of time when sweet corn is harvested, usually by hand, for research. Though field corn for grain production is harvested at physiological maturity, sweet corn is harvested at the R3 stage (milk stage), while kernel moisture is at approximately 72 to 76 percent. “When sweet corn is ripe, waiting is not an option,” Williams explained.A change in the way sweet corn research is done will have an impact on how processors, growers, and seed companies make decisions in the future, according to the researcher.”Applied research aimed at improving crop productivity is predicated on the ability to accurately measure important crop responses, such as yield. For processing sweet corn, the most important responses include recovery and case production,” he said. “Those of us in the research community can’t expect the sweet corn industry to adopt our research-based findings when we’re failing to measure what’s truly important.”

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Discover Low-priced Florida Health Insurance

Discover Low-priced Florida Health InsuranceIn Florida there are copious ways by which you can find a low-priced health insurance, if you don’t have any group insurance coverage from your company, or you yearn for having an individual or family health plan. The bureau that regulates all the insurance companies in the state is Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. The internet site of this agency incorporated of a folder that allows you to have a quick look over the information on insurance firms that do their dealings in the Florida. You just need to type the name of the insurance firm in which you are interested in.After filling the name you will get the phone number and Website, later on you can request for the …

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Relationship between landscape simplification and insecticide use explored

Sep. 5, 2013 — A new UCSB study that analyzed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Census of Agriculture data spanning two decades (1987-2007) shows that the statistical magnitude, existence, and direction of the relationship between landscape simplification — a term used for the conversion of natural habitat to cropland — and insecticide use varies enormously year to year.While there was a positive relationship in 2007 — more simplified landscapes received more insecticides — it is absent or reversed in all previous years. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).The author, Ashley E. Larsen, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, built on an earlier study published in PNAS by extending the temporal dimension of that analysis. That study found a strong positive relationship between landscape simplification and insecticide use when examining 2007 data for seven midwestern states. Larsen’s results also showed 2007 was positive, with increased land area in cropland leading to increased cropland treated with insecticides. But in 2002 and 1997, there was no statistically significant relationship; 1992 was negative (increased cropland but decreased insecticides); and 1987 was generally negative, but sometimes null depending on the model specification used.According to Larsen, the increase in agricultural production over the past four to five decades has corresponded to massive changes in land use often resulting in large scale monocultures separated by small fragments of natural land. Ecological theory suggests that these simplified landscapes should have more insect pest problems due to the lack of natural enemies and the increased size and connectivity of crop-food resources.”There is a debate currently in ecology about what the most efficient land use policy for agricultural production is,” said Larsen. …

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Alcohol breaks brain connections needed to process social cues

Aug. 29, 2013 — Alcohol intoxication reduces communication between two areas of the brain that work together to properly interpret and respond to social signals, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.Their results were published in the September issue of Psychopharmacology.Previous research has shown that alcohol suppresses activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for perceiving social cues such as facial expressions.”Because emotional processing involves both the amygdala and areas of the brain located in the prefrontal cortex responsible for cognition and modulation of behavior, we wanted to see if there were any alterations in the functional connectivity or communication between these two brain regions that might underlie alcohol’s effects,” said K. Luan Phan, UIC professor of psychiatry.’Phan and colleagues examined alcohol’s effects on connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex during the processing of emotional stimuli — photographs of happy, fearful and angry faces — using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, an imaging technique that allows researchers to see which areas of the brain are active during the performance of various tasks.Participants were 12 heavy social drinkers (10 men, two women) with an average age of 23. Their reported average of 7.8 binge drinking episodes per month — defined as consuming five or more drinks for men, and four or more drinks for women -put them at high risk for developing alcohol dependence.The participants were given a beverage containing either a high dose of alcohol (16 percent) or placebo. They then had an fMRI scan as they tried to match photographs of faces with the same expression.They were shown three faces on a screen — one at the top and two at the bottom — and were asked to pick the face on the bottom showing the same emotion as the one on top. The faces were angry, fearful, happy or neutral.When participants processed images of angry, fearful and happy faces, alcohol reduced the coupling between the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the prefrontal cortex implicated in socio-emotional information processing and decision-making. The researchers also noticed that alcohol reduced the reaction in the amygdala to threat signals — angry or fearful faces.”This suggests that during acute alcohol intoxication, emotional cues that signal threat are not being processed in the brain normally because the amygdala is not responding as it should be,” Phan said.”The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex have a dynamic, interactive relationship. How the amygdala and prefrontal cortex interact enables us to accurately appraise our environment and modulate our reactions to it,” Phan said. “If these two areas are uncoupled, as they are during acute alcohol intoxication, then our ability to assess and appropriately respond to the non-verbal message conveyed on the faces of others may be impaired. This research gives us a much better idea of what is going on in the brain that leads to some of the maladaptive behaviors we see in alcohol intoxication including social disinhibition, aggression and social withdrawal.”Stephanie Gorka and Daniel Fitzgerald from UIC and Andrea King from the University of Chicago also contributed to this research.This research was supported by a Brain Research Foundation Grant.

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Protein predicts breast cancer prognosis

Aug. 29, 2013 — Researchers have identified a protein that they believe may help predict breast cancer prognosis, potentially relieving thousands of women at low risk from having to undergo painful, oft-debilitating therapies, while insuring the most successful treatments for those at high risk.The research was published ahead of print in the journal Molecular and Cellular Biology.Using bioinformatics techniques, the authors showed that the levels of expression of some 1,200 genes that are directly controlled by the enzyme, EZH2, correlates with the aggressiveness of breast cancer cases.”The analysis pipeline that we developed will be useful for stratification of breast cancer patients,” says Elizaveta V. Benevolenskaya of the University of Illinois at Chicago, a researcher on the study. “That stratification will enable clinicians to accurately predict breast cancer progression. The level of expression of a subgroup of EZH2-bound genes could have further predictive value, indicating, for example, that a specific treatment regime is needed.”In the study, she and her collaborators generated breast cancer cells in which they could dampen expression of EZH2 using a technique called RNA inhibition. Inhibiting EZH2 expression reactivated the genes this enzyme controls, which resulted in less aggressive cancer phenotypes.In addition to predicting aggressiveness, Benevolenskaya says small molecule inhibitors of EZH2, which have recently become available, could be developed as therapeutic drugs for breast cancer. The advantage of small molecules is that they are cheaper to manufacture, and generally can be taken by mouth, unlike larger molecules, which must be given by injection.Besides breast cancer, EZH2 overexpression appears to be associated with a worse prognosis in prostate, endometrial, and melanoma tumors. The computational analysis used in their research could also be helpful for predicting the aggressiveness of these and other cancers, says Benevolenskaya.

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Why do haters have to hate?

Aug. 26, 2013 — New research has uncovered the reason why some people seem to dislike everything while others seem to like everything. Apparently, it’s all part of our individual personality — a dimension that researchers have coined “dispositional attitude.”People with a positive dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to like things, whereas people with a negative dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to dislike things, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The journal article, “Attitudes without objects: Evidence for a dispositional attitude, its measurement, and its consequences,” was written by Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dolores Albarracín, Ph.D., the Martin Fishbein Chair of Communication and Professor of Psychology at Penn.”The dispositional attitude construct represents a new perspective in which attitudes are not simply a function of the properties of the stimuli under consideration, but are also a function of the properties of the evaluator,” wrote the authors. “[For example], at first glance, it may not seem useful to know someone’s feelings about architecture when assessing their feelings about health care. After all, health care and architecture are independent stimuli with unique sets of properties, so attitudes toward these objects should also be independent.”However, they note, there is still one critical factor that an individual’s attitudes will have in common: the individual who formed the attitudes. “Some people may simply be more prone to focusing on positive features and others on negative features,” Hepler said.To discover whether people differ in the tendency to like or dislike things, Hepler and Albarracín created a scale that requires people to report their attitudes toward a wide variety of unrelated stimuli, such as architecture, cold showers, politics, and soccer. Upon knowing how much people (dis)like these specific things, the responses were then averaged together to calculate their dispositional attitude (i.e., to calculate how much they tend to like or dislike things in general). The theory is that if individuals differ in the general tendency to like versus dislike objects, attitudes toward independent objects may actually be related. Throughout the studies the researchers found that people with generally positive dispositional attitudes are more open than people with generally negative dispositional attitudes. …

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Breastfeeding may protect against persistent stuttering

Aug. 5, 2013 — A study of 47 children who began stuttering at an early age found that those who were breastfed in infancy were more likely to recover from stuttering and return to fluent speech.”Long-chain fatty acids in human milk play an important role in the development of neural tissue,” said Jamie Mahurin-Smith, who conducted the new study as a doctoral student at U. of I.The analysis, reported in the Journal of Communication Disorders, found a dose-dependent association between breastfeeding and a child’s likelihood of recovering from stuttering, with children who were breastfed longer more likely to recover. Boys, who are disproportionately affected by stuttering, appeared to benefit the most. Boys in the study who breastfed for more than a year had approximately one-sixth the odds of developing persistent stuttering than boys who never breastfed, the team found.The researchers, University of Illinois speech and hearing science professor emerita Nicoline Ambrose and doctoral student Jamie Mahurin-Smith (now at Illinois State University), found no evidence that income or maternal education had any influence on stuttering in their sample. The researchers questioned the mothers about their children’s willingness and ability to breastfeed, and also found no evidence of an underlying neurological problem that could have inhibited the children’s ability to breastfeed and to speak fluently later in life.”We’ve known for years that both genetic and environmental factors contributed to stuttering, but our understanding of the specific environmental variables in play has been murky,” Mahurin-Smith said. “These findings could improve our understanding of stuttering persistence and recovery.”Several earlier studies had found “a consistent association between breastfeeding and improved language development,” the researchers report. A 1997 study found that babies breastfed for more than nine months had a significantly lower risk of language impairment than those breastfed for shorter periods of time. A later study found that infants who breastfed were more likely to produce “variegated babbling at earlier ages,” a key marker of healthy language development.Other studies have found associations between the duration of breastfeeding and verbal IQ or a child’s likelihood of being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.Ambrose and Mahurin-Smith suggest that essential fatty acids found in breast milk but often lacking in infant formulas may help explain why longer duration of breastfeeding is associated with better brain and language development.”Long-chain fatty acids found in human milk, specifically docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid, play an important role in the development of neural tissue,” Mahurin-Smith said. “Fluent speech requires an extraordinarily complex sequence of events to unfold rapidly, and our hypothesis was that early differences in neurodevelopment could cause difficulties with speech fluency later in life.”The infant brain triples in size in its first year of life, and “more than half of the solid weight of that newly built tissue will be lipid,” the researchers wrote. …

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One in three U. S. youths report being victims of dating violence

July 31, 2013 — About one in three American youths age 14-20 say they’ve been of victims of dating violence and almost one in three acknowledge they’ve committed violence toward a date, according to new research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 121st Annual Convention.”Adolescent dating violence is common among young people. It also overlaps between victimization and perpetration and appears across different forms of dating abuse,” according to Michele Ybarra, MPH, PhD. She is with the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, based in San Clemente, Calif.Researchers analyzed information collected in 2011 and 2012 from 1,058 youths in the Growing Up with Media study, a national online survey funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study defines teen dating violence as physical, sexual or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship.Girls were almost equally likely to be a perpetrator as a victim of violence: 41 percent reported victimization and 35 percent reported perpetration at some point in their lives. Among boys, 37 percent said they had been on the receiving end, while 29 percent reported being the perpetrator, Ybarra said. Twenty-nine percent of the girls and 24 percent of the boys reported being both a victim and perpetrator in either the same or in different relationships.Girls were significantly more likely than boys to say they had been victims of sexual dating violence and that they had committed physical dating violence. Boys were much more likely than girls to report that they had been sexually violent toward a date. Experiencing psychological dating violence was about equal for boys and girls. Rates generally increased with age but were similar across race, ethnicity and income levels, according to Ybarra.The relationship between bullying and teen dating violence was the focus of a separate presentation by Sabina Low, PhD, of Arizona State University, and Dorothy L. Espelage, of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. …

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New approach for studying deadly brain cancer

July 23, 2013 — Human glioblastoma multiforme, one of the most common, aggressive and deadly forms of brain cancer, is notoriously difficult to study. Scientists have traditionally studied cancer cells in petri dishes, which have none of the properties of the brain tissues in which these cancers grow, or in expensive animal models.Now a team of engineers has developed a three-dimensional hydrogel that more closely mimics conditions in the brain. In a paper in the journal Biomaterials, the researchers describe the new material and their approach, which allows them to selectively tune up or down the malignancy of the cancer cells they study.The new hydrogel is more versatile than other 3-D gels used for growing glioma (brain cancer) cells in part because it allows researchers to change individual parameters — the gel’s stiffness, for example, or the presence of molecular signals that can influence cancer growth — while minimally altering its other characteristics, such as porosity.Being able to adjust these traits individually will help researchers tease out important features associated with the initial growth of a tumor as well as its response to clinical therapies, said University of Illinois chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Brendan Harley, who led the study with postdoctoral researcher Sara Pedron and undergraduate student Eftalda Becka. Harley is an affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois.The researchers found that they could increase or decrease the malignancy of glioma cells in their hydrogel simply by adding hyaluronic acid, a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in many tissues, especially the brain.Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a key component of the extracellular matrix that provides structural and chemical support to cells throughout the body. HA contributes to cell proliferation and cell migration, and local changes in HA levels have been implicated in tumor growth.”Hyaluronic acid is one of the major building blocks in the brain,” Harley said. “The structure of a newly forming brain tumor has some of this HA within it, but there’s also a lot of the HA in the brain surrounding the tumor.”Previous studies have used hydrogels made out of nothing but hyaluronic acid to study gliomas, Harley said. “The problem there is that HA is structurally not very strong.” It also is difficult to adjust the amount of HA that the glioma cells are exposed to if their environment is 100 percent HA, he said.In the new study, Pedron observed how glioma cells behaved in two different hydrogels — one based on methacrylated gelatin (GelMA) and the other using a more conventional polyethylene glycol (PEG) biomaterial. These two materials vary in one important trait: GelMA is a naturally derived material that contains adhesive sites that allow cells to latch onto it; synthetic PEG does not.”The purpose of having these two systems was to isolate the effect of HA on glioma cells,” Pedron said. If changing HA levels produced different effects in different gels, that would indicate that the gels were contributing to those effects, she said.Instead, Harley and Pedron found that additions of HA to glioma cells had “very similar” effects in both materials. Adding too little or too much HA led to reduced malignancy, while incorporating just enough HA led to significantly enhanced malignancy. …

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Computer as smart as a 4-year-old? Researchers IQ test new artificial intelligence system

July 15, 2013 — Artificial and natural knowledge researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have IQ-tested one of the best available artificial intelligence systems to see how intelligent it really is.Turns out it’s about as smart as the average 4-year-old, they will report July 17 at the U.S. Artificial Intelligence Conference in Bellevue, Wash.The UIC team put ConceptNet 4, an artificial intelligence system developed at M.I.T., through the verbal portions of the Weschsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence Test, a standard IQ assessment for young children.They found ConceptNet 4 has the average IQ of a young child. But unlike most children, the machine’s scores were very uneven across different portions of the test.”If a child had scores that varied this much, it might be a symptom that something was wrong,” said Robert Sloan, professor and head of computer science at UIC, and lead author on the study.Sloan said ConceptNet 4 did very well on a test of vocabulary and on a test of its ability to recognize similarities.”But ConceptNet 4 did dramatically worse than average on comprehension­the ‘why’ questions,” he said.One of the hardest problems in building an artificial intelligence, Sloan said, is devising a computer program that can make sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts-the dictionary definition of commonsense.Commonsense has eluded AI engineers because it requires both a very large collection of facts and what Sloan calls implicit facts-things so obvious that we don’t know we know them. A computer may know the temperature at which water freezes, but we know that ice is cold.”All of us know a huge number of things,” said Sloan. “As babies, we crawled around and yanked on things and learned that things fall. We yanked on other things and learned that dogs and cats don’t appreciate having their tails pulled.” Life is a rich learning environment.”We’re still very far from programs with commonsense-AI that can answer comprehension questions with the skill of a child of 8,” said Sloan. He and his colleagues hope the study will help to focus attention on the “hard spots” in AI research.Study coauthors are UIC professors Stellan Ohlsson of psychology and Gyorgy Turan of mathematics, statistics and computer science; and UIC mathematical computer science undergraduate student Aaron Urasky.The study was supported by award N00014-09-1-0125 from the Office of Naval Research and grant CCF-0916708 from the National Science Foundation.

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Young job seekers, check your privacy settings

July 12, 2013 — Social media websites can be a boon for employers scoping out job applicants, and that’s bad news for certain groups of young people, according to a new Northwestern University study.Researchers found that — among young adults — men, Hispanics and those with lower Internet skills are the least likely to keep employment-related audiences in mind when it comes to their online profiles. Women, whites and those with higher Internet skills are more likely to actively manage their social media privacy settings as they seek a job or maintain employment.This is the first study to analyze how different demographics of young adults approach online reputation management strategies during a job search. It was published online in June in the journal IEEE Security & Privacy.”Young people could benefit from understanding the implications of these issues,” said Eszter Hargittai, lead author of the study. “Without adequate privacy settings, inappropriate pictures or comments posted on a social media profile could be seen by an employer and cost you a job opportunity.”Hargittai is an associate professor and Delaney Family Professor in the department of communication studies at Northwestern.”Managing the privacy of your social media profiles can be complex,” she said. “A site’s settings can change quickly, and if you are not keeping track and checking in on your settings regularly, you could inadvertently leave parts of your profile open to the public even if you had set them to more restricted access earlier.”Because a significant portion of the young people in this study seemed at risk in regard to privacy management practices, there may be a need for more formal training from career service organizations, libraries and others on best practices for maintaining self-presentation online, Hargittai said.Study highlights:34.5 percent of men and 25 percent of women never managed their privacy settings or the content of their social media profiles with respect to an employer audience. Whites were much more likely than other races to adjust social media profiles at least once in the past year in anticipation of employers searching for information about them. Hispanics were the least likely to keep an employment-related audience in mind in regards to the content of their online profiles. Women were more likely than men to manage their privacy settings for an employer-related audience and tended to do so more frequently. Those more knowledgeable about Internet privacy matters and privacy-related terms, such as “tagging,” “limited profile” and “preference settings,” were more likely to engage in managing the privacy of their social media profiles. For the study, researchers analyzed responses from a paper-and-pencil survey given to a sample of 545 diverse young adults, ages 21 or 22. …

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Consuming soy peptide may reduce colon cancer metastasis

July 8, 2013 — After a recent University of Illinois study showed that injection of the soy peptide lunasin dramatically reduced colon cancer metastasis in mice, the researchers were eager to see how making lunasin part of the animals’ daily diet would affect the spread of the disease.”In this new study, we find that giving lunasin orally at 20 mg/kg of body weight reduced the number of metastatic tumors by 94 percent — we went from 18 tumors to only one. And that was done using lunasin alone; no other type of therapy was used,” said Elvira de Mejia, a U of I professor of food chemistry and food toxicology.In the first study, injections of lunasin were used in concert with the chemotherapy drug oxaliplatin, yielding impressive results: a sixfold reduction in metastatic tumors to the liver.”We learned in that study that lunasin can penetrate the cancer cell, cause cell death, and interact with at least one type of receptor in a cell that is ready to metastasize,” said Vermont Dia, a postdoctoral associate in the de Mejia laboratory.That led the scientists to do this study in which they experimented with oral doses of the peptide. “After all, soy is a food, and we wanted the animals to consume it as a food. Because this lunasin would be digested, we needed to figure out how much should be fed to achieve the desired concentration in the bloodstream,” de Mejia said.Using mice that had been injected with human colon cancer cells, the scientists began by feeding the animals 8 mg/kg of lunasin daily, which reduced the number of new tumors in the liver by 55 percent. They increased the dose five times, at last achieving a 94 percent reduction in tumors at 20 mg/kg of lunasin.”We were very impressed by the reduction, but the results were short of statistical significance from the control group. More animals are needed to strengthen the power of the analysis. It’s a small study but very promising,” de Mejia said.The scientists plan to repeat the study again using 30 mg/kg of lunasin as soon as they can obtain funding. “One tumor is still too many. We’d like to see no tumors,” she said.The scientists said that consuming the equivalent of 20 to 30 mg/kg of lunasin in soy foods would be daunting in terms of number of servings per day. “But it would certainly be possible if food companies began to offer lunasin-enriched soy milk or yogurt,” she said, noting that lunasin-enriched flour is already on the market.De Mejia said that chronic daily exposure to lunasin could make an even bigger difference in terms of cancer development and metastasis. …

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River dredging reduced fish numbers, diversity

June 10, 2013 — Comparing dredged and undredged sections of the Allegheny River, reduced populations of fish and less variety of aquatic life occurred in areas where gravel extraction took place, according to researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences,.The researchers investigated navigation pools 7 and 8 near Kittanning and Templeton and published their results in the journal Freshwater Biology.”Understanding and untangling the complex effects of human activities on aquatic ecosystems present a challenge to ecologists and resource managers,” said lead investigator Jonathan Freedman. “While the physical impacts of dredging have been relatively well studied, less is known about the ecological impacts, particularly on large-river fish populations.”Freedman focused on small, bottom-dwelling fishes such as darters because they have limited movements and specific habitat requirements, making them more susceptible to the effects of dredging. Several of these species — including Tippecanoe, bluebreast, gilt and longhead darters — are listed on Pennsylvania’s endangered and threatened species lists.Freedman, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Illinois Natural History Survey, received his doctorate in wildlife and fisheries science in 2010 from Penn State. His research was overseen by his co-advisers, Jay Stauffer, Distinguished Professor of Ichthyology, and Bob Carline, adjunct professor emeritus of fisheries and retired leader of the Penn State Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.”We found that at dredged sites, with a maximum depth averaging about 12 meters (slightly more than 13 yards) there was lower species richness and diversity, driven by fewer sensitive species, than at undredged sites in the same navigational pools, which had an average maximum depth of about 5 meters (approximately 5.5 yards),” Freedman said.The research found that total catch, species richness and diversity were negatively correlated with depth, while species richness, diversity and proportion of species that need rocky habitats to spawn were lower at dredged than at undredged sites.”Our analysis revealed that taxa, such as darters, were associated predominantly with undredged sites, while generalist species, such as catfish and suckers, were more associated with dredged sites,” Freedman said. The research differed from most prior studies of the effects of dredging on fish, which were conducted in streams and shallow rivers.”Large rivers are complex ecosystems containing unique fish communities that cannot be understood simply by scaling up the findings from lower-order streams and shallow rivers,” Freedman noted.As a result, “the effects of dredging on deeper rivers — where methods such as electroshocking, gill nets and seines are ineffective for sampling the channel — were largely unknown,” he said. “So we developed an electrified benthic trawl to sample bottom fish assemblages at dredged and undredged sites in a deep, gravel-bed river with a long history of dredging.”In-stream removal of substratum affects the physical and flow characteristics of the river as the channel is modified, creating relatively homogenous, deep stretches, Freedman explained. The removal of coarse gravel and cobble increases river depth, and subsequent accumulation of fine sediment and detritus can greatly alter habitat characteristics required by aquatic organisms.Subsequent bank erosion and head-cutting — the erosion of the upstream end of the dredged area– also can result, further homogenizing the aquatic habitat. The result is a loss of critical shallow-water habitats.Habitat structure for invertebrates and fish is lost as gravel and rocks, coarse woody debris and other structure are removed from the river, the researchers found. Increased depth, compounded by water turbidity, reduces light penetration to the river bottom and reduces biomass and diversity of submerged vegetation and algae.As a consequence, flowing water species are displaced by still water species, while generalist and invasive species displace native habitat specialists.”Changes in substratum composition reduce populations of invertebrates living among rocks and burrowing within sediments and terrestrial detritus, thus altering not only invertebrate assemblage composition, but also fish-foraging efficiency and habitat use,” Freedman said.Many fish species depend on structured habitats for protection from predators and as refuge from the current, and some require rocky and gravel habitat in which to spawn. The loss of this habitat, as well as increased sedimentation rates due to dredging, can render habitats unsuitable for reproduction even if adults are able to survive.River dredging causes a sort of regime shift in fish species, concluded Freedman.”Increased turbidity alters fish-foraging ability, while high sedimentation can affect spawning,” he said. …

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Researchers announce discovery of oldest-known fossil primate skeleton

June 5, 2013 — An international team of researchers has announced the discovery of the world’s oldest known fossil primate skeleton representing a previously unknown genus and species named Archicebus achilles. The fossil was unearthed from an ancient lake bed in central China’s Hubei Province, near the course of the modern Yangtze River. In addition to being the oldest known example of an early primate skeleton, the new fossil is crucial for illuminating a pivotal event in primate and human evolution — the evolutionary divergence between the lineage leading to modern monkeys, apes and humans (collectively known as anthropoids) on the one hand and that leading to living tarsiers on the other.The scientific paper describing the discovery appears today in the journal Nature.The international team of scientists who studied the skeleton of Archicebus was led by Dr. Xijun Ni of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Ni’s collaborators include Dr. Christopher Beard of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh; Dr. Daniel Gebo of Northern Illinois University; Dr. Marian Dagosto of Northwestern University in Chicago; Dr. Jin Meng and Dr. John Flynn of the American Museum of Natural History in New York; and Dr. …

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Heart health matters to your brain

June 4, 2013 — People suffering from type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD) are at an increased risk of cognitive decline, according to a new study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.Lead author Christina E. Hugenschmidt, Ph.D., an instructor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, said the results from the Diabetes Heart Study-Mind (DHS-Mind) suggest that CVD is playing a role in cognition problems before it is clinically apparent in patients. The research appears online ahead of print in the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications.”There has been a lot of research looking at the links between type 2 diabetes and increased risk for dementia, but this is the first study to look specifically at subclinical CVD and the role it plays,” Hugenschmidt said. “Our research shows that CVD risk caused by diabetes even before it’s at a clinically treatable level might be bad for your brain.”The results imply that additional CVD factors, especially calcified plaque and vascular status, and not diabetes status alone, are major contributors to type 2 diabetes related cognitive decline.”Hugenschmidt said DHS-Mind is a follow-up study to the Diabetes Heart Study (DHS), which examined relationships between cognitive function, vascular calcified plaque and other major diabetes risk factors associated with cognition. The DHS investigated CVD in siblings with a high incidence and prevalence of type 2 diabetes, where extensive measurements of CVD risk factors were obtained during exams that occurred from 1998 to 2006.The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health through NINDS R01NS058700-02S109 and NIDDK 1F32DK083214-01.The DHS-Mind study added cognitive testing to existing measures with the express purpose of exploring the relationships between measures of atherosclerosis and cognition in a population heavily affected by diabetes, a novel approach given that previous studies have focused on diabetes and cognition in the context of clinically evident CVD, Hugenschmidt said. The researchers followed up with as many of the original 1,443 DHS study participants as possible who had cardiovascular measures. Of that 516 total, 422 were affected with type 2 diabetes and 94 were unaffected.Hugenschmidt said the researchers ran a battery of cognitive testing that looked at different kinds of thinking like memory and processing speed, as well as executive function, which is a set of mental skills coordinated in the brain’s frontal lobe that includes stop and think processes like managing time and attention, planning and organizing. She said that being able to look at data where the comparison group was siblings, some of whom had a high level of CVD themselves, made the results more clinically relevant because the participants shared the same environmental and genetic background.”We still saw a difference between these two groups. Even compared to their own siblings who were not disease free, those with diabetes and subclinical cardiovascular disease had a higher risk of cognitive dysfunction,” Hugenschmidt said.CVD explains a lot of the cognitive problems that people with diabetes experience, Hugenschmidt said. “One possibility is that your brain requires a really steady blood flow and it’s possible that the cardiovascular disease that accompanies diabetes might be the main driver behind the cognitive deficits that we see.”Hugenschmidt said the takeaway for clinicians is to take CVD risk factors into consideration when they’re treating patients with type 2 diabetes patients because even at borderline clinical levels, it might have long-term implications for peoples’ mental, cognitive health.Co-authors include: Fang-Chi Hsu, Ph.D., Satoru Hayasaka, Ph.D., J. …

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