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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[News release] Gender difference in moral judgments rooted in emotion, not reasoning, study finds

Gender difference in moral judgments rooted in emotion, not reasoning, study finds | EurekAlert! Science News. (3 April 2015 excerpt)

If a time machine was available, would it be right to kill Adolf Hitler when he was still a young Austrian artist to prevent World War II and save millions of lives? Should a police officer torture an alleged bomber to find hidden explosives that could kill many people at a local cafe? When faced with such dilemmas, men are typically more willing to accept harmful actions for the sake of the greater good than women. For example, women would be less likely to support the killing of a young Hitler or torturing a bombing suspect, even if doing so would ultimately save more lives.

According to new research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, this gender difference in moral decisions is caused by stronger emotional aversion to harmful action among women; the study found no evidence for gender differences in the rational evaluation of the outcomes of harmful actions.

“Women are more likely to have a gut-level negative reaction to causing harm to an individual, while men experience less emotional responses to doing harm,” says lead research author Rebecca Friesdorf. The finding runs contrary to the common stereotype that women being more emotional means that they are also less rational, Friesdorf says. The journal article was published online in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin on April 3, 2015.

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Reblog] Epigenetics – how the environment influences our genes

Epigenetics – how the environment influences our genes › Lindau Blog.

“..today we must assume that if our generation is suffering hardship, violence or the like, not only will we struggle to forget these difficult periods ourselves but our genes too will remember them, carrying traces to be passed on to the next generation or even several generations.”

From the 8 May 2015 post at Scilogs

The science behind a rapid paradigm shift

When the first human genome was decoded, popular thinking went: “If we know the genes, we know the person.” Today, barely 15 years later, science is in the middle of an exciting new area of research, which is entertaining interested members of the public with exciting, if not always serious, headlines. The field alleges that traumatic experiences can be passed down through the generations and even significantly affect the lives of grandchildren. As it turns out, the reality is that genes not only control, but are also controlled. And that is what epigenetics is all about – how are genes controlled and what factors can influence them?

Epigenetics refers to the meta-level of genetic regulation. Under the influence of external factors, epigenetic mechanisms regulate which genes are turned on and off. This helps our fixed genetic material to be more flexible. At the biochemical micro level, epigenetic regulators are responsible for how closely packed individual genomic regions are and therefore how accessible or not they are. This works by small adhered or detached chemical groups. The resulting marking of the genome is read by specialised enzymes that then cause the switching on or off of the genes.

English: Structure of a nucleosome with histones from the fruit fly, Wikimedia Commons (Sponk)

As reasonable as this appears, one consequence is that we will have to say goodbye to a long-established dogma: the idea that genes are immutable in the creation of a living being. And, looking back through the history of science: was Lamarck right, after all? The 19th-century French biologist had claimed that organisms acquired traits to pass on to future generations . It is precisely this mechanism that epigeneticists are on the trail of today. Laboratory experiments with mice have demonstrated that a particular, targeted encoding of individual genes results in the changes being passed on to the offspring. Epigenetic changes, however, are so-called soft changes, as they can be undone. And that is medicine’s great hope – to be able to intervene in the control mechanism from the outside in order to be able to work against, for example, senile dementia.

PET scans showing the differances between a normal older adult's brain and the brain of an older adult afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, Wikimedia Commons (Health and Human Services Department, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging)

At this point, the level of possible tension around this new field of research becomes clear. On the one hand, the idea that our human condition can be so strongly “manipulated” by environmental influences can be very disturbing. And rightly so. Previously, we may have had the upbeat expectation that although we are experiencing suffering, the next generation will have it better. However, today we must assume that if our generation is suffering hardship, violence or the like, not only will we struggle to forget these difficult periods ourselves but our genes too will remember them, carrying traces to be passed on to the next generation or even several generations.

study often mentioned in this context is based on the analysis of data collected in the Netherlands over the years of hunger in 1944-45, during which the population there suffered particularly difficult conditions. The children born at this time were not only smaller, but, as adults, had an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular problems and neuropsychiatric disorders. In turn, their offspring were again smaller than average – despite food being in ready supply and living conditions having greatly improved.

 

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , | Leave a comment

[Special Nature/Scientific American 2014 issue] Cancer: The March on Malignancy

Presentation2

 

This 2014 issue of Nature (in collaboration with Scientific American)  is free to read by all.

Contents include

  • TherapyThis Time it's Personal

    This Time it’s Personal

    Tailoring cancer treatment to individual and evolving tumours is the way of the future, but scientists are still hashing out the details

  • NanotechnologyDeliver on a Promise

    Deliver on a Promise

    Effective treatment of cancer requires getting the drugs precisely to the target. Enter the nanoparticle

  • Comparative BiologyNaked Ambition

    Naked Ambition

    A subterranean species that seems to be cancer-proof is providing promising clues on how we might prevent the disease in humans

  • Developing WorldGlobal Warning

    Global Warning

    Much of the world is ill-equipped to cope with its rising cancer burden and are pushing prevention and screening

  • PreventionAir of Danger

    Air of Danger

    Carcinogens are all around us, so scientists are broadening their ideas of environmental risk

Attacking an Epidemic
Statistics

Attacking an Epidemic

Despite a huge amount of funding and research, regional and individual differences in cancer trends make it a hard disease to wipe out

More Trials, Fewer Tribulations
Clinical Trials

More Trials, Fewer Tribulations

Grouping patients according to their molecular profile can make for better and faster drug approval decisions

Big Data Versus the Big C
Bioinformatics

Big Data Versus the Big C

The torrents of data flowing out of cancer research and treatment are yielding fresh insight into the disease

Learning to Share
Perspective

Learning to Share

Genomics can provide powerful tools against cancer — but only once clinical information can be made broadly available

Three Known Unknowns
Biology

Three Known Unknowns

Even as cancer therapies improve, basic questions about drug resistance, tumour spread and the role of normal tissue remain unanswered

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 18, 2015 Posted by | environmental health, Health Statistics, Medical and Health Research News | | Leave a comment

[Report] Callous and Cruel: Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons | Full Text Reports…

Callous and Cruel: Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons | Full Text Reports….

From the Human Rights Watch report summary

Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons
MAY 12, 2015
This 127-page report details incidents in which correctional staff have deluged prisoners with painful chemical sprays, shocked them with powerful electric stun weapons, and strapped them for days in restraining chairs or beds. Staff have broken prisoners’ jaws, noses, ribs; left them with lacerations requiring stitches, second-degree burns, deep bruises, and damaged internal organs. In some cases, the force used has led to their death.
READ THE REPORT
ISBN: 978-1-6231-32415

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Health Statistics, Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment

[News release] How used coffee grounds could make some food more healthful

How used coffee grounds could make some food more healthful 

From the 13 May 2015 American Chemical Society news release

 

Assessment of Total (Free and Bound) Phenolic Compounds in Spent Coffee Extracts
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

Coffee has gone from dietary foe to friend in recent years, partly due to the revelation that it’s rich in antioxidants. Now even spent coffee-grounds are gaining attention for being chock-full of these compounds, which have potential health benefits. In ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers explain how to extract antioxidants from the grounds. They then determined just how concentrated the antioxidants are.

María-Paz de Peña and colleagues note that coffee — one of the most popular drinks in the world — is a rich source of a group of antioxidants called dietary phenolic compounds. Spent grounds, however, often end up in the trash. But recently, scientists have discovered that antioxidants aren’t just in the brewed coffee; they’re also in the used grounds. De Peña wanted to figure out the total phenolic content in extracts from these leftovers.

The researchers used three different methods to release antioxidants from spent grounds and found high levels of phenols in the extracts — sometimes at higher levels than in brewed coffee. Thus, they have the potential to serve as additives to enhance the potential health effects of other food products, the scientists conclude.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News release] Healing plants inspire new compounds for psychiatric drugs

Healing plants inspire new compounds for psychiatric drugs

From the 11 May 2015 Northwestern University news release

Scientists look to healers in Nigeria to develop better therapies for mental disorders

text size AAA

May 11, 2015 | by Erin Spain

EVANSTON, Ill. — Treatments used by traditional healers in Nigeria have inspired scientists at Northwestern University to synthesize four new chemical compounds that could one day lead to better therapies for people with psychiatric disorders.

In a paper published online in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, the scientists detail how they created these natural compounds by completing the first total syntheses of two indole alkaloids — alstonine and serpentine. These alkaloids, found in various plant species used by healers in Nigeria to treat people with conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, have antipsychotic properties that have potential to improve mental disorder treatments.

The current drugs used for schizophrenia effectively treat delusions and hallucinations but are only partially effective for cognitive impairment. Early experimental research of these new compounds in animal models shows promise in improving cognitive impairment, the Northwestern scientists said.

Traditional healers boil these special plants and produce an extract that they administer to people with symptoms of mental illness. However, this extract isn’t pure, and it contains other compounds and materials that may not be beneficial to people with mental disorders.

“Nature did not intend this plant to produce an antipsychotic drug on its own,” Meltzer said.

The collaborative work to create the compounds took place in the Center for Molecular Innovation and Drug Discovery (CMIDD) at Northwestern, using high-level purification resources and state-of-the-art research instrumentation and equipment. Scheidt is the director of CMIDD.

Through an efficient and stereo-selective synthesis, Scheidt and his team created four separate but related natural products. Now a template exists to continue making these compounds as needed for future studies and ultimately for use in clinical drug trials.

“We can make multi-gram quantities of any of the compounds we want,” Scheidt said. “We built the assembly line and are now uniquely positioned to explore their potential.”

Meltzer is already using these compounds in animal studies in his lab to better understand how they affect brain biology and chemistry in the schizophrenia disease model. Early results from his lab show that the compounds may increase the ability of other antipsychotic drugs to improve cognitive impairment.

Other study authors are Dr. Ashkaan Younai and Bi-Shun Zeng of Northwestern University. This study was supported the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute at Northwestern in the form of an Innovators Grant and the Weisman Family Foundation.

– See more at: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2015/05/healing-plants-inspire-new-compounds-for-psychiatric-drugs.html#sthash.pHX8AWsh.dpuf

– See more at: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2015/05/healing-plants-inspire-new-compounds-for-psychiatric-drugs.html#sthash.pHX8AWsh.dpuf

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Top 100’ papers in lumbar spine surgery reflect trends in low back pain treatment | EurekAlert! Science News

‘Top 100’ papers in lumbar spine surgery reflect trends in low back pain treatment | EurekAlert! Science News.

From the 11 May 2015 EurkAlert

May 11, 2015 – What are the most influential studies on surgery of the lower (lumbar) spine? The “top 100” research papers in lumbar spine are counted down in a special review in the May 15 issue of Spine, published by Wolters Kluwer.

Dr. Samuel K. Cho and colleagues of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, performed a literature review to analyze and quantify the most important research papers on lumbar spine surgery. Their results raise some interesting “questions, trends and observations”–including the finding that the two most-cited studies focus on situations when spinal surgery should not be performed.

And the Top 100 Lumbar Spine Papers Are…

The goal of the analysis was to identify the 100 most frequently cited papers relevant to lumbar spine surgery and published in spine-related journals. Citation by subsequent papers is a key measure of the relevance and importance of medical studies.

Out of more than 16,500 papers matching the search criteria, 322 were cited at least 100 times. The top-ranked paper–cited more than 1,000 times–was a classic 1990 study showing that many people have common spinal abnormalities on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans–despite having no back pain or other symptoms. A 1994 study on a similar topic was the second most-cited paper, highlighting the need for a “clear correlation” of patients’ symptoms and imaging findings

The third most-cited paper was a 2000 review of an important survey tool (the Oswestry Disability Index) for assessing the impact of low back pain on patients’ lives. Overall, low back pain was the most common topic, addressed by 23 of the top 100 papers. Other frequent topics included spinal biomechanics and degenerative disc disease.

About half of the papers were published during the 1990s, and most originated in the United States. Overall, 63 of the top 100 lumbar spine papers were published in Spine.

Reflecting the current emphasis on evidence-based practice, the most frequently cited author isn’t even a spinal surgeon. That researcher, Dr. Richard Deyo of Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, is a leading authority on patient outcomes research.

The other two most frequently cited authors were Scott D. Boden of Emory University, Atlanta, and Dr. James Weinstein of the Dartmouth Institute, Lebanon, N.H. All three of these “most prolific” authors contributed to the SPORT study–a pivotal clinical trial comparing the benefits of surgery versus nonsurgical treatment for sciatica from herniated lumbar discs. Dr. Weinstein is Editor-in-Chief of Spine, and Dr. Boden and Dr. Deyo are Deputy Editors.

Over the years, rates of spinal surgery have risen, but with wide regional variations. Meanwhile, there are persistent questions about which patients truly benefit from surgery for the common and costly problem of low back pain. Many of the top-cited studies reflect the current emphasis on evidence-based practice–seeking to define groups of patients and characteristics associated with beneficial effects of spinal surgery.

Within the limitations of the review methods used, Dr. Cho and colleagues believe their study provides unique insights into the development and trends of the “challenging subspecialty” of lumbar spine surgery. The researchers add, “This paper identifies those individuals whose contributions to the ever-growing body of knowledge have provided guidance and suggestions for further investigation.”

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Click here to read “The Top 100 Classic Papers in Lumbar Spine Surgery.”

Article: “The Top 100 Classic Papers in Lumbar Spine Surgery” (doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000000847)

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , | Leave a comment

[News release] Study shows that playing games can shift attitudes

Study shows that playing games can shift attitudes.

From the 14 May 2014 Dartmouth College news release

A Dartmouth research laboratory is working to quantify the effects of playing games. In a study published online last month by the Games for Health Journal, Professor Mary Flanagan and her team found that attitudes toward public health issues shift to be more accepting and understanding after playing a game they developed calledRePlay Health.

“Sales of games have been steadily increasing for several years,” says Flanagan, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth and the director of the Tiltfactor laboratory.  “So economically, we have measured their impact, and now it’s time to measure their ability to change behaviors and attitudes.”

RePlay Health is a role-playing sport that requires players to assume different identities and carry out various activities to improve their health. The backdrop of the game is a fictional health care system, and the players learn how personal behaviors, workplace productivity, insurance (or lack of it), and all related health care costs are woven together within the system. Each player is presented with opportunities to not only improve their own health, but also the health of their community through policy initiatives that they vote on.

“We showed how active engagement with the game’s characters and events was crucial to the game’s ability to shift players’ mindsets and attitudes about health and health policy,” says Geoff Kaufman, a co-author of the study and Tiltfactor’s post-doctoral researcher in psychology.

The researchers asked a group of young adults to complete an online questionnaire two weeks prior to playing RePlay Health and again within a week after playing the game. Flanagan says that the results indicate that the game has the potential to have a lasting impact on the players.

RePlay Health was developed in collaboration with The Dartmouth Center for Healthcare Delivery Science and the Rippel Foundation. The game is part of a broad initiative to promote learning about public health policies and spending priorities. Flanagan and her team envision college students, medical students, doctors, local council leaders, government officials, and any other people interested broadly in public health playing the game to digest the issues and find ideas that resonate. “It’s not just students and public officials who can play this game, or benefit from playing,” says Flanagan.

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May 18, 2015 Posted by | Health Education (General Public), Medical and Health Research News, Public Health | , , | Leave a comment

[Reblog]Recovery from trauma is different for everybody

From the 13 May 2015 post at The Conversation

The very public trials of the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the Colorado theater shooting suspect, James Holmes, put images and stories about these traumatic events once again in front of the public.

During both phases of the Boston Marathon bombing trial, testimony from survivors and first responders, as well as graphic images of the bombing, were front and center on television, the internet, and print media. And survivors of the Colorado theater shooting have vividly described in their trial testimony that night in detail and their terror and anguish seeing loved ones next to them dead or dying.

So what are the psychological and health effects of exposure to traumatic events like these?

What is trauma?

Traumatic events are those experiences that are perceived to be threats to one’s safety or stability and that cause physical, emotional and psychological stress or harm. In other words, these are events that fall outside the range of normal human experience and to which reactions vary according to the individual person.

Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association as the psychological and emotional responses to those terrible events.

Traumatic events aren’t always violent. They can range from moving somewhere new to a mass disaster or even war.

For most people, trauma is experienced during and immediately after the event. But for many, the trauma may be relived for months or even years, as has been the case, for instance, with the aftereffects of the September 11 attacks.

New trauma can bring back old memories

In addition, people with histories of previous trauma such as combat veterans may be more vulnerable to the effects of new traumatic events.

How can people cope with trauma?

What, then, can people do to alleviate the negative aftereffects of such events in order to return to their normal daily lives? The American Psychological Association recommendsmaking connections with others, accepting change, meeting problems head on and taking care of yourself.

It’s also important to remember that one never completely forgets such events, nor do professionals suggest that is the goal of recovery. Healthy recovery involves acknowledging that the events were terrible but at the same time not allowing them to interfere with daily living. Even if, 10 years later, a sudden noise triggers momentary fear.

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

[News release] The infant gut microbiome: New studies on its origins and how it’s knocked out of balance

The infant gut microbiome: New studies on its origins and how it’s knocked out of balance.

From the 15 May news release

IMAGE
IMAGE: BÄCKHED ET AL. ASSESSED THE GUT MICROBIOMES OF 98 SWEDISH MOTHERS AND THEIR INFANTS DURING THE FIRST YEAR OF LIFE. CESSATION OF BREAST-FEEDING WAS IDENTIFIED AS A MAJOR FACTOR IN DETERMINING GUT MICROBIOTA MATURATION, WITH… view more 

CREDIT: BÄCKHED ET AL./CELL HOST & MICROBE2015

A fecal sample analysis of 98 Swedish infants over the first year of life found a connection between the development of a child’s gut microbiome and the way he or she is delivered. Babies born via C-section had gut bacteria that showed significantly less resemblance to their mothers compared to those that were delivered vaginally.

The study, which appears May 11 in Cell Host & Microbe‘s special issue on “The Host-Microbiota Balance,” also found nutrition to be a main driver of infant gut microbiome development–specifically the decision to breast-feed or bottle-feed.

“Our findings surprisingly demonstrated that cessation of breastfeeding, rather than introduction of solid foods, is the major driver in the development of an adult-like microbiota,” says lead study author Fredrik Bäckhed of The University of Gothenburg, Sweden. “However, the effect of an altered microbiome early in life on health and disease in adolescence and adulthood remains to be demonstrated.”

Gut bacteria are suspected to be a source of nutrients and vitamins for a growing infant. Our intestinal tenants are able to interact with normal cellular processes to, for example, produce essential amino acids. Understanding the role individual gut microbes play in metabolism, immunity, and even behavior is an active area of investigation.

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , | Leave a comment

   

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