Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[News article] Friendly bacteria are protective against malaria

From the 4 December 2014 ScienceDaily article

Date: December 4, 2014
Source: Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia
Summary:
In a breakthrough study, a research team discovered that specific bacterial components in the human gut microbiota can trigger a natural defense mechanism that is highly protective against malaria transmission. It is estimated that 3.4 billion people are at risk of contracting malaria and WHO data from 2012 reveal that about 460,000 African children died from malaria before reaching their fifth birthday. The present study argues that if one can induce the production of antibodies against alpha-gal in those children one may be able to revert these grim numbers.
Over the past few years, the scientific community became aware that humans live under a continuous symbiotic relationship with a vast community of bacteria and other microbes that reside in the gut. These microbes, know as the gut microbiota, do not necessarily cause disease to humans and instead can influence a variety of physiologic functions that are essential to maintain health. Some of these microbes, including specific strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) that are usual inhabitant of the human gut, express on their surface sugar molecules (known as carbohydrates or glycans). These glycans can be recognized by the human immune system, which results in the production of high levels of circulating natural antibodies in adult individuals. It has been speculated that natural antibodies directed against sugar molecules expressed by the microbiota may also recognize perhaps similar sugar molecules expressed by pathogens, that is, parasites that can cause diseases in humans.
It was well established before these studies, that onlya fraction of all adultindividuals thatare confronted to the bite of mosquitoes in endemic areas of malaria do become infected by the Plasmodium parasite and eventually go on to contract malaria. This argued that adults might have a natural defense mechanism against malaria transmission, which is in sharp contrast with children under 3-5 years old that are much more susceptible to contract malaria. When analyzingindividuals from an endemic area of malaria in Mali,in collaboration with a research team lead by Peter D. Crompton at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Maryland; USA) and at the University of Sciences, Techniques and Technologies of Bamako (Bamako, Mali), the research team lead by Miguel Soares established that thoseindividuals that have the lowest levels of circulating anti-alpha-gal antibodies are also those that are the most susceptible to contract malaria. In contrast those individuals that have the highest levels of circulating anti-alpha-gal antibodies are less susceptibleto be infected and to develop malaria. They conclude thatthe reason why young infants are so susceptible to contract malaria is probably due to the fact that they have not yet generatedsufficient levels of circulating natural antibodies directed against the alpha-gal sugar molecule….

Miguel Soares adds: “We observed that children under 3 years old do not have sufficient levels of circulating anti-alpha-gal antibodies, which might be one of the reasons for their exquisite susceptibility to malaria. One of the beauties of the protective mechanism we just discovered is that it can be induced via a standard vaccination protocol, leading to the production of high levels of anti-alpha-gal antibodies that bind and kill the Plasmodium parasite. If we can vaccinate these young children against alpha-gal, many lives might be saved.”

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Drugs in the environment affect plant growth

From the 3 December 2014 University of Exeter press release

The drugs we release into the environment are likely to have a significant impact on plant growth, finds a new study nled by the University of Exeter Medical School and Plymouth University.

By assessing the impacts of a range of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, the research has shown that the growth of edible crops can be affected by these chemicals – even at the very low concentrations found in the environment.

Published in the Journal of Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, the research focused its analysis on lettuce and radish plants and tested the effects of several commonly prescribed drugs, including diclofenac and ibuprofen. These drugs are among the most common and widely used group of pharmaceuticals, with more than 30 million prescribed across the world every day.

The potential for these chemicals to influence plants is becoming increasingly relevant, particularly as waste management systems are unable to remove many compounds from our sewage. Drugs for human use make their way into soil through a number of routes, including the use of sewage sludge as fertiliser and waste water for irrigation.

Crop_research_main

Crop image via Shutterstock.

This study looked for a number of changes in edible plants, assessing factors such as water content, root and shoot length, overall size and how effectively the plants photosynthesised.

Each drug was shown to affect the plants in very specific ways, with marked differences between drugs that are closely related. For example, drugs from the fenamic acid class affected the growth of radish roots, whilst ibuprofen had a significant influence on the early root development of lettuce plants.

Dr Clare Redshaw, one of the scientists leading the project at the Medical School’s European Centre for Environment & Human Health, said: “The huge amounts of pharmaceuticals we use ultimately end up in the environment, yet we know very little about their effects on flora and fauna. As populations age and generic medicines become readily available, pharmaceutical use will rise dramatically and it’s essential we take steps towards limiting environmental contamination. We haven’t considered the impact on human health in this study, but we need to improve our understanding quickly so that appropriate testing and controls can be put in place.”

There have been growing concerns about the presence of pharmaceuticals in the environment, particularly as evidence emerges of the effects they can have on the development of animals and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Yet their ability to affect plant growth is poorly understood.

December 9, 2014 Posted by | environmental health, Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] ‘Patients-in-waiting’: Even the perceived risk of disease prompts intention to act

From the 3 December 2014 Yale press release

Bubble_rev01_YaleNews(Photo via Shutterstock)

With so much focus on risk factors for disease, we are living in an era of surveillance medicine, in which the emphasis on risk blurs the lines between health and illness, argue researchers at Yale and Syracuse universities in a study published in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Co-authors Rene Almeling, assistant professor of sociology at Yale, and Shana Kushner Gadarian, assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University, conducted a nationwide survey of American adults to determine if healthy people react to hypothetical genetic risk information by wanting to take action.

The main finding of the study was that as the level of risk increases from 20% to 80%, people are more likely to want to take action of all kinds, including seeking information about the disease, managing risk by taking medications or undergoing surgery, consulting family members, organizing finances, and participating in community and political events.

The results of the survey showed the importance of risk information even to healthy people, suggesting that the experience of living between health and disease is not just limited to those who are already patients. “Social scientists have argued that we are now treating risk as if it were a disease, and these results provide strong evidence for that claim,” says Almeling.

Participants were asked if they have a family member or close friend with the disease to which they had been assigned to assess whether experience with the disease increased their interest in taking action. The researchers were startled to find that seeing a disease up close did not make much difference; across the board, people responded to the hypothetical risk information by wanting to take action.

The survey questions were hypothetical, but the issues that the study raises are real, note the researchers, adding that people use risk information to make significant medical decisions, such as whether to increase the frequency of cancer screenings or undergo prophylactic surgery.

“It is extremely important for social scientists and clinicians to understand how people respond to these risk numbers and how they are being used to make important life decisions,” says Almeling. She added, “Studies like this can aid health care providers in offering genetic information with sufficient context to insure that people make the best decisions for themselves.”

Given that people throughout the population — from the healthy to the sick and those with and without a family history of disease — had largely identical reactions suggests that normality has indeed become precarious and that we are all patients-in-waiting, say the researchers.

 

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Psychology, Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Reblog] Germs. The pseudoscience of quality improvement

hmmm…position justifications? power plays?

C-Dif

From the 7 December 2014 post by Karen Siebel, MD at the HealthCare Blog

No one wants a hospital-acquired infection—a wound infection, a central line infection, or any other kind.  But today, the level of concern in American hospitals about infection rates has reached a new peak—better termed paranoia than legitimate concern.

The fear of infection is leading to the arbitrary institution of brand new rules. These aren’t based on scientific research involving controlled studies.  As far as I can tell, these new rules are made up by people who are under pressure to create the appearance that action is being taken.

Here’s an example.  An edict just came down in one big-city hospital that all scrub tops must be tucked into scrub pants. The “Association of periOperative Registered Nurses” (AORN) apparently thinks that this is more hygienic because stray skin cells may be less likely to escape, though there is no data proving that surgical infection rates will decrease as a result.  Surgeons, anesthesiologists, and OR nurses are confused, amused, and annoyed in varying degrees.  Some are paying attention to the new rule, and many others are ignoring it.  One OR supervisor stopped an experienced nurse and told to tuck in her scrub top while she was running to get supplies for an emergency aortic repair, raising (in my mind at least) a question of misplaced priorities.

The Joint Commission, of course, loves nothing more than to make up new rules, based sometimes on real data and other times on data about as substantial as fairy dust.

A year or two ago, another new rule surfaced, mandating that physicians’ personal items such as briefcases must be placed in containers or plastic trash bags if they are brought into the operating room.  Apparently someone thinks trash bags are cleaner.

Now one anesthesiology department chairman has taken this concept a step further, decreeing that no personal items at all are to be brought into the operating room–except for cell phones and iPods.  That’s right, iPods, not iPads.  This policy (of course) probably won’t be applied uniformly to high-ranking surgeons or to people like the pacemaker technicians who routinely bring entire suitcases of equipment into the OR with them.

What’s particularly irrational about this rule is that cell phones likely are more contaminated with bacteria than briefcases or purses, even if they’re wiped off frequently.

 

Instead of creating more and more rules governing the care of all patients, perhaps we need to focus on the subsets of patients and case types that we already know are at higher risk, and examine what additional steps we need to take on their behalf.

 

 

 

December 9, 2014 Posted by | health care | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Wealth, power or lack thereof at heart of many mental disorders

From the 8 December 2014 EurkAlert!

UC Berkeley study finds self-worth key to diagnoses of psychopathologies

Donald Trump’s ego may be the size of his financial empire, but that doesn’t mean he’s the picture of mental health. The same can be said about the self-esteem of people who are living from paycheck to paycheck, or unemployed. New research from the University of California, Berkeley, underscores this mind-wallet connection.

UC Berkeley researchers have linked inflated or deflated feelings of self-worth to such afflictions as bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, anxiety and depression, providing yet more evidence that the widening gulf between rich and poor can be bad for your health.

The social self.

The social self. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

“We found that it is important to consider the motivation to pursue power, beliefs about how much power one has attained, pro-social and aggressive strategies for attaining power, and emotions related to attaining power,” said Sheri Johnson, a UC Berkeley psychologist and senior author of the study published in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice.

In a study of more than 600 young men and women conducted at UC Berkeley, researchers concluded that one’s perceived social status – or lack thereof – is at the heart of a wide range of mental illnesses. The findings make a strong case for assessing such traits as “ruthless ambition,” “discomfort with leadership” and “hubristic pride” to understand psychopathologies.

“People prone to depression or anxiety reported feeling little sense of pride in their accomplishments and little sense of power,” Johnson said. “In contrast, people at risk for mania tended to report high levels of pride and an emphasis on the pursuit of power despite interpersonal costs.”

Specifically, Johnson and fellow researchers Eliot Tang-Smith of the University of Miami and Stephen Chen of Wellesley College looked at how study participants fit into the “dominance behavioral system,” a construct in which humans and other mammals assess their place in the social hierarchy and respond accordingly to promote cooperation and avoid conflict and aggression. The concept is rooted in the evolutionary principle that dominant mammals gain easier access to resources for the sake of reproductive success and the survival of the species.

Studies have long established that feelings of powerlessness and helplessness weaken the immune system, making one more vulnerable to physical and mental ailments. Conversely, an inflated sense of power is among the behaviors associated with bipolar disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, which can be both personally and socially corrosive.

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Religion or Spirituality Has Positive Impact on Romantic/Marital Relationships, Child Development, Research Shows

From the 8 December 2014 American Psychological Association press release

Praying for partners, spiritual intimacy, attending services with parents may improve quality of life

WASHINGTON — Adolescents who attend religious services with one or both of their parents are more likely to feel greater well-being while romantic partners who pray for their “significant others” experience greater relationship commitment, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

These were among the findings of studies published in two special sections of APA’s Journal of Family Psychology® looking at how spiritual beliefs or behaviors have appeared to strengthen generally happy marriages and how a person’s religious and/or spiritual functioning may influence that of his or her family members.

“These studies exemplify an emerging subfield called relational spirituality, which focuses on the ways that diverse couples and families can rely on specific spiritual beliefs and behaviors, for better or worse, to motivate them to create, maintain and transform their intimate relationships,” according to Annette Mahoney, PhD, of Bowling Green State University, and Annamarie Cano, PhD, of Wayne State University, who edited special sections in the December and October issues of the journal. “Hopefully, publishing these articles will spur more research on ways that religion and spirituality can help or harm couples’ and families’ relationships and encourage more interchange between family psychology and the psychology of religion and spirituality.”

The December issue features five studies that offer novel insights into how religiosity or spiritualism affect children’s development and influence the importance of religion in their own lives.

The October section comprises four studies that focus on the ways that couples can draw on religious/spiritual beliefs and behaviors to transform their unions and help them cope with adversity. “Each of the studies in the October special section moves beyond general measures of people’s involvement in organized religion or spirituality and investigates specific spiritual beliefs or behaviors that appear to influence marital adjustment and human development,” according to APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, editor of the Journal of Family Psychology. “All the studies present rigorous research into the roles that religion and spirituality can play in enhancing family well-being.”

Articles in the December issue

Religious Socialization in African American Families: The Relative Influence of Parents, Grandparents, and Siblings (PDF, 110KB) by Ian A. Gutierrez, MA, University of Connecticut; Lucas J. Goodwin, MA, New York University; Katherine Kirkinis, MA, Teachers College, Columbia University; and Jacqueline S. Mattis, PhD, New York University.

Looking at three generations, the researchers found that mothers have the most consistently positive influence on the religious lives of their children “because they are socialized to transmit critical values, beliefs and practices across generations, and because they embrace norms of femininity that reinforce such roles.” Additionally, grandparents — especially grandmothers — play a significant role in the religious socialization of grandchildren in African-American families, according to this research.

Contact:Ian Gutierrez

Neighborhood Disorder, Spiritual Well-Being, and Parenting Stress in African American Women (PDF, 98KB) by Dorian A. Lamis, PhD, and Christina K. Wilson, PhD, Emory University School of Medicine; Nicholas Tarantino, MA, Georgia State University; Jennifer E. Lansford, PhD, Duke University; and Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, Emory University School of Medicine

Read the entire press release here

On a related note...Nearly half of U.S. kids exposed to traumatic social or family experiences during childhood.

A quote “Broken down by state, Utah had the lowest number of children experiencing two or more traumatic experiences (16.3 percent) while Oklahoma had the highest (32.8 percent).” Wondering if religion/spirituality is a factor?

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News article] Injectable 3-D vaccines could fight cancer, infectious diseases

From the 8 December 2014 ScienceDaily article

Date:December 8, 2014
 Source:Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard
Summary:
A non-surgical injection of programmable biomaterial that spontaneously assembles in vivo into a 3-D structure could fight and even help prevent cancer and also infectious disease such as HIV, scientists have demonstrated. Tiny biodegradable rod-like structures made from silica, known as mesoporous silica rods (MSRs), can be loaded with biological and chemical drug components and then delivered by needle just underneath the skin, they explain.

3DVaccine2H-875A

Their findings are reported in Nature Biotechnology.

“We can create 3D structures using minimally-invasive delivery to enrich and activate a host’s immune cells to target and attack harmful cells in vivo,” said the study’s senior author David Mooney, Ph.D., who is a Wyss Institute Core Faculty member and the Robert P. Pinkas Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard SEAS.

Tiny biodegradable rod-like structures made from silica, known as mesoporous silica rods (MSRs), can be loaded with biological and chemical drug components and then delivered by needle just underneath the skin. The rods spontaneously assemble at the vaccination site to form a three-dimensional scaffold, like pouring a box of matchsticks into a pile on a table. The porous spaces in the stack of MSRs are large enough to recruit and fill up with dendritic cells, which are “surveillance” cells that monitor the body and trigger an immune response when a harmful presence is detected.

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News item] Each dollar spent on kids’ nutrition can yield more than $100 later

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 5.26.07 AMFrom the 8 December 2014 ScienceDaily article

Date: December 8, 2014
Source: University of Waterloo
Summary: There are strong economic incentives for governments to invest in early childhood nutrition, reports a new paper that reveals that every dollar spent on nutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life can provide a country up to $166 in future earnings.

There are strong economic incentives for governments to invest in early childhood nutrition, reports a new paper from the University of Waterloo and Cornell University. Published for the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, the paper reveals that every dollar spent on nutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life can provide a country up to $166 in future earnings.

“The returns on investments in nutrition have high benefit-cost ratios, especially in countries with higher income levels and a growing economy,” said Professor Susan Horton, of the School of Public Health and Health Systems and the Department of Economics at Waterloo.

Children who are undernourished during the first 1,000 days of their lives typically show stunted growth patterns by the age of three and have poorer cognitive skills than their well-fed peers. As adults they are less educated, earn lower wages and have more health problems throughout their lives.

“Height-for-age is a much better measure of health than weight-for-age. It is also predictive of economic outcomes,”

Currently, the World Health Organization is aiming to reduce stunting among children under age five by 40 per cent as part of its 2025 nutrition goals, and it is widely expected that the rate of stunting will also be included in its Sustainable Development Goals, which will be announced in 2015.

More information can be found at: http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/post-2015-consensus/nutrition

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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