Tsetse fly genome reveals weaknesses: International 10-year project unravels biology of disease-causing fly

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.The tsetse fly spreads the parasitic diseases human African trypanosomiasis, known as sleeping sickness, and Nagana that infect humans and animals respectively. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, 70 million people are currently at risk of deadly infection. Human African trypanosomiasis is on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of neglected tropical diseases and since 2013 has become a target for eradication. Understanding the tsetse fly and interfering with its ability to transmit the disease is an essential arm of the campaign.This disease-spreading fly has developed unique and unusual biological methods to source and infect its prey. Its advanced sensory system allows different tsetse fly species to track down potential hosts either through smell or by sight. This study lays out a list of parts responsible for the key processes and opens new doors to design prevention strategies to reduce the number of deaths and illness associated with human African trypanosomiasis and other diseases spread by the tsetse fly.”Tsetse flies carry a potentially deadly disease and impose an enormous economic burden on countries that can least afford it by forcing farmers to rear less productive but more trypanosome-resistant cattle.” says Dr Matthew Berriman, co-senior author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. “Our study will accelerate research aimed at exploiting the unusual biology of the tsetse fly. The more we understand, the better able we are to identify weaknesses, and use them to control the tsetse fly in regions where human African trypanosomiasis is endemic.”The team, composed of 146 scientists from 78 research institutes across 18 countries, analysed the genome of the tsetse fly and its 12,000 genes that control protein activity. The project, which has taken 10 years to complete, will provide the tsetse research community with a free-to-access resource that will accelerate the development of improved tsetse-control strategies in this neglected area of research.The tsetse fly is related to the fruit fly — a favoured subject of biologists for more than 100 years — but its genome is twice as large. Within the genome are genes responsible for its unusual biology. …

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Arctic melt season lengthening, ocean rapidly warming

The length of the melt season for Arctic sea ice is growing by several days each decade, and an earlier start to the melt season is allowing the Arctic Ocean to absorb enough additional solar radiation in some places to melt as much as four feet of the Arctic ice cap’s thickness, according to a new study by National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA researchers.Arctic sea ice has been in sharp decline during the last four decades. The sea ice cover is shrinking and thinning, making scientists think an ice-free Arctic Ocean during the summer might be reached this century. The seven lowest September sea ice extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the past seven years.”The Arctic is warming and this is causing the melt season to last longer,” said Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at NSIDC, Boulder and lead author of the new study, which has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. “The lengthening of the melt season is allowing for more of the sun’s energy to get stored in the ocean and increase ice melt during the summer, overall weakening the sea ice cover.”To study the evolution of sea ice melt onset and freeze-up dates from 1979 to the present day, Stroeve’s team used passive microwave data from NASA’s Nimbus-7 Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer, and the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager and the Special Sensor Microwave Imager and Sounder carried onboard Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft.When ice and snow begin to melt, the presence of water causes spikes in the microwave radiation that the snow grains emit, which these sensors can detect. Once the melt season is in full force, the microwave emissivity of the ice and snow stabilizes, and it doesn’t change again until the onset of the freezing season causes another set of spikes. Scientists can measure the changes in the ice’s microwave emissivity using a formula developed by Thorsten Markus, co-author of the paper and chief of the Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.Results show that although the melt season is lengthening at both ends, with an earlier melt onset in the spring and a later freeze-up in the fall, the predominant phenomenon extending the melting is the later start of the freeze season. Some areas, such as the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, are freezing up between six and 11 days later per decade. But while melt onset variations are smaller, the timing of the beginning of the melt season has a larger impact on the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the ocean, because its timing coincides with when the sun is higher and brighter in the Arctic sky.Despite large regional variations in the beginning and end of the melt season, the Arctic melt season has lengthened on average by five days per decade from 1979 to 2013.Still, weather makes the timing of the autumn freeze-up vary a lot from year to year.”There is a trend for later freeze-up, but we can’t tell whether a particular year is going to have an earlier or later freeze-up,” Stroeve said. “There remains a lot of variability from year to year as to the exact timing of when the ice will reform, making it difficult for industry to plan when to stop operations in the Arctic.”To measure changes in the amount of solar energy absorbed by the ice and ocean, the researchers looked at the evolution of sea surface temperatures and studied monthly surface albedo data (the amount of solar energy reflected by the ice and the ocean) together with the incoming solar radiation for the months of May through October. The albedo and sea surface temperature data the researchers used comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s polar-orbiting satellites.They found that the ice pack and ocean waters are absorbing more and more sunlight due both to an earlier opening of the waters and a darkening of the sea ice. …

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What’s love got to do with it? Study on love and sex among America’s gay, bisexual men

A first-of-its-kind study by researchers at George Mason University’s Department of Global and Community Health and Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion draws some conclusions to an age-old question: What does love have to do with sex? And, in particular, among gay and bisexual men in the United States?While most research about love has been conducted among heterosexual-identified individuals or opposite sex couples, the focus of this study on same sex couples suggests experiences of love are far more similar than different, regardless of sexual orientation.The study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, “Special Section: Sexual Health in Gay and Bisexual Couples,” finds nearly all (92.6 percent) men whose most recent sexual event occurred with a relationship partner, indicated being in love with the partner at the time they had sex.This is the first time a study has described sexual behaviors engaged in by those men who report being in love, or not, during a given sexual event with a same-sex partner.”Given the recent political shifts around the Defense of Marriage Act and same-sex marriage in the United States, these findings highlight the prevalence and value of loving feelings within same same-sex relationships,” said lead investigator Joshua G. Rosenberger, a professor at George Mason’s College of Health and Human Services.Debby Herbenick, a research scientist at Indiana University (IU) and one of the study co-authors, added, “This study is important because of myths and misunderstandings that separate men from love, even though the capacity to love and to want to be loved in return is a human capacity and is not limited by gender or sexual orientation.”The study collected data from an Internet-based survey of almost 25,000 gay and bisexual men residing in the United States who were members of online websites facilitating social or sexual interactions with other men.”Given the extent to which so much research is focused on the negative aspects of sexual behavior among gay men, particularly as it relates to HIV infection, we were interested in exploring the role of positive affect — in this case, love — during a specific sexual event,” said Rosenberger.Additional key findings include:Nearly all men in the study, 91.2 percent, were “matched” when it came to their feelings of love and their perceptions of their partner’s feelings of love. With regard to age, having been in love with their sexual partner during their sexual event was experienced most commonly by men age 30-39 years. Uncertainty of love for a sexual partner was less frequent in older cohorts, with a greater proportion of young men reporting they were unsure if they loved their sexual partner or if their sexual partner loved them. Men in love with their partners were significantly more likely to endorse the experience as being extremely or quite a bit pleasurable, compared to sexual events in which the participant was not in love. “We found it particularly interesting that the vast majority of men reported sex with someone they felt “matched” with in terms of love, meaning that most people who were in love had sex with the person they loved, but that there were also a number of men who had sex in the absence of love,” said Herbenick, of the IU School of Public Health in Bloomington. “Very few people had sex with someone they loved if that person didn’t love them back. This ‘matching’ aspect of love has not been well explored in previous research, regardless of sexual orientation.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by George Mason University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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How do you recharge for the day ahead?

Before I go to bed at night I have to have a plan of attack for the next day. I have NEVER been a morning person and having children was quite the awakening We’re up between 6-7am and they don’t know what a weekend is. And I don’t know how they do it, but they are UP and RUNNING as soon as their feet hit the floor. “Mom, I’m hungry! Let’s play a game! Mom, you forgot my drink! I need a napkin! I have to go potty!” Or from the 1-year-old: “Poooooop!” Yea. Mornings are rough. I definitely need a way to recharge for the day ahead. Along with Team Kellogg’s, here’s my Tip #28 for a Great Start: Recharge for the Day …

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LungLeavin’ Day Heather Von St. James 2 February 2014

My name is Cameron Von St. James and I am reaching out to you to share something very special to me. I found your blog while searching for those who have overcome obstacles in life. I noticed that openly acknowledge it and I was wondering if you’d be willing to help me with a cause that means a lot to me!Eight years ago, my wife Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma. She had just given birth to our daughter Lily, and was only given 15 months to live. After a life saving surgery that included the removal of her left lung, LungLeavin’ Day was born. This will be the 8th year that we celebrate!The purpose of LungLeavin’ Day is to encourage others to face their fears! Each …

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Scientists edge closer towards first pancreatitis treatment

Sep. 3, 2013 — Scientists have for the first time provided proof of principle for a drug-based treatment of acute pancreatitis — a disease for which currently there is no treatment.Each year around 20,000 people in the UK are admitted to hospital with acute pancreatitis. One in five of these cases are severe, resulting in around 1000 deaths annually.Published today in the US-based PNAS journal, findings reveal that tests undertaken by scientists at Cardiff University, using an existing calcium channel-blocking compound developed by GlaxoSmithKline, have succeeded in markedly reducing the flow of calcium into isolated pancreatic cells and stopping the root cause of the disease in its tracks.”The aim of the research was to block excessive calcium entry caused by agents inducing pancreatitis and then test whether this would protect the pancreatic cells from self-digestion and death,” explains Senior Author of the research and Director of Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, MRC Professor Ole Petersen FRS.”Our research shows that the calcium channel inhibiting compound offers unique and effective protection against inappropriate activation inside the cells of digestive enzymes, which would cannibalise the pancreas and the surrounding tissue.”This breakthrough shows huge potential to radically change and improve the outcome for patients suffering from severe pancreatitis. The publication of these findings will open the way for further research involving animals and humans — and, if successful, we shall for the first time be able to treat this often fatal disease.”The research was funded by a £2.3M Medical Research Council (MRC) Programme grant.Dr Joe McNamara Population and Systems Medicine Board Chair at the Medical Research Council who funded the study, said: “While further research will be needed to show that the success seen here in cells can be replicated in animal and then human trials, this is clearly an interesting study which takes an innovative first step towards drug development for acute pancreatitis, an increasingly common condition for which new treatment options are sorely needed.”Repeated attacks of acute pancreatitis can lead to chronic pancreatitis, which manifestly increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer; currently one of the top four cancer killers in the UK. A treatment driven by this compound may also reduce the risk of patients developing pancreatic cancer.Previous research by Professor Petersen and his team has determined that processes inside isolated pancreatic cells leading to pancreatitis can be induced by the combination of alcohol and fat.When alcohol and fatty acids mix inside the pancreas, a massive release of calcium stored inside the pancreatic cells is triggered. The emptying of these calcium stores then sets in motion the opening of special channels in the cell membrane that allow calcium to enter the cells.The intrusion of this calcium causes activation of normally inactive digestive enzymes inside the cells, which in turn start digesting the pancreas and everything around it.

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Making plants’ inner qualities visible

Sep. 3, 2013 — Not only psychologists would be happy to be able to look inside their patients’ heads — a plant’s “inner qualities” also supply plant researchers with valuable information. A special camera analyzes the constituents of grapevines, corn and other plants.A photographic airplane circles above an Australian vineyard in large arcs. An onboard camera takes pictures of the grapevines in regular intervals — anything but ordinary photos, though. Instead, this camera “looks” directly inside plants and delivers valuable information on their constituents to viticulturists. This enables viticulturists to systematically modify their cultivation in order to increase the yield of their grapevines by using hybrids with valuable properties — a real challenge under the basic conditions in Australia: The soil is dry and salty and summer temperatures are often extremely high.This look at a grapevine’s “inner qualities” is made possible by special software that processes data from a hyperspectral camera, which records images of many adjacent wavelengths. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in Magdeburg developed the software and the mathematical models it contains. “Every molecule absorbs light in a very specific wavelength range,” explains project manager Prof. Udo Seiffert. “The camera chip we use covers a large area of the relevant wavelength spectrum and, together with appropriate software, is able to scan the biochemical composition of every single recorded pixel precisely.” The camera thus delivers an overview of every constituent present in a plant in any significant concentration — a kind of hyperspectral “fingerprint.”A camera delivers an overview of phytoconstituentsThe raw data have to be processed appropriately in order to make them usable for clients. …

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Shortening tails gave early birds a leg up

Aug. 13, 2013 — A radical shortening of their bony tails over 100 million years ago enabled the earliest birds to develop versatile legs that gave them an evolutionary edge, a new study shows.A team led by Oxford University scientists examined fossils of the earliest birds from the Cretaceous Period, 145-66 million years ago, when early birds, such as Confuciusornis, Eoenantiornis, and Hongshanornis, lived alongside their dinosaur kin. At this point birds had already evolved powered flight, necessitating changes to their forelimbs, and the team investigated how this new lifestyle related to changes in their hind limbs (legs).The team made detailed measurements of early bird fossils from all over the world including China, North America, and South America. An analysis of this data showed that the loss of their long bony tails, which occurred after flight had evolved, led to an explosion of diversity in the hind limbs of early birds, prefiguring the amazing variety of talons, stilts, and other specialised hind limbs that have helped to make modern birds so successful.A report of the research is published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.’These early birds were not as sophisticated as the birds we know today — if modern birds have evolved to be like stealth bombers then these were more like biplanes,’ said Dr Roger Benson of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences, who led the research. ‘Yet what surprised us was that despite some still having primitive traits, such as teeth, these early birds display an incredibly diverse array of versatile legs.’By comparing measurements of the main parts of the legs of early birds — upper leg, shin, and foot — to those of their dinosaur relatives Dr Benson and co-author Dr Jonah Choiniere of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, were able to determine whether bird leg evolution was exceptional compared to leg evolution in dinosaurs.’Our work shows that, whilst they may have started off as just another type of dinosaur, birds quickly made a rather special evolutionary breakthrough that gave them abilities and advantages that their dinosaur cousins didn’t have,’ said Dr Rogers. ‘Key to this special ‘birdness’ was losing the long bony dinosaur tail — as soon as this happened it freed up their legs to evolve to become highly versatile and adaptable tools that opened up new ecological niches.’It was developing these highly versatile legs, rather than powered flight, that saw the evolutionary diversification of early birds proceed faster than was generally true of other dinosaurs.

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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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Increased fluctuation in blood pressure linked to impaired cognitive function in older people

July 30, 2013 — Higher variability in visit-to-visit blood pressure readings, independent of average blood pressure, could be related to impaired cognitive function in old age in those already at high risk of cardiovascular disease, suggests a a new article.There is increasing evidence that vascular factors contribute in development and progression of dementia. This is of special interest as cardiovascular factors may be amendable and thus potential targets to reduce cognitive decline and the incidence of dementia. Visit-to-visit blood pressure variability has been linked to cerebrovascular damage (relating to the brain and its blood vessels). It has also been shown that this variability can increase the risk of stroke.It has been suggested that higher blood pressure variability might potentially lead to cognitive impairment through changes in the brain structures.Researchers from the Leiden University Medical Center (Netherlands), University College Cork (Ireland) and the Glasgow University (UK) therefore investigated the association of visit-to-visit blood pressure variability (independent of average blood pressure) with cognitive function in older subjects at high risk of cardiovascular disease.All data were obtained from the PROSPER study, which investigated the effect of statins in prevention of vascular events in older men and women. This study took data on 5,461 individuals aged 70-82 years old in Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands. Average follow-up was three years.Both systolic (peak pressure) and diastolic (minimum pressure) blood pressures were measured every three months in the same clinical setting. The variability between these measurements were calculated and used in the analyses.The study used data on cognitive function where the following was tested: selective attention and reaction time; general cognitive speed; immediate and delayed memory performance.Results showed that visit-to-visit blood pressure variability was associated with worse performance on all cognitive tests. The results were consistent after adjusting for cardiovascular disease and other risk factors.The main findings of the study were: higher visit-to-visit blood pressure variability is associated with worse performance in different cognitive tests; higher variability is associated with higher risk of stroke and both these associations are independent of various cardiovascular risk factors, in particular, average blood pressure.Researcher Simon Mooijaart, (Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, the Netherlands) says that by using a population of “over five thousand participants and over three years of blood pressure measurements, we showed that high visit-to-visit systolic and diastolic blood pressure variability associates with worse performance in different domains of cognitive function including selection attention, processing speed, immediate verbal memory and delayed verbal memory.” The researchers do add though that it is still unclear whether higher blood pressure variability is a cause or consequence of impaired cognitive function.They suggest several explanations for their findings: firstly that blood pressure variability and cognitive impairment could stem from a common cause, with cardiovascular risk factors being the most likely candidate; secondly that variability might reflect a long term instability in the regulation of blood pressure and blood flow to the key organs in the body; thirdly that exaggerated fluctuations in blood pressure could result in the brain not receiving enough blood, which can cause brain injury, leading to impairment of cognitive function.The researchers conclude that “higher visit-to-visit blood pressure variability independent of average blood pressure might be a potential risk factor with worse cognitive performance in older subjects at high risk of cardiovascular disease.” Given that dementia is a major public health issue, they say that further interventional studies are warranted to establish whether reducing blood pressure variability can decrease the risk of cognitive impairment in old age.

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Scientists discover molecular communication network in human stem cells

July 2, 2013 — Scientists at A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics (MPIMG) in Berlin (Germany) have discovered a molecular network in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) that integrates cell communication signals to keep the cell in its stem cell state. These findings were reported in the June 2013 issue of Molecular Cell.Human embryonic stem cells have the remarkable property that they can form all human cell types. Scientists around the world study these cells to be able to use them for medical applications in the future. Many factors are required for stem cells to keep their special state, amongst others the use of cell communication pathways.Cell communication is of key importance in multicellular organisms. For example, the coordinated development of tissues in the embryo to become any specific organ requires that cells receive signals and respond accordingly. If there are errors in the signals, the cell will respond differently, possibly leading to diseases such as cancer. The communication signals which are used in hESCs activate a chain of reactions (called the extracellular regulated kinase (ERK) pathway) within each cell, causing the cell to respond by activating genetic information.Scientists at the GIS and MPIMG studied which genetic information is activated in the cell, and thereby discovered a network for molecular communication in hESCs. They mapped the kinase interactions across the entire genome, and discovered that ERK2, a protein that belongs to the ERK signaling family, targets important sites such as non-coding genes and histones, cell cycle, metabolism and also stem cell-specific genes.The ERK signaling pathway involves an additional protein, ELK1 which interacts with ERK2 to activate the genetic information. Interestingly, the team also discovered that ELK1 has a second, totally opposite function. At genomic sites which are not targeted by ERK signaling, ELK1 silences genetic information, thereby keeping the cell in its undifferentiated state. …

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Location of upwelling in Earth’s mantle discovered to be stable

June 26, 2013 — A study published in Nature today shares the discovery that large-scale upwelling within Earth’s mantle mostly occurs in only two places: beneath Africa and the Central Pacific. More importantly, Clinton Conrad, Associate Professor of Geology at the University of Hawaii — Manoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) and colleagues revealed that these upwelling locations have remained remarkably stable over geologic time, despite dramatic reconfigurations of tectonic plate motions and continental locations on the Earth’s surface. “For example,” said Conrad, “the Pangaea supercontinent formed and broke apart at the surface, but we think that the upwelling locations in the mantle have remained relatively constant despite this activity.”Conrad has studied patterns of tectonic plates throughout his career, and has long noticed that the plates were, on average, moving northward. “Knowing this,” explained Conrad, “I was curious if I could determine a single location in the Northern Hemisphere toward which all plates are converging, on average.” After locating this point in eastern Asia, Conrad then wondered if other special points on Earth could characterize plate tectonics. “With some mathematical work, I described the plate tectonic ‘quadrupole’, which defines two points of ‘net convergence’ and two points of ‘net divergence’ of tectonic plate motions.”When the researchers computed the plate tectonic quadruople locations for present-day plate motions, they found that the net divergence locations were consistent with the African and central Pacific locations where scientists think that mantle upwellings are occurring today. “This observation was interesting and important, and it made sense,” said Conrad. “Next, we applied this formula to the time history of plate motions and plotted the points — I was astonished to see that the points have not moved over geologic time!” Because plate motions are merely the surface expression of the underlying dynamics of the Earth’s mantle, Conrad and his colleagues were able to infer that upwelling flow in the mantle must also remain stable over geologic time. “It was as if I was seeing the ‘ghosts’ of ancient mantle flow patterns, recorded in the geologic record of plate motions!”Earth’s mantle dynamics govern many aspects of geologic change on the Earth’s surface. This recent discovery that mantle upwelling has remained stable and centered on two locations (beneath Africa and the Central Pacific) provides a framework for understanding how mantle dynamics can be linked to surface geology over geologic time. For example, the researchers can now estimate how individual continents have moved relative to these two upwelling locations. …

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Free perks and upgrades: Could they actually embarrass consumers?

June 18, 2013 — Consumers may not enjoy receiving free perks or upgrades in public, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.”Preferential treatment is often conferred in public settings. When preferential treatment is unearned rather than earned, the presence of other consumers who do not receive the same treatment can diminish satisfaction for the consumer receiving preferential treatment,” write authors Lan Jiang (University of Oregon), JoAndrea Hoegg, and Darren W. Dahl (both University of British Columbia).Preferential treatment (where only some consumers are given extra benefits) is common when traveling, shopping, or dining out. For example, a consumer might bypass airport check-in due to her frequent flyer status, win free groceries as the one-millionth customer at a supermarket, or receive a nicer room when checking into a hotel just because one happens to be available.In one study, the authors set up a booth offering three free samples of personal care products. Some consumers were given extra samples and told this happened because they were loyal customers, while others received extra samples with no explanation. Other consumers were present when samples were distributed. Due to social discomfort, consumers were less satisfied with extra samples and also left the booth more quickly when there was no explanation and observers were present.Companies should try to reach consumers privately when giving away rewards that aren’t earned through effort or loyalty.”Social influence is a critical issue that must be considered by companies considering a preferential treatment program. If companies want to employ preferential treatment practices in public settings for publicity purposes, they should ensure that this special treatment is earned through effort or loyalty and that the rationale is understood by all of their customers,” the authors conclude.

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New surgical technique for Bell’s palsy facial paralysis

June 11, 2013 — A Loyola University Medical Center surgeon is using electrical stimulation as part of an advanced surgical technique to treat Bell’s palsy. Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes paralysis on one side of a patient’s face.During surgery, Dr. John Leonetti stimulates the patient’s damaged facial nerve with an electric current, helping to jump-start the nerve in an effort to restore improved facial movement more quickly.Leonetti said some patients who have received electrical stimulation have seen muscle movement return to their face after one or two months — rather than the four-to-six months it typically takes for movement to return following surgery.A virus triggered Bell’s palsy in Audrey Rex, 15, of Lemont, Ill. Her right eye could not close and her smile was lopsided, making her feel self-conscious. She had to drink from a straw, and eating was frustrating — she would accidentally bite her bottom lip when it got stuck on her teeth.She was treated with steroids, but after six weeks, there were no improvements. So Audrey’s mother did further research and made an appointment with Leonett Leonetti recommended surgery with electrical stimulation, followed by physical therapy. Today, Audrey’s appearance has returned to normal, and she has regained nearly all of the facial muscle movements she had lost.”I feel very blessed that we were referred to Dr. Leonetti,” said Deborah Rex, Audrey’s mother.Bell’s palsy is classified as an idiopathic disorder, meaning its cause is not definitely known. However, most physicians believe Bell’s palsy is caused by a viral-induced swelling of the facial nerve within its bony covering. Symptoms include paralysis on one side of the face; inability to close one eye; drooling; dryness of the eye; impaired taste; and a complete inability to express emotion on one side of the face.Bell’s palsy occurs when the nerve that controls muscles on one side of the face becomes swollen, inflamed or compressed. …

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Hospital-based exercise programs benefit people with osteoarthritis, study finds

Nov. 11, 2012 — A low-cost exercise program run by Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City has significantly improved pain, function and quality of life in participants with osteoarthritis, according to new research.

The study adds to the growing evidence that exercise is beneficial for osteoarthritis and shows that a hospital-based program can work. The study will be reported at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals (ACR/ARHP), to be held Nov. 9-14, in Washington D.C.

The new study showed that the weekly exercise programs significantly improved enjoyment of life and balance, and decreased pain and the severity and frequency of falls. “When participants were asked to report their level of pain severity, there were statistically significant reductions in pain from pre- to post-test. Pain is a huge factor in quality of life,” said Sandra Goldsmith, director of the Public and Patient Education Department at Hospital for Special Surgery. “If we can offer classes that help to reduce pain, that is a good thing.”

Roughly ten years ago, HSS launched its Osteoarthritis Wellness Initiative, which has grown to encompass both an educational component, including lectures and workshops, as well as exercise classes. In the study to be presented at the recent ACR/ARHP meeting, Special Surgery researchers evaluated the effectiveness of the exercise programs on 200 participants.

The classes, which met weekly throughout the year, included Tai Chi, yoga, mat and chair pilates, yoga-lates and dance fitness. Instructors who could tailor exercises for those with osteoarthritis and other musculoskeletal issues supervised the exercise programs. The researchers analyzed results from surveys that were administered before and after the exercise programs. The surveys included measures of self-reported pain, balance, falls and level of physical activity. An 11-point numeric pain intensity scale was used to quantify intensity of muscle or joint pain. The 10-point Brief Pain Inventory was used to measure pain interference on aspects of quality of life, including general activity, mood, walking ability, sleep, normal work (both outside the home and housework), and enjoyment of life.

In the sample of 200 participants, roughly 53% indicated that they experienced pain relief as a result of participating in the exercise programs. In fact, when researchers analyzed the subset of 66 participants who completed both pre and post surveys, a larger proportion, 62%, indicated they experienced pain relief after participating in the exercise programs. The level of pain intensity that participants experienced also significantly dropped from 4.5 to 2.7 in this group, where 0 was no pain and 10 was the worst pain imaginable. When researchers compared participants’ estimation of how much pain interfered with various aspects of an individual’s life, they identified a 54% improvement in general activity, mood, walking ability, sleep, normal work, and enjoyment of life.

“We asked participants to rate their balance, and we found a statistically significant increase in those who rated their balance as excellent, very good or good, from pre- to post-intervention, ” said Dana Friedman, MPH, outcomes manager in the HSS Public and Patient Education Department. Fewer respondents reported falling from pre- to post-test (14.5% vs. 13.1%), as well as sustaining injuries that required hospitalization (12.1% vs. 10.6%).

Linda Russell, M.D., a rheumatologist at HSS who is chair of the Public and Patient Education Advisory Committee, points out that the classes are low cost for patients and the fees cover the majority of costs associated with offering these types of programs, including salaries for the instructors. “We like to get all of our patients involved in exercise, and if we can help with a low-cost alternative to exercising in New York City, because gyms are expensive, then it is wonderful,” said Dr. Russell. “Patients benefit from supervised exercise programs with regard to their overall sense of well-being and pain due to their arthritis. We encourage other institutions to launch these types of program.”

“We’d like to be a role model for other hospitals, showing them that offering this type of program can help their patients reduce pain and improve quality of life,” said Ms. Goldsmith. “We are willing to discuss the details about how to start these programs.”

All exercise programs were run through the HSS Public and Patient Education Department, which includes the Greenberg Academy for Successful Aging, a collaborative program between the HSS Public and Patient Education Department and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s Irving Sherwood Wright Center for the Aging.

Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50 million U.S. adults, 22% of the population, suffered from osteoarthritis in 2009, compared with 46 million in 2003-2005. Arthritis affected the daily activities of 21 million adults in 2009. Body mass index influences the prevalence of arthritis; 29.6% of obese adults have arthritis.

Other Hospital for Special Surgery authors involved in the study include Linda Roberts, LCSW, Dana Sperber and Laura Robbins, DSW.

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Ketamine cousin rapidly lifts depression without side effects, study suggests

May 30, 2013 — GLYX-13, a molecular cousin to ketamine, induces similar antidepressant results without the street drug side effects, reported a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that was published last month in Neuropsychopharmacology.

Major depression affects about 10 percent of the adult population and is the second leading cause of disability in U.S. adults, according to the World Health Organization. Despite the availability of several different classes of antidepressant drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), 30 to 40 percent of adults are unresponsive to these medications. Moreover, SSRIs typically take weeks to work, which increases the risk for suicide.

Enter NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor modulators. In the 1970s, researchers linked the receptors to learning and memory. Biotech and pharmaceutical companies in the 1980s attempted to apply chemical blockers to these receptors as a means to prevent stroke. But blocking these receptors led to the opposite effect — –the rise of cardiovascular disease. Research in the field dampened until a glutamate receptor antagonist already approved for anesthesia, and known on the streets as “Special K,” ketamine, made headlines in the early 2000s. Human clinical studies demonstrated that ketamine can ward off major and bipolar depressive symptoms within 2 hours of administration and last for several days. Ketamine is fraught with serious side effects including excessive sleepiness, hallucinations, and substance abuse behavior.

“Ketamine lit the field back up,” said Joseph Moskal, Ph.D., a molecular neurobiologist at Northwestern University and senior study author. “Our drug, GLYX-13, is very different. It does not block the receptor ion channel, which may account for why it doesn’t have the same side effects.”

Moskal’s journey with GLYX-13 came about from his earlier days as a Senior Staff Fellow in NIMH’s Intramural Research Program. While at NIMH, he created specific molecules, monoclonal antibodies, to use as new probes to understand pathways of learning and memory. Some of the antibodies he created were for NMDA receptors. When he moved to Northwestern University, Moskal converted the antibodies to small protein molecules. Composed of only four amino acids, GLYX-13 is one of these molecules.

Previous electrophysiological and conditioning studies had suggested that GLYX-13, unlike ketamine, enhanced memory and learning in rats, particularly in the brain’s memory hub or hippocampus. GLYX-13 also produced analgesic effects. Using several rat behavioral and molecular experiments, Moskal’s research team tested four compounds: GLYX-13, an inactive, “scrambled” version of GLYX-13 that had its amino acids rearranged, ketamine, and the SSRI fluoxetine.

Results of the Study

GLYX-13 and ketamine produced rapid acting (1 hour) and long-lasting (24 hour) antidepressant-like effects in the rats. Fluoxetine, an SSRI that typically takes from 2-4 weeks to show efficacy in humans, did not produce a rapid antidepressant effect in this study. As expected, the scrambled GLYX-13 showed no antidepressant-like effects at all. The researchers observed none of the aforementioned side effects of ketamine in the GLYX-13-treated rats.

Protein studies indicated an increase in the hippocampus of the NMDA receptor NR2B and a receptor for the chemical messenger glutamate called AMPA. Electrophysiology studies in this brain region showed that GLYX-13 and ketamine promoted long-lasting signal transmission in neurons, known as long-term potentiation/synaptic plasticity. This phenomenon is essential in learning and memory. The researchers propose how GLYX-13 works: GLYX-13 triggers NR2B receptor activation that leads to intracellular calcium influx and the expression of AMPA, which then is responsible for increased communication between neurons.

These results are consistent with data from a recent Phase 2 clinical trial, in which a single administration of GLYX-13 produced statistically significant reductions in depression scores in patients who had failed treatment with current antidepressants. The reductions were evident within 24 hours and persisted for an average of 7 days. After a single dose of GLYX-13, the drug’s antidepressant efficacy nearly doubled that seen with most conventional antidepressants after 4-6 weeks of dosing. GLYX-13 was well tolerated and it did not produce any of the schizophrenia-like effects associated with other NMDA receptor modulating agents.

Significance

NMDA receptors need a molecule each of the amino acid chemical messengers glutamate and glycine to become activated. Moskal speculates that GLYX-13 either directly binds to the glycine site on the NMDA receptor or indirectly modulates how glycine works with the receptor. Resulting activation of more NMDA and AMPA receptors leads to an increase in memory, learning — and antidepressant effects. By contrast, ketamine only blocks the NMDA receptor, but also increases the activity of the AMPA receptor. Knowledge of these mechanisms could lead to the development of more effective antidepressants.

What’s Next

GLYX-13 is now being tested in a Phase 2 repeated dose antidepressant trial, where Moskal and his colleagues at Naurex, Inc., a biotechnology company he founded, hope to find in humans the optimal dosing for the drug. They also want to see if this molecule, and others like it, regulate other NMDA receptor subtypes — there are over 20 of them — and whether it will work on other disorders, such as schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism.

“One could call NMDA modulators such as GLYX-13 ‘comeback kids,'” said Moskal. “A toolkit that I developed in 1983 is now setting the stage in 2013 for the development of possible new therapeutics that may provide individuals suffering from depression with a valuable new treatment option.”

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